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Thursday, Mar 17, 2011
A few things for youngsters and hipsters to be aware of: Phil Collins, in another lifetime, was not only a very worthwhile musician, he was also an outstanding drummer.

There must be some misunderstanding. Is he in or out?


(“You’ve got to get in to get out . . .”)


Not the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which Genesis was finally—and correctly—inducted into last March (by a very nervous Trey Anastasio). The question is: has he hung up his sticks forever? Has he set foot on his last stage, never to sing into the mic again?


(“Hello, I must be going . . .”)


It’s tough to say, based on the man’s recent remarks. Earlier this month there were conflicting reports: is he retiring from music to focus on his family, or not? Is it temporary or permanent? And most significant: who cares? Well, I do, of which more shortly.


Last year, due to medical concerns, he disclosed that he was unable to play the drums (inviting smart-ass types to inquire how long it had been since he had played the drums anyway, if he ever did). Due to a dislocated vertebrae in his neck, his hands were affected and presumably that explained the setback. Optimistic fans could assume that once he fully recovered, he could resume his musical aspirations. The bigger question was: does he have any? Considering it was the same year his band was enshrined, it was distressing to see him in various interviews expressing more ambivalence than pride regarding a career where he shares exclusive company with Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney for selling more than a million records with a band and as a solo artist.


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Wednesday, Mar 9, 2011
While a lot can be said over the technique’s indulgent, sometimes stodgy nature, I honestly believe that a lot of the grumbling about solos is due to the fact that not everyone can pull them off well.

Echoing last year’s call for discussion about great guitar riffs, this year music journalist Simon Reynolds has called for odes to the riff’s slightly-uncool sibling: the guitar solo. Naturally, you’re all welcome to join the festivities. Unlike the Great Internet Riff War of 2010, it’s a bit of a struggle at first to get people to expound upon how awesome guitar solos are. Consider that entire musical movements have arisen time and again—punk and post-punk, just to name two—that make a point of rejecting the soloing convention. While a lot can be said over the technique’s indulgent, sometimes stodgy nature, I honestly believe that a lot of the grumbling about solos is due to the fact that not everyone can pull them off well.


Really, think about it: a great riff can be just one catchy measure of music repeated for a full minute. A great solo is supposed to be an individual expression, and those by their nature have to be idiosyncratic and nuanced. They require a baseline amount of talent and/or imagination, and furthermore they are often improvised. Factoring all that in mind, even an oft-cited classic solo can have a bar or two that simply does not work for the listener. I for one can rattle off numerous riffs I consider classic, but my list of comparable solos would be much shorter.


Regardless, I’ve never been one to call for the head of the guitar solo on a platter. Having heard Pink Floyd a little too often on classic rock radio isn’t enough to make me want to deny an essential vocabulary element from genres such as blues, heavy metal, and even folk music. Additionally, solos are a handy compositional technique to liven up a song arrangement—the presence of that breakneck riff in Motörhead’s “Ace of Spades” might satiate most hungers for six-string mania, but the whole affair would be a little less interesting without that “Fast” Eddie Clark speed freakout after Lemmy shouts out “And don’t forget the joker!”


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Thursday, Mar 3, 2011
Foo Fighters might be at the peak of their fame now, but it was those first two albums that stand as the conclusive proof that Kurt Cobain wasn't the only brilliant songwriter to have spent time in Nirvana.

These days, Foo Fighters are one of the biggest rock bands in the world. Their new sure-to-be-mega seventh album Wasting Light is due in a little under two months from now, and founding Foo Dave Grohl is the recent recipient of NME’s Godlike Genius Award. Back in 1995 though, they were an unknown yet promising quantity, the latter due to the weighty legacy intrinsically tied to them. While the fact that the Foo Fighters were created by a member of Nirvana—ubiquitously regarded as the most important rock band of the last 20 years—is never far from public consciousness even now, in the early days of the group’s existence it was of interest to people precisely because the Foo Fighters was Dave Grohl, Former Nirvana Drummer, who started the low-key recording project as a sort of musical therapy in the wake of Kurt Cobain’s April 1994 suicide.


But even from the get-go, it was clear to me that Foo Fighters were capable of crafting tunes that rank up there with the best Nirvana compositions. In fact, I was a Foo Fighters fan before I even heard Nirvana’s Nevermind all the way through, and I was unaware for an embarrassingly long time that the two alt-rock combos shared a key member (in my defense, goateed late ‘90s Grohl looked a bit different from the long-haired, clean-shaven beat master behind the kit in the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video). To this day, I consider their first two albums—Foo Fighters (1995) and The Colour and the Shape (1997)—the best material they ever produced.  Boasting a hearty serving of fantastic radio hits and ace album cuts, these two records should be the first stop for anyone aiming to delve into the Foo Fighters back catalog.


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Thursday, Feb 10, 2011
What does it mean to be rocked? Often, it's just best to let the music overtake you.

Rock is my favorite style of music by far, and I have to say, a large part of the genre’s basic appeal to me is so instinctive it’s a disservice to try to intellectualize or quantify it. At the end of the day, it’s that gut feeling I get from listening to the music—the primal sensation of “being rocked”—that often endears a rock song to me. Fact: I will never get sick of hearing distorted guitars that bash out killer riffs—indeed, I often teach myself how to play them on guitar so I can play them endlessly to my heart’s content.


This is a somewhat long-winded setup to explain that earlier this week I taught myself how to play Judas Priest’s heavy metal classic “Breaking the Law”, riff and all, because it’s totally awesome you guys. Yes, that is my well-thought out rationale for pursuing the undertaking. And if any style of rock music is duty-bound to adhere to a criteria of being “totally awesome” to determine its intrinsic worth, it is metal. Priest knows how to be awesome: decked out in studded black leather, singer Rob Halford habitually drives onto a concert stage on a Harley Davidson motorcycle, dismounting to whip the crowd into a frenzy as they are attacked by the twin lead guitar assault of Glenn Tipton and KK Downing. We’re long past the point where such stagecraft can be dismissed by haters as silly macho posturing for dimwitted metalheads. Expert showmen and terrific musicians in any case, Halford and Co. know what the audience wants and how to deliver. The leather, the metal, the sonic onslaught: it’s all honed to perfection for the express purpose of making you feel rocked.


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Thursday, Jan 20, 2011
Painfully earnest and soberly overwrought, for one album and one song in particular Live managed to convincingly sell the drama.

When discussing half-remembered post-grunge hits with my friend Dustin a few nights back (this happens more often than you would think), he argued that any greatest hits album released by the Pennsylvania quartet Live should simply contain a copy of the group’s 1994 album Throwing Copper inside. And, you know, I have to completely agree with that, and I think most everyone else would, too. Sorry, “Pain Lies on the Riverside”.


Oh, Live: stridently passionate, humorlessly sincere, and insufferably portentous, the band always had a habit of crossing the mark into becoming unbearably overwrought. Around before grunge had even penetrated popular consciousness, the members of Live were in fact ardent devotees of R.E.M., injecting their spiritually-tinged college rock with U2-sized bluster and self-importance as well as the occasional questionable white-funk bass lick. Forgive Pearl Jam, everyone: it was really Live who paved the way for Creed. Yet for one album the group managed to dial back its most grating tics, beef up the hook-per-song ratio, and turn out one of the most consistent rock albums of the ‘90s. Live coasted for a long time upon the goodwill generated by Throwing Copper—allowing the ensemble to vex rock radio with the likes of the leaden “Lakini’s Juice” and the atrocious Tricky team-up “Simple Creed”—yet the band’s second album holds up today better than you would expect, in large part due to the presence of industrial-strength hits “Selling the Drama”, “I Alone”, “Lightning Crashes”, and “All Over You”.


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