Music Review: Grunge and Punk Revival Albums in 2012 (oh, and the Beach Boys too!)

The dinosaurs of rock were not the only comeback artists last year. Bob Mould, Green Day, Dinosaur Jr, Soundgarden and Smashing Pumkpins all released albums last year and I plan to give you a few notes on each below.

The_Beach_Boys_-_That's_Why_God_Made_the_Radio_Album_CoverBut first, I seem to have forgotten yet another classic band that was resurrected – the Beach Boys with That’s Why God Made The Radio. While not up to the perfection of Pet Sounds from a whopping 46 years earlier, it is a fun and relatively light album – not as heavy as some of the more recent solo material that has been released from Dennis Wilson (Pacific Blue & Bambu from 2008) and a little better production than Smile from Brian Wilson in 2004. Some highlights include the sort of bluesy Spring Vacation and the sort of country Strange World, and the gorgeous title track. I didn’t find myself humming the songs all day like we all did with Pet Sounds, but it is still a pleasant listen.

bobmouldsilverage-e1338999278902Definitely in my top three or five albums of 2012 was Bob Mould’s amazing return to form with Silver Age. This album kicks your ass from beginning to end featuring Mould’s characteristic driving guitar riffs. It sounds as hard as Husker Dü but produced like Sugar Blue or Workbook. I couldn’t really find any weak points on this disc, but if I had to choose my favorite tracks, I’d be tempted to pimp Angels Rearrage, First Time Joy, and Keep Believing. The previous music from Mould tended to be a little depressed and angry. In his mature Silver Age, he seems to have come to some sort of peace with his inner beast and the joy comes out  here in spades. This is definitely one of those albums where, if you pass me during traffic, I’ll be making a fool of myself screaming my head off in the car. A must.

Green-Day-UNOGreen Day had an interesting year. Well, more specifically Billy Joe Armstrong had an interesting year with 2 albums, a collapse on stage during a grueling tour, rehab and a return with yet a 3rd album.  I can’t tell if I need to listen to ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, and ¡Tré!  all together as one release or as three separate ones because although loads of events separate the last two, they all – at least for me – have a similar feel and groove. Here Green Day is attempting to get back to their Dookie roots. They do a fairly good job with anthems, party songs and so forth. Without actually looking at the albums, I can’t tell you the names of many of them – Allison comes to mind and the Fucktime song – so I can’t really claim they live up to the irresponsible perfection of Dookie, but they are at least a bit lighter and less dogmatic than the last two politically charged albums. I don’t know if I would drop what I was doing and hurry to Best Buy, but I’d probably encourage a listen on Spotify or Deezer at least. I just hope that Billy Joe doesn’t end up like Amy Winehouse.

600px-I_Bet_on_SkyI was thrilled to see that Dinosaur Jr came back with Farm and Beyond and again this year with I Bet On Sky. A superb album, it beings together a more mature but still completely neurotic J Mascis with his original band and they rip through a fantastic set of tracks. OK, so the sound hasn’t really evolved all that much from Green Mind, but it is still exhilarating to hear this self-taught guitar master jam through 10 tracks. The lovely melodies of Stick AToe In, the straight-forward rock of Pierce the Morning Sun, and the stunning harmonics and chords in What Was That…there are not really any weak throwaway’s on I Bet. It is all pure Dinosaur Jr. I am bummed that I was way too busy last week to catch J Mascis here in Paris on his solo tour. I hope he’ll be back again soon so that I can see him play live.

Soundgarden-King-Animal-608x608I remember learning about grunge music thanks to the soundtrack of the movie Singles. I was in Florida and it took a little while for bands other than Nirvana and Pearl Jam to come across the country. On Singles, I discovered Alice in Chains, Mother Love Bon, Mudhoney, Paul Westerberg, and both Chris Cornell solo on Seasons and Soundgarden with Birth Ritual. I immediately purchased Badmotorfinger and was hooked. Perhaps too hooked because I also got into the even more raw Louder Than Love and felt that Superunknown and Ultramega OK were kind of sell-outs. With the release of King Animal last year, I went back and listened to all of the albums and had to retract my hesitations because both of those albums are also top notch. I wish I could say the same for the latest release. It does rock, but sounds a bit too polished or perhaps just holding something back. I have always loved Cornell’s voice, but perhaps I just need to listen more to this one because nothing really grabbed me by the balls and shook me around like, say, Jesus Christ Pose or my favorite Rusty Cage (and by the way, if you have never heard Johnny Cash’s cover of Rusty Cage, you are missing out big time). By Crooked Steps  is alright, A Thousand Days before reminds a little of the B-sides on Badmotorfinger. The strongest track is probably the grinding Blood on the Valley Floor which rocks pretty good like the older Soundgarden. Its just that, for me, tracks like Attrition or Bones of Birds sound so formulaic and flat. Black Saturday is not even a shade of Black Hole Sun or Fell on Black Days and Halfway There is just too Top Pop 40 without much substance. The albums final tracks, Worse Drams, Eyelids Mouth, and Rowing just totally lost me. Perhaps I am being overly nostalgic, or perhaps this album just wasn’t that good.

smashing_pumpkinsSpeaking of disappointments, Oceania from Smashing Pumpkins was similarly a downer for me. I went back and listened to my favorite album of 1993 – Siamese Dream which just blew my mind away some 20 years ago (Christ has it been that long already?). I also checked out James Iho’s solo album Look to the Sky which was pretty uninteresting. On Oceania, there is some good guitar but Billy Corgan’s vocals seem so incredibly subdued. On Panopticon, he sounds his old self again, but despite the driving guitar riffs, there is something missing here. The chorus is sounds like standard rock radio and leaves me feeling a bit empty again. The Celestials is simply boring will pretty dumb lyrics. Later you get to One Diamond, One Heart – WTF! This poppy 80’s throwback to crappy pop “always on your side, blah blah”. Yikes! Hit skip again. And the album gets stuck in that pseudo-electronic nowhere’s land until we finally hear some guitars again on The Chimera which is more like the old Pumpkins, but just a shade of them. Maybe a small pumpkin. Glissandra could have been a track on one of those last three lameass U2 albums. Inkless gave me a little hope and features a decent distorted guitar solo and is perhaps the strongest track, but not enough to save this album which then put me to sleep on Wildflower. I thought that they couldn’t really hit another low like MACHINE/The Machines of God, but perhaps Billy is drowning in his own ego these days because Oceania certainly does not make any waves for me.

MRP-031-Peter-Buck-coverWanting to end on a positive note, Peter Buck’s self-titled solo debut is a great piece of work. I am deeply sad that I never caught R.E.M. live before they broke up and was happy to see that Peter Buck was able to produce such an original album. Raunchy rock like 10 Million BC complete with some oh la la las, some slow countrified beauty on Some Kind of Velvet Sunday Morning, some experimental psychedelia on Travel Without Arriving, a nice rockabily Give Me Back My Wig, an Animal-esque Nothing Matters, some experimental electronic mix on L.V.M.F. (a high point), some straight-forward blues on Nothing Means Nothing and Hard Old World (my favorite), a pure  backcountry  Nowhere No Way, a thrashy Vaso Loco, and finally a groovy, psychedelic I’m Alive make up this incredibly diverse and compelling album. The band here is fantastic with former bandmate Mike Mills and drummer Bill Rieflin among others. Peter’s guitar is certainly more unbridled than anything featured on an R.E.M. album other than perhaps Monster. Definitely worth your nickel.

So, am I too nostalgic or is it just too hard for bands to reinvent themselves? I guess you’ll just have to give me your opinions in the comments.

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About mfinocchiaro

IT Architecture Guru for large PLM software company but dabbling in Web 2.0 and other stuff.
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