Record labels save the best of the year for the holidays - East Valley Tribune: Get Out

Record labels save the best of the year for the holidays

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Posted: Thursday, November 25, 2004 6:41 am | Updated: 5:48 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

November 25, 2004

People eat turkey. Then they go shopping the next day.

It's a tradition that goes back to the days of America's founding Pilgrims, who after eating a huge Stove Top stuffing-filled bird and whipped mashed potatoes, would head to the Wal-Mart to bulk up on bear skins for the winter.

Or something like that.

Consumers cutting loose with cash in a post-turkey splurge at the mall is something the entertainment biz counts on every holiday season with record labels holding the public's most sought after releases until the end of the year, when shoppers are looking for something, anything, for that special music lover.

Here's a look at three of the most anticipated musical releases of the year, which conveniently arrived in stores Tuesday, just in time for the Pilgrims to rush out and buy them this weekend.

U2

‘How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb’

If U2 has proven anything over the past two decades, it's the willingness to take chances with each new release.

After their first few albums stuck to the early ’80s formula that made the band famous, the fiercely political band began throwing change-ups at their fans. Some of the records became instant classics, such as the American desert-influenced sounds of “The Joshua Tree” and the darker, European shadings of “Achtung, Baby,” while others, such as the experimental “Zooropa” and the techno-laced “Pop” practically became screaming dogs in the cut-out bin.

Fans expecting another drastic change in the latest U2 release, after 2000's relatively straightforward “All That You Can't Leave Behind,” will be, in a sense, surprised. Instead of a radically different musical direction, the quartet returns to the ground they covered in the early ’80s with albums such as “Boy” and “October.”

And the result is a good, but not great, U2 disc.

The opening cut, “Vertigo,” is as catchy a hook as guitarist The Edge has ever written and Bono's soaring melodic vocals turn this track into one of the best singles the band has ever produced. The soft/loud dynamics and the propulsive rhythm section make the cut a “crank it up” toe-tapper.

As one of the most innovative guitarists ever to pick up a six string, The Edge's work on the CD is unerringly beautiful, especially on the gorgeously poetic “Miracle Drug,” the Stonesy acoustic love ballad

“Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own” and the hook-filled “City of Blinding Lights.”

Bono is one of the few writers in rock who can effectively deliver simple and heartfelt lyrics without sounding overly sentimental and trite, and his work on this disc is always engaging and distinctive.

Still, while there are few bands that can craft melodious soundscapes as well as U2, the band gets away from their strengths on a few cuts here. The riff-driven, industrial “Love and Peace or Else” fails to deliver a memorable hook and “The Original of the Species,” a slow track, falls flat.

The band is at their best on the blistering “All Because of You,” the stunning acoustic pop of “A Man and a Woman,” the melodic mid-tempo beauty of the best track on the disc, “Crumbs from Your Table,” and the gospel-hued album closer “Yahweh.”

“How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” is not a classic on the order of “Achtung, Baby,” but it isn't a disaster of the “Pop” variety either. Taken as a whole, the CD is good work from a great band, and the only inherent disappointment is that U2 may be able to dismantle an atomic bomb, but can't build a classic album every time out. B

— by Chris Hansen Orf, Get Out

Nirvana

‘With the Lights Out’

Ten years after the suicide of Nirvana’s guitarist/singer and leader, Kurt Cobain, DGC Records can finally release an abridged collection of his oldest, grittiest home recordings and a smattering of never-before-issued offerings.

Though the edges are rough, the box set includes early versions of Nirvana’s most beloved and familiar tunes. Primitive versions of “Polly,” “Drain You” and other selections from the band’s studio albums and B-sides, offer intimate glimpses at the early stages of what evolved into Nirvana’s prematurely capped professional catalog.

The three music CDs were drawn from more than 120 tapes discovered in Cobain’s personal collection after his death. The release of the box set was blocked in 2001 by lawsuits filed by Cobain’s widow, Courtney Love, who sued DGC parent company Universal Records, Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl and bassist Krist Novoselic for ownership of Cobain’s tapes and work.

Throughout the collection, and probably due to the state and storage of the home tapes, the sound sometimes gets bad and choppy. You can chalk it up to the punk-rock, D.I.Y. spirit of the beast, but blips and dropouts in both audio and video portions don’t make for seamless listening/viewing.

Fans will recognize embryonic versions of “Sliver” and the so-raw-that-it’s tender Cobain solo song “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?,” but may be surprised to hear the original lyrical arrangements on demo versions of “Drain You,” “Aneurysm” and “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” The musical structures are mostly the same, but verses and choruses have been reordered and edited on the albums.

Despite all the rain clouds in the sound that defined the Pacific Northwest, Nirvana shows heady, immensely giddy senses of humor on some songs. With the tape sped up on the loony track, “Beans,” Cobain sounds like he’s singing on helium. And on an unpolished taping of “Lounge Act,” he bellows, “I’ll wet the bed and wear high heels,” just to prove his love for the song’s subject, whomever she was.

The 20-song DVD takes fans to the very roots of the band. Beginning with a live cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Heartbreaker,” about an hour of the DVD footage comes from practice sessions at Cobain’s Aberdeen, Wash., home and Novoselic’s mother’s house. Cobain sings into a wood-paneled wall (perhaps to rehearse for stage?) and unidentified miscreants frequently turn up to dance, flick the lights on and off and brandish beer cans.

The rest of the DVD selections are pulled from music videos, a performance at Rhino Records in Los Angeles and other shows around Seattle. The DVD concludes with a sentimental homage to the young band; a swatch of them frolicking in the daylight and sitting down in the studio to claw through “Seasons in the Sun” on foreign instruments (Cobain on drums, Novoselic on guitar and Dave Grohl on bass) in Rio de Janeiro.

Chronology aside, these selections are emblematic of the same Attention Deficit Disorder that defined Nirvana and the rock music of the early ’90s in general.

Much like the publication of Cobain’s “Journals” in 2003, the box set leaves the listener with only bits of cloth from which to attempt to piece together the entirety of the well-worn grunge tapestry. (CDs, A; DVD, A-)

— by Jenna Duncan, Get Out

Gwen Stefani

‘Love, Angel, Music, Baby’

No Doubt is a pretty good band who have had a great deal of success in the last decade.

For that they can thank Gwen Stefani, the whirling dynamo with the golden voice who comes off as Madonna's punky little sister. Does anybody really think that the dudes in No Doubt would be a good band without their platinum-haired pop goddess?

Stefani is, and always has been the star, plain and simple.

For her solo debut, she recasts herself as a disco diva seemingly just paroled after 25 years of captivity in Studio 54. Stefani called out heavy-hitters such as Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Andre 3000, Dr. Dre and The Neptunes to produce its 12 tracks, most of which were co-written by the vixen herself.

Shrugging off the dead weight she’s carried around for so long has given the singer the chance to branch out from the ska/pop trappings of No Doubt, and she delivers a wildly uneven mixed bag of catchy synth-pop, danceable raves, R&B balladry, and over-sexed grooves that will have zit-faced teenage boys drooling over the lurid album cover while listening to all the innuendo.

Kicking the disc off with the terminally infectious “What You Waiting For?,” co-written by Linda Perry, who is responsible for many of Christina Aguilera's biggest hits, Stefani coos and gasps over a solid synth-pop backing track with a driving bass drum beat that masks the complexity of a descending vocal melody that the singer nails with a healthy dose of attitude, even admonishing “take a chance you stupid ho!” on the track's tag-out.

After the stellar opener the disc falters, with tunes such as “Hollaback Girl” — which sounds like something a high school cheerleading squad would come up with after the home team got its ass kicked — the dragging R&B cut “Luxurious” and the outright annoying rap/spoken word verses of “Harajuku Girls” failing to bring out the best in Stefani's vocals.

There are bright spots on the CD, including “Bubble Pop Electric,” a hilarious duet with Johnny Vulture where the two go on a date, with Vulture asking “Where you wanna go” over Stefani singing “drive-in movie/drive in to me.” Stefani wears her Depeche Mode influence on her sleeve on “The Real Thing” and “Cool,” and her duet with Outkast’s Andre 3000, a mixed-race love song, steals the show.

Stefani's potential for solo greatness has been evident for years, but this disc ultimately fails to live up to the singer's promise and the disc's hype. C+

— by Chris Hansen Orf, Get Out

Deck the halls with holiday CDs

By CHRIS HANSEN ORF

Get Out

It would be a heck of a lot harder to get into the yuletide spirit without listening to holiday music while roasting chestnuts over an open fire (does anybody really roast chestnuts anymore?). Here is a handy guide for the best of the newly released holiday discs and some old faves:

New releases

Clay Aiken (Merry Christmas With Love): The former “American Idol” runner-up weighs in with his takes on “Silent Night” and “Winter Wonderland” among other Christmas classics.

Jessica Simpson (Re-Joyce: The Christmas Album): Hear singer, TV star and soon-to-be movie actress Jessica Simpson sing a bevy of holiday tunes such as “Baby, It's Cold Outside” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”

Vanessa Williams (Silver and Gold): Once-disgraced former Miss America turned singer turned movie star turned Radio Shack pimp Vanessa Williams delivers an album's worth of yuletide offerings such as “Have Yourself a Merry Christmas” and “Drummer Boy.”

Various Artists (Not Another XMAS Album! An Alternative Christmas): The Ramones, Tori Amos and a slew of other alt-rock giants perform slightly skewered holiday tunes.

Chris Isaak (Chris Isaak Christmas) Rockabilly crooner Chris Isaak penned five new songs for this release and heps up some Christmas standards.

Old favorites

Bing Crosby (Christmas Greetings — 1950) This record sounds like the holidays are supposed to sound — joyous and swinging, with the great Bing at the helm singing the classics.

Nat King Cole (The Christmas Song — 1969) This is arguably the finest collection of holiday music ever recorded, with the incomparable Nat King Cole lending beauty and subtlety to everybody's faves.

The Beach Boys (Christmas Album — 1964) A great album for an 80 degree Arizona holiday, The Beach Boys lend their unparalleled sunny harmonies to a few originals and plenty of Christmas standards.

Christmas with the Rat Pack (2002) This compilation features Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. belting out swinging Christmas tunes — perfect for the relative who hits the eggnog bowl one too many times.

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