Category Archives: Music

What if we give it away?


Hot on the heels of Harvey Danger making their album available for free download (which I’ve blogged about a couple of times), Nine Inch Nails have done the same thing. OK, well maybe not “hot on the heels”, since Harvey Danger did it over three years ago, but this is another example of a band (or person actually, since NIN is Trent Reznor) that actually gets it when it comes to downloading music.

A lot of people and bands (Lars Ulrich of Metallica comes screaming to mind here) seem to think that downloading music is the scourge of society, and allows people to essentially pull money from their pockets. What they have to consider is that many of the people downloading their music illegally wouldn’t have bought it in the first place. Would I have gone out and bought a Harvey Danger CD? No, because I’d never heard of the band, but I’m willing to download it and listen for free. If it sucks, I’ve lost nothing. But if I like it, I’m more likely to go back and buy it or some previous album (both of which I did for Harvey Danger), which is money that the band made that they wouldn’t have otherwise.

Are there people who will download music instead of buying it? Absolutely. Back in high school, my friends and I would all negotiate who was going to buy the latest album from Kim Mitchell or Van Halen or whoever, and everyone else would give that person a blank tape and he’d tape it for the rest of us. So yes, we were pirating music. But at the time, I was a high school kid and didn’t have much money anyway, so I was unlikely to buy 90% of the albums I taped, meaning that nobody was losing money by me doing this. On the contrary — while I may not have bought Akimbo Alogo at the time, I did listen to it and became a Kim Mitchell fan. Years later I did buy Akimbo Alogo on CD, along with a couple of other Kim Mitchell albums as well as all of the Max Webster albums, so Kim did end up benefitting from my piracy.

Similarly, I’ve been interested in hearing NIN for a while, but since I’d never actually heard any of their music, I was hesitant to just go out and buy something. Downloading the album gives me the chance to hear it and decide if I like it, and so far I do. So perhaps I’ll buy some of their older stuff — once I do that, NIN will profit from my downloading their album. If they never released it for download, I wouldn’t have bought it, and they’d have made nothing from me. Thus far, since I haven’t bought any NIN stuff, they still haven’t made anything from me, but now the potential’s there.

Let me be clear: I may have done it in the past and even tried to justify it above, but I’m not advocating piracy, so chill out, Lars. I do have a handful of albums that I downloaded illegally a couple of years ago (none of which are Metallica, so chill out, Lars), and I feel a little guilty every time I listen to them. But I have bought copies of several of the ones I listen to often (I just bid on a copy of Abbey Road and two Rammstein CDs on eBay), and I’ve also deleted some that I don’t. I haven’t downloaded any music or videos (other than the odd TV show that I missed, none of which feature Metallica, so chill… OK, that joke’s getting old) in a couple of years. I’m really not talking about stealing music, I’m talking more about the bands that choose to make their music available for download, most of which are indie bands like Harvey Danger. But it’s nice to see some big-name bands like NIN doing the same thing.

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The Fab Four, and some really old CD reviews


Over the last couple of years, I have become a pretty big Beatles fan. I’ve always liked the Beatles; my parents have an audio recording of me singing “Hey Jude” when I was about 3. My dad had the Red and Blue albums, and I remember being fascinated by the two pictures of the Beatles looking over the balcony, eight (or so) years apart:

I have the first Anthology CD, but it’s a lot of the older stuff — Love Me Do, Please Please Me, I Wanna Hold Your Hand, stuff like that, and I’m more into the later Beatles. I also have the “1” album, which is yet another “Best Of…” album. But other than the hits (of which there are several), I never really knew much else.

I was going to start off the first sentence of this story by saying “I’m not really sure why”, but that’s not true — the reason I’m such a big Beatles fan these days is because of my guitar teachers over the last couple of years. I’ve had three different teachers, and the last two were huge Beatles fans. My current teacher, who is probably ten years younger than I am, knows how to play just about every Beatles song there is (though Eleanor Rigby might be challenging on guitar), and a few months ago we went through and played about three quarters of the Abbey Road album. Something, Here Comes The Sun, and Blackbird are some of my favourite Beatles songs to play.

Thanks to him, I’ve become more interested in the rest of the Beatles catalogue. Gail gave me Let It Be for Christmas, and this past week I bought Revolver, Magical Mystery Tour, Rubber Soul, and the White Album on eBay (and was outbid for Anthology 2 and 3). I also have (illegal… shhhhh) copies of Abbey Road and the Red and Blue albums, although I intend on buying those too.

I’m also really interested in Beatles trivia, and I love reading the Wikipedia entries on various albums. I don’t know what it is about Beatles trivia that makes it more interesting to me than trivia about the Stones or the Who or any other band. Things like:

  • the drums you hear on “Back in the U.S.S.R.” were played by Paul because Ringo had temporarily left the band when it was recorded.
  • John hated Paul’s song “Ob-la-di Ob-la-da”, and came into the recording studio one day claiming to be more stoned than any of them had ever been, and sat down at the piano and played the opening that was used on the recorded version. (A lot of people consider that to be the worst Beatles song ever, but I kind of like it. It’s better than Revolution 9, anyway.)
  • Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds was based on a picture that Julian Lennon drew while he was in kindergarten and had nothing to do with LSD. Some real fanatics have gone through the history books, and figured out who Lucy really was.
  • George Harrison left the band for a week or so during the recording of Let It Be, and the remaining Beatles considered asking Eric Clapton to replace him, but then decided that if anyone left the band, it just wouldn’t be the Beatles anymore. They were right.
  • At various times, each of John, George, and Ringo left the band, only to be coaxed back by Paul. But the Beatles disbanded because Paul left.

I look at some famous musicians and marvel at what a great piano player or guitar player or whatever he is. It’s even more amazing when that person has other musical talents, like singing or songwriting. You can look at Eric Clapton, and he’s one of the best guitar players ever. He’s a pretty good songwriter as well, and he’s a decent singer, but as far as I know can’t play any other instruments. Elton John is an amazing piano player, and a good singer, but only writes music, not lyrics, and doesn’t play guitar or bass or drums. The amazing thing about the Beatles is not just that they have someone like that — George Harrison is also an excellent guitar player who can sing and has written some really great songs — but then they also have two more who are even better. Paul McCartney and John Lennon both play guitar, they both play piano, they both play bass, Paul plays drums, they are both great singers, they are both great songwriters (music and lyrics), and they work very well together as well as individually. And then there’s Ringo, who I’ve complained about before. He can’t sing, wrote a total of two songs during the entire life of the Beatles, and plays no instruments other than drums. But there’s no denying that he’s a very good drummer, and I’ve heard of tons of modern-day rock drummers who cite him as an influence.

You don’t often see CD reviews that are not of recent releases, and very rarely of albums that are over forty years old, but here are a couple:

Abbey Road

Abbey Road is not considered one of the best rock albums of all time for no reason. It’s certainly got its share of big hits (Come Together, Something, Here Comes The Sun, Octopus’s Garden), but most of the other songs are just as strong. Maxwell’s Silver Hammer is a little silly, but kind of fun. I love Paul McCartney’s Oh! Darling — it sounds like the kind of song that John Lennon would normally sing, but Paul does a good job with it. I Want You (She’s So Heavy) is a little repetitive and the end goes on a bit too long, but different stanzas using the same lyrics with different musical styles is kind of cool. The only songs I’m really not thrilled with are Octopus’s Garden, because Ringo is a crappy singer and Because, which is just a little too dreamy and psychadelic.

Most of the second side (going back to the record days with that terminology — I don’t suggest turning the CD over) is a medley of short songs. It almost seems like they took a bunch of half-written half-recorded songs and mashed them together, which I believe is what they actually did, but it really works. Golden Slumbers, Carry That Weight, and The End are simply fantastic, containing both a drum solo (the only one Ringo ever did) and a triple guitar solo. It’s hard to believe while listening to this album (which I have done numerous times over the past month or two) that the Beatles were barely even a functioning group at this point.

Let It Be

Let It Be was recorded before Abbey Road but for various reasons was released after. It’s kind of too bad, since it would have been nice for the Beatles to end their run with an amazing farewell album. Instead, we got Let It Be. This is kind of unfair, since it is not a bad album by any stretch, but is just not as strong as Abbey Road. The title track is one of my favourite Beatles songs ever, despite being very repetitive, which is something I generally dislike (George Harrison’s “Got My Mind Set On You” drives me batty for that very reason). The Long and Winding Road, Two of Us, Get Back, and Across The Universe (even with the indecipherable chorus “Jai guru deva om”) are also really great songs. I really like One After 909, at least partially because it’s so different from the other tracks on the album. I was about to write that it sounds more like a very early Beatles song than the rest of Let It Be, and then I checked the Wikipedia entry and found that it was indeed written by John Lennon more than ten years earlier, even before the Beatles were the Beatles.

I should receive the CDs I bought sometime next week. I’ll give them a few listens and then post my thoughts on them sometime after that.

CD Review: Death Magnetic


I bought a CD a couple of weeks ago — an actual physical CD! How quaint! I have bought my share of music from both iTunes and puretracks.ca, and as convenient as digital music is, for some albums I still prefer having the actual CD for the liner notes. iTunes has its advantages, the main one being convenience. It’s absolutely brain-dead simple to buy stuff from iTunes; from the time you say “I think I will buy this”, you could have it downloaded and available on your iPod within a couple of minutes. However, the music is DRM’ed up the wazoo. I tend to prefer puretracks.ca over iTunes as they sometimes have DRM-free MP3s available, but if they don’t, you get fully-protected WMAs. Either way, though, you can burn a CD from the iTunes files or the WMAs, and then rip the CD to clean MP3s. If you use a rewritable CD and then erase it when you’re done, you don’t even waste a CD, which begs the question: why do you need a physical CD to do this? You’re using software to convert the files from protected MP3/WMA to CD format, then using software to convert from CD format to unprotected MP3. So why can’t the software just do both without writing to a physical disk in the middle? It just blows my mind.

But I digress. The CD I bought was the latest from Metallica, “Death Magnetic”. I have been a Metallica fan since 1991, thanks to the Black Album. I still remember buying it (and Nirvana’s “Nevermind”) at Tower Records in Redmond, Washington during my work term at Microsoft. It wasn’t long before I picked up all of Metallica’s previous albums, and “Master of Puppets” and “…And Justice For All” quickly became two of my favourite albums of all time. I wasn’t that thrilled with “Load” when it came out, but it grew on me after a while and now I really like it. “Reload” never grew on me at all and I rarely listen to it. It should have been called “Filler from the ‘Load’ sessions”. It just seems too, I don’t know, gimmicky, for lack of a better word. “Garage, Inc.” was good, but obviously a little different since it’s all covers. Since it’s mainly covers of bands I don’t listen to (Motörhead, Mercyful Fate, Misfits, Killing Joke), I don’t listen to that album often either (though their cover of Bob Seger’s Turn the Page is seriously kick-ass). For whatever reason, I had high hopes for “St. Anger”, but was sorely disappointed. I’ve listened to it many times since in the hopes that it too would grow on me, but while Frantic isn’t a bad song, the title track annoys the hell out of me and much of the rest is simply forgettable.

Which brings me (finally) to “Death Magnetic”. In a nutshell, this is easily the best Metallica album since (at least) “Load” — though given my comments above about the albums since “Load”, that’s not saying much. There are actual guitar solos, something completely lacking from “St. Anger”. Jason Newsted was a decent bassist, but his bass playing in Metallica kind of sat unnoticed in the background. You can really hear Trujillo’s bass playing, and that combined with the sometimes unconventional drumming of Lars Ulrich makes for a powerful bottom end. James Hetfield is one of the most underrated guitarists out there, probably because he isn’t flashy and doesn’t generally do the solos — Kirk Hammett plays the solos (and nothing else) on the recordings — but Hetfield is his usual solid self here. He is also one of the better metal singers around, in that he actually sings. He can growl with the best of them when necessary, but isn’t afraid to actually use his voice for more than just belting out words.

Some other miscellaneous comments:

  • Broken, Beat & Scarred has the same problem that annoyed me about St. Anger (the song): excessive repetition. “What don’t kill ya make ya more strong” is not only bad English but is said about a hundred times in the song. It’s still a better song than St. Anger though.
  • the beginning of The Day That Never Comes sounds uncannily like Fade to Black.
  • The Unforgiven II on “Reload” had some obvious musical nods to the original The Unforgiven. The Unforgiven III on this album does as well, but isn’t quite as obvious. The music is different, but the vocal melody during the verses is reminiscent of the original.
  • Parts of All Nightmare Long are almost radio-friendly but not as blatantly so as Escape from “Ride the Lightning”. But don’t expect to hear it on Top-40 radio anytime soon.
  • Suicide & Redemption is the first Metallica instrumental song since “…And Justice For All”. I’m not a huge fan of To Live Is To Die, but I love the other instrumentals (The Call of Ktulu and Orion), and this one is up there with those two.

The most overrated rock artists


1. The Ramones. I simply do not understand the fascination with this band. Sure, Blitzkrieg Bop is a decent song, but that’s about it. The singer has a lousy voice, and all of their songs sound the same. People seem all excited about the fact that they only know three chords and aren’t great musicians, and this somehow makes them one of the classic American bands. I don’t see why. There are other punk bands who are actually decent musicians, and there are thousands of other bands out there that have no musical talent. What makes the Ramones different from them?

2. Queen. I like Queen. They’re good musicians, they have some great songs (Bohemian Rhapsody is a true classic), and I like the Greatest Hits album that I have. But I’ve listened to many of their other albums as well, and the songs that aren’t the hits (and even a few that are) just aren’t that good. Freddie Mercury was a great singer; in fact thinking about it now, he might be one of the best rock singers ever. Brian May is a very good guitar player, but there are better guitarists out there. Overall, Queen was a very good band, no question. But in 2007, a BBC poll declared them to be “the best British band of all time”, ahead of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin. This is ridiculous.

3. Radiohead. I’ve heard them described as the best band in the world right now. Again, I just don’t get it. “OK Computer” is supposed to be their best album and according to Wikipedia, “a landmark album of its time”. Rolling Stone and Time magazines both listed it among their greatest albums of all time — Spin magazine says it’s the number one album of the past 20 years. I listened to it a few years ago and just found it boring. Maybe it’s one of those albums that you hate when you first hear it but grow on you after a while, so perhaps I’ll give it another listen.

4. Rod Stewart. Sang a couple of decent songs in the 70’s, but ehhh.

5. Aerosmith. Tyler is a decent singer with a unique voice. The rest of the band are good musicians. They’ve got some good songs but as with Queen, I find that the non-hits are just filler. I got kind of tired of them in the 90’s when they did a bunch of “power-ballads”, culminating in the completely awful “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing”. And listening to someone as ugly as Steven Tyler singing about sex as often as he does is just creepy.

Great albums I sometimes forget about II


Another great album I meant to mention before: New Miserable Experience by Gin Blossoms. “Lost Horizons”, “Hey Jealousy”, “Found Out About You”, and “Mrs. Rita” are all great songs, and there isn’t really a weak song anywhere. And “Cheatin'” contains one of my favourite lyrics ever: “You can’t call it cheatin’ ’cause she reminds me of you“. The singer has a unique voice; not sure why they never did much after this album.

Great albums I sometimes forget about


There are some albums that come immediately to mind when I think of great albums. …And Justice for All, Master of Puppets, and Metallica (the “Black Album”) by Metallica, Rumours by Fleetwood Mac (other than two tracks), Ah Via Musicom by Eric Johnson, The Real Thing by Faith No More, a bunch (Animals, Dark Side of the Moon, The Wall, The Division Bell, Wish You Were Here, and A Momentary Lapse of Reason) by Pink Floyd, Back in Black by AC/DC, Collective Soul by Collective Soul, Naveed by Our Lady Peace, The Joshua Tree and The Unforgettable Fire by U2, the list goes on and on.

But then there are some albums that I don’t listen to all that often, but every time I do, I think “Holy crap, this is a great album”. Here are a few:

  • X&Y, Coldplay — “Square One”, “Talk”, “Fix You”, “White Shadows”, “A Message”, “Twisted Logic”, and “Speed of Sound” are all great songs. Each of their albums has been better than the previous one, so I’m really looking forward to picking up their new one.
  • Californication, Red Hot Chili Peppers — I’m not that huge a fan of the Chili Peppers other stuff. I have Blood Sugar Sex Magik as well, and it’s certainly got some good songs (“Under the Bridge” is one of their best), but some of the other tracks on that album I don’t particularly care for. I’ve only listened to Stadium Arcadium a couple of times, and so far it’s mostly forgettable, but I’ll have to give it a few more listens. Californication, on the other hand, doesn’t have a bad song on it (“Porcelain” is probably the worst and it’s not that bad), particularly “Emit Remmus”, “Road Trippin'”, and “Around the World”. I love the guitar on “This Velvet Glove”.
  • Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, Sarah McLachlan — “Possession” is a great song, and the acoustic version included as a bonus track is even better. “Hold On” may be one of the saddest songs ever written by anyone.
  • Left of the Middle, Natalie Imbruglia — a little different from most of the other albums in this list, since there are a couple of songs on this one that aren’t that great (“Don’t You Think” and “City”; “Impressed” is pretty good but goes on too long), but “Torn”, “Leave Me Alone”, “Wishing I Was There”, “Pigeons and Crumbs”, and especially “Smoke” are really great songs.
  • August and Everything After, Counting Crows — fantastic album, especially “Round Here”, “Omaha”, Mr. Jones”, “Anna Begins”, “Rain King”, and “A Murder of One”. Their second album was pretty good (“A Long December”, “Angels of the Silences”, “Another Horsedreamer’s Blues”), then they just dropped out of the world of good music completely. I lost interest when I heard the boring “Hanginaround” from their third album, and “Accidentally in Love” from the Shrek 2 soundtrack was just awful.
  • Beautiful Midnight, Matthew Good Band — “Hello Time Bomb” and “Load Me Up” are two of my favourite songs. Pretty much every other song on this album is really good too, particularly “Failing the Rorschach Test”, “The Future is X-Rated”, “Apparitions”, “Running for Home” and “Suburbia”.
  • Arc of a Diver, Steve Winwood — he sang, played all the instruments, co-wrote all the songs, and produced, engineered, and mixed the album. Pretty much the definition of a “solo album”. Oh yeah, and all the songs are great too.
  • Crest of a Knave, Jethro Tull — I’m not really familiar with Jethro Tull other than this album, and it’s a little heavier than what I expected when I first heard it. One of only two rock albums that I own that use a flute (the other is Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie by Alanis Morissette), and in both cases the flautist is the singer. The haunting “Farm on the Freeway”, which makes excellent use of the flute, is an amazing song.
  • High Class in Borrowed Shoes, Max Webster — I’m a big Webster fan, and this is beginning-to-end their best album. “Rain Child” is about the only song I wouldn’t consider “great” (and it’s not bad), and “On The Road” is one of my favourite Webster songs.
  • Robbie Robertson, Robbie Robertson — “Hell’s Half Acre” is simply a great rock song, “Broken Arrow”, “Fallen Angel”, “Showdown at Big Sky”, “Sweet Fire of Love” (with U2) and “Sonny Got Caught in the Moonlight” all all really good, but the pièce de résistance is “Somewhere Down the Crazy River”. “You like it now, but you’ll learn to love it later.
  • She’s The One Soundtrack, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers — Forgettable movie (I found it unrealistic because Jennifer Aniston’s husband didn’t want to have sex with her, and yet wasn’t gay), but a great soundtrack. “Angel Dream (No. 2)”, “Change the Locks”, “Walls (Circus)”, “Hope You Never”, “Climb that Hill”, and “Asshole” are all really good. The instrumental songs are skippable.
  • The Turn of a Friendly Card, The Alan Parsons Project — Weird in the sense that the band does not have a lead singer, but used a bunch of different singers. I could list titles of good songs, but I’d just be listing the whole album.

Sorry, it was going to be a “Top Ten” list, but I got a bit carried away and ended up with twelve albums.

Hey man, I’m freakin’ out


Today at work, I listened to Look What I Did by Joe Walsh, a double album of his greatest hits. In terms of big radio hits, there ain’t much — “Life’s Been Good”, “Rocky Mountain Way”, “Walk Away”, “Life of Illusion”, and “Funk #49” are about it. Those songs are all really good, and “Life’s Been Good” contains one of my favourite lyrics ever: “I can’t complain, but sometimes I still do”. That one simple line just seems to capture the feelings of the vast majority of society, myself included.

Apart from those songs, most of the rest of the collection is, to be blunt, either boring or just plain crap. Walsh is a talented guitarist, but has a really weird voice, and writes some very odd lyrics. Occasionally his voice works for a song, but other times I wonder if it wouldn’t have been a better song if he’d gotten someone else to sing it.

Walsh also has a strange sense of humour. Songs like “Ordinary Average Guy”, “Life’s Been Good”, and “Shut Up” among others have funny lyrics, he’s got album titles like The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get, and who else would write a song called “I.L.B.T.’s” — which stands for “I Like Big Tits”? After listening to some of these songs, I started to wonder whether it’s really his sense of humour, or if he was just high or drunk or both during most of the time that these songs were written.

Even his songs as part of the Eagles weren’t that good — on the classic album Hotel California, the only song Walsh sings is my least favourite track, “Pretty Maids All In A Row” (though he co-wrote “Life in the Fast Lane”). The latest album Long Road out of Eden contains some excellent songs, but the only one that Walsh sings is “Last Good Time In Town”, which seems really out of place.

My former guitar teacher is a huge Joe Walsh fan, and every now and again I’ll give this CD a listen, thinking “maybe I’ll give it another chance”, but I keep coming to the same conclusion: Joe Walsh is a pretty good guitar player who wrote a couple of great songs, a few decent ones, and a whole bunch of dreck.