Rise Against: “The Ballad of Hollis Brown” Without a doubt, Rise Against is one of those bands that wear their concern for the world in which they live upon their collective sleeve. As such, I had a feeling that they would certainly endeavor to cover this tragic Bob Dylan classic about a mass murder-suicide on a ramshackle South Dakota farm. Over the course of five simmering minutes the sad and chilling story is told against a frenetic rhythm with tasteful punk rock lead guitar, impassioned vocals and more light and shade than you can shake a stick at. Indeed, a classic song has been given new life, and what with the alarming amount of poverty in our society, this song, first released nearly half a century ago, is still very much relevant, and Rise Against’s deeply emotional interpretation makes it even more so. Spot On!
Skrillex: “Bangarang” Normally, I scorn most electronic music in favor of the power of guitar and drum. That being said, it is an immutable truth that there are gems in every genre. This specimen, which opens with a trebly syncopated funk guitar lick with shades of the Meters classic “Tippi Toes,” is awash in hooks, from the sampled rap lyrics courtesy of guest vocalist Sirah to the fun rhythm to the pleasing electronic melody. In other words, nothing short of a well-composed and highly danceable number with a carefree feel-good vibe. Although this is not my preferred style of music by any stretch, I have no heart to lie – this is Spot on!
T. Mills: “F— ‘Em (With My Vans On)” By no means am I against songs about one-night stands (cf. “Stay With Me” written by R. Stewart and R. Wood and performed by Faces). And yes, I am all in favor of songs being subversive. However, shocking things only go so far before they get played out, and within seconds of giving this song a listen, I was all like, “Jeez Louise, not another hip hop song about b—-es and h—s.” That being said, parents shouldn’t complain about this song on account of the obvious sexism and spiritual bankruptcy. They should complain about this song because it sucks. Not On!
Jack White: “Love Interruption” This wickedly beautiful song from Jack White’s debut solo album Blunderbuss is about as sparse as it gets, and induces chills right from the beginning as electric piano meshes with beautifully strummed acoustic guitar. The inherent sarcastic cynicism of the lyrics will empower anybody in the throes of romantic torment, and once again we must stand in awe of Jack White’s undeniable talent. Thanks to him and those who may follow his example, rock and roll, and for that matter REAL MUSIC, shall not perish from the earth. Spot On!
Marianas Trench:”Fallout” O.K., I fully recognize that the all-time greats of punk rock were influenced by the likes of the Who, the Kinks, the Small Faces, Jagger-Richards and even Lennon-McCartney (believe it or not) and Holland, Dozier and Holland. That being said, one of the reasons why I LOATHE bands who fly the pop punk flag is that all to often, they are infinitely more pop than punk. And the result is songs like “Fallout” – shrill, whiny, limp-wristed and overloaded with cliches enough to make Stiv Bators toss and turn in his grave. Not On!
Stiff Little Fingers: “Liar’s Club” This song, being a component of a Stiff Little Fingers album some five years in the making, has not yet been officially released. However, it has become one of this Belfast-based band’s more popular songs, and live versions have become available on YouTube for your viewing and listening pleasure. As the story goes, guitarist-vocalist Jake Burns just so happened to drive past a bar in Chicago called the Liar’s Club while listening to a news report about George W. Bush and Tony Blair. The rest, as they say, is history. Indeed, this song, with its catchy and menacing guitar hook, has all the incendiary intensity of “Suspect Device” and all the cleverness of “Barbed Wire Love.” Spot On!
Cobra Starship: “Middle Finger” What a pity. I expected this song to be perhaps a little more aggressive, but as one should not judge a book by its cover, judging songs by their titles is just as much of a worthless idea. The guitar riff is… kind of catchy, but not enough to carry this bland song. And, seriously, what a disappointment! For all the relatable swagger, this song is just a little too slow, ordinary and wimpy to be a truly effective “f— you” to ANYBODY. Might I add, I must confess that I am not at all in love with Gabe Saporta’s voice. Not On!
Nickelback: “Lullaby” This is perhaps one of Nickelback’s more sophisticated songs in terms of arrangement and production, just for the three-note piano arpeggios that punctuate the each verse and chorus and the subtle string arrangements. But truth be told, that ain’t saying much. The lyrics – “Im reaching out to let you know that you’re not alone,” for example – are quite average and profoundly sappy, and though Chad Kroeger does have a distinctive baritone, he ain’t no Paul Rodgers, and his vocal stylings make my eyes glaze over with disinterest. More to the point, for all the musical refinement on this track, it is still very much representative of Nickelback, and by that, I mean pretty damn boring.Not On!
Brandon And Leah: “Life Happens” This pleasingly simple acoustic number in reggae time is mellow but highly danceable and optimistic without sounding like clichéd bromide, and the intelligent lyrics beseech us to keep a positive attitude, regardless of what kind of unsettling reality checks may come our way. Without a doubt, this song will disintegrate the worst moods regardless of how bad the circumstances may be. Spot On!
Red Café featuring Diddy: Let It Go (Dope Boy) Not even the volley of recorded explosions at the introduction can redeem this pedestrian exercise in hip-hop-by-numbers. The beat is patently uninteresting, and as for the lyrical content, the subject matter – rich gangsta likes his women and his money, more or less – has long since been run into the ground. But quelle surprise. I guess that it only goes to show Diddy’s inherent cynicism. He is a man who has made his entire fortune underestimating and subsequently nullifying the intelligence of young rap fans and thus has done a terrible disservice to what was once an edgy and groundbreaking art form. Not On!