Eagles: Long Road Out of Eden

October 31, 2007

Long Road Out of EdenIt’s been 28 years since the last Eagles studio album. 28 years! And so, finally, comes Long Road Out of Eden, an album that alone took six years to complete. While you’re listening to this new set of songs, however, it’s hard to imagine that any time has passed at all.

The classic Eagles sound is still there in full force, but this is not simply a nostalgia trip — Don Henley in particular anchors much of the album with biting critiques of current American culture and foreign policy. Sure, it’s trendy to bash the current political climate (cf. Pink), but only Henley (or perhaps Roger Waters) can write lyrics like “And we pray to our Lord/Who we know is American…/He supports us in war/He presides over football games.”

Still, there’s more beauty than bitterness amongst the 20 tracks on offer, such as “Center of the Universe”, a gentle piece that hits just the right notes with its pastoral guitar-work, or the near-a cappella “No More Walks in the Wood”, which manages to be environmentally-conscious without sounding too preachy or condescending.

There are too many great moments to run through them all, but it would be remiss not to mention the ten minute title track which serves as a centrepiece to the album. Somewhat reminiscent of “Hotel California”, “Long Road Out of Eden” replaces dark observations on the price of fame with pointed political commentary, juxtaposing the dream of empire-building with the realities of war in a foreign land. (And all she still wants to do is dance, I guess.) It’s the music, however, that sells the song, and this track above the rest deserves to be played loud: it’s full of nuance and atmosphere that needs to be felt more than simply listened to.

At 90 minutes over two discs, the risk is that the album wears out its welcome, but instead the experience remains pleasant and engaging throughout. I cannot overemphasise just how good this album is — I have yet to hear the new Bruce Springsteen, the new John Fogerty or even the new Neil Young, but Long Road… is perhaps so powerful, so surprising, because it’s so unexpected. How many other bands can manage material this strong after a near-30 year hiatus? Very, very few.

David Gilmour: Remember That Night

October 31, 2007

Remember That NightThere are fans of Pink Floyd who will argue that once Roger Waters left, the band ceased to be (and Waters certainly wouldn’t have disagreed in the past). While 1987’s A Momentary Lapse of Reason can easily be regarded as a solo album by David Gilmour in all but name, the beauty of Gilmour’s 2006 release, On an Island, was that it didn’t have the baggage that the Floyd name carries with it — expectations are somewhat different for a Gilmour solo release, and so, ironically, it allows the listener to draw the conclusion that, indeed, Gilmour is as much Pink Floyd as Waters ever was.

Remember That Night, Gilmour’s new live DVD and companion piece to On an Island, benefits in the same way. Firstly, Gilmour is joined on stage by Floyd founding member Rick Wright, so you’ve already got somewhere between 40-66% of the band there (depending on your perspective). Secondly, the staging, while spectacular, is much more intimate than the overblown PULSE setup: there are no flying pigs, no giant video screens and no flash pots. Instead, we’re treated to an evening of Pink Floyd classics and the entirety of On an Island performed live.

The highlights of the first disc are the performances of “Echoes” (all 20+ minutes of it) and a stripped-down “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”, but the biggest treat is seeing David Bowie alongside Gilmour for “Comfortably Numb” and “Arnold Layne”, the latter fitting Bowie’s style amazingly well. (Having Roxy Music’s Phil Manzanera along for the entire ride is just icing on the cake.)

The second disc fills out the selection with bonus tracks and promo videos, but there’s one particular surprise on the tour documentary Breaking Bread, Drinking Wine that I won’t spoil except to say that it’s both awkward and touching at the same time.

In short, any Pink Floyd fan should pick up this DVD ASAP. And if you haven’t heard Gilmour’s On an Island yet, buy that, too. This is music too good to go unnoticed.

Porcupine Tree: Nil Recurring (EP)

September 21, 2007

Nil RecurringAfter eight studio albums (five of which as a complete band), modern-day prog-rockers Porcupine Tree returned this year with Fear of a Blank Planet, a 50 minute concept album focusing on the nihilism of a generation lost in a sea of on-demand entertainment and prescription medication. Now, five months later, the follow-up companion EP Nil Recurring gives us the opportunity to assess the Blank Planet concept as a larger manifesto.

It only takes a few listens to realise that Nil Recurring is the real deal — from the six minute instrumental title track (featuring a blistering guitar solo by Robert Fripp) to the spacey, distorted “What Happens Now?”, you’re treated to an aural experience on par with the best the band has produced. At the same time, it’s important to understand that these tracks were part of Fear of a Blank Planet‘s evolution: “Normal” appears to be an alternate (and perhaps better) version of “Sentimental”, and “Cheating the Polygraph” was originally in place of “Way Out of Here” when the album was debuted on the road. But what kept Nil Recurring‘s set of tracks from initially making the cut was not quality but consistency, and one of the main strengths of Fear of a Blank Planet was always how well it worked as a whole.

If anything, Nil Recurring fills in the gaps left by the album proper, and together as a suite they more then adequately summarise the talents possessed by the Barbieri/Edwin/Harrison/Wilson configuration of the group in just under 80 minutes. Anyone who enjoyed Fear of a Blank Planet is missing out by not hearing this EP.

Phil Collins takes a walk on the brown side

September 13, 2007

Doing the rounds at the moment is this UK ad for Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate.

Say what you will about his songwriting abilities but, in the ’70s, Phil Collins was one of the best drummers in rock (along with people like Bill Bruford who, not coincidentally, was a touring member of Genesis in 1976).

The question, though, is could a trained monkey do as good a job?

Best pop song ever written

September 3, 2007

According to Chris Martin of Coldplay (as well as a bunch of other “songwriters” whose brains are probably mush from all the drugs they’ve taken), “Bitter Sweet Symphony” by The Verve — yes, the song that is essentially a rip-off of “The Last Time” by The Rolling Stones — is apparently the best pop song ever written.

It’s hard to disagree: karaoke is an artform like any other, after all. But where are “Ice Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice or “I’ll Be Missing You” by Puff Daddy on this list?

Here, then, is pure pop in all its brilliance…