Artist: The Beatles
Released: August 6th, 1966
Highlights: Taxman, Eleanor Rigby, Here, There and Everywhere, For No One
“Rubber Soul” showed The Beatles maturing past the silly lyrics of their first five records, retaining the themes of love and relationships but doing so with far more insight and thoughtfulness; and moving away from the standard rock and roll energy of their early compositions while walking towards more varied musical grounds. “Revolver”, then, is the natural progression of that process, as the group tackles new themes and simultaneously takes unique sonic trips that lead the quartet to untraveled paths within the realm of popular music.
Starting with Harrison’s “Taxman”, a riff-centered lighthearted mockery of the exaggerated British taxes; and ending with Lennon’s “Tomorrow Never Knows”, an Indian-inspired atmospheric marvel ridden with brilliant studio trickeries that attempts to conjure in sound the effects and feelings of meditation, “Revolver” is nothing short of a landmark. Aside from “Taxman”, Harrison emerges as a solid songwriter on the sitar-based “Love You To”, a psychedelic oeuvre that goes along nicely with “Tomorrow Never Knows”; and “I Want to Tell You”, which falls right on the range of the band’s standard infectious pop-rock tunes.
Meanwhile, McCartney and Lennon keep solidifying their respective positions among the world’s best composers. The former starts to display his love for Vaudeville through “Good Day Sunshine”; pays a homeage to Motown with “Got to Get You into My Life”; turns in the record’s most gorgeous melodies on the ballads “Here, There and Everywhere” and “For No One”; and delivers “Eleanor Rigby”, which – guided by a double string quartet and depicting the lonesome lives of numerous characters – is one of the album’s finest studio experiments. At the same time, John, showing an ability that rivals that of Paul in the writing of straight catchy tunes, but with a far rockier punch, with the likes of “And Your Bird Can Sing” and “She Said She Said”, keeps being The Beatles’ quirkiest and boldest musician.
His are the trippy and beautiful “I’m Only Sleeping”; the intenionally childish “Yellow Submarine”, which gains an even stronger whimsical air thanks to Ringo’s singing; the surrealistic ode to his drug provider “Doctor Robert”, which might be the LP’s weakest cut but that stands as a commendable experiment; and the closing epic “Tomorrow Never Knows”. Ultimately, what makes “Revolver” so masterful is that every single member was willing to push themselves to new places and explore untouched musical terrain while keeping their sights tightly focused on delivering strong melodies. For that reason, “Revolver” finds and makes the tiny intersection between experimentation, innovation, and accessibility the home from which it towers over most of the world’s musical output, serving as a guiding light to musicians of all ages and backgrounds.
Artist: The Hellacopters
Released: June 6th, 2005
Highlights: Everything’s on TV, No Angel to Lay Me Away, Leave It Alone, Murder On My Mind
For an album whose title claims that a once universally important genre is now a cold corpse, it might seem a bit odd that “Rock & Roll Is Dead” kicks off with a guitar lick that could have been written by Chuck Berry. But it actually makes a whole lot of sense. Right there, on its first few seconds, The Hellacopters make it clear that their choice for the record’s name is not a conformist statement; it is a protest. Although it comes as quite a considerable blow to the style that “Rock & Roll Is Dead” is The Hellacopters’ last work – hence marking the end of a bastion of the genre – it is neither an eulogy nor an attempt to suffocate it to death: it is a riot.
“Rock & Roll Is Dead” is a call to arms to either throw a final party before the musical apocalypse, which would make the title of its first song (“Before the Fall”) awfully appropriate; or an attempt to give the genre one final push before the Swedish garage rockers call it a day. The album’s construction with bricks made of pure unadulterated rock is not a surprise to anyone who followed the band’s trajectory, and it could be argued that – song-by-song – it is not as strong of a work as the behemoths of “By the Grace of God” and “High Visibility”. However, its position as the last statement of original material by a group whose youthful energy seemed to make them immortal lends it a whole lot of poignancy.
The clean crisp production that helped “By the Grace of God” make a splash in the United States is fully retained, and it is accompanied by honest songwriting, catchy choruses, and verses that seem to be powered by rocket fuel. The Hellacopters’ greatest gift, however, and one that is vividly present here – just like it is in all of their other efforts – is how skilled they are. In their spirited demeanor, they emulate the MC5, The Ramones, and The Stooges’ wild recklessness; conversely, where that trinity of punk thrived in the simplicity of their playing, The Hellacopters are flashy, a product of the band members’ background as musicians of Sweden’s incredibly prolific hard rock scene. Robert Dahlqvist, for example, often soloes like Hendrix, and the other players exhibt the same level of virtuosity.
It is not all a barrage of fast-paced tunes of anthemic quality, though, as the band mixes up a couple of slower tracks to keep things pleasantly varied, such as the beautiful gospel-rock of “Leave It Alone”. In the end, “Rock & Roll Is Dead” is a more than respectable farewell letter by The Hellacopters, and they bow out by sending their message effectively. On the album’s key cut, the dark “Murder On My Mind”, Nicke Andersson sings “That simple thing was meant to help and to heal / Somehow recently it lost it’s appeal” while pointing his finger towards the bigwigs of the industry and blaming them for the death of rock and roll. Fortunately, although rock music may have already died as a viable mainstream genre, as long as there is someone out there willing to spin a The Hellacopters record, rock and roll will live on; youth and energy will always prevail over corporate greed and pasteurized productions.
Artist: The Libertines
Released: August 30th, 2004
Highlights: Can’t Stand Me Now, The Man Who Would Be King, Music When the Lights Go Out, What Became of the Likely Lads
On their second album, The Libertines suffer from the notorious sophomore syndrome. It is not that the self-titled record is a weak effort, though; it is just that it pales in comparison to the reckless riot of “Up the Bracket”. That work felt like a greatest hits compilation; it kept relentlessly coming up with hooks and iconic moments, a natural consequence of the fact the band had been active through five years preceding its release. “The Libertines”, on the other hand, feels like a more labored over collection of songs, one that constantly rocks out wildly but that, from time to time, walks around unsteadily looking for a goal without ever quite finding it.
The recipe here is, by all means, the same that made “Up the Bracket” soar. Mick Jones – the legendary The Clash singer, songwriter, and lead guitarist – lets Doherty, Barât, Hassall, and Powell run free, and being without leashes, constraints, and wisdom is the only way through which The Libertines can be their own kind of garage rock powerhouse. Within that freedom, the ragged beauty of their songs and performances emerges. Listening to a tune by The Libertines is watching a drunk man stand on a tightrope whose ends are tied to the Grand Canyon’s edges; sure, what he is doing while intoxicated is quite spectacular, but the most exciting part of that particular sort of entertainment comes from the constant wondering of whether or not he will make it to the end.
Although it always sounds as if one of them will stumble on a chord and fall to the ground, Doherty and Barât do reach the end of all of their tunes relatively unscathed, and the results are often mesmerizing. “Can’t Stand Me Now” is an alcoholic duet that works both as the description of a couple who looks down on the state of their love and as a comment on the duo’s convoluted friendship, and that high level of quality is preserved in tunes like the dramatic “Last Post on the Bugle”; “The Man Who Would Be King”, as grand of a song as the band could have written; “Music When the Lights Go Out”, a gorgeous ballad that stands out on the catalog of a group that has not written many of those; the adorably clumsy “What Katie Did”; the fitting closer “What Became of the Likely Lads”; and others.
The problem is that among the more-than-satisfying number of fourteen cuts, a few of them do not stand out, a slight disappointment on the heels of its invariably stellar predecessor. Tracks like the repetitive “Don’t Be Shy” and the innocuous “Narcissist” feel like undercooked jams that, if better developed, could have given birth to better songs. Yet, inserted within the context of an album with so many strong numbers, they work as an integral part of the libertine experience; they come off as the product of a band that is too drunk and too untamed to care, and their dullness clicks just like a speech drenched in alcohol sometimes sort of makes sense: not because it is thoughtful or cohesive, but because it is real and honest.
Released: February 28th, 1983
Highlights: Sunday Bloody Sunday, New Year’s Day, Like a Song, 40
With their third album, “War”, U2 found a theme that lived up to the band’s astounding intensity. On their impressive debut, “Boy”, the jovial themes of adolescence often felt too small for Bono’s dramatic delivery and The Edge’s signature guitar playing, which ranged between funky and sweeping jangly. Meanwhile, “October”, its successor, came off as excessively preachy on its approach of spiritual themes. Warfare, however, fit like a glove on the dramatic and ambitiously big U2 sound; after all, it is a subject against which only loud voices that can be heard over bullets and bombs have the chance of making a difference.
“War”, therefore, clicks far more spectacularly than its two predecessors. Sadly, while some tunes showcase the band reaching a level of quality and maturity that had yet to be touched by the Dublin quartet, others meander without purpose, giving birth to a work of inconsistent nature. Thematically, the cards are finely set on the table: “Sunday Bloody Sunday” kicks things off with a poignant statement on the killing of fourteen civilian protesters by British soldiers, and all over the album there are mentions of nuclear weapons (“Seconds”), nonviolent resistance (“New Year’s Day”), and family issues caused by armed conflicts (“The Refugee”). The execution, though, is uneven.
When the songs soar, they reach epic grounds without ever abusing their running time. “Sunday Bloody Sunday” feels urgent from the get go, as a military-like drum beat announces the start of the record before The Edge locks into an amazing riff; “New Year’s Day” features a glorious crescendo, as its verses are guided by Clayton’s bass before the guitars move the song into overdrive as it approaches the chorus, where it explodes when Bono and The Edge come together to produce musical fireworks. “Like a Song”, guided by a beautiful guitar line and a remarkable drum beat; the funky “Two Hearts Beat as One”; and the closing ballad “40”, which perfectly complements the opening track by asking “How long to sing this song?”, are all equally excellent.
At its worst moments, sadly, “War” makes one feel like the writer’s block Bono had experienced during the “October” sessions was still in effect. “Drowning Man” has the singer tackling a seemingly underdeveloped melody over a instrumental piece that is not inspired, “The Refugee” is an awkward cacophony – with constant shouts of “War!” included – that lacks a consistent groove, “Surrender” goes on for over five minutes without considerable peaks or valleys, and “Red Light” is an odd mixture of the U2 sound with a repetitive hook and an exaggerated trumpet. As a rebound from “October”, “War” is a commendable effort, but the inconsistency of the material keeps it away from fulfilling its potential.
2 thoughts on “Album Reviews – 19th Edition”
I’d go as far as saying that Revolver is my favorite Beatles album. Indeed, it’s certainly one of my all-time favorites. It has a lot of great songs on it and I don’t think there’s a single weak track. As you say, this album hits this sweet spot of being both experimental and accessible to the point where anyone can enjoy it. Consequently, it’s one of those rare works that is adored by both critics and music fans.
When it comes to discussing U2’s best album, it seems like The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby get mentioned the most often. War certainly deserves recognition as well. While there are some less-than-stellar moments, the great songs truly outweigh the no-so-great ones. It’s definitely one of my favorite albums of theirs.
As far as The Beatles go, I am always split between Revolver and Abbey Road. The latter, however, has a few not-so-great-yet-pretty-good moments on its first half; Revolver is more solid all the way through.
With U2, I absolutely rank both The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby as their best efforts. Much like Radiohead, they are a band whose works bring me mixed reactions. Boy is a great debut, October is lackluster, War feels like a mixed bag to me, and The Unforgettable Fire is awesome, certainly the moment when their sound came together.
I also love Rattle and Hum (even though it is sort of looked down on), All That You Can’t Leave Behind, and How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. Pop and Zooropa, to my ears, sound like good records whose style I don’t care much for… so I don’t listen to them very often. I still have to get to their last two albums.