Few songwriters have had a career as long and successful as Brian Wilson. Since the early ’60s, Wilson has penned some of the most iconic and influential American pop music of the past century. Although his life is marked by tragedy and trauma, his legacy runs deep in popular culture. With the upcoming release of Love And Mercy, a biopic starring Paul Dano and John Cusack as Wilson at different points in his life, and the recent release of his 11th solo album No Pier Pressure, it feels like a good time to look back at his 50-plus year career and celebrate some of his best work. From massive hits to obscure, experimental pop compositions, Wilson’s music is always thoughtful, idiosyncratic, and as thrilling today as it was in the ’60s.
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Released almost 25 years ago, Use Your Illusion I and II remain the last great epics in rock music. These are the two albums that legitimized Guns N’ Roses as the last great rock band, separating them from the likes of Mötley Crüe and Def Leppard and putting them in the same stratosphere as Aerosmith and the Rolling Stones. In my younger years, while every other 13-year-old was listening to Blink 182, Simple Plan, and others in the legion of bubblegum pop-punk bands that stopped mattering after 2006, I was busy being enamored by Axl Rose’s screeching vocals and Slash’s mesmerizing guitar solos.
While all the hype and attention gets shifted to Appetite for Destruction, I’ve always been much more partial to the Illusion twins. On the record, the band members are better musicians. The music is way more expansive and diverse. Above all else, the albums themselves possess a timelessness that Appetite for Destruction doesn’t have. Whereas Appetite for Destruction is an album that sounds like it’s from 1987, the Illusion duo finds Guns N’ Roses not caring about fitting into the styles of the time. They are records that very much forge their own path in terms of their appearance and what they hope to accomplish. Collectively, they are a masterpiece; individually, they are the mania and the depression that encapsulates the spirit of this band. Use Your Illusion I and II is the Physical Graffiti of the ‘90s.
None of you reading this are greenhorns when it comes to “Greatest Hits” compilations. We all know the gamut: by creating a goto catalog release that will entice casual fans for years and decades to come, Greatest Hits/Best Of compilations are a reliable source of income for record labels and artists alike. We all snicker whenever an artist feels the need to tack on a “Volume One” onto that title, because unless you’re the Eagles or Billy Joel, you ain’t gettin’ a Volume Two, rest assured.
Eclectic singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Sufjan Stevens recently announced his first solo album in five years, Carrie & Lowell. The album, which is named after his mother and step-father, is said to be a return to his folk roots, with songs about “life and death, love and loss, and the artist’s struggle to make sense of the beauty and ugliness of love.” Though Stevens has not been quiet for the past five years, releasing music with his side project Sisyphus as well as composing music for ballets and films, the promise of a new, 11-track solo album is an exciting one. This list of 11 songs is sure to get us back in the mood ahead of the March 31st release of Carrie & Lowell.
It’s always nice to think that if you had a lackluster 2014, you can wipe the slate clean in 2015. A new year means a new chance to do all the things you wanted to do in 2014, but didn’t get around to. However, by the end of January, the gyms are already emptying out. Perhaps the key to making changes in the new year is to not get overwhelmed by taking on too much. As Martin Luther King once wrote: “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” This is good advice for those of us who have already given up our New Years resolutions or haven’t made them at all because they seem like a waste of time or too much trouble.