Thursday, June 19, 2008

It's A Long Title For An Album That's Done All Too Soon

Yesterday, Coldplay released a new album, entitled "Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends." I'm a fan of Coldplay because of their laid-back acoustic feel, but this album is decidedly more crunchy. Everything in this album, from their um, interesting choice of album art, to the untidy scrawl of the album name, to the sound of their first single, is more in-your-face and more aggressive and rockin'. I like acoustic music, but I like good rock also. There's always old Coldplay (and plenty of tracks on this album) that I can turn to when I'm feeling mellow, but it's good to hear some rock from the boys.

As with the Weezer Red Album, I'm going to listen to this album for the first time right now, and I'll write my impressions of each song as they come up. I'm not going to put a lyrical excerpt from every song this time. I'll just put lyrics that are catchy or that stand out to me.

Once again, I got the pre-order iTunes edition, so I have two additional bonus tracks: Lost? and the acoustic version of Lovers In Japan. I'll still write about those, but keep in mind that they might not be available to you.

1. Life In Technicolor
This is an instrumental track. It starts out with chiming sounds and a quick repetitive riff underneath. Next, a plucky stringed instrument (doesn't sound like a guitar...) comes in. More and more layers are added to the mix until it's a pretty good rockin' song, but it contains the classic Coldplay atmospheric noises in the background as well. There are yells by Chris Martin, does it count as instrumental then, even if the voices aren't saying anything?

2. Cemeteries of London
This track bleeds right in from Life In Technicolor. It's got a dark ambient feel, and Chris Martin singing in a weird key signature. It doesn't sound like a minor (aeolian) scale, maybe it's phrygian? Quickly-picked acoustic guitar and slapping drums come in. There's a weird vocal harmony part, and then an electric guitar solo with a voice not unlike the sound on Coldplay's "Talk" comes in. I think this song is about seeing evidence of God in everyday objects. It ends with a nice little sliding-down piano riff that didn't fit with anything else on the song.

3. Lost!
Hard-pounding drums and handclaps, plus pipe organ make the beginning of this song very distinctive. Tambourine and more organ layers come in for the chorus, and an electric guitar comes in halfway through the chorus. Falls into familiar Coldplay territory about two minutes in: Mellow vocal harmonies over atmospheric ambience. There's a distorted guitar solo right after, though, but the harmonies are kept in and hummed this time. This song was way too short. It was amazing, but wasn't long enough.

"You might be a big fish/in a little pond/doesn't mean you've won"

4. 42
Obviously, "42" refers to Douglas Adams' Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy, where it is proclaimed that "42" is the answer to Life, The Universe, and Everything. I wonder how this song is going to reference that. There's a weird piano part and then of course, the ambience comes in, but that's okay. I like this kind of ambience, where it's setting a mood and underlaying other things, but I don't like ambience where it's just noise for the sake of noise, like some of the stuff Pink Floyd does. Two minutes in, some kind of weird instrument comes in, like a cross between a trumpet and an electric guitar. This instrument leads into a happy, upbeat second section with a drumbeat and guitar riff that sounds a lot like New Order or The Cure could have done it. It goes back to the original section for the last two lines, and that ruins it. I also did not detect much of an idea about why "42" is the title.

"You thought you might be a ghost/you didn't get to heaven but you made it close"

5. Lovers In Japan / Reign Of Love
This song continues the feel of actually belonging to New Order. There are lots of guitar parts, some acoustic, some ambient, and some fuzzy electric riffs. It makes for a nice mix. There's a plinky piano part in the middle of the first song, it sounds like they put the microphone right next to the "bridge" of the piano where the strings don't vibrate as much and generate a plucky sound. They could be synthesizing it, of course. Lovers In Japan is a very good, happy, upbeat song, but it's kind of inane. It doesn't stick in your memory, because the riffs are too long and the sections change too often. I like it, but I'm not likely to be humming it anytime soon. It'll take a lot longer to memorize all the ins and outs of this song.

Lovers In Japan ends on a big, loud, fuzzy guitar tone, and Reign Of Love fades in right over the top of it. It's got some sweet rolling piano parts in the foreground, with weird percussion noises in the background. I have no idea how these guys recorded all these weird sounds. The rolling piano continues clear to the end and makes a nice finish to the track.

6. Yes (With Hidden Track: Chinese Sleep Chant)
Some very weird noises start out this song. Chris Martin's voice is very heavy in the mix, taking up all the space and leaving not much else able to be heard. It sounds like they put the microphone right in his mouth when recording, it's so resonant. Someone in the band (or I guess it could be someone else...) is good with a violin. It can't have been synthesized, because there are sounds of fingers fretting strings and the box sticking across the strings, making them resonate. It's a quick, low, choppy riff, and it sounds cool. Most of the songs so far have been comprised of a few chords in the background and funky riffs going back and forth between instruments. It's not a bad way to write music, but it sounds a little too... progressive for me. Coldplay is not supposed to be progressive rock, they're supposed to be mellow, beautiful, flowing arrangements filled with emotion and thought-provoking lyrics. I don't like it a ton, but they pull it off pretty well, I guess.

The second song on this track makes up for the really heavy voice in the song before it. There's a fairly heavy (for Coldplay, that is) guitar chopping away at chords and a bass creating a flowing background canvas, and Chris Martin's falsetto is shoved to the very back of the mix, as if it's... I dunno, as if the music were a big waterfall and he was trying to sing from behind the waterfall...

7. Viva la Vida
This song has made the rounds around the modern-rock charts and has remained one of the top-downloaded songs on iTunes since the very day it was available about three months ago. If you haven't heard it yet, there's something wrong, because it's everywhere. Of course, there's nothing wrong with that. It's a great little ditty, played mostly on orchestra instruments (including an upright string bass, none of this imitation electric bass stuff) and concert percussion, not a drum set. It creates a great feeling. The song is about a dethroned king, and thoughts of kings bring back memories of the olden days, and the olden days bring back thoughts of classical music, and this song captures that feel of good ol' classical music, without being classical.

8. Violet Hill
This is the band's first single, and it's done the rounds on iTunes and YouTube and the rock charts as well. It definitely takes the top place on the list of Coldplay Songs With Heavily Distorted Electric Guitar. It's very... crunchy. That word has been used a million times all over the place to describe this song, but that's the only word that fits. It's got very distinctive, rockin' guitars, but they're not very loud in the mix. The lesser-distorted guitars playing ambience take top spot, and the heavy chords come in quieter. It makes for a cool, top-heavy song, and it's no wonder that it's such a hit.

"When the future's architectured/by a carnival of idiots on show/you'd better lie low"

9. Strawberry Swing
Sounds as if they recorded this all together on some concert hall stage, instead of overdubbing tracks in a studio. It's got reverberating handclaps and drums that are giving off a much more rounded sound than they otherwise would in a studio... I dunno, maybe it's just a microphone trick. This song has great folk-style guitar riffs leaning a little bit to the right-side channel of the stereo mix, while the guitar chords come in later, leaning to the left, balancing out the song right as you start to feel a little off-balance. This is kind of an inane, silly, happy pop song, but it's great, and people will love it. It's upbeat, and without a trace of negativity or unhappiness. Since many Coldplay songs deal with loss or insecurity, this is a very welcome change-up for their usual musical theme.

"It's such a perfect day"

10. Death and All His Friends
The beginning reminds me of stuff done by The Fray: quiet, fuzzy, rolling piano and a single voice. Coldplay adds a mellow guitar riffs into it as well. The piano starts to pound the chords together instead of rolling over them, and the guitar riffs gets a little heavier, then comes a heavy one-measure fill, and a perfect pop song is born. The drum beat is the epitome of pop, and the piano is banging out bright chords in a syncopated pattern, and the guitar is drilling into a repetitive riff. Multiple voicals come in for a few great lines, then fade away to let the piano resume rolling and slowing down to finish off the song. Actually, I guess the song is only about halfway done. The piano fades into total silence for a few seconds, then another completely different song comes up, still under the same title. It's got rolling guitar tones reminiscent of the album opener, Life In Technicolor, but this time with words, albeit few of them. This is the last song on the official album, and all three sections of it would be great stand-alone album finishers.

"And/in the end/we lie awake/and we dream of makin' our escape"

11. Lost?
Not to be confused with Lost!, this is Lost?, and it's a more reflective, questioning version of the other one. Even though the lyrics of both songs are exactly the same, the music makes them sound much different. In Lost!, the heavy beat and quick tempo, it sounds as if Chris is singing about being already lost and the hopelessness of things. In Lost?, the slower tempo and the mellow piano chords without any other major music creates a feeling of being in denial about being lost. He sings as if he still has some hope of finding something or being able to get out of the hopelessness, instead of giving up and making the best of the little he has, like on Lost!. It's odd, but the different versions really do carry very different emotions with them, proving that lyrics are not everything.

"Just because I'm losin', doesn't mean I'm lost/doesn't mean I'll stop/doesn't mean I will cross"

12. Lovers In Japan (Acoustic Version)
Fifteen seconds into this song (essentially enough to get a plucky-sounding intro off the ground), and I'm already digging this song a lot. It's not just straight-up major guitar chords, like so many "acoustic" versions of things are. There are plenty of the atmospheric Coldplay sounds here, mostly supplied by a very far away tambourine and a mellow bass line, but there are plenty of very interesting acoustic guitar noises. Dissonances, sustained chords, and silly little repetitive riffs make this feel very... organic. Down-to-earth. Not as produced as all of the other songs on the album. Real. Something like that, I guess. Ends on a very high sustained note that sounds like a voice but is way too high for any normal human being to hit. This tone slowly fades into black, and that finishes up the album.

In conclusion, I'll say that Coldplay has created another brilliant album full of songs I'm sure to enjoy again and again. There are some problems, some things I didn't like, and just some weird things in general, but those are just small wrinkles in the otherwise smooth, glassy surface of the music. Some of the minor things I have taken issue with include:

-The atmospheric noises: Sure, ambience is great, and it can carry great emotion and can be great for setting the mood of a piece, but when every song has weird noises in the background and constant, high-pitched sighing things, it gets just a little bit old. It seems as if Coldplay is using the ambience as too much of a gimmick, and not a thing to be taken seriously and used sparingly in order to achieve the full effect. It's nothing major, but it detracts from the overall experience by being ever-present and demanding. If they would remove the weird noises in a few places, it would leave their music much bore open and raw and exposed, and that can carry more emotion than ambience will ever be able to.

-The weird multiple-songs-in-one-track idea: Sure, maybe a bonus track at the end of the album is okay, or maybe some kind of short song placed at the end of another long song is acceptable, but when you have seven songs rolled into three tracks, it's a little annoying. I will most probably be clipping these songs all apart and re-labeling them as individual tracks, just so I don't have to skip through things or remember time positions so I can jump right to the song I want to hear. When the last track contains three completely different songs, it could mean one of many things. You can be telling people that you had so many great ideas that you couldn't choose a good album finisher, which leaves you seeming pretty arrogant. You could be saying that you don't know how to pick a good album finisher and haven't given the matter proper thought or production time, which I doubt is the problem here, because this album feels almost too produced, (which is just another very small issue that I had, but not even big enough to merit its own paragraph). Or, it might say that you're trying to be too gimmicky with your music and trying to be clever or funny or quirky, in which case you end up not being taken seriously. Either way, it was kind of lame to stuff three songs into the last track, as well as hiding two other "bonus tracks" throughout the rest of the album. The extra songs are all good songs, but it would be nicer to at least have them out in the open as individual tracks so that you can listen to them and their companions separately and at your leisure.

All in all, though, it's a very good album, full of emotion and thought, and will have me listening to it on repeat for a long time to come. Clocking in at just over 53 minutes, it's not really a short album, but it's such a great musical journey that you'll never realize you've been lost for an hour in the land of Coldplay. 8 out of 10.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Greatest Album That Ever Lived?

Weezer's Red Album was just barely released! I haven't listened to it yet, though, but I'm going to be listening to it all night, that's for sure, and I'm going to listen to it for the very first time right now and write my impressions on each of the tracks. They might be edited later on when I'm more familiar with the tracks, but I'll make a note of that, so that my first impressions are also preserved.

No, I'm not proclaiming that Weezer's Red Album is the greatest album ever. It's just a pun on one of the tracks on the album. It's a very good rockin' ride of an album, though, and it departs a little bit more from Weezer's traditional power pop sound, which is by no means a bad thing. I'll go through and listen to the album, and write my views on each song as I go through them. I got the iTunes Deluxe Version Pre-Order, so I have sixteen tracks. The standard Weezer Red Album that is available in stores has only the first ten tracks, the Weezer Red Album Deluxe Version available on iTunes has the first fourteen, the fifteenth track comes with an iTunes purchase of the entire album simultaneously, and the sixteenth track is an iTunes exclusive track that only is available if you pre-ordered the album. That said, some of the tracks I write about will not be available to you (although I'm sure if you look hard enough, you'll be able to find them on the Internet, and I'm not saying any more than that...) Anyway, here goes:

1. Troublemaker
Not quite a power-pop song, but definitely fairly mainstream. Nice bright guitars. Funny, cool chorus, even if it doesn't mean much. There isn't a whole lot about "troublemaking" in this song, but it's still really cool.

"I'm a troublemaker, never been a faker/doin' things my own way, never givin' up/I'm a troublemaker, not a double-taker/I don't have the patience to keep it on the up"

2. The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations On A Shaker Hymn)
This song is EPIC! I love it. It starts out with a crowd cheering and mellow piano, then goes into a rock-rap section, and after a verse of that, the mellow piano comes in with the rock-rap. Next is an acoustic section with Rivers Cuomo singing in falsetto, then an INCREDIBLE vocal chorus section with the entire band. Back to another acoustic section with higher falsetto, then a straight-up rock section. Brian Bell singing cool backup vocals. An almost swing-style section with offbeat, syncopated drums and guitar. Back to more straight-rock, then a plunky guitar part with Rivers speaking metaphorically about life as a stage. Another vocal chorus (not quite as amazing as the first one, but still darn good). A last rock section, and a great ending chord, sung by the band. Amazing harmonies, this song is excellent.

"After the havoc that I'm gonna wreak/no more words will critics have to speak/I've got the answers to the tangled knot/sleep tight in your cot"

3. Pork And Beans
Great power-poppy song, definitely a "single" sound. The music video is currently the most popular on YouTube, with over 5,000,000 views since May 23rd when it debuted. It's not my favorite song, because it's full of all the standard power chords, but it's got a good hook and nice lyrics. (Don't forget, you should watch the music video for Pork And Beans through this link to help me out in the contest for a guitar signed by Weezer!)

"I ain't gonna wear the clothes that you like/I'm fine and dandy with the me inside/one look in the mirror and I'm tickled pink/I don't give a hoot about what you think"

4. Heart Songs
Cool acoustic intro, with bass drum beats like a heart beating. Rivers is singing about all of his musical influences, from Gordon Lightfoot to Cat Stevens to the Beatles to Iron Maiden to Michael Jackson and Nirvana. It's a cool laid-back song with nice bell sounds. Heavy section when he mentions Nirvana's Nevermind. Synthed strings section that is a perfect foil for the heavy building guitar part. Excellent vocal counterpart breakdown with the band singing the chorus at half speed and Rivers overlaying it with repeated sections.

"These are my heart songs/they never feel wrong/and when I wake, for goodness' sake/these are the songs I keep singin'"

5. Everybody Get Dangerous
Sounds like a car speeding by and breaking glass, then some sweet chugging guitar comes in. Rivers is "singing" rap-rock about being bad as a kid. A song akin to "Troublemaker" but with more admissions to being a bad kid. Very good chugging guitars and fast vocals, reminds me of Anthony Kiedis' (Red Hot Chili Peppers) singing style. A long "bridge" section without the chugging guitars. Rivers holds out "place" for about a minute while the rest of the band comes in with other parts, then it's back to the march of the awesome guitar! The guitar ends suddenly and is replaced with a really sweet drum solo with falsetto yells on top of it, and this fades into the next song.

"And what will we say when our kids come to us/and ask with a smile on their face/hey, Dad my friends got some new ninja swords/is it cool if we slash up this place?"

6. Dreamin'
Another epic song, happy and upbeat. Cool ambient intro, standard pop-rock beginning, then fades into a cool mellow section with Brian singing lead and Rivers singing counterpart. A little section with some cool guitars in the middle that make you think it's going to go back into the heavy rock, but then it heads back into mellow counterparts again. Eventually, the pop rock comes back in underneath the counterpart and they make an excellent combination, until the straight-rock last four lines take over to finish up the song.

"I'm dreamin' in the morning, I'm dreamin' all through the night/and when I'm dreamin' I know that it's all right/I'm dreamin' in the evening, I'm dreamin' all through the day/and when I'm dreamin' I know that it's okay"

7. Thought I Knew
It's got a techno sound to the beginning, then comes in with an acoustic guitar and bass. This is a song that Brian wrote for his band, The Relationship, and he sings lead in the re-done Weezer version. This is originally a really dark-sounding minor key song, but Weezer has made it a light pop ballad. Brian has a very good voice. I like it, and it's a fresh change from Rivers (not that he's a bad singer, but it's way cool when bands have other people sing lead). Got a cool wandering guitar solo (first one on the album...) through the last chorus and breakdown.

"Sorry, if I caused you pain/sorry, I forgot your name/sorry, but you left me out in the rain"

8. Cold Dark World
Scott Shriner wrote the music and sang for this song, and it's got a really cool bass line (of course, seeing as how he is the bassist), keeps chugging and is just loud enough to be heard but not be overbearing. This is a really dark, almost creepy song, but it's so cool. It's another fresh change for Weezer, and this album is looking to be full of those. Cool synths and distorted vocals, plus really cool clicks on the percussion track, offbeat and perfectly fitting with the song.

"Angel girl in a cold dark world/I’m gonna be your man/angel girl in a cold dark world/I’ll make you understand"

9. Automatic
Drummer Patrick Wilson wrote this song, and frontman Rivers played drums, while Pat played guitar and sang. He's got a really great voice, deeper, throatier, and broader than Rivers'. Pat wrote it about loving his family. It's got really chugging guitars and a really sweet guitar solo (the second on the album, and it's really short, and this is the second-to-last song on the "official" album. Apparently guitar solos aren't what Weezer focused on this time around). Nice vocal harmonies. The guitar is really distorted and sounds way cool.

"When do I lay down/and get to see the world inside your eyes?/how can I reach out/and hold on to the joy you’ve got inside?"

10. The Angel And The One
Slow ballad-type song at the beginning. Rivers sings this song kind of emotionlessly, but all the emotion is still translated right through to you through the music, which is dark and sad as well as hopeful and promising as well. It gets happier about two minutes into the song, and Rivers adds some emotion to his voice. There's a part with standard poppy power chords, but they're fuzzed out and shoved to the back of the mix in favor of the ambient synthesizers and the vocals, and it creates a really cool effect. The vocals end at about five minutes but there's still two minutes of music left after that. It fades down quiet and then starts to build back up. Slightly dissonant and very mellow guitar chords and synths make a great finisher to the official album, but I'm glad I've got six songs to go.

"I’ve reached a higher place/that no one else can make a claim in/I’ll take you there my friend/I’m reaching out my hand, so take it/We are the angels and we are the ones that are praying"

11. Miss Sweeney
This song is hilariously unconventional. It starts out with a big sustained synth and a guy talking over an office intercom. Rivers comes in rapping as if he's continuing the message of the manager on the intercom, discussing business with Miss Sweeney, then comes in with a love-struck chorus. He then apologizes for the chorus and says he doesn't know what came over him, then goes back to talking business, and then comes into another chorus and admits that he's falling for... his secretary, and how much she means to him. It's a really sweet song though, and it's got some great parts. A choppy acoustic guitar plays during the verses and the breakdown, and there's a great bright, not-too-distorted electric guitar part in the choruses.

"Girl, you make the rain clouds disappear/the sun always shines when you’re near/I’m waiting until you love me"

12. Pig
This is a song that Rivers wrote about the life of a pig. He grows up with his family, finds a wife, has children, and is slaughtered. Fans loved Rivers' demo so much that it is in the album by popular demand (I suspect that Rivers liked this song, also, because it's amazing). This song starts with great foreign-sounding drums, like a shaker and an snare drum with the snare turned half-off, plus lots of hand claps and percussive strums with the acoustic guitar. Rivers and Brian narrate the life of the pig, Rivers semi-rapping the lyrics and Brian singing the falsetto harmonies that used to be Matt Sharp's job. Nice piano chords come in and synth strings and make it incredible. I think I detect a bit of clarinet as well, and I know Rivers can play the clarinet, so it may be possible (EDIT: I do believe it's actually a harmonica). Super-distorted guitar and bass at the bottom of the mix make it powerful as well as quaint and hilarious. If you didn't know the title, you'd think it was just a song about human life, until the very end where Rivers discusses getting slaughtered and giving thanks to Farmer Pete for giving him food and taking care of him. It drops down back to laid-back acoustic guitar and slow drums, and then is over all too soon.

"I’d like to thank Farmer Pete/for bringing me scraps of food that I could eat/he always had a smile on his face/he didn’t want to think of this day"

13. The Spider
Another song about animals having to die, but not entirely. There is a spider in the story, but the main gist of this song is the idea that we don't have much time before our lives are gone and we need to make the most of them and not be afraid of what might happen. Rivers' vocals sound like he sang on a stage and put the microphone at the back of the audience. There are nice ambient synths in the background. There's a lot of acoustic guitar on this album, more than all the rest of the Weezer albums combined. I might have to get some tabs for these songs, because I like to play along with Weezer, but if the Weezer music is acoustic and I'm playing along on an acoustic, it'll sound so much better.

"There’s a spider in the drain and he’s feeling pain/and he doesn’t want to die any more than you or I/he’s struggling to live but he doesn’t have much time/any more than you or I, you or I"

14. King
Scott sings lead on this song, because Rivers didn't like it but Scott fought for it to be put in the Deluxe Version. Scott sounds like he could be a country singer or something. He's got a deep, scratchy voice that sounds great. Amazing reverberating synths come in after the acoustic guitar has been playing alone for a while. There's also a lot of synth work in this album, and other Weezer albums have hardly had any. It's nice to hear them branching out from the standard rock band instruments, but it seems almost that they're using them as too much of a gimmick instead of enhancing their music. The synths sound great, but they're unnecessary in some sections of the album. Later on in this song, a really distorted bass comes in, which is an interesting combination, because the acoustic guitar is still playing mellow Spanish-style chords. Good, original drum beat with more than a two-count repeat rate. This song is like a mix of classical Spanish music, New Wave synthesized stuff, and hard rock. It's way cool.

"You see I own this town. You best not come around/if you wanna get by, then cool it down/if you wanna start something, know one thing: I’m king"

15. It's Easy
Country-pop acoustic guitar work at the beginning of this song. It sounds like Brian singing (it definitely isn't Rivers). Really cool acoustic bass guitar sounds in this song. It would be way cool if Scott played an upright string bass, but an acoustic bass guitar is pretty cool also. Excellent acoustic guitar solo. I really need the guitar tabs to some of these songs, because I'm really digging the acoustic guitar stuff. This was a sweet country-style song (even though I don't specifically like country) with awesome riffs in it. Great break from power-pop and power chords for Weezer.

"Gimme time, give it up/draw the line, raise the cup (EDIT: I'm pretty sure "raise the gun" is the actual lyric, and it fits more with the song's idea as well [EDIT EDIT: I guess it actually is "raise the cup," even though "raise the gun" fits so much better])/it's easy to be mean
(EDIT: "not to be mean")"

16. I Can Love
Sounds like a poor-quality garage band recorded with an eight-track. Rivers has a great falsetto, but this is some kind of weird jam of a song that could be cool if it were properly mixed. I can't hear enough of the parts (I guess I'm just not used to pre-production demos). This is the iTunes exclusive pre-order track, and it's pretty cool, but I don't like the poor audio quality. I guess it's not poor quality, so much as it is a few microphones set up around the band jamming, with no post-recording production or anything like that. Sweet twangy guitar riffs, though. You can hear Rivers giving instructions as they play the bridge. "Six times", et cetera.

"I didn't hope for much, I was used to how things were/even though I was not sure, you'd say/I was throwin' it all away and I never learned to heal"

In conclusion, I really like the Red Album. It's a great turn away from power pop for Weezer, and it's an amazing musical journey. Sure, there's nothing wrong with power pop, but there's only so much you can do with twelve power chords, right? Exactly. The acoustic guitar, the synths, the alternate singers and the unconventional song forms all combine to make a completely original album full of great songs that you'll want to listen to again and again until you have squeezed every last drop of amazingness from them (which will take an incredibly long time). 9 out of 10.