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Friday, March 24, 2017

The Police -- Reggatta de Blanc


Now we're talking. The reason I list The Police among my favorite bands, even if I don't think they ever nailed a perfect album, is because they've written and performed so many musical moments that I've wanted to last forever. Regatta de Blanc, the band's second full-length album, is full of those moments.
While their debut album showcased the band's ability to fuse rock and punk to reggae, it only showed the beginnings of The Police's mastery of space. No, I don't mean space like they are the kings of the solar system or galaxy...I mean space in the music for the songs and each individual instrument to breathe. Space is one of the most important factors in music for me. One of the reasons I struggled to get into say, the metalcore craze of the late 00's, is because the majority of that music had zero space. It was generally just note note note note note note note--no room for any particular element, or even the elements together to shine. Injecting space into your music shows a certain humility and a trust in your bandmates--trust that you're better together, and that you don' have to play constantly to show you are better than they are. Granted, The Police only made it to five albums because each incredibly talented member had a huge ego, but within their greatest performances, there's a certain respect for each other's musical capabilities that makes the trio greater than any member has been since the band split apart.
Reggatta de Blanc's opener, "Message in a Bottle," highlights everything I've just said. Musically, the song is yet another display of reggae-rock fusion, but something else gives it a timeless quality that's kept it musically relevant nearly 40 years later--a fusion of urgency and space. The desperate loneliness of the song's lyrics, coupled with guitarist, Andy Summers' legendary verse guitar-line, Sting's driving bass in the chorus, and Stewart Copeland's "c'mon, guys" impatient (Sonic the Hedgehog-esque) toe-tapping drumming convey the urgency, but the airy second half of the chorus, Copeland's suddenly patient drums, Sting's reggae bass line, and Summers stretched-out playing give the song space--and consequently amp up anticipation and give the song even more urgency...urgency you probably wish this sentence had had. "Message in a Bottle"'s fantastic minute-and-a-half outro combines both elements...and creates one of those moments I wish could last forever.
As I said before, Reggatta de Blanc is loaded with these type of moments--the bridge and outro of "Bring on the Night," on top of the technical difficulty of the performances, for instance. Here's a live's a ridiculous display of talent and creativity (even if Sting hits a bum note in the solo!).

However, my favorite song on this album, and one of my favorite songs ever, is "Walking on the Moon." It moves at one of the most relaxed paces of any Police song, and it flew under my radar until the spring of 1999, when I was a junior in high school. I was sitting in my car behind town after class, chilling before heading to work, when "Walking on the Moon" came on the radio. I immediately knew it was the Police because no one else has ever sounded like The Police, but the sense of space in the song was more than I had heard even they create before. Granted the song was nearly 18-years old at the time, but it felt completely new to me. The relaxed bassline, the amazingly technical drums that seem to be floating in the air, the spacey--and this time I MEAN outer space--guitar that somehow seems to exist between everything, yet leaves an infinity between each strum, and the ageless sound of Sting's vocals--it is a career highlight, and it is easily in my top five favorite songs ever--I wish it was three hours long. That outro could easily never end.

If Reggatta de Blanc has a weakness, it's that Sting didn't write all of the songs. I'm not disparaging the indispensable Copeland, without whose singular drumming, the band would not exist, but the more whimsical, jokey nature of the two tracks he contributes here, "On Any Other Day," and "Does Everyone Stare," just doesn't quite fit with the rest, even though those songs aren't bad. This would be a problem that would eventually lead to the band's demise--while each member was equally talented overall, Sting is by far the most talented singer and song-writer. While he has his missteps in the band's catalogue, as well, it's always a clear detriment when he isn't behind the pen or the mic. Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland are far from supporting players--each member of The Police is The Police. The band could not have existed with other person occupying any of its roles, but it also couldn't exist when any existent member wanted a role other than his own...and I even say this with "Stewart Copeland is my favorite drummer*" bias.
Thus, ironically, Reggatta de Blanc unleashes the full power of The Police, while also planting the seeds of their eventual demise.

*Stewart Copeland and Abe Cunningham.

1979 A&M
1. Message in a Bottle 4:51
2. Reggatta de Blanc 3:06
3. It's Alright for You 3:13
4. Bring on the Night 4:15
5. Deathwish 4:13
6. Walking on the Moon 5:02
7. On Any Other Day 2:57
8. The Bed's Too Big Without You 4:26
9. Contact 2:38
10. Does Everyone Stare 3:52
11. No Time This Time 3:17

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Police -- Outlandos d'Amour


If any of the bands I was in in my late teens and early 20's had put out a low-budget, but professionally recorded debut album, and it was half as good as Outlandos d'Amour, I could die in creative peace. The soon-to-be biggest band in the world (before handing the mantle to U2) comes out full of energy, and keeps that energy flowing through all ten tracks, even as the quality dips near the end. Almost immediately, this trio, The Police, show what each individual band member brings to the table. Drummer, Stewart Copeland, brings a high-hat massacring high energy. Versatile, experienced guitarist, Andy Summers, brings a trademarked watery-chorus sound and sense of innovation. The band's soon-to-be superstar bassist/vocalist, Sting, brings his unique vocal style, early on regarded as singularly high. At this point he hasn't yet developed his famous perfect pitch. His bass playing is remarkably well-rounded, though, and the reason I caused unrest in the punk bands I played bass for--I taught myself bass from Police albums, so thought nothing of trading out punk sixteenth notes for a slowed-down groove that none of my bandmates were in the mood for. On their own, these three musicians are certainly worthwhile, but together, when everyone is pulling their own weight and firing on all cylinders, they have a chemistry that is unmatched.
Outlandos d'Amour sees them discovering that chemistry, which is a beautiful thing, even if it is a bit raw at this stage. "Next to You" sounds like what early Beatles would have sounded like in 1978. The tempo is breathless, really the only element of punk the band ever utilized (and sparingly at that), but the lyrics are pure 1963 Paul McCartney. Ten tracks of this would get old, but the next song starts off like Marley's "No Woman No Cry," in a chill, yet lockstep reggae groove, before dashing into a punk tempo in the chorus--two tracks into their career, and already The Police are showcasing genre-fusion. "
Up next is one of the band's most popular songs, the urgent, reggae-influenced"Roxanne," followed by the jammy "Hole In My Life," and the energetic "Peanuts." This ends Side One (if you're listening on vinyl! ...and you should!).
Side Two kicks off with album highlight, "Can't Stand Losing You," which is again reggae-influenced, but experiments with a sort of dubby ambient ambiance in the bridge. This is followed by "Truth Hits Everybody," the most punk song on the album in sound, subject, and form. At this point, it seems like Outlandos d'Amour is going to be one of the greatest debuts in rock history. Unfortunately, however, this is just the moment where the album begins to run out of steam.
Track eight, "Born In the '50s," is the kind of sentimental baby-boomer "hey, look at me!" drivel that caused my generation to loathe our forebears. I don't like it. It makes me want to read this book.
"Be My Girl -- Sally," will appeal to a certain demographic: those who like a minute of one line repeated over-and-over again ("Will you be my girl"), followed by a spoken-word poem about a blow-up sex doll, followed by another minute of the same line repeated again and again. I am not in that demographic.
The album closes with "Masoko Tanga." The phrase "Six-minute Police instrumental" would generally be my catnip, but in this case, the band never hits upon that groove that you just want them to play forever, instead kind of just noodling along. Of course, they'd perfect that kind of groove just one album later!

1978 A&M
1. Next to You 2:55
2. So Lonely 4:50
3. Roxanne 3:12
4. Hole in My Life 4:55
5. Peanuts 4:02
6. Can't Stand Losing You 2:59
7. Truth Hits Everybody 2:55
8. Born in the '50s 3:45
9. Be My Girl – Sally 3:24
10. Masoko Tanga 5:42

Monday, March 20, 2017

N.W.A. Was Wrong About The Police!

My earliest musical memories naturally revolve around whatever vinyl was spinning next to my crib. This can be boiled down to three essential ingredients: Barnes and Barnes "Fish Heads," Bob Marley's "Jamming'"/"No Woman No Cry" 45, and the Police's Ghost In the Machine.
While "Fish Heads" planted a love of the bizarre in my consciousness, the latter two gave me a yearning for a certain island flavor. I've already raved about Marley back when I was on "B," MORE THAN FIVE YEARS AGO. Jeez, this has taken me a long time. Anyway, I've tried to save The Police references until I got closer to reviewing them...not always possible, but I've tried. Rather fortuitously, I just got to review the reggae-soaked P.O.D. back-catalogue to prepare as a lead, but here goes my setup:
The Police may be the greatest rock trio of all time. Their unique chemistry has never been duplicated by any band since, and all three members have musically suffered for having been without each other for the past 30-plus years. Yet, with that said, some of their songs are objectively terrible. Even their best albums feature some surprising head-scratchers, and their worst album is shockingly uneven...just who are The Police, anyway?
Time to find out!
Coming up on The Nicsperiment: Reviews of all five full-length Police albums, as well as their greatest hits collection. Here are some things I have heard about these reviews:
"Stand so close to them!"
"Every little thing they do is magic!"
"These reviews have greatness wrapped around their finger!"
"I'm hungry for...more of these reviews!"
"When the world is running down, you should read all of The Nicsperiment's The Police reviews."
"It's alright for you to read all of these Police reviews."
"The bed's too big without all six of these reviews!"
"No time this time? Well, just read them later...but if you never read them, there will be a hole in your life."
"I was told there would be cake."

So you see? Even if you are straight outta Compton, you are sure to love each and every one of these reviews as if they were your own children.
I'm not saying they'll bring your dead pets back to life, but I'm not saying they won't.
Don't quote me on that.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Polaris -- Music from The Adventures of Pete and Pete


The Adventures of Pete and Pete is one of my favorite mid-90's TV shows, and nostalgia for that flavor of show and general vibe is what generally makes me hate now and think that 22 years ago was way better. Maybe it was, and maybe it wasn't, but Pete and Pete was a great show for a quirky, too-cool-for-school, too-smart-for-his-own-good rural teenager like mid-90's me.
Pete and Pete featured an awesome 90's alternative rock theme song, whose unintelligible lyrics somehow made it even cooler.

A band named Polaris, featuring members of the 90's rock band, Miracle Legion, came together just to record that song (and perform in the show's intro!), and also, to periodically create more songs to be featured in the show. Those songs are collected together in Music from The Adventures of Pete and Pete.
This album is a must have for fans of the show. Even having not watched Pete and Pete regularly in more than two decades, I can recall certain episodes just from hearing the songs on this album. Music from The Adventures of Pete and Pete's blend of irresistible, fun, summer hazy 90's alternative is a great mood improver. I do wish that the songs were mixed a little stronger, and also, listening to 12 of these songs in a row instead of one in an awesome episode of TV is not quite as magical, but still, even for non-Pete and Pete fans who just want some positive vibes, Music from The Adventures of Pete and Pete does the trick. Also, I had a huge crush on Ellen.

Unfortunately, in subsequent years I have discovered that I am neither that cool, nor that smart, but Pete and Pete, a testament to the unique creativity of its creators, still shines brightly.

1999 Mezzotint Records
1. Hey Sandy 2:36
2. She Is Staggering 3:08
3. Waiting for October 3:52
4. Saturnine 3:13
5. Everywhere 3:37
6. Ivy Boy 3:51
7. Summerbaby 3:24
8. Coronado II 4:19
9. Ashamed of the Story I Told 4:29
10. As Usual 5:22
11. Recently 2:40
12. The Monster's Loose (ends at 3:39, followed by 2 minutes of silence, then Apollo 11 sound clips) 9:01

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Another Review of Some Obscure Thing No One Else Cares About (Rocket: Robot on Wheels for the Nintendo 64)

I just played through and reviewed a really cool, innovative, and extremely underrated Nintendo 64 game called Rocket: Robot on Wheels. If you are interested in an eighteen year old, commercially unsuccessful video game for a video game system that ceased production fifteen years ago, click ahead. No one else will! But wait...if you are one of the 99.99% of the world's population who does not care about such a topic, maybe this will interest you: the review is also funny! That's right, it includes great jokes about physically assaulting clowns, sheep, and robots, while also promoting vandalism and featuring self-deprecation so extreme, close relatives and friends may worry about me.

Friday, March 10, 2017

P.O.D. -- The Awakening


Did you know that P.O.D. released a new album in 2015? If my wife wasn't a P.O.D. fanatic, I'm not sure I would. No one publicized it. All the attention the band received for their 2012 release, Murdered Love, was nowhere to be found. Maybe Sonny should have swore again. Whatever the case for the obscure nature of the release, P.O.D. released a new full-length album in 2015, and it is called The Awakening.
The Awakening is a concept album, a first for P.O.D. It incorporates many of the diverse genres the band have showcased in their hard rock sound for decades now: metal, punk, latin, hip-hop and reggae. This time, the band even take a stab at fusing some jazz to their sound, on album standout, "Want It All." The songwriting here is some of the strongest of the band's career, and the genre-jumping flows more naturally than ever before. However, where The Awakening falters is in the "concept" area. The story itself isn't bad, your basic "guy with issues works out those issues painfully" story, until he experiences the titular "Awakening." The telling features 90's-esque theatricality with voice actors and Foley artists hard at work. If these story interludes were given their own tracks, they'd serve their role without offense...however, they aren't given their own tracks. At points, the listener has to sit through two minutes of dialogue before a song starts. This can't be skipped with one tap of a button--they are a part of the songs themselves. This is a major blunder, but the music on display here is so good, I can't dip The Awakening below an 8/10. I feel like a younger version of P.O.D. may have been talked out of blending the "skits" with the songs here, but these veterans went with their gut. It might not have been the best decision, but The Awakening is still a winner.
I saw P.O.D. perform at The Varsity Theatre in support of this album, and they put on as good a show as ever, even if the crowd was smaller than it used to be. Even The Awakening's highly non-specific lead single, "This Goes Out to You," the one song on the album I wasn't so sure about, worked wonderfully--live it comes off as a love letter to the band's fans, and gives The Awakening itself more meaning. My favorite moment of that particular concert, though, came courtesy of some local college kids, who sadly admitted, "Nobody really puts on a performance like this anymore. We saw _____ the other day, and they just stood in front of their laptops." Indeed.

2015 Universal/T-Boy
1. Am I Awake 5:56
2. This Goes Out to You 3:50
3. Rise of NWO 3:12
4. Criminal Conversations (featuring Maria Brink) 5:02
5. Somebody's Trying to Kill Me 5:12
6. Get Down 3:39
7. Speed Demon 3:51
8. Want It All 3:33
9. RevoluciĆ³n (featuring Lou Koller) 4:05
10. The Awakening 7:04

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

P.O.D. -- SoCal Sessions


Acoustic albums often come across as non-essential or gimmicks. Jars of Clay, a very good band, released an acoustic album that featured songs from their 20 year back-catalog right about the time that P.O.D. released  SoCal Sessions, their own acoustic collection.  As good as Jars of Clay are, the acoustic versions just came across as stripped down, less interesting iterations of those old classics, instead of serving to reveal new facets of the band. Thankfully, P.O.D. doesn't fall into the same trap on SoCal Sessions.
It's helps that these performances are much different than their original incarnations. Jars of Clay had, in many cases, originally performed their songs with acoustic guitars. Most of the songs from P.O.D.'s SoCal sessions were originally electrified head-bangers. This gives the band good cause to re-interpret them in such a radically different fashion--it reveals heretofore unknown facets of the band, and allows certain flavors of their original sound, like reggae, to come out even more..
It helps that P.O.D., pulling from all six of their major label albums, pick such a diverse, yet excellent set of songs. These songs also greatly benefit from the recording choices P.O.D. utilize for SoCal Sessions. While they switch out the electric guitar for the acoustic, they don't neuter their rhythm section, still allowing it room too breathe. They also utilize some additional touches, like subtle keyboard, harmonica, and bells to give the songs some interesting angles. While he isn't credited, I believe the band employed touring member, Luis Castillo, to handle the aforementioned additional instruments, as well as to sing complimentary vocals to Sonny Sandoval.
The overall effect is 45-minutes in a cozy room, kicking back with P.O.D. It's a relaxed time, but not a boring one, and one that exudes an overwhelming feeling of goodwill. The band picked the perfect time to do this, high on their return to radio after a nearly decade long absence, and to more stable life situations.
SoCal Sessions is an easy recommendation for fans of P.O.D., and for those who have admired them, but maybe never dove into fandom, as well. Stripping away all of the distortion reveals whether a song is actually worth a damn. These twelve (even "Beautiful," which I previously disliked!) prove themselves more than worthwhile.

2014 T-Boy Records
1. Panic + Run 3:35
2. Will You 4:47
3. Youth of the Nation 4:22
4. No Ordinary Love Song 3:49
5. Strength of My Life 4:09
6. Alive 3:43
7. Higher 3:20
8. It Can't Rain Everyday 4:18
9. Lost in Forever 3:55
10. I'll Be Ready 4:49
11. Beautiful 4:27
12. Set Your Eyes to Zion 3:56