Friday, January 27, 2017

Review of Bess Rogers' "Travel Back"

I posted this review earlier tonight on the Sputnik Music website. I based a lot of it on a review of a live performance by Lelia Broussard and Bess Rogers that I wrote in 2009 which was published in Aural Fix.


I first met Bess Rogers in a small Long Island coffee shop where I used to go for live music. Rogers was a teenager at the time, and sometimes after whoever was playing that night would finish their show, she would noodle around on the guitar as things wound down. Eventually, she worked up the courage to book her own show, and played it on an unamplified acoustic guitar so that we all had to sit really close in order to hear her. 

Over the next few years, I'd see her name here and there advertised for shows by different acoustic venues in different parts of the Island. She put out a couple of EPs that I got my hands on, and sometimes I'd give her some airplay on a show I did on a local community radio station. Then in 2007, she put out a full-length album called Decisions Based on Information, and I was blown away by the growth that I heard. I started giving her more frequent airplay, and her CD came close to making my Top 10 Local Albums of the Year list for that year.

Eventually, Rogers moved to Brooklyn (along with many quality Long Island artists) and in 2009, she released a 6-song EP called Travel Back. Once again I was amazed to hear how much further she'd come as both a singer and a songwriter. Shortly thereafter, I caught her on TV as part of Ingrid Michaelson's band performing in the Live from the Artist's Den series, and I realized she'd been getting some great experience out on the road, both as an original artist and as a regular member of Michaelson's band. And while I was and still am an admirer of Michaelson, in some ways, I feel like Rogers' recorded work has been surpassing hers since the release of this EP.

All six songs on Travel Back are really good. The style falls somewhere in the indie rock/indie pop range, with some nice vocal harmonies sprinkled throughout. The album is smartly produced, especially for an independent release.

The standout is the title track, "Travel Back". It's an upbeat, toe-tapping number that makes excellent use of ukulele and features a peppy vo-do-de-o vocal style where certain words are stretched to an extra syllable or two (e.g. "you" becomes "You-oo"). And although it's a love-gone-wrong song, the chorus is so damned catchy it's impossible not to smile, as the singer declares "Even if I could travel back, travel back, travel back/With all the knowledge that I have/I would still be falling for you." The song is so good, I'm surprised that some better known artist with a bigger publicity machine hasn't covered it and turned it into a hit single.

Another song I really like is "Yellow Bird". This is a slow, gentle acoustic number that offers the most beautiful vocal harmonies on the album. Musically, there's nothing particularly innovative about this one, but it's so pretty that I don't care.

Over the last few years, in addition to her solo career, Rogers has participated in a number of side projects, including the electronic bands The Age of Rockets and The Robot Explosion, and the electric/acoustic band The Secret Someones. She also had a song selected for an ad campaign for Cheerios in 2013. Travel Back, however, was the first release where she really started fully showing her musical chops.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Review of Ian Anderson's "Walk Into Light"

I posted this review late last night/early this morning on the Sputnik Music website. The references to album ratings within the review refers to album ratings on Sputnik.


Review Summary: This album is an undiscovered gem from Ian Anderson's much-maligned synthesizer period.


Walk Into Light (1983) was Ian Anderson's first solo album. Although it was ignored by many Jethro Tull fans, and disparaged by many others, I consider it one of the hidden gems of Anderson's storied career.

Ian Anderson/Jethro Tull's synthesizer period was one of the least popular periods in the band's history for many fans. As the 1970s moved towards their conclusion, the musical landscape was undergoing an alteration away from guitar-driven and progressive rock towards a more simple synthpop sound. Anderson and Tull were just ending their Renaissance/English rustic period, which began with Songs From the Wood (1977) and continued through Heavy Horses (1978). Anderson could see the times were changing, and he was determined to keep up. Although Storm Watch (1978) is considered to be the third album in this folk trilogy, it was also the first record where he started incorporating synthesizer elements. Following this album, Anderson announced his plans to begin work on a solo album, at which point several members of Jethro Tull left the band. Although he retained the remaining Tull members, guitarist Martin Barre and bass player Dave Pegg, to work on his new project, he intended to create an album with a very different sound from that of Jethro Tull, one where the use of electronic music was prominent. Consequently, he hired Eddie Jobson to play synthesizers and electric violin, and rounded out his lineup with Mark Craney on drums. After much pressure from the record company, though, the resulting album, A (1980), was eventually released under the Jethro Tull moniker. 

Following A, Jobson, who had never been an official band member, left Tull, and was replaced on keyboards by Peter-John Vettese for their next album, Broadsword and the Beast. Anderson must have liked what he heard from Vettese, because after Broadsword he invited Vettese to collaborate with him on his next project, the solo album that would become Walk Into Light.

I won't lie. Walk Into Light wasn't well received. In fact, by most people, it wasn't received at all. There was very little marketing done for the album, and I suspect that many Tull fans never even knew it existed (and some still don't). The evidence on this website is overwhelming -- while the lowest number of ratings for any of Jethro Tull's various studio albums is 69 for 1991's Catfish RisingWalk Into Light has only been rated eight times. Even among Anderson's solo albums, this is the lowest number. However, while the album's average rating is currently only 2.4, when you look a little more closely, you see something interesting: Of the eight ratings (which is admittedly a small sample size), four people rated the album 1.5 or lower, but the other four all rated it 3.5 or higher. In other words, there is no middle ground -- people either hated the album, or they thought it was great. So either those who rated it low are missing something, or those of us who rated it high are delusional.

Time to talk about the music. (Finally, right?) What can I say, I think this is an excellent album. All of the music on it was both written and played by Anderson and Vettese -- there are no other credited musicians. There's not as much flute as there is on most Jethro Tull albums, or on Anderson's later solo work, and the drums are all electronic. There's not even all that much guitar. It's a keyboard and synthesizer dominated album, so much so that Anderson helps Vettese out by playing some of the keyboards himself.

Vettese's synthesizer sound is a little less sweeping than that of such '70s idols as Rick Wakeman, Keith Emerson or Patrick Moraz, but it's no less grand. At times, it's delightful -- the introduction to the album's opening number "Fly By Night" never fails to bring a smile to my face, and the sound he uses on the track "Trains" has the lighthearted feel of a '70s romantic comedy. At other times, the sound is vaguely menacing, as on tracks such as "Toad in the Hole" or "Black and White Television". Then there are times when the sound becomes out-and-out dark, as it is on "Different Germany". 

As for Anderson, he has a ball experimenting with electronic vocal effects, particularly on the title track "Walk Into Light". His trademark sense of humor is somewhat subdued on this album, although it comes through in certain songs like "Trains", where he and his daily traveling mates build their lives around commuter trains, eating, socializing with one another and even flirting with the ladies, to the point where they offer to chip in and pay an attractive woman's fare just because they want her to ride with them.

As the album progresses, however, his lyrics become more paranoid and pessimistic. By the song "Looking for Eden", Anderson is looking fondly back to simpler times because he's tired of living his life "in free-fall". By the next song, "User-Friendly", it becomes clear that he's using Vettese's modernistic (for the times) sounds to express his fears of the computer age. "Do we inhabit some micro-space, and interface through wires?" he asks, and concludes that his various electronic devices are bit by bit stealing his mind.

He saves his darkest fears for the album's last song "Different Germany", though. At a time when German reunification was beginning to be discussed as a possibility, Anderson, like many Europeans, wondered what this would bring. "History repeats somehow," he frets in this song, as he withers under the stares of "clean-cut boys all dressed as men/in sharpened uniform." Pretty somber stuff, although I get the impression that for Anderson, this is a typical day's musing, considering he ended the A album with a wistful farewell song to a world that was just ended by a nuclear holocaust.

After Walk Into Light, Anderson continued his flirtation with synthesizer music for one more Jethro Tull album, the poorly received Under Wraps, which was Vettese's last album as a member of the band (although he did add some keyboards to Tull's 1989 album Rock Island). I also liked Under Wraps better than did a lot of Tull fans, but that's a story for another review. I'd have to say, though, that for me, Walk Into Light was the best and most consistent album overall from Ian Anderson's synthesizer period. I listened to it repeatedly to prepare for this review, and I can honestly say I enjoyed it as much now as I did when it first came out. It's clearly not an album for everybody, but if you're a fan of both Ian Anderson and of synthesizer music, I'd suggest you give it a listen. You might find that you appreciate it as much as myself and those three other adoring Ian Anderson fans who rated it at 3.5 or higher.


Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Review of The Cars' "Candy-O"

I posted this review on SputnikMusic.com about an hour ago.


The Cars are one of the more enduring bands from rock's new wave era. An American band from Boston, they helped to bridge the gap from the guitar-driven album rock style of the mid-'70s to the synth-pop single-friendly rock of the '80s. Candy-O was their second album, following a little less than a year after their popular debut album The Cars. While the first album was a little more of a critical success, Candy-O charted higher in the U.S. (#3 compared to #18), and its most successful single, "Let's Go", charted higher than the most successful single from the eponymous album, "Just What I Needed" (#14 compared to #27). Candy-O is also notable for its cover art, a picture of a sexy young redheaded woman sprawled across the hood of a car, drawn by the famous pinup artist Alberto Varga.

It's actually kind of hard to write a review about Candy-O without comparing it to The Cars. This is because the basic sound of The Cars' first two albums is very similar, leading some critics to complain that Candy-O was too much a case of more-of-the-same compared to its predecessor. Both albums rely heavily on slow, chunky guitars, meandering synthesizers, and half-spoken vocals by either Ric Ocasek or Benjamin Orr. Compared to earlier '70s rock, the songs are shorter, poppier and more minimalistic on both albums. 

One thing that interests me about The Cars compared to many of the British new wave bands of the same period is that while the British acts often sought to attract a more mixed or even a primarily female audience, The Cars were clearly seeking to appeal primarily to straight young males. Eschewing the grander and more sweeping themes of earlier bands like The Who or Pink Floyd, The Cars' lyrics were almost a return to those of bands like The Beach Boys -- they sang mostly about girls, and to a lesser extent about cars. Unlike The Beach Boys, though, who focused mainly on wholesome, tanned beach girls, The Cars in this period specialized in writing about charismatic wild women -- the kind of femme fatale you know will crush your heart like a paper cup, but you can't help being enthralled by anyway. Examples include the beautiful, barefoot 17-year-old with the risque eyes from "Let's Go", the leading lady with the crossword smile of "The Dangerous Type", and of course, the album's title character (with her Sunday dress and her ruby rings), "Candy-O", as well as the women who were the subjects of such songs as "Just What I Needed" and "My Best Friend's Girlfriend" on the previous album.

"Let's Go" is clearly the album's best number. Right from the intro, there's a feeling of excitement about the song, as we join the singer in following after the always-in-motion subject of his admiration while she moves from one place to another, because "she never waits too long." To his credit, our hero doesn't want to cage his lady love, or even to slow her down. He just follows, breathlessly, as she continually beckons him, "Let's go," all the while declaring "I like the nightlife baby". Its no wonder the band made this not only the first single released from Candy-O, but also the first song on the album.

In addition to "Let's Go," two other singles were released from this album, "Double Life", which went nowhere on the charts, and is actually one of the more boring numbers, and "It's All I Can Do", a kind of mechanical mid-tempo track that I've always liked. "Candy-O", which was the climax of Side 1 on the original vinyl release of the album, and "Dangerous Type" are also strong songs that received significant FM airplay. Even "Lust for Kicks", a quirky number about a decadent, pleasure-seeking couple, got (and still gets) occasional airplay.

In 2017, more than thirty-five years after its release, Candy-O definitely still has its niche. I can't say it's one of the great albums of all time, like Led Zeppelin IVQuadrophenia by The Who, or even Blondie's Parallel Lines. What it is, though, is a fun, solid album by a band that has a place in at least the second-tier of rock music history. And that's not too bad.


Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Some pre-Best-of-2016 Stuff

As I mentioned recently, it's looking good for me to publish my 2016 Best Of music lists early this year. By early, I mean earlier than March, which is when I usually finish them. I had so many albums to work through this year that I went into hyperdrive, changing the number of listens in my car from 4 per CD to 3 per CD, and working through some of the CDs (epecially EPs and compilations) in the house instead of waiting for them to make the car rotation. So right now, I've got my last batch of 2016 CDs in the car, and as soon as I've given them all a thorough listen, I'll be able to finalize the 2016 lists.

So as I get closer to doing that, there are a couple of other things I want to mention. For one, since last year, I've been posting a My Favorite Songs list on YouTube. What this mostly is is a playlist of the top song off of every album I've listened to in a given year. For one or two albums, I've posted two songs to the list if I felt that two were exceptionally strong. Some of the videos only contain audio tracks if the artist didn't make an official video, and in one or two spots I've had to use placeholder spots if an artist hasn't posted any video at all to YouTube for a given. You can find this year's playlist at:
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLWprWK6AVnu7yTxpg1t7ilPL3GhCWEeK8. It's been updated so that it contains all of the songs except for the entries for those last four CDs. I'll add them when I finish with them. This playlist is the master list from which I choose my Top 20 songs.

If you're interested in last year's list, it's at:
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLWprWK6AVnu4TaeGq1hTiu-jmFmABMFjW

As I was thinking about the list for this year, I was thinking how once again, Bayside seems to have eaten Taking Back Sunday's lunch on my lists. What I mean is that although I really do like Taking Back Sunday, none of their albums have ever quite made my Top 10 Albums of the Year list, and although a couple have come close, none of their songs have ever made my Top 20 Songs of the Year list either. In contrast, it seems as though almost every album Bayside puts out winds up making my Top 10 list, frequently near the top, and almost every time they put out a new album, at least one of their songs makes my Top 20 list. If you see my video playlist, you'll see that this year, Bayside is one of those few bands who have two songs in contention. And to add insult to injury, it seems like Bayside and Taking Back Sunday usually release their new albums in the same year as one another, which really drives the slight home. So sorry about that, Taking Back Sunday. But it is possible that this year, one of your songs will make my Top 20 list -- it's in contention, and to tell you the truth, I'm kind of rooting for it. Of course, Bayside already has one in there for sure.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

If my choice of reviews seems random...

Just a note to say that if my choice of the reviews I post on this blog seem random, they're really not.

I joined the Sputnik Music site last August, and while the site understandably seeks to draw the maximum number of views by focusing on new music, it also serves as an educational resource with reviews of classic albums in a variety of genres throughout the years.

What I've been doing is trying to fill in the blank spots. When I find an album that I consider classic or that I particularly like that doesn't already have a full review on the site, those are the albums I'm (mostly) choosing to review.

Once in awhile, I'll be inspired to write something more current just because I happen to be listening to it at the time, or occasionally I'll update an old review of a local artist I wrote for Good Times or Aural Fix and add it to the site. But mostly, I review albums because I love them so much that I just can't stand the fact that they don't already have a write-up on the Sputnik site. And the reviews I post on Sputnik are the reviews I copy onto my blog here.

So I'm not so random after all.  :)

Review of Joni Mitchell's "Clouds"

I posted this review on the Sputnik Music website earlier this morning.

Clouds (1969) was the second album released by Joni Mitchell, the follow-up to 1968's somewhat successful Song to a Seagull. Mitchell herself painted the self-portrait that was used as the cover art. At the time of its release, Mitchell had already become a successful songwriter, with songs covered by other folk artists such as Tom Rush, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Judy Collins. Mitchell herself was still working primarily in the folk genre, several years away from her move toward jazz. By 1969, when the album was released, the native Canadian Mitchell had been living in the United States for 4 years. It was the year of Woodstock, and the country was divided over the question of the Vietnam War.

As it turned out, Clouds was a very successful album, reaching #32 on the American charts and #22 in Canada. It also won a Grammy Award for Best Folk Performance for 1969. Mitchell, who had previously been better known by other folk artists than by the music audience at large, was now receiving significant radio airplay and was an artist in demand. She was even invited to play at Woodstock Festival, although she had to turn it down due to a previous commitment to appear on a television show.

Over the years, Mitchell's 1971 album Blue has come to be viewed by many as her masterpiece, and it's hard to argue against it. The songwriting on Blue is probably more sophisticated, and it's certainly one of her most personal albums. For my money, though, Clouds is actually Mitchell's best album. There are a number of reasons I say this.

To start, let's talk about her vocals. I've reviewed albums by a number of top female singers on Sputnik, including Deborah Harry, Annie Lennox, Grace Slick, Belinda Carlisle, Aimee Mann and Candice Night, and out of all of these, Night is probably the only one who can match Mitchell for sheer vocal beauty. Clouds finds her years before age and cigarettes forced her voice into a lower register, and she uses both her ability to soar into the higher ranges and her natural vibrato to chilling effect. In this, she's helped by songs that allow her to use her vocal gifts to her best advantage. Time and again, on songs like "The Gallery" and "That Song About the Midway", the words and syllables are stretched out to allow her voice to shine. Many modern divas like Mariah Carey and Christina Aguilera like to take a syllable and hit 57 different notes with it, which is impressive, but not particularly pleasant to listen to. (In fact, it's kind of annoying.) Mitchell's style is smoother -- sometimes she'll hold a single note and just allow it to vibrate. And when she does hit more than one note with a syllable, it's more of a gentle glide. Listen to what she does on the chorus of a song like "I Think I Understand" -- when she hits the line "Fear is like a wilderland", "wil" slides gracefully across 4 different notes in an appealing way. She's taking you for an enjoyable ride, not beating you over the head with vocal acrobatics.

Another thing Mitchell does to enhance the beauty of her vocals on the album is to harmonize with herself. Several songs include second vocal tracks on which Mitchell provides lovely higher-pitched harmonies to her main vocal track, most notably "The Gallery" (on the chorus), and "Songs to Aging Children Come" (on the verses).

I wrote earlier that the songwriting on Blue is probably more sophisticated than it is on Clouds, but I make that statement with two caveats: first, sometimes there's nothing wrong with simple. "Both Sides Now", the song that concludes Clouds, is structurally as simple a song as Mitchell has ever written, but it's also her most covered song (in fact, by the time Clouds was released, it had already been covered by at least 11 different artists, including a version by Judy Collins that had become a hit single in 1967). The second caution is that many of the songs only sound simple because they were recorded without a lot of bells and whistles. On this album, Mitchell herself plays almost all of the instruments, with a slight assist from Stephen Stills who adds some guitar and some bass. However, Mitchell is known for writing her songs in all kinds of odd open tunings that other musicians often find difficult to duplicate. So the songs aren't nearly as simple as they seem.

As for the songs themselves, Clouds showcases some of Mitchell's best songwriting. The standout is "Chelsea Morning", which might be my favorite Joni Mitchell song. It's a love song of sorts, as Mitchell awakes in a happy mood and tries to entice her lover to spend the rest of the day with her, using poetic words and images such as "The sun poured in like butterscotch and stuck to all my senses".

Other highlights include "That Song About the Midway", which includes one of her loveliest vocals as she sings about her obsession with a mysterious, vibrant and slightly shady carnival worker, "The Gallery", wherein an emotionally starved artist's model turns the tables on her charismatic lover, and "Tin Angel", a slow, stark song that finds Mitchell's character contemplating trading her in current long-distance relationship for a new one with someone she just met in a coffee shop.

One thing of special note is that all of the songs on this album are written in a very intimate style. I mentioned earlier the tumultuous emotions the country was experiencing at the time of the album's release, related to the draft and America's continuation of the Vietnam War. While Mitchell was clearly of like mind with most of her fellow folksingers on this issue, only one song on Clouds touched upon this issue, the a cappella number "The Fiddle and the Drum", and even here, her feelings are expressed in personal terms. In this one, Mitchell personifies America as a friend named Johnny, whom she asks to help her understand how he came to "trade the fiddle for the drum". She acknowledges that she remembers "all the good things you are," but explains that she has come to fear his anger and warlike nature. I suspect that this approach helped Mitchell's popularity. While her sentiments might have been similar to those of other folk singers like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, and would have appealed to the country's young protesters, her approach was probably a little more palatable to those who weren't completely sold on hippie culture or the peace movement than were the more strident songs of many other protest singers.

Joni Mitchell was 25 years old when she released Clouds. Looking back now, almost 50 years later, the album is a stunning achievement. It was a major step forward in her career, which eventually encompassed 19 studio albums and who knows how many live shows. For anyone who enjoys folk music, well-written songs and elegant female vocals, Clouds still holds up well today.


Ratings: 4.5/5 stars

Friday, January 6, 2017

Happy New Year, addendum

Actually, because it happened early in 2016, there's one other local live band I saw in 2016 that i forgot to mention in last night's post. Sometime during the cold winter months, I escorted my daughter to see her friend's death/thrash metal band Accelator.

Now guys, I'm old. I freely acknowledge it. And as an old guy, I'm not going to pretend that I much understand death/thrash metal. I can sort of get interested with those bands that alternate melodic female vocalists with male screamo vocalists, but when it's all scream, it's just beyond me.

One thing I could totally get behind was the theme of some of the songs, though. At one point, her friend gave one of the greatest song introductions I ever heard: "This next song is about a bunch of cannibal zombies just munching the shit out of a bunch of guys in orange hazmat suits!" Now that's entertainment.

The mosh pit was a little terrifying though. Not so much for me, or for my daughter, as we sat far enough back to be mostly out of harm's way. (You're never totally out of harm's way, to be sure. At one point, her friend hit some poor drunk kid and propelled him hard enough to take out the merch table). But the terrifying part was there was this lovely young girl not much older than my daughter, standing on crutches, with a broken leg, standing right at the edge of the mosh pit. And every time someone got launched in her direction, I kind of gasped. I was trying to stand in a spot where I could both block for daughter and at the same time catch this girl if some psycho sent her flying. She made it through the show OK, as did my daughter and I. But I spent so much of the show on guard, it was hard to fully concentrate on the music.

What was even more frightening was the next day, when my daughter's friend explained to us that in fact the lovely young lady on the crutches was the drummer's girlfriend, and the reason she was on crutches was that she had her leg broken in the mosh pit at a show a few weeks earlier. Good times. Good times.

I have to say that for as much as I do understand the music, Accelerator puts on an entertaining show. If you're at all into death/thrash metal, you should definitely check them out.

By the way, one other shout out to a band I'm hoping to catch soon, my sister-in-law's new band Shotglass Nickel. She's always had an amazing pair of pipes, and I'm looking forward to seeing her out singing rock again.

Later, people.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Review of Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)"

I dropped my first album review of the new year on the Sputnik Music site yesterday, a review of the classic Eurythmics album Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This). Here's a copy of the review:


The duo of Scottish singer Annie Lennox and English multi-instrumentalist Dave Stewart, a.k.a. Eurythmics, was arguably one of the most important bands of the '80s. The pair first met in 1975, became a couple, and formed a band called The Catch which eventually evolved into The Tourists. Problems within that band caused it to dissolve after 1980's Luminous Basement, but although they were no longer romantically involved, Lennox and Stewart decided to continue on as a musical team. Their first album together, 1981's In the Garden, wasn't commercially successful. However, their next album, Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) (1983) put them over the top, reaching No. 3 on the British charts and No. 16 in the U.S. The title track for the album became a huge international hit single, reaching No. 1 in the U.S. and No. 2 in Britain, while the video for the song received heavy airplay on MTV. The song has since become a rock classic, and been covered live and/or recorded by a variety of artists including Marilyn Manson, Reba McIntyre and Kelly Clarkson, and Selena Gomez. Most recently, it was featured in a television commercial for PlayStation 4 (recorded by unnamed musicians). Eurythmics followed it up by reissuing the single "Love Is a Stranger" which had been virtually ignored in Britain the first time around. It too charted in countries around the world.

So what made this album such a success? I think it's a variety of factors. The most obvious, of course, is Lennox. Since the ascendancy of Eurythmics, she's become larger than life, both for her powerful r&b voice and her striking image. For those who were music fans in the '80s, the picture of her from the "Sweet Dreams" video, with her short-cropped DayGlo orange hair, dressed in a tie and jacket, swinging her pointer, spinning a globe and crooning "I travel the world and the seven seas/Everybody's looking for something" will forever be burned into our psyches. There is clearly something compelling about her, and thankfully, she has the voice to back it up.

Then there is Stewart. After the guitar gods who dominated rock music in the '70s, music fans were looking for something different. Stewart was one of a number of '80s musicians with the talent and creativity to give it to them. Synthesizers were certainly in use by some rock bands in the '70s, but the music of people like Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman tended to be grand and sweeping. Listening to Sweet Dreams, you find that Stewart is using them in a completely different way. They're more chunky, more textured, and more pop-friendly. They're also complemented by heavily programmed electronic percussion, as Lennox's vocals are supplemented by various sampled grunts, snarls and squeals. Unlike most of the synthesists of the previous decade, Stewart is as much a computer programmer as a musician.

There's also a touch of darkness to the music of Sweet Dreams, just a taste of danger. Love, in the world of this album, is "a stranger in an open car/To tempt you in, and drive you far away," and who knows where you'll end up? The synthesizer loops throughout the various songs are ominous, and sometimes murky. But it's all in good fun. With the possible exception of the poor orange-haired, green-eyed title character of "Jennifer", who winds up "underneath the water," (Is she a sea nymph? Or a drowning victim? We'll never know for sure) most of the more dangerous emotions are expressed with tongue planted firmly in cheek. For example, whatever terrible truth Lennox might have learned about her lover in "Somebody Told Me", her delivery of "There's laughter and love/And a lot of pain/I never want to see your/Pretty face again" make it clear that she isn't really suffering all that much. Throughout the album, she tries on characters and personas the way an excited child who is set loose in the costume department of a large theater might try on costumes.

In fact, that's another one of the secrets of the album's success -- the music has an element of fun about it. Listen to some of the weird little yips and barks that Lennox gives off at various points in "I've Got an Angel," or the send-up of a Learn-to-speak-Spanish tape at the beginning of "This Is the House," and you realize that these guys are having a ball. Even in a more serious song like "This City Never Sleeps," when Stewart has his synthesizers mimic the low rumbling sounds of a subway train, you just know he had a big grin on his face when he recorded it.

Eurythmics eventually went on to record a total of nine studio albums (if you include the soundtrack album they made for the film 1984, which I do). Most people consider Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) to be one of their best. Its one of the seminal albums of the '80s, and it's definitely the one that launched the band's career. Today, almost 35 years later, it's still worth a listen.


Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Happy New Year!

So, you made it to 2017. Congratulations! I'll bet there were some times you weren't sure, were you? Me neither.

It was a mixed year. Lots of celebrity deaths. Too many deaths of people close to me. My company has shrunk to the point where my job is basically just freelance. I'm definitely going to have to make some changes financially in 2017. I've been writing a lot of reviews and trying to think if there's a way to make some money doing that. I feel like I've been getting sharper and writing some of my best stuff.

Anyway, in spite of the negatives, I feel like I had a pretty good year. I'm much healthier than I was this time last year. And like I said, the writing has been a positive thing.

I'm actually way ahead of where I usually am this time of year with my music Best Of lists. I'm generally lucky to finish them by March, but this year I'm close to being done, probably because I haven't been working much.

I feel like 2016 was kind of a mediocre year for music. There was some solid stuff, but not much that blew me away. I don't want to give too much away before my year-end lists, but I'm looking at my ratings list on Sputnik for the year, and I only have two albums ranked 4 out of 5 stars or higher, with 8 albums left to rank. Compare that to last year, where I had 10 albums ranked with at least 4 stars, or to 2014, where I had 9 albums ranked 4 stars or higher, and you can see that I was underwhelmed by this year's releases.

Didn't see much live music in 2016 either. Saw Squeeze with Modern English, The B-52's with Iridesense and Mother Feather, Sleeping With Sirens with Waterparks, Tonight Alive and State Champs, and Fitz and the Tantrums with Barns Courtney. I also caught one local show with the acoustic version of The Good Rats, and that was pretty much it. Already have a few shows lined up for 2017, so I'm hoping to do better this year. Who knows, maybe this will even be the year I brave the summer heat to see The Warped Tour.

I was upstate with the family last week, and used some of the travel time to listen to the new Good Rats album. It's a transitional album for them. It's been two-and-a-half years now since Peppi Marchello passed away, and it's now Stefan Marchello's band. Like 2014's Afterlife, it has a lot of posthumous material by Peppi. But this album also has a pair of original songs by Stefan, and Stefan is singing lead vocals on about half of the songs. There are hits and misses, but I think that the new Good Rats are starting to find their stride. I know that Peppi would be proud of them. I have a couple of dates circled on my calendar, and hope to catch the full band live early in 2017.

I'm looking forward this year to some new music by Paramore, The Magnetic Fields and Foster the People, as well as a new one by a local legend now living in snowy Vermont, Jeremy Gilchrist. And I'm sure there will be some exciting surprises.

So let's all hope for a healthy and prosperous 2017, and one filled with great music.