Having had little of interest to say in recent weeks, I’m turning to my iTunes to take stock of my current listening habits:
MOST RECENTLY ADDED
The Dolphin’s Cry, Live: A little sanctimonious, as are many songs in the Live catalog. Also a powerful and compelling bit of rock, as are many songs in the Live catalog. As with U2, you take the good with the bad, even if the good isn’t quite as essential as Bono and company’s 25-year output.
Clumsy, Our Lady Peace: One of Raine Maida’s more restrained vocals, and it works. This isn’t an epic like the band’s earlier underrated efforts, Naveed and Starseed, both of which were masterclasses in spinning guitar hooks and an emotional vocal performance into a breathtaking piece of work. The simpler setting is a strong backdrop for lyrics that seem to offer both sympathy and a loving kick in the pants to someone who’s stumbling through life. Hard not to like this.
Mother Mother, Tracy Bonham: In the fabulous book Everything I’m Cracked Up to Be, Jen Trynin laments the difficulty of competing for limited female alt-rock attention with Alanis Morissette. Another musician in that competition was Tracy Bonham, who may have nosed out Trynin but was never in the Alanis-osphere. After a decade (and, to the chagrin of AllMusic.com’s Stephen Thomas Erlewine, only three albums), I’m starting to think I should pay more attention to her. I’m not sure that her songwriting is as consistent as Trynin’s was on Cockamamie, but this song proves she has a way with words and riffs. And unlike Trynin, she has a voice that can be equal parts powerful and vulnerable, as on this song and on the great Blue Man Group effort Up to the Roof.
Mirror Song, Live: Unlike any Live song you’ve ever heard, even if you caught the 2003 effort Heaven, an ode to a newborn that was uncomfortably close to Creed’s With Arms Wide Open. (Doesn’t that song seem a little creepy now that Scott Stapp has opted for the stereotypical rock lifestyle?) This song is spare, with an acoustic guitar and some precise drum fills providing gentle prodding as Ed Kowalczyk seeks balance between ideals and practicality without gazing completely into his own navel. That’s a difficult juggling act — one that Live didn’t always pull off — but they do it here.
For What It’s Worth, Rush: After 30 years of taking rock in every direction possible — 20-minute opuses, complex synth-and-guitar arrangements and power-trio rock that requires an awful lot of practice to mimic in a garage — Rush celebrated its 30-year career and triumphant return from the only hiatus the band ever took (that due to the deaths of Neil Peart’s wife and daughter) with … an EP of cover versions of songs older than the band itself? Yep. It shouldn’t surprise anyone they burn through rock classics like Crossroads and Summertime Blues, proving that guitarist Alex Lifeson hasn’t lost anything despite his curious decision to eschew solos on Vapor Trails. But this hippie-inspired cry for harmony and harmonics is the most fascinating because it’s so atypically Rush, as if they’ve figured that the whole Ayn Rand thing doesn’t really work when you get older. I can deal with the overwrought epics and Geddy Lee’s long-discarded shriek, but hearing them do something different a couple of decades later gives me a reason to keep listening. They’re writing new material.
I Want All of You, The Verve Pipe: One of those bands that had a hit and a couple of semi-minors but never caught on, and that’s a shame because they had distinct talent. This one stands up better to repeated listens than their hit (Freshmen), mostly because lead singer Brian Vander Ark builds the drama so well.
Run to the Hills, Iron Maiden: Every couple of years, I get the chorus stuck in my head and I think this is a good song. It’s not. We saw Iron Maiden (Flight of Icarus, in this case) on VH1 Classic recently, and I have no idea how anyone takes them seriously.
In a Big Country, Big Country: Live version from the Come Up Screaming album. Not the best live version I’ve heard, but still powerful. I wish I’d seen Big Country live. Their sound was amazing — drums, bass and guitar thundering behind melodic riffs and Stuart Adamson’s evocative voice. This one has a fun bit at the end in which Adamson introduces the band. It’s tough to understand his Scottish brogue over the drum beat, but it sounds as if he says Mark Brzezicki is hammering away at the drums “as if he being paid for it,” and he introduces bassist/backup vocalist Tony Butler as “the nicest man in music.” (Butler and Brzezicki are also known for their bouncy beat and Butler’s vocal work on Pete Townshend’s Let My Love Open the Door.)
20. Harder to Breathe, Maroon 5: Strange, because I haven’t listened to it recently.
19. Our House, Madness: A new favorite of MMM Jr. and a marvelous slice of life.
18. Up to the Roof, Blue Man Group & Tracy Bonham: See above.
17. Octopus’s Garden, the Beatles: Known to MMM Jr. as “Under the Sea,” perhaps because he has not yet seen The Little Mermaid.
16. Mental Hopscotch, Missing Persons: Classic interplay of guitar, synth, drums and yelping vocals.
15. No Ha Parado de Llover, Mana: I know maybe five words of Spanish, but this Samples-ish song is beautiful.
14. Born of Frustration, James: The sort of soaring anthem the English do so much better than we do.
13. Hello, Goodbye, the Beatles: MMM Jr. likes it, but not as much as he should.
12. Rock Lobster, the B-52s: An MMM Jr. favorite, even if he can’t pronounce it.
11. Talk of the Town, the Pretenders: A little surprising to see this up so high, considering that I never use it to pump myself up for work or working out, but it’s a pleasant enough song.
10. Beginnings, Chicago: The horn section’s finest work.
9. Help Me (She’s Out of Her Mind), Stereophonics: The power riff that started my Stereophonics craze.
8. Fall Behind Me, the Donnas: Best guitar riff and variations since Jimmy Page’s heyday, I kid you not. Great vocal performance, too.
7. “C” is for Cookie, Cookie Monster: The heavy artillery of tantrum-calmers.
6. You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch, Thurl Ravenscroft (erroneously credited to Boris Karloff): The ultimate tantrum-calmer.
5. Flirtin’ With Disaster, Molly Hatchet: No Southern rock band ever turned up the guitar riffs and growled about destruction and corruption any better than this. Great drums, too.
4. Amsterdam, Guster: I’m never not in the mood for this well-crafted pop effort from this likable band.
3. High as the Ceiling, Stereophonics: Their power-riffing best.
2. Dakota, Stereophonics. See this post.
1. Bohemian Like You, Dandy Warhols. Also mentioned in that post, but this is also an MMM Jr. favorite.