Rant

Musical Rant: My Distant Relationship with Blink-182

My relationship with Blink-182 has been strained ever since Matt Skiba took over for Tom DeLonge. Nothing against him; the guy actually gels really well with the band. But no matter how many times I listen to their newer stuff, I just can’t get into it.

The band isn’t the same to me. Though I didn’t hate California, I quickly grew tired of it and after my initial review, I haven’t listened to any of the songs since. I was baffled with the deluxe version boasting a second disc with what boils down to another album. With every preview and song they released, I slowly realized I didn’t care. But I was still mildly curious about the second disc and gave it a listen. I was surprised I liked it more than the original album, but it also drove home how much I don’t care about this band anymore.

When the band announced California Deluxe, I didn’t get it. Why reissue an album that’s not even a year old? And if they had so much material, why not release it on its own? It didn’t make sense to me. Whereas in the past, the thought of an expanded Blink album would be amazing, this time it felt pointless. Still, I was curious to see if the new music was worth it. And it’s not bad. None of the songs are outright terrible, but very few managed to grip me. “Misery” was okay, but felt like I was reading cringe-worthy teen poetry, “Good Old Days” has a strong hook and great energy, but is tiring due to the overused “let’s get nostalgic” theme. “Don’t Mean Anything” is repetitive and weak when compared to the rest of the songs and “Hey I’m Sorry” is forgettable, but has a good energy and vibe. And “Can’t Get You More Pregnant” is just dumb and pointless.

Still, most of the songs have more substance than those on California. Though most of them aren’t that interesting, they aren’t generic. They feel genuine, even the ones that sound like teen angst. Reading through the lyrics I didn’t roll my eyes nearly as much as I did with the previous LP. Even though I didn’t like most of the songs, I can stand to hear them, as long as they don’t deal with looking back (“Parking Lot”). It’s a trend Blink’s been on that I’m sick of. I get it, they’re older, they want to reflect, but we already got that with California. Let’s move on.

Luckily, there’s some promise to the album. “Wildfire” and “Bottom of the Ocean” are great songs – probably the best of the new Blink era. Some of these songs remind you of older Blink – lots of fun, great fast music, and a good hook. “6/8” is a standout song that’s heavy as hell. It almost sounds like a b-side from Untitled. Everything about it is awesome from the in your face aggression to the way Matt sounds like he’s screaming from miles away. The odd 6/8 structure really helps the song stand out and creates this cool, yet odd, flow.

So yeah, I like the second disc better than California. At the same time, I realize I don’t care what Blink does anymore. I couldn’t even find much to say about this release. Whereas before I would relish any news involving them and devour every single song they released, I didn’t give a shit this time. They kept posting songs from the Deluxe version and I ignored them. Their new stuff doesn’t hit that sweet spot. With Tom, they had a style all their own. Now, they sound like every other “pop-punk” band out there. Seeing their name doesn’t bring about that same sense of excitement. Rather, it’s more of a disappointment.

Though many disagree, I still think Tom is an essential part of the band. He had a certain sound and vibe that Blink is currently lacking. They just don’t sound the same. They’re different now and that’s okay. They are allowed to change and I’m happy the band is continuing to make music. It’s just not for me. I can’t exactly say if my missing Tom is what makes me dislike their new stuff; maybe it does. All I know is I don’t feel that same happiness and excitement when I hear them now. Maybe over time, this will change and I see these albums in a more favorable light. But I can’t pretend that I care about what’s going on with them now. They can still make exciting music as some of the songs show, but they’re still trying to find the right direction. I will always love Blink-182, but at this point, I’m moving on.

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Musical Rant: The Let Down of Band Reunions

Well, it’s finally here. The news is out, pre-sales started, and scalpers are ready. Guns N Roses are officially hitting the road this year. But not just a bloated Axl Rose with new young replacements to be his backing band. It’s Rose and most of the original members, minus Izzy Stradlin. Everyone is freaking out with excitement at the thought of catching the original bad boys performing together once again. But it seems like people are forgetting something. This is Axl Rose we’re talking about.

How many concerts has this guy walked out on or not showed up for? He infamously got the group banned from St. Louis because security didn’t deal with a guy who was taking photos of him. He’s known for his random rants and hissy fits as if anything can set him off. And he’s notoriously late. In 2010, the band got on stage an hour late causing them to play til 2AM. The crowd couldn’t take anymore and started walking out. Personally, I don’t think this reunion stands a chance. There’s a reason the band moved away from Rose in the first place. And it already got off to a rocky start with Rose canceling his appearance on Jimmy Kimmel.

This got me thinking about band reunions in general and I came to one conclusion: they suck. Sure, some of them are pretty successful, like Refused or Black Sabbath. But most of them are nothing but disappointing ventures that produce lackluster new material. Just look at Van Halen. It took two attempts to reunite them with David Lee Roth before it finally worked out. Even then their latest output hasn’t been great. And how about Blink-182? They set fans’ hope high with a reunion, new album, and tour. It looked like things were looking up until the band imploded. Now, they’re trying again with a new guy, but that’s a rant for another day.

When there’s bad blood between band members who then try to reunite are like that one friend you have. You guys used to hang out and talk, but somewhere along the line you stopped contacting them. Then one day you’re bored, they pop into your head, and you contact them out of the blue. And then you remember why you guys aren’t friends anymore. It seems when a lot of bad blood exist between bands there’s no amount of money that can heal those wounds. If it’s not a band trying to put their hatred aside for yet another reunion, it’s a band who haven’t done anything together in a while and release a new album. And man, is it disappointing.

This is another reason band reunions suck. They never seem to live up to expectations. Maybe it’s the fans putting too much stock into it. Maybe the band doesn’t work well together anymore. For one reason or another usually the new output is nowhere near as good as their past work. As I said before there are exceptions, but how about No Doubt? Gwen Stefani returned to the band in 2012, more than 10 years since their last album, and they released Push and Shove. It performed decently on the charts, but the album was overall unmemorable. Now, Stefani is out of the band, maybe. Some bands just can’t get it together after being apart for a considerable length of time. It seems something is lost when you don’t work with someone for over ten years.

I get it. Your favorite band getting back together is exciting and brings back so many good memories. You want those moments and good times back, but no matter how good something is the reformed band won’t live up to your expectations. The music won’t be as good, the vibe will be different, or they just won’t sound the same. No matter what you think, something is going to be different and chances are you’re going to hate it. But I guess you can’t blame a band for trying to recapture that old spark. After all, it’s worked out quite well for other bands, like Megadeth. Maybe we as fans need to remember when we hear a band is getting back together, it’s not gonna be perfect and it may just not work out at all. So don’t get those expectations up too high when buying those Guns N Roses tickets.

Musical Rant: The Great Phone Debate

The lineup for this year’s Lollapalooza has been announced. That means people are getting their tickets and planning their outfits. It also means it’s time for the classic debate: Are cellphones okay at concerts? It happens at all shows, but it seems that hating those who record or take photos of the performance is becoming more pronounced. It’s gotten to the point where several artists have spoken out against it.

Many like to blame the behavior on society’s unhealthy obsession with technology. Others blame it on youngsters who can’t “live in the moment” or don’t know any better. I’ve been to a lot of concerts and understand why people hate this behavior. While I do agree with it on some points, my other thought is is it really all that bad? Why is it bad to take a picture of an awesome event or your favorite band right before your eyes? Don’t you want to show it off to your friends and talk about the great time you had? I get it, there are some people who keep their phones up for the entire performance and yes, that’s really annoying and rude, but not everyone does that.

There’s also this issue of over-sharing. Some argue there will be tons of people taking pictures meaning there will be the same photos floating around. Yes, lots of people want to post whatever they got from a concert online, but some also want them for personal memories. I rarely post my concert photos online, unless I have to for an article I’m writing. I may share them with friends and family, but that’s it. I mainly enjoy flipping through them and remembering how awesome the show was. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with taking some pictures and maybe even a video as a keepsake.

I have no shame in taking pictures at concerts mainly because I do a lot of write ups for them and need to have some pictures of my own. Sure, there’ll be tons of higher quality, professional ones, but there’s something so satisfying about having a photo you took. When you look at a photo you took there are so many memories connected to it. You remember where you were standing, maybe even what song was being played. There are far more annoying things at concerts than taking pictures, like those who take selfies, text, or talk during the performance, yet we rarely hear about those. That being said, that doesn’t mean people who are taking photos/video should keep up their phones during the entire performance. That’s just rude.

Now artists are lashing out against those who use phones at their shows and this is where the main problem comes in. Corey Taylor isn’t shy about his hatred of cell phone use at Slipknot shows. In an interview last year, he admitted how once he dumped four bottles of water on a girl for using her phone. He said “And then she was just bummed for the rest of the night, and I just kept shrugging at her, going, ‘Hey, it’s a live show. Pay attention, or don’t be here.” A similar incident occurred during an Every Time I Die show when a fan leaped on stage to take a picture with the singer. The guitarist then kicked the phone out of his hand. I get it, the fan’s behavior was wrong. No one should be jumping up on stage unless the band prompts them to, but it was also wrong of him to kick the phone. Security could’ve escorted the guy offstage, but instead his property was almost damaged and the band probably had no plans on replacing it. It’s not only rude, but it makes him look like a huge asshole to his fans. Luckily, the guy’s phone was fine and he got the picture he wanted, but not all encounters end like this. Artists shouldn’t feel entitled to take extreme measures just to get someone off the phone.

There are better ways to handle these situations or you can just ignore it. I know it’s a shitty solution, but you can’t stop everyone from using their phones. And that’s how some people enjoy their entertainment. If they miss something because of it oh well, their loss. Sometimes asking fans to put down the phone will get your point across loud and clear. I do agree that fans should take a moment and practice some etiquette when it comes to taking pictures/video, but with so many people you can’t expect everyone to follow the rules.

Musical Rant: The Comeback of the Mighty….Cassette?

cassettes

Ever since the introduction of vinyl, audiophiles have been arguing about which format is the best for music. Was it the crispness of records or the ease of CDs? No matter what side you’re on everyone knew the answer was not cassettes. They never had the best audio quality and were inconvenient compared to the other music formats. It was no surprised when they were quietly phased out in the early 2000s. But in a shocking turn of events, they are trying to come back. Why?

When Billie Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones released Foreverly, I was shocked to learn there was a cassette edition. I thought it was supposed to be a one-time, interesting release for collectors. Then Demolicious got its own cassette, which puzzled me even more. Soon, artists left and right starting releasing their new or exclusive material on tapes: Skrillex, Fred Durst, and Protest the Hero to name a few. For any collector, these are cool items to have, but it’s still baffling. Cassettes never seemed like the popular option when it came to buying music. If anything it was just the cheaper one or your only choice if you had a Walkman. They may have been portable, but they sure weren’t convenient.

When you think about it, cassettes are pretty annoying. Unlike CDs, you couldn’t easily skip songs. Instead you had to fast forward and hope you didn’t stop in the middle of the one you wanted to hear. Also, they had the highest risk of getting ruined: they can easily get stepped on or the spool of tape can get tangled in the player. Personally, I like to own tapes; it’s the collector in me. But whenever I wanted to listen to an album I always went for the CD. Aside from hipsters, I didn’t think anyone cared for tapes anymore, yet more artists are starting to release new material on this format.

It’s even gotten to the point where Cassette Store Day made a comeback. Inspired by the much beloved Record Store Day, several UK record labels created the day to celebrate the diminishing format. It was first introduced in 2013, but since sales were anything but impressive, it was unsure whether the event would continue into the next year. Surprisingly, Cassette Store Day made a return this year with notable artists Julian Casablancas and Karen O providing exclusive releases. While it’s a cute idea, I doubt you’ll see hundreds of people lined up in front of shops to get their hands on exclusive tapes.

It’s a weird new trend in music that doesn’t add much to the listening experience. If anything it just seems like a way to get more money out of people. There are some fans who want to own everything a favorite band of theirs has released, so of course they are willing to spend 10 bucks on a cassette they don’t need. If this is the case it doesn’t seem like a trend that will last long. Sure, a few people will buy into it, but they’ll soon get tired of it and remember why cassettes were kind of shitty to begin with. It would make more sense if there were new cassette players or something like that, but most don’t even own a stereo system anymore.

Other than that, I don’t understand why they’re trying to make a comeback. Maybe it’s a way to play on nostalgia. Or record companies are so desperate for sells they see them as novelty items. Whatever the reason it’s still pretty strange. Even as an avid music lover and cassette collector, I find it bizarre. I can understand the avid love behind vinyl or why some people still turn to CDs. But cumbersome cassettes? It’s kind of hard to believe. Does that mean new concert films will be released on VHS? Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

Musical Rant: Digipak Blues

Digipak

Once upon a time, when you could still find a payphone on every corner, there was nothing like busting open a brand new CD. Sure, the plastic wrap was aggravating, but once you won that battle, you couldn’t wait to break out the booklet and start flipping through it. It’s a really small experience that is slowly disappearing and that many may not even care about now. Yeah, you can still buy new albums physically, but the majority are being released in flimsy digipak cases.

Digipaks are those gatefold cases usually made out of paper stock and lately more record companies are using them. They do have their uses, mainly for independent bands trying to cut down on costs. They also take up less room, but now that they are used for almost all music releases it can be aggravating for music collectors. If the packaging is done right then it’s not so bad, but sometimes it’s downright lazy. Perfect example is Marilyn Manson’s Born Villain. It features nothing more than his picture on the cover with “Lyrics available at Bornvillain.com” printed inside. Nothing else. No booklet, no other pictures, nothing. For $13 you expect a little more. This type of laziness is unfortunately becoming more common.

More companies seem to be resorting to digipaks because they figure many people don’t purchase music physically anymore. Fair enough, but with this assumption in place it may take an affect on how the entire record is presented, like the artwork. Don’t get me wrong, there is still some great album artwork out there, but with most booklets spanning two pages it seems like less effort is put into it. It’s not a huge deal, but it takes away from the whole album experience: flipping through the booklet while listening to the new music, trying to find hidden tidbits, learning the lyrics, and take it all in. Now there’s none of that. Maybe you’ll get some lyrics if you’re lucky.

With the packaging the way it is now, we lose out on so many fun extras artists may be inspired to include with the album. For Mechanical Animals, Manson released it in a stark blue case, which was used to decipher cryptic messages in the booklet. Sometimes artists would even include little facts about the songs. And what about when a record has such amazing artwork you want to hang it on your wall? Now, it seems like to get detailed booklets and better casing for the disc itself, you have to pay extra for the deluxe editions (Depeche Mode, Green Day). Also, the current cases seem easier to damage: they could bend, crease, get wet, fold, and even tear depending on how durable the stock they use is. Crystal cases usually crack easily, but you never have to worry about the ends fraying or the entire packaging getting warped.

The other downside of digipaks is the way the disc is handled. Sure, jewel cases can be finicky, but at least there was a suitable spot for the disc. Most of the album packaging now resorts to pockets where the CD slides out. This is beyond annoying. Not only do you have to shake around the case in order to get the disc unless you want to completely dent it, but if this method doesn’t work you have to risk touching the underside of the disc just to get it out. Also, some of the cases are so thin, they’re almost non-existent. While some of the newer cases do include a disc tray to keep the CD safe, most do not. They’re even using this style of packaging for CD/DVD combinations. Muse’s last live album came with a blu-ray. Both discs and a booklet were stuffed into two pockets. You would think by including a blu-ray disc you would get better packaging.

The whole digipak thing is not a huge deal. It won’t keep me from buying albums or anything like that. All I’m trying to say is it takes away from a small enjoyable experience that was part of losing yourself in a new album. There are some good sides to the new packaging, like taking up less space and cutting costs for bands, but they aren’t as satisfying. Not everything about crystal cases are great, but they’re a bit more stable. Maybe it’s just me being a weird obsessed music lover, but it’s something I think about whenever I get a new album. Maybe you feel the same way or perhaps you just don’t care. All I know is it’s one of those things you appreciate and miss as time goes on.