Search This Blog

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Police -- Zenyatta Mondatta


If you're like me, and enjoy the jammy, reggae-injected side of The Police the best, their five-album catalogue peaks right in the middle, at Zenyatta Mondatta. The band is more beholden to Sting's pop experiments on their latter two albums, but the more free, less polished, trademarked trio-stylings reach their zenith right here--and each member is firing away at every talented cylinder. Perhaps this is because the band recorded Zenyatta Mondatta on such a tight schedule. There was not time to go back and tinker with songs, or for Sting to add a bunch of saxophones. In a few cases, there wasn't even time to write lyrics. This all leads to the "purest" sound The Police achieved on record. There are still huge hits, "Don't Stand So Close to Me," and "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da," which practically definined the band's career. But through each track, there's the constant feel of three guys in a room, jamming together, fully exploring their potent chemistry. I talked in my Reggatta de Blanc review about how The Police were able to record some instrumental moments that I wish could go on forever. That's almost this entire album. If I had to boil it down to one moment, it's the outro of the ridiculously titled, but deceptively deep "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da." The band hit upon a groove that could very well last forever. The sound engineer fades the song out while Sting, Andy Summers, and Stewart Copeland are still playing, and I wonder how long it took for the three of them to actually stop. If I was any one of them, I would have played that part until my fingers slipped from bleeding. There's also a mystical feeling produced here, mostly created in the album's two near instrumentals (there are two purely instrumental songs, as well). "Voices Inside My Head" and "Shadows in the Rain" feature minimal lyrics that are more mantras than anything, as the band hammer away at some timeless musical stone. If the album has a flaw, it's the one that eventually caused the band's demise: Sting wrote all but three of these songs, and when his bandmates write lyrics and melodies for him to sing, they both don't quite suit him, and don't seem to stir his fancy. Thankfully, two out of these three songs are instrumentals (and one won a Grammy!), but Stewart Copeland's "Bombs Away," while not lacking in musical quality, stands out from the rest of the pack for the reason stated above--Sting just doesn't seem into it, and the singing pattern and melody are quite clearly different from the ones he writes for himself. So Zenyatta Mondatta isn't quite perfect (and not giving it a ten is causing me a near existential crisis), but it is a near-perfect distillation of The Police's classic trio sound, and a sublime one, at that. Also, that Stewart Copeland is a pretty good drummer.

1980 A&M
1. Don't Stand So Close to Me 4:04
2. Driven to Tears 3:20
3. When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around 3:38
4. Canary in a Coalmine 2:26
5. Voices Inside My Head 3:53
6. Bombs Away 3:06
7. De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da 4:09
8. Behind My Camel 2:54
9. Man in a Suitcase 2:19
10. Shadows in the Rain 5:04
11. The Other Way of Stopping 3:22

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

Monday, March 06, 2017

P.O.D. -- Murdered Love


After a four-year gap, the longest the band have taken between albums to date, comes P.O.D.'s 2012 album, Murdered Love. It begins with a heavy double-whammy, "Eyez" and "Murdered Love," the band-exploring some stabby riffs and bludgeoning rhythms, vocalist Sonny Sandoval getting a chance to exercise the nuances of his screams, amid some singing and rapping. This is followed by a double-whammy of meditative, more celestial songs (just check the titles), "Higher" and "Lost in Forever." These four songs show the band can still operate at the top of their game on both sides of the hard rock spectrum...the side that features more thoughtful, uplifting music and soaring vocals(and with P.O.D., those songs still rock), and the side that just makes you want to break stuff.

It's after these songs, though, that Murdered Love falters a bit. "West Coast Rock Steady," one of the band's many "Yay, California!" songs features some of Sonny's silliest lyrics ("With all these California girls, how can you not be straight?"), and a chorus that's just a bit cheesy, though Marcos Curiel's huge guitar riff is laudable. This is followed by "Beautiful," a quiet song with very simple instrumentation that I would also classify as "cheesy." However, "Beautiful" apparently resonated with a lot of folks and was a surprise hit...shows how much I know. "Beautiful" is followed by "Babylon the Murderer," a sort of hardcore reggae song that would be a lot better if it had left out the lightning and gunshot sound effects--seriously, I don't know who at the top okayed keeping those in, but if you've released five straight albums that have made the Billboard 200 without adding movie sound effects to your songs...maybe keep not adding movie sound effects to your songs.
"On Fire" is next, a deliberate throwback to the band's earlier work that call's out its own Rage Against the Machine influence. The chorus of the song is, "Stop, drop, roll, I'm on fire." Again, I hate to nitpick, but if you have released five straight albums that have made the Billboard 200 without using a 90's safety slogan as the chorus...maybe keep not adding 90's safety slogans as the chorus.
My problem with this album, and the reason I rank it below almost all of the band's work is this sudden sense of a lack of quality control. Some of Sonny's goofy lyrics throughout Murdered Love, as well as some of its sillier sonic flourishes, would never have been included on past albums. They are not only not necessary, but bring down the album. This occurs nowhere moreso than track nine, "Bad Boy," about a "bad boy" who wants a "good girl." I think I know what they were trying to do here, but it just comes off as haphazard, immature songwriting from a band full of seasoned veterans with a war chest full of great material.
"Panic & Run" follows, a fun punk-reggae hybrid that thankfully doesn't encroach on any of the negative territory I highlighted in the previous paragraph. It leads into "I Am," the album's final track, unless you bought Murdered Love from a Christian bookstore, in which case, sorry, your CD is over. "I Am" is, on a musical level, classic P.O.D., with its huge, spacey guitar chords and heavy rhythms. It could have closed Satellite and satisfied. However, "I Am" courted much controversy due to Sandoval's use of profanity in the lyrics, though technically, those words are sonically blurred even in the non-Christian bookstore version...which is redundant, as Christian bookstores didn't even include the song (You can hear "I Am" completely unedited on Youtube).
For those who took issue with Sandoval's word choice on "I Am"...have you listened to the song? It's some of his absolute best work, as he takes on the identity of the lowest of the low, and cries out to be told about the real Jesus from those who claim to know him. It's incredibly powerful, especially coupled with the music backing it. I think "I Am" should be counted among P.O.D.'s best songs--it raises a somewhat mediocre album to solid ground, and argues for P.O.D.'s continued relevance in the world around them--who else in the Christian realm has attained the commercial position this band has, and has yet consistently reached out to the crowd that they have, the people given voice in "I Am?" Just peruse the Youtube comments on some of P.O.D.'s songs and count how many times you read either "I was completely broken," or "My life was at rock bottom," followed by, "and this music really helped me." Or I guess you could just focus on the curse word.

I saw the band in the summer of 2012, while they were touring this album, which was the first time I had seen them live in eight years (and the third time I had seen them play, overall). I took my wife and my sister, both huge P.O.D. fans who had never seen the band live, and assured them, based on my previous experience, that if we waited by the band's bus after the show, we'd be able to hangout with them. My girls were skeptical, but sure enough, the band came out and hung with us, just like they did when I saw them in their Satellite days in late 2001. I complimented Marcos' soul-infused guitar playing, and encouraged Sonny to stay the course, despite the flack he was getting. Then I snapped this shot of the ladies with the band. Great night.

2012 Razor & Tie
1. Eyez (featuring Jamey Jasta) 2:47
2. Murdered Love (featuring Sick Jacken) 3:45
3. Higher 3:22
4. Lost in Forever 4:06
5. West Coast Rock Steady (featuring Sen Dog) 3:05
6. Beautiful 3:53
7. Babylon the Murderer 4:19
8. On Fire 3:44
9. Bad Boy 3:18
10. Panic & Run 3:16
11. I Am 5:10

Friday, March 03, 2017

P.O.D. -- When Angels & Serpents Dance


Many P.O.D. fans rejoiced when the band made the December 30, 2006 announcement that original guitarist, Marcos Curiel, who had left between the band's Satellite (2001) and Payable on Death (2003), was returning. Nothing against Jason Truby, who acquitted himself admirably in that position, but it had become apparent that Curiel played the biggest part in P.O.D.'s sound in the past. His rejoining surely meant a return to those earlier sounds, except...
In the five years since P.O.D.'s mega-hit Satellite, Curiel had adjusted to playing without the three other members of P.O.D., and the other three members had adapted to playing with Truby. Not only that, but all four had grown in musicianship and influence in their own right. There was no picking up right where Satellite left off.
Thus, many fans were disappointed as soon as they heard the first single released from When Angels & Serpents Dance, P.O.D.'s first album with Curiel back behind the strings. That song, "Addicted" is mean, lean, and dark, with a video to match the mood. "Addicted," which also serves as WAASD's opening track, features a nasty distorted guitar line and aggressive vocals--fans were expecting that soaring Satellite uplift, and instead got this.

"Addicted" is followed by "Shine with Me," and "Condescending," more straight-forward rock songs, which would sound at home in the Truby-era if not for the amount of space they contain. However, the band put to bed any notion that they are going to go vanilla rock on this album with "It Can't Rain Everyday," which sees the glorious return of that latin-influenced soul Curiel brings to the band. After a guitar into which would make Carlos Santana proud, the group dive into a chilled out "only P.O.D. could write this song" rock ballad that also re-introduces the song-changing dynamics the band excel at when Curiel is a part of the writing process. While the song focuses on life's hard knocks, it features a killer, late-song post-chorus groove, featuring a certain beautiful feeling of yearning that again, only P.O.D. can invoke. Also, and I can't say this enough, P.O.D.'s rhythm section is a national treasure--there's a reason Wuv Bernardo and Traa Daniels have been on the cover of so many musician magazines.
Hardships and temptation rise as the major themes of this album. Vocalist, Sonny Sandoval, riding a huge Curiel riff, paints a picture of the streets of the band's home state, in the next track, "Kaliforn-Eye-A." This song segues excellently into "I'll Be Ready," a glorious, classic P.O.D. reggae jam featuring two of BOB MARLEY'S DAUGHTERS. The song is a trembling prayer against temptation, and the performances by the daughters of the greatest, most respected reggae artist of all time lends the band's work in that particular genre even more authenticity. Curiel's preferred guitar sound for WAASD also becomes apparent here: it's a distorted, yet clear latin rock tone that--and I know this is abstract, but I mean this in the best random sensory nostalgia possible--reminds me of an arcade. I really enjoy it.
This isn't a perfect album, though. "End of the World" and "This Ain't No Ordinary Love Song" ain't bad songs in the least, particularly the epic strings and Sonny screams at the end of the former, but the latter throws off the pace a little. I think the band put the song in that spot because they didn't want the vibe of the album as a whole to be too intense, yet while "This Ain't No Ordinary Love Song" isn't bright and sunny in the least, it slows things down. I'm not saying a fun track, like the earlier "Kaliforn-Eye-A" is needed here, either...I just think that the ramping intensity of the album's second half should have been allowed to flow freely.
The intensity certainly returns on the next song, "God Forbid," the heaviest track that P.O.D. have recorded. With a bludgeoning metal riff and menacing guest vocals from Helmet's Page Hamilton, it seems that Sandoval's sanity itself is on the line. This may seem histrionic, but to give some summer of 2008 context, the country was entering one of the biggest economic recessions in its history, was embroiled in two seemingly endless wars with no clear enemy, and P.O.D. themselves faced turmoil in their career and personal lives. Life seemed confusing and in some part, hopeless. I identified with the emotions of the album just fine. In fact, I think WAASD is the oft-misunderstood P.O.D.'s misunderstood, imperfect opus. It offers a disturbing alternative to the band's first two major label albums -- "you know what...I'm actually not sure everything will be okay."
"God Forbid" is followed by "Roman Empire," an instrumental that again, instead of soaring on celestial wings, conjures images of standing at a dusty crossroads, and hoping the devil doesn't show up. This leads into the title track, a slippery rock song which fully explores the album's themes-

Rhythmically moving
Emotions are rising
Quivering to music
Trembling bodies in song
Go unsteadily sliding
Devious gliding
So beautifully sailing and floating on

Life's real when angels and serpents dance

Twistedly slipping
Radiant soaring
Winding. maliciously creeping
Flowing Righteous, moral and just.
Deceitful. the creature is crawling
The guardian's flying. the dance is breathing
Who's leading?

Who's leading you?
Everything you say?
Everything that you do?
Believing what is true?
One must lead in the dance
Who's leading you?

The band then play a mournful acoustic track, "Tell Me Why," a surprising protest against war and man's darker natures (and just five years after the band's jingoistic "Freedom Fighters"). I think it becomes apparent by this track that WAASD is P.O.D.'s must musically diverse album.
I love that "Tell Me Why" ends with the line "How do we know?" This flows brilliantly into next song "Rise Against"'s opening line, "What's the point in knowing?" "Rise Against" is the album closer, a call to action that is certainly the darkest ending to a P.O.D. album to this point. It brings the lyrical and musical themes of WAASD to a close, Curiel's awesome guitar tone reaches its optimal effected conclusion, and then the band went on hiatus for four years.

2008 INO/Columbia
1. Addicted 3:32
2. Shine with Me 3:32
3. Condescending 4:02
4. It Can't Rain Everyday 4:42
5. Kaliforn-Eye-A (featuring Mike Muir of Suicidal Tendencies) 4:29
6. I'll Be Ready (featuring the Marley Sisters) 4:43
7. End of the World 4:34
8. This Ain't No Ordinary Love Song 3:43
9. God Forbid (featuring Page Hamilton of Helmet) 3:55
10. Roman Empire 2:42
11. When Angels & Serpents Dance 3:16
12. Tell Me Why 3:19
13. Rise Against 4:52

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

P.O.D. -- Testify


The strangest stretch of P.O.D.'s career reaches its zenith with Testify. Anytime a band's chief songwriter leaves, things can get weird. I think P.O.D.'s three years of work with Jason Truby on guitar clearly proves that Marcos Curiel was and again is the driving force behind "the sound" of P.O.D. While it takes all four original members to fully realize that sound, and while Truby is a fine guitarist, Truby-era P.O.D. is a decidedly less P.O.D.-sounding era of P.O.D.
And yet, who am I to say that? Plenty of kids cut their teeth on these two Truby-era albums. "Will You" and "Goodbye for Now," made it to number one on MTV's now defunct megashow, Total Request Live, That's the same amount of TRL topping songs as the first Curiel era (and all the Curiel era). Maybe I should shut up about what does and doesn't sound like P.O.D. I should judge this album I'm supposed to be reviewing here on its own merits. And after all, what was I doing when this came out anyway? Not listening to it. Despite being a huge P.O.D fan from 2000-2005, I didn't purchase Testify until 2009. I bought the P.O.D. album that came out after it before I bought it.
My life at that time is a circuital blur, to the point that when I did buy Testify, I immediately thought, wait, why haven't I bought this already? It seems I was missing some great songs on an only okay album.
Things start well enough, with "Roots in Stereo" showcasing some great song shifts, and a standout guest performance by Chassidic reggae rapper Matisyahu. For some reason, Matisyahu and Sonny's vocals sound made for each other, and the band are able to juxtapose some crunchy riffs and heavy grooves with the duos soaring, mystical's cool. "Lights Out" follows, an attempt at a sports jam ala "Boom." While it doesn't quite pack the punch of "Boom," its start-and-stop riff and swagger-filled vocals still do the trick. "If You Could See Me Now" is one of Sonny's reflection songs, thinking about his deceased mother and the band's achievements, set to one of Truby's spacier guitar lines--not bad at all. This is where Katy Perry sticks her head out for just a moment.
A long time ago, Katy Perry was "Katy Hudson." During a transformation interim, she recorded about twenty seconds of vocals for the outro of Testify's lead single, the mournful "Goodbye for Now." The song apparently accomplishes its mission, because I've had it stuck in my head the entire time I've written this review. It also continues the bands perilous trek from diverse hard rock band to generic radio rock band, and unfortunately, that road is not averted on this album many times after this fourth track.
"Sounds Like War" is great, am excellent combination of aggression and spacey atmosphere, a reworking of The Warrors EP, Volume 2's"Ya Mama." This is followed by the bizarre "On the Grind," a song that sounds more Insane Clown Posse than P.O.D., not that I know what IC...Insane Clown Posse Sounds Like. Sonny barely even makes an appearance on "On the Grind," between the guest vocalists.
A trio of not bad, but generic and forgettable rock songs follow (and they're all sort of downers). This album has 13 tracks, which, in the case of these three songs, is too many, except the last two (tracks 12 and 13) could probably also be cut, as well. Before those last two though, there is a remake of the solid "Teachers" from The Warriors EP, Volume 2, and "Strength of My Life," one of the best songs P.O.D. have ever recorded.
"Strength of My Life," is a mystical reggae slow jam, one Marcos Curiel apparently enjoys, as he currently plays this Truby-written song live with the band.

This is followed by "Say Hello," which isn't horrible--I didn't give this album a seven because it sucks--but isn't anything special, either. Same for the closer, "Mark My Words," which sounds like it could have appeared anywhere else on Testify--it does nothing to signify that any journey has been undertaken, as Testify is more a collection of songs than an album. Granted it's a collection of mostly good songs, along with a couple great ones, but when compared to the band's previous albums, which were full of great ones, Testify doesn't measure up, whether it has a P.O.D. sound (or even an identifiable one), or not.

2006 Atlantic
1. Roots in Stereo (featuring Matisyahu) 4:42
2. Lights Out 2:47
3. If You Could See Me Now 3:07
4. Goodbye for Now 4:34 (featuring Katy Perry)
5. Sounds Like War 3:53
6. On the Grind (featuring Sick Jacken and Boo-Yaa Tribe) 4:25
7. This Time 4:41
8. Mistakes & Glories 3:38
9. Let You Down 4:15
10. Teachers 4:21
11. Strength of My Life (featuring Matisyahu) 3:37
12. Say Hello 2:32
13. Mark My Words (featuring Sick Jacken) 3:43