Sunday, December 27, 2009

Old Timers Day

Classic rockers did their best to not let Rock and Roll die, spending the decade releasing new music to their shrinking fan bases. Some proved they still had something relevant to say while others looked like they were going thru the motions.

The Future Past Of Rock And Roll

Probably the most visible (and biggest following) performer to make my list is The Boss, Bruce Springsteen. He was prolific, putting out like five albums. Of those, the one to impress me was 2007's Magic where I felt he had a good batch of songs ("Radio Nowhere", "Livin In The Future" and "Long Way Home" were highlights) and recaptured some of the 'ol E Street magic (I thought they sounded stiff on 2002's The Rising which is otherwise a good disc). The Boss's idol, or The Bosses Boss if you will, Bob Dylan, issued the excellent Love and Theft in 2001. Dylan's album had a ramshackle well worn feel alongside vibrant material (like the relaxing "Sugar Baby"). Meanwhile, Sir Paul McCartney came up with a winner on his Chaos And Creation In The Backyard (2005) by having quality tunes and a nice homemade feel. "Jenny Wren" had a great classic Beatles feel to it.

Let Your Freak Flag Fly

More prolific was Neil Young who should win the award for most faithful recreation of a 60's event by spitting out a vitriolic anti war album in Living With War (2006) which doesn't make my list for song quality yet deserves mentioning just for intent. Maybe the only 60's liberal rock survivor I can think of that used his flower power era anti establishment cred for something other than a marketable cache of cool. Agree or disagree with him, Young showed guts to stand behind his established politics even as it just made him seem that much more like a walking antique. But in terms of the actual music, I liked the acoustic Prairie Wind (2005) on which Young muses on fleeting personal mortality.

John Mellencamp also went acoustic and a little somber on Life, Death, Love and Freedom (that's probably not the right title but too tired to look up right title) the disc that turned around decades of hatred...for me that is. I hated John Mellencamp's music since 1982 yet this album grabbed my attention. This disc made me feel like American values of fairness and freedom for all were slipping through my very fingers. Impressive album.

Jackson Browne (a personal favorite of mine) also went anti war in a more low key way (because he is Jackson Browne after all) in 2008's Time The Conqueror. Browne's songwriting was as eloquent and So Cal with its laid back urgency (oxymoron alert!) as ever in an enjoyable way. And though John Fogerty made an anti war statement on the weak Deja Vu All Over Again (2004) CD, he turned it around musically by reviving his Creedence sound on Revival (2007). By getting back to his old swamp grounds Fogerty's anti Bush rants like "Gunslinger" carried more weight.

Peaceful Easy Feeling

Speaking of laid back So Cal urgency, Browne's fellow scenesters also dished out plenty of harmony driven goodness. Fleetwood Mac's Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks had nice solo turns with Under the Skin (2006) and Trouble In Shangri La (2001) respectively, outshining their one Mac disc together the spotty Say You Will (2003). Buckingham went the acoustic route with rewarding results. The minimal instrumentation gave a break from Buckingham's usually dense production style adding freshness to head boppers like "Show You How". Ms. Nicks pumped up her resume' with a polished disc containing older songs written in her songwriting prime. Hence the outstanding numbers "Sorcerer" and "Planets Of The Universe" saw the light of day with strong results.

Meanwhile Hell froze over again thanks to The Eagles double disc smackdown Long Road To Eden (2007). While far from an astounding album, it's solid and a firm reminder of their best qualities.

Gotcha Covered

Because writing new compelling material is the ultimate challenge for every rock and roll artist, watching established performers turn to cover albums became a regular event. Of these, my favorite was the first Matthew Sweet / Susannah Hoffs team up Under The Covers Vol 1 (2006). They had a nice heartfelt vibe in paying tribute to power pop's past. Jack Blades (Night Ranger) and Tommy Shaw (Styx) also teamed up well on their paean to the early 70's with Influence (2007). Shaw / Blades had the best cover of Yes' "Your Move" ever (Sweet / Hoffs covered it in '09). In this list of Marvel Comics Team Ups I've got to throw in The Black Crowes with Jimmy Page Live At The Greek (2000) for tearin' it up on Led Zep covers. Let's face it, unless you were one of those Billionaires at the one and only Led Zep reunion show this is as close as you're gonna get to Valhalla. Bean town's Aerosmith rocked hard and well on their "blues" covers album Honkin On Bobo (2004) including a nice zipping take on "Baby Please Don't Go". Lastly, Def Leppard's best effort in the 21st Century was 2006's Yeah. Lep even got me to enjoy "Rock On", a song I personally loathe for just plain sucking in general.

Next, I'll run a catch all thru the remaining genres before naming my favorite album of the new millennium.


Some Kinda Wonderful said...

Oh no no no NO... Rock On is like... like... God Music. How can you say it sucks? You are just too young to fully appreciate it, that's all. I love you anyway, tho. :)
Great end of the year, end of the decade list thingy. I loved the Crowes/Page effort. Thought it was terrific. That Def Lep disc, too. Springstein? Well... you know how I feel about him. I haven't listened to him seriously since Born in the USA. And I NEVER could stand Dylan. Awful, awful voice. Worse than nails on a chalkboard.
Anyway, to the point of your post... every time I think Rock is dying someone or some band comes along and fires it back up. Thankfully. I don't think it will ever die, actually. It's just too darned wonderful.

Mr. Mike said...

Hi SKW! Great to hear from you on the blog, I was beginning to think no one read these things anymore :) I hope rock never dies because life would be much more boring without it. I would love to see rock music become the force it once was, because I'm getting old I can relate to what Tom Petty said in an interview when he complained (not an exact quote) that current rock music is like pro wrestling, everyone knows its fake but applauds any way.

Sorry about "Rock On" it just rubs me the wrong way. Maybe it's because the main version I heard growing up was the Michael Damian remake on the radio 1,000 times a week and not the original. Don't want to put Damian down too much though because I heard he once got his butt kicked by some guy at his own concert, makes me feel sorry for him more than anything.

I agree Bob Dylan has a terrible voice and I enjoy his music more when other people cover it. Have you heard that Christmas album he did? I heard one song and it was more than a joke. Great songwriter though. Him, Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen are awesome writers that really can't sing worth crap. Or sound like they're taking a crap when singing.

Some Kinda Wonderful said...

ahahahaha... taking a crap when singing. Yeah, that about sums it up.