Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Review of Passion Pit's "Tremendous Sea of Love"

I posted this review just a few minutes ago on

Review Summary: This coulda been a contender!

Passion Pit's Tremendous Sea of Love is a strange album. The songs from it were originally posted on YouTube this past March. Shortly thereafter, they were taken down, but Passion Pit (aka, Michael Angelakos) then announced to fans that he would send a free downloadable copy of the whole album to anyone who retweeted a post by the neuroscientist Michael T. Wells regarding the importance of science and research. Angelakos also released a public statement to his fans to the effect that this was a "warts and all" project that he had mixed himself. It was created simply for the joy of creating it. In July, the album was finally released for sale, but only the digital version. To date, no CD or vinyl copies are available. 

Clearly, then, this is a DIY sort of project, and Angelakos is hoping it won't be held to a fully professional standard. That's all well and good, but we music fans can be an obsessive lot. For the most part, the LP has been well received, and it is a pretty good effort. But the album kind of pisses me off. Because it could have been a great one.

Don't get me wrong, there are quite a few excellent tracks here. This is a artist who really knows how to create some crisp electropop songs. Numbers like "To the Other Side" and "Hey K" are up there with some of Passion Pit's best tracks from their first three albums, and "Inner Dialogue" is one of those strange, inside-out-sounding songs (complete with electronically altered vocals) that reminds me of 2008's weird-and-wonderful "Sleepyhead".

There are just two areas where TSoL falls short. The first is the overall concept of the album. For the most part, it seems to be about the contrast between the judgement-free and unconditional love he received from his ex-wife Kristy Mucci vs. the love he feels he should have received from his mother. (It's also something of an apology letter to Mucci, since he divorced her in 2015 after coming out as gay). If an album from a grown man about mom-blame feels a little uncomfortable to you, you're not alone.

This relates directly to the other problem with the album, its second track "Somewhere Up There". TSoL opens with a short instrumental intro-track called "Moonbeam", a satisfying overture-type of number that sets up some of the musical themes that repeat throughout the album. This leads into "Somewhere Up There", an intriguing song complete with those swirling synth-effects that Angelakos does so well. For roughly three-and-a-half minutes, this is the best track on the album. Then, the music starts to fray a little, and suddenly stops altogether while someone (Angelakos?) delivers a short lecture about mother-child attachment theory. The music starts up again, slow and disjointed, then stops dead once more. What you hear next is a voicemail from Angelakos' mom that I guess is supposed to illustrate the kind of flawed mother-son attachment the lecturer had just been speaking about (but really just sounds like the kind of sorry-we've-been-playing-phone-tag message that moms the world over leave for their children). Rip off! Thanks a lot for ruining one of your best songs so you could insert your own personal family drama into my psyche.

Maybe I'm making too much of it. Maybe the track is an ingenious reflection of Angelakos' own emotional issues. It could be that this disfigured track represents him -- the first part is him as he could have been, dragged down by the second part, the psychological issues he developed as a result of this blemished attachment. Perhaps the rest of the album illustrates the beauty he was able to retain thanks to the healing power of Mucci's love. Who knows? All I can tell you is that the vandalization of this otherwise exquisite song is enough to knock a full half-star off the album's rating for me.

On the whole, Tremendous Sea of Love is still a good album. It just bothers me that it was almost so much better. I suspect that Angelakos released the LP the way he did, giving fans the opportunity to acquire it for free, because he had something he needed to say, and he didn't want to change it just to make the album more accessible to people like me. Even in its current state, it's worth a listen, or the price of a download. Unfortunately, though, it's not going to make my Top Ten list for this year. And damn it, it coulda been a contender!

Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A Rant on the Virtues of CD Baby

It probably won't surprise anyone that I buy a lot of music. While I'm starting to give in to the inevitability of sometimes purchasing my music as mp3 files, my preference is the CD format. Even though I tend to convert my CDs to mp3 format myself, I like having a hard copy of my music, and I also like having the album art, lyric sheets, musical credits, etc., that usually come with the purchase of a CD.

Whenever I can, I purchase my music either from or CD Baby. I put in an order to one, or both, pretty much every two weeks (when I get paid). I like them because they're reliable -- if you buy a CD, you get that CD, and usually in a timely fashion. And if, for some reason, it gets lost in the mail, they generally give me no trouble sending a replacement copy.

Sometimes, however, a band will put out a new CD, and only make it available for sale through its website. Initially, I would go ahead and order (with some misgivings about the security), usually paying with Paypal, so I had a recourse if the CD never showed up. Unfortunately, I soon discovered that while I had problems with stuff I ordered from Amazon and CD Baby less than 1% of the time, I was having trouble actually getting the CD I ordered maybe 30-50% of the time when I ordered directly from the band. I always got my money back -- eventually, if I couldn't get anyone to respond to my e-mails, I'd put in a claim with Paypal, and after they had the same problem getting anyone to answer them as I had, they would refund my money. The problems were the hassle of trying to continually get a response from someone, and the disappointment of never getting the CD that I had wanted.

Of late, I've generally given up on ordering from bands' websites, just because it's such a hassle. It has to be a band that I really like for me to risk it, and even then, I all too often find myself regretting going against my policy.

Recently, a new album came out from a local band who also has a national following. I checked both Amazon and CD Baby, but neither had the album available in CD format. The band was, however, selling it from their website. Reluctantly I ordered it. I should have known better.

Here's the thing -- sometimes even when they have the best of intentions, musicians aren't necessarily good business people. Such was the case here.

After waiting until it was clear that the album was late in arriving, I tracked down contact info, first through my wife's Facebook page, and eventually through an e-mail address that turned out to belong to the lead singer.

When I heard back from her, she was very apologetic, and promised to "jump on it tomorrow". She explained that the band had been on tour, and getting things out in a timely fashion had been a nightmare. She also explained quite sensibly that she didn't usually put a return address on the packages that she sent out because she didn't want people knowing where she lived.

I asked her why she hadn't used CD Baby, and apparently in the midst of changing labels and preparing for a tour, she had thought it would be easier to do it herself. But she had already had some problems with angry fans who didn't get their stuff, and weren't must assuaged even when she threw extra merch in their make-up packages.

About a week and a half later, when I still hadn't received my CD, I e-mailed her again, and she told me it had taken longer than she expected to get to the post office, since, like many musicians who haven't made it to that next level, she is still working a day job.

After another week or so, I got a bulk e-mail from her, apologizing to fans but reassuring us she had just mailed everything out on that day. (So when she said it had taken her longer than expected, what she didn't mention was that we weren't talking past tense, we were talking future tense -- as in "It took me longer than expected, and I still haven't done it." The e-mail assured us all that our packages would arrive in 7 business days, but reminded us that with the Labor Day Holiday, it still might be longer than expected.

Finally, after the package still failed to arrive, I contacted her again, and she replied that was weird, she was going to look into it. I few days later, when I hadn't heard back from her, I contacted her again, and she told me she had checked and that my package was still in transit. (She didn't mention why I had to contact her to discover this instead of her immediately contacting me when she learned it). Finally, the package arrived a few days later, on the Friday I was going to tell her if I didn't get it by the following Monday, I was canceling the order. Oh, and when it did arrive, it was postmarked for three days earlier than the day came.

Now as it happens, I really like this band. But at this point, this album would have to be the next Quadrophenia to make the album anywhere near being worth the aggravation it took me to finally get it. I can't imagine ordering any more CDs directly from a band's website. And as for this band, I still like them. But now, whenever I listen to them, there will always be this bad taste in my mouth from having to work so hard just to get what I ordered.

The moral of the story -- if you're a musician, use CD Baby. Don't piss off your fans.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Review of Zola Jesus' "Okovi"

O posted this review earlier this afternoon on the Sputnik Music website:

Review Summary: Sometimes in order to move forward, you have to take a step back.

When I first jumped onto the Zola Jesus train, it was already in motion. So I hit the floor hard, rolled for about six feet and smashed the back of my skull against the iron wall. I sat up, rubbing my head in confusion. Who is this Zola Jesus? Her birth name is Nicole Hummel, but she also goes by Nika Roza Danilova. Wikipedia says Zola Jesus is a person, but her bio on Sputnik says its a band. They said her music mixed electronic, industrial, classic and goth. But when I listened to her 2014 album Taiga, what I heard sounded more like alternative pop. My brain swam with bewilderment. Who is Zola Jesus? Maybe she's as confused as I am.

Perhaps that's the raison d'etre for Okovi, Zola Jesus' new album. In order to find who she is, Zola Jesus has taken a step back. I don't mean it in a derogatory way. It's more of a fortification thing. Sometimes, in order to move forward, you have to take a step back -- back to your roots to remember who you really are. With this album, Danilova has stepped back in as many ways as she can think of. She moved from Seattle back to Wisconsin, to simplify her life and regain some peace of mind. She moved from the Mute label, the label on which she released Taiga, back to Sacred Bones, her original label. And she moved her music back to the darker, more distinctive, goth-tinged style for which she originally was known. In more ways than not, this is a good thing.

The sounds of Okovi are mostly quite beautiful. The album is dominated by synths and string instruments (lots of violins, cellos and the like), supporting Danilova's ethereal (and sometimes electronically altered) vocals. A few of the tracks feature industrial-type beats, but many of them offer very limited percussion, giving the album something of an unearthly feel.

Okovi is a dark album, but not a bleak one. On it, Danilova deals with serious subject matter -- suicide, mental turmoil, the possible meaningless of life. Somehow, though, she faces these difficult issues from a position of self-assurance. On "Wiseblood", the album's best track, she asks us (and herself) this essential question: "If it doesn't make you wiser/Doesn't make you stronger/Doesn't make you live a little bit/What are you doing?" And from this state of inner strength, she faces down demons which in the past have threatened to overwhelm her. So while the lyrics often contain images of death and questions about emptiness ("What remains of us?/... I'm, I'm nothing" from "Remains"), there are also representations of rebirth ("Let it sing, don't let it hold you down/In the static you were reborn" from "Exhumed") as a counterbalance.

Whereas Taiga found Danilova changing her style, searching for more mainstream appeal, or maybe just wanting to try something different, Okovi finds her rediscovering herself. As a result, she's made a better, and more memorable) album.

So who is Zola Jesus? Not even she knows for sure, but she's figuring it out. And judging by Okovi, she's back on the right track.

Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Review of Ultravox's "Lament"

I posted this review Wednesday afternoon on the Sputnik Music website:

Review Summary: "In stillness, in sorrow/Returns that softly sighing lament."

Ultravox is a British band that began their career in the late 1970s as a glam-rock band before switching frontmen in 1980 and veering in the direction of new wave synth. Unlike many new wave bands, however, they were never a singles-oriented dance-pop band. Their strength was in coherent album rock, so much so that they achieved a degree of crossover popularity with fans of progressive rock. Ultravox was fairly popular in the UK, with five of their ten studio albums reaching the Top Ten in the charts. They fared less well in the US, though, never climbing higher than #64. Based on the quality of their music, they deserved a better fate.

Lament was Ultravox's seventh studio album. As the title implies, it's not a happy affair, but the somber mood that pervades it only serves to heighten its elegance. There are sorrowful synths throughout, and themes of heartache, bleak futures and socio-political destruction. The title track alone is a slow, solemn ode to cycles of suffering and depression, complete with soft musical moaning heard behind the one-word chorus of "Lament". Sadness has seldom been so beautiful.

The most successful single from the album was "Dancing With Tears in My Ears", which reached #3 on the British charts. In this one, the song's protagonist and his lover dance and make love in commemoration of life's beauty, as they wait for the impending end of the world: "Dancing with tears in my eyes/Weeping for the memory of a life gone by". "White China", on the other hand, describes a different kind of fear and paranoia. It speaks to the residents of 1984 Hong Kong, as they await the transfer of power from Britain to the Communist Chinese regime: "When white turns to red/In the not too distant days/Will force and misery/Be the life you have to lead?" Clearly, we're a long way from happy 1980s dance pop here.

I want to talk about the different versions of the album available, because in this case, it matters. The original Lament, released on vinyl and cassette in 1984, was a lean, mean eight songs, with four songs on each side. Unfortunately, when it was first released on CD, they added three remixes of songs from the album's first side. This isn't a bad thing in and of itself -- I'm sure it was intended as a nice little bonus for Ultravox fans. The problem is they stuck two of them between the songs on Side One and those on Side Two, completely disrupting the flow of the album. Later versions fixed this problem -- there's a 1999 UK re-release that gives you the original album's eight songs, then follows them with seven bonus tracks (including two previously unreleased tracks). Then in 2009, they released a 2-disc "Remastered Definitive Edition" which features the original album on one disc, and eleven other remixes, instrumental versions, etc. on Disc Two. All of this other stuff is fine, but sometimes less is more. All of the extra material tends to distract from the cohesiveness of the original album.

Ultravox is one of the more under underrated bands of the 1980s new wave movement. If you're looking for a collection of catchy, hook-laden singles, Lament won't scratch that itch. But if you'd like to hear a soomewhat progressive form of synth pop that features more in the way of emotional depth than a simple "I love you, let's dance", this album is worth a listen.

Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Potty Mouth and Bayside

This past summer was actually one of the best of my life. My health has been good. My children have grown into young adults, and while I know they'll still need more help along the way, they've both become people of whom my wife and I feel very proud -- we don't just love them, we also like them. And when you can say that about your kids, you're way ahead of the game. Meanwhile, with the kids older, my wife and I can start to spend more time with one another. And over the summer, we got to do a fair bit of traveling, both as a couple and as a family. And finally, as you know if you've been reading this blog at all, for the first time in a long time, we had the chance to see a lot of live music, both separately and together.

Lately, I've begun to think about my musical bucket list. Mind you, I'm not planning on checking out anytime soon, but first off, who ever does? And more importantly, we've hit a point in history where many of the great bands of the '60s and '70s are either dying off or getting too old to perform.

Some of the artists I really regret missing I know I'll probably never get to see now. I don't think Gilmour and Waters will be touring together anytime soon in Pink Floyd, and with Neil Peart retired from playing the drums, the closest I'll ever get to seeing Rush is if Geddy Lee does a big reunion tour with Bob and Doug McKenzie. (Look it up, hoser!)

Anyway, Saturday night I got to check a big one off of my bucket list when I saw Bayside at the Paramount in Huntington. Over the last decade or so, they've become one of my favorite bands of the modern era, and one of my Top 25 Bands of all time. A lot of that has to do with lead vocalist/songwriter Anthony Raneri, who is one of the best male vocalists out there today, and also an emotionally insightful songwriter. I first got turned on to them with their 2005 self-titled album, which not only contained "Devotion and Desire", their best known song even today, but also featured my favorite Bayside song, "Existing in a Crisis (Evelyn)". (This last one is an ode wherein Raneri fantasizes various methods of executing an ex, and begs her to cooperate with her own demise so he can "Bury you in a shallow grave/As shallow as you are.")

As it turns out, this was one of those weekends. I bought my ticket to this show months ago, and gradually, other commitments starting building up around it. First we scheduled a Covenant Ceremony on Friday night for the child I've been working with at the adoption agency (where the child and the parents make their final vows to become a forever-family) and that was both touching and beautiful. Then my agency scheduled a staff meeting for early Saturday morning. (I've been trying to talk my director into alternating the time slots for the meetings -- do one month's in the early morning, then the next one during my kind of hours, say, midnight to 3 AM. So far, it's a no-go. Then my other job, which hasn't had work for me since the end of July, suddenly started a big project that required me working Friday afternoon, and all day Sunday. So needless to say, sleep this weekend wasn't easy to come by.

So, Saturday night. The parking wasn't great -- all of the lots near the Paramount were already full when I got there. But luckily, it was an hour before the show, so I had time to drive around a little and find a parking spot, about 3 blocks away.

The opening band was a happy surprise: an all-female quartet called Potty Mouth. (And ironically, I didn't hear any of them curse all night). This is one of those bands I've had on my list of bands to check out, and I'm not 100% sure where I originally heard about them. At first, I thought it must have been in Alternate Press. But I think it might have actually been from the WARPED Tour website -- every year, when the WARPED Tour posts their roster of artists, I scour the pages for bands who sound interesting to me. I think they probably played the tour, either this year or last. I never actually get to go to the damned thing, but at least their website tips me off to some good bands.

Anyway, Potty Mouth was very enjoyable. Some websites classify them as a pop punk band, but I definitely didn't hear punk. They're a little grungy and a little rocky. Sputnik describes them as a garage band, and that feels more accurate to me.

They were four young girls with multi-colored hair who clearly seemed happy to be there. When they started their set, the room was only about a quarter full, but gradually it filled up so that by the end of their set, it was at least two thirds full. Special kudos to the brilliant head of emerald green hair the bass player was sporting, and to the band's very friendly merch girl who chatted with me when I bought a couple of CDs.

They seemed to be playing mostly new material (not that it made much difference to me since I'm not yet familiar with their old material), and I liked their general sound. I tried to take a few notes on my copy of Good Times, but the theater was pretty dark, and one them looks suspiciously like "Twisted Sister", which makes no sense at all. One song I particularly liked seemed to be called "Twenty-two", and another that I know was a new one (because they said so) was called "Do It Again". Anyway, good band. I'll definitely pick up their next album.

Bayside booked the show in celebration of the 10-year anniversary of their Walking Wounded album. True confessions -- it's not my favorite Bayside album. It's good, don't get me wrong, but I prefer their new album, Vacancy, or 2008's Shudder. Nevertheless, it was seriously cool to see them live. They did a high-energy set, and related some interesting tidbits to the audience as well (for example, they began life as a band rehearsing in West Islip, and they had their first live show at Ground Zero in Bellmore. And according to their guitarist Jack O'Shea, there were more people standing in the wings Saturday night at the Paramount than there were at that first Ground Zero show.)

So here are my thoughts about the show:

1. The band surprised their fans from the get-go by opening with their big number, "Devotion and Desire", and by ending the show without doing an encore. I can't gripe about that last part. They played for a solid hour-and-a-half, and went all out during that time.

2. They didn't play "Existing in a Crisis", but I would have been shocked (and thrilled) if they had. But they did play "Mary", my favorite song of 2016 by any band, and they played "Choice Hops and Bottled Self-Esteem", my favorite song from The Walking Wounded. Actually, they probably played the whole Walking Wounded album. (I'm pretty sure the reason Walking Wounded is such an important album for them is it's the first studio album they did after regrouping from a terrible van accident that injured bass player Nick Ghanbarian and killed their drummer, John "Beatz" Hollohan. One day I'll tell you a story about how John Hollohan was a part of the worst night I ever had as a music booker. But not today. Maybe next post.

3. As always, I couldn't take my eyes off the kids in the crowd. (Hmm, that sounded wrong, didn't it?) Comparing this show to the Sleeping With Sirens show I took my daughter and son to a few months ago, where the crowd surfers mostly seemed to be tiny 15-year-old girls, Bayside's surfers were mainly older and much clunkier guys. As always, the Paramount security team did a stellar job of catching them and letting them down safely before they broke their fool heads. And tBayside's mosh pit, while still not huge, was considerably more larger and more frenetic than was Sleeping With Sirens'.

4. At first, I thought the sound system was really muddy for Raneri's vocals, especially on the louder songs. But in fairness to the sound man, I actually think it's just my ears that are fuzzier. Sometimes aging sucks.

5. I was flying solo at this show, so I was in a reflective mood. And one of the things I was thinking about (not for the first time) was how we listen  to music differently when we're older than we do when we're younger. This was one of those shows where the whole crowd seemed to know all of the words to the songs, and there were many points during the night where it seemed like the whole room was singing along. And I realized that as much as I like Bayside and their music, they don't have the same emotional resonance to me as they do to many of the people that were in the room last night. For me, Bayside is a solid, clever band. Most of their albums wind up in my Top Ten lists for their given years, and I think all of them have had songs in my Top 20 Songs list for that year. But because Raneri is such an emotional writer, and writes about getting kicked around in life and often falling on your face, Raneri, and the band are something deeper to these people. I guarantee that many of the people in the crowd last night would tell you that Bayside has helped to get them through some of the worst nights of their lives. Last night was a celebration by both the band and their fans -- a celebration of having survived all of those shitty times in their lives, and still living to tell the tale. I couldn't enjoy the show at the same level these folks did. But I was glad that the price of a ticket let me be a part of it in my own small way.

So here's to Bayside, and here's to Potty Mouth. And of course to the Paramount, and their valiant (and probably sore-backed) security guards. And to the friendly Potty Mouth merch girl, and the two girls whose seats I was accidentally sitting in for half the night because it was too dark in the back to read the seat numbers. It was a very busy and frantic weekend for me, but I'm still glad I got to see this show.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Review of Sting's "The Dream of the Blue Turtles"

I posted this review earlier this afternoon on the Sputnik Music website, in my never-ending quest to fill in the gaps in their album reviews for artists from the '70s and '80s. All of the Police studio albums there have been reviewed at least once, so I figured that this was the next best thing.

Review Summary: While this album is clearly a product of its own time period, if you listen with fresh ears, it's still enjoyable today.

Sting's The Dream of the Blue Turtles, his first solo album, is an interesting historical document. It reflects an uneasy period in British and world history, even as it marks an important transition point in Sting's own life and career. It's also a pretty good album that holds up well today, more than forty years later.

By 1985, The Police were one of the most successful bands in the world. Their most recent album, Synchronicity (1983), had reached the #1 position on both the British and American charts (it would eventually go 8x Platinum in the U.S.). Throughout 1983 and '84, they toured the world, playing huge stadium shows to support it. They were at the height of their popularity, rivaling U2 as one of the biggest bands of the 1980s. Fans had no clue that behind the scenes, things weren't well within the band. As it turned out, they would never make another album of new music together.

In the meantime, the world itself seemed about to tear itself apart. Tensions between the U.S. and Soviets were at their height, with both sides having built up nuclear arsenals large enough to blow the planet in half. So understandably, there was a sense of anxiety everywhere. At the same time, in the UK, a nationwide miner's strike roiled the country throughout 1984 and into 1985, adding to the agitation of the time period.

With all of this turmoil going on, both in his own life and in the world at large, it's understandable that one night, while in Barbados getting ready to record his first solo record, Sting had a dream wherein his peaceful English garden was suddenly disrupted by an invasion of human-sized blue turtles. The lumbering reptiles proceeded to knock down his garden wall, chew up his rose bushes and lay waste to his lilac trees. In this way, an album title was born: The Dream of the Blue Turtles.

Listening to Turtles in 2017, it's easy to hear with whatever the auditory equivalent of hindsight is (hindsound?), that it's an album that finds Sting in transition from the music of his Police days to the lighter, jazzier sound that has marked his career as a solo artist. It's definitely part Police -- in the Caribbean-styled "Love Is the Seventh Wave", he repeats some of the lyrics from the Police hit single "Every Breath You Take"; and "Shadows in the Rain" is actually a jazzed-up cover of a song from The Police's Zenyatta Mondatta album. As for "Fortress Around Your Heart", the most successful single off of Turtles, it could easily have been a Police song. The music during the verses actually sounds like a slightly-transmogrified version of the verses of Synchronicity's "King of Pain". But on tracks such as "The Dream of the Blue Turtles", "Moon Over Bourbon Street" and "If You Love Somebody Set Them Free", you can also hear Sting moving in a distinctly different direction.

In all, Dream of the Blue Turtles generated four hit singles: "If You Love Somebody Set The Them Free", "Fortress Around Your Heart", "Russians" and "Love Is the Seventh Wave" -- not a bad haul for a first solo album. It has some misses -- "Consider Me Gone" is pretty boring, and "If You Love Somebody ..." makes me want to shoot myself (especially when he hits that long, discordant high note on "If you looooooooove somebody!"). But that could just be me. I have a low tolerance for jazz. 

In general, though, the highs far outweigh the lows. "Fortress" is a solid single, as is the somber Cold War ode "Russians" (which borrows the Romance theme from Prokofiev's Lieutenant Kije, to good effect). And "We Work the Black Seam", inspired by the aforementioned miner's strike, may just be the best song on the album. Transmuting the "King of Pain" music yet again, it describes the confusion of the miners in a changing world, as they see their jobs being gradually being phased out of existence: "Our blood has stained the coal/We tunneled deep inside the nation's soul". 

Other strong tracks include "Children's Crusade", a slow, sad lullaby that compares the loss of a generation of young Brits during World I to the loss of a later generation to drug addiction, and "Moon Over Bourbon Street", a quiet-but-moody character study that pays tribute to Anne Rice's popular Vampire Chronicles novels. 

Sting's voice is Sting's voice -- you either like it or you don't. (I, personally, do.) But either way, he's in good form throughout the album (with the possible exception of those "loooooooves" I talked about earlier). And while the band was specially crafted in such a way as to make sure that Sting's songs and voice remained the focal point here, he brought them together in Barbados well in advance of the recording sessions to allow them to play and jam together. In this way, he ensured that they were a band, and not just a group of session musicians. Unsurprisingly, Branford Marsalis on sax is the standout of this group. 

Although I get the sense that Millennials today view Sting pretty much the same way way that the punk generation viewed the stadium rock stars of the '70s ("boring old farts!"), the man deserves his due. Although The Police didn't officially break up until 1986, The Dream of the Blue Turtlesfound him taking a not-so-tentative first step towards walking away from one of the two or three biggest rock bands of his generation. As it turned out, he went on the become one of the most successful (and probably wealthiest) solo artists in the world, which is why today he's viewed as such as establishment figure. But he couldn't have been sure it would work out that way, so let's give him credit for some guts.

As for Dream of the Blue Turtles, if you listen to it with fresh ears, you'll find a lot to like here. There's some rock, some reggae, some Russian classical, some pop -- and yes, even some jazz -- blended together in a package of well-written songs. In one way, it's definitely an album of its time. But the quality of the songs here ensures that it's also an album that is still enjoyable today.

Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars