Culture > Notable CDs

Notable CDs

Notable CDs | Four noteworthy new CDs reviewed by Arsenio Orteza

Catnip Dynamite

Style: Three decades' worth of British hard, pop, and progressive rock, pressed down and shaken together.

Worldview: That although rock may be dying, there's no need for those who love it to let it go gently into that good night.

Overall quality: Even when overdubbed, Manning's voice is a little too thin, and that's the only thing wrong with this stunning synthesis of everyone from T. Rex, Sweet, and 10cc to Queen, ELO, and Def Leppard (and that's not counting the live Thomas Dolby and Elton John covers).

Artificial Fire

Style: Folk-jazz melodies, smoky singing, offbeat syncopation, occasionally dissonant instrumentation.

Worldview: "I want to feel good. / I want to feel right. / I want to feel the sun. / [. . .] God is love and appreciation. / Don't miss the mark" ("God Is Love").

Overall quality: Mandell's songs unfold as slowly and as unpredictably as a reverie; essentially a miniaturist (kissing is central role in five songs), she also writes about the macrocosm ("God Is Love," "I Love Planet Earth") with no hint of sentimentality or agitprop.

Written in Chalk

Style: The latest stretch of the Americana highway along which the Millers, solo and together, have been hiking for over 20 years.

Worldview: "If all our heartaches were in a stack, they'd go all the way up to heaven and back. / We don't know all the trouble we're in. [. . .] Jesus, save us from our sin" ("Chalk").

Overall quality: Backwoods country blues (Buddy) and late-night heartbreak (Julie) battered by bare-knuckled grace (Buddy with Julie); the difference this time: the cameos (Robert Plant, Emmylou Harris, Regina McCrary, Patty Griffin).

Pyramid

Style: The commercial face of concept rock, circa 1978, now padded with seven demos, instrumental versions, and alternate mixes.

Worldview: "I've consulted all the sages I could find in Yellow Pages, but there aren't many of them. / And the Mayan panoramas on my pyramid pajamas haven't helped my little problem" ("Pyramania").

Overall quality: In retrospect, hardly the gateway to the occult some anti-rock evangelists feared; rather, a prime example of the Project's early formula: a sci-fi/fantasy theme broken down and reconstructed for maximum fun and profit.

Spotlight

During its 11-year run, the Alan Parsons Project-an ever-shifting collective of musicians and singers organized to flesh out the "symphonic progressive rock" of Alan Parsons and Eric Woolfson-was the soundtrack of choice among listeners who preferred science fiction and fantasy to love or other perennial pop-song subjects. Beginning with the Poe-inspired Tales of Mystery and Imagination (1976), Parsons and Woolfson oversaw a series of concept albums that critics derided as pretentious but that yielded eight top-40 hits nevertheless.

Only the diehard need inspect all six of the Project's albums (Pyramid through Gaudi) that Arista/Legacy has just reissued in re-mastered editions. The line between virtuosity and slickness begins to blur after awhile, and the bonus tracks, which consist mainly of demos, feel pointlessly skeletal. Taken one at a time, however, their big-budget settings of high-brow themes to mass-appeal sounds can (still) constitute a unique, and surprisingly fun, change of pace for anyone stuck in a listening rut.

Comments

You must be a WORLD member to post comments.

    Keep Reading

     

    Double trouble

    With one action, the president offended both those who…

    Advertisement