Week 42 (Just A Band 2)

Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin III (1970)

Led_Zeppelin_-_Led_Zeppelin_III

Bottom Line Up Front: This is a 5.0 out of 5 stars album. This quote sums up the awesomeness of this album perfectly:

“Hey, I believe in God, man. I’ve seen him, I’ve felt his power. He plays drums for Led Zeppelin and his name is John Bonham, baby!” -Nick Andopolis, Freaks and Geeks, Pilot Episode

Well, maybe it doesn’t, but I’ve been waiting over a year to review a Led Zeppelin album so I could use that quote. So we’re just going to roll with it. You might have noticed Freaks and Geeks references in past reviews because the show is just filled to the brim with awesome music. If you are a music enthusiast and haven’t seen the show, you are really missing out. Alright, enough about the show. Let’s get back to Zeppelin. It is a review about them after all.

Artist BackgroundWell, here we go again. I try to summarize an incredible band in a very limited amount of space. I swear I’m going to just start copy and pasting a link to the Wikipedia page. This is our second, and equally important, UK group for the Just a Band series. Zeppelin formed in London in 1968. The band was formed out of the ashes of The Yardbirds, as The New Yardbirds, to finish up some concert commitments the band had leftover. The name was axed quickly, as the Yardbirds moniker was only agreed upon by the former members, to use for those last couple concerts. After changing their name to Led Zeppelin, they quickly scored a contract with Atlantic sight unseen, which is pretty impressive. The band consists of Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham. All four of these guys were incredibly influential on the rock genre for their respective roles in the band. “Among the greatest ever” is a term that gets thrown around often with these guys and with good reason. All members, except Bonham, are still alive. Unfortunately, John Bonham died in 1980 of a pulmonary edema caused by alcohol-related asphyxia. I really don’t like that description of it. It sounds like it came from a medical textbook. Led Zeppelin did not live some kind of Harvard textbook lifestyle. They lived (some say invented) the rock & roll lifestyle. They were famous for trashing hotel rooms. No, I’m sorry, trashing entire floors of the hotels they stayed at while on tour. A better fitting description of his death is he choked on his vomit after passing out from drinking 40 units of vodka. That’s how he went out. I don’t know what issues he was dealing with at the time that would cause him to drink so much, but it was an incredibly tragic lost. Zeppelin broke up after his death, but, before that time, they managed to be one of the most important rock bands ever. They are the second best selling band in the US with 111 million sales, and every album they put out reached the Billboard Top 10. Finally, every episode in season 5 of That 70’s Show is named after one of their songs. If that doesn’t show how important they were, I don’t know what does.

Album Background: First off, I just want to say people who grew up in the late 60’s/early 70’s are spoiled rotten when it comes to album releases. I touched on this earlier with the Grateful Dead releasing two incredible albums in such a short time period as being mind blowing to me. Led Zeppelin I through IV came in the very short span of 1969 to 1971. Houses of the Holy ****ing ****! We’re you people in your bedroom just swimming in a pile of amazing records ala Scrooge McDuck?

Led Zeppelin III is, obviously, their third album. It was released in 1970 and has a runtime of 43 minutes. Much of the album was composed in Wales where Plant and Page were taking a break from the strenuous touring schedule. The cottage they stayed in is named Bron-Yr-Aur, which means “golden hill” in Welsh. It’s pretty evident that the location had a great deal of influence on the band since it was included as part of the name for two of their songs. It’s no coincidence that spending a couple months in a cottage with no electricity or running water lead to an abundance of acoustic material. This drastic change in style confused both critics and the public alike, but it also earned them newfound progressive rock fans. Despite the initial mixed response, people eventually realized just how amazing and important this album was for the band and to music in general.

I just want to quickly mention the album sleeve because, at first glance, it’s a bunch of random flight-themed images on a white background. However, upon closer inspection, there exists a small disc of similar images behind it. By rotating it, you can change the layout of the front. This type of art, known as volvelle, was included in the album design by Jimmy Page and Zacron, an artist who had been working with rotating graphics for several years prior. I was actually unaware of this fact until I bought the 2014 Deluxe Remastered CD specifically for this review and turned it myself. It’s very freaking cool and definitely some of the most interesting album art I own. Here’s what the rotatable disc looks like so you don’t have to tear apart your own:

Led_Zeppelin_III_volvelle_

Favorite Track: There really is so freaking much to love on this album. This is a difficult decision. I will go on the record as saying that Since I’ve Been Loving You is the most impressive song on the album by far. I’ll touch on it under the What Works section of this review. It will probably be referenced multiple times given how amazing it is. However, my favorite track has to be Gallows Pole. If there was one song that routinely stuck out over the week, it was this song. It starts out soft with a simple acoustic riff and Plant singing the opening lyrics. Then, Plant turns it up a notch belting out the ever memorable, “Hangman! Hangman!” just as the mandolin kicks in. That caught my attention every single time when I was in the car. The gradual build up in this song is just amazing as the electric bass is added in shortly after.  Finally, they introduce the banjo and drums right as things just start getting crazy. Although, it’s crazy in a great way because of the gradual introduction of each part of the song. Imagine if the song started the way it sounds at about the 3:30 mark. It would be completely overwhelming. Yet, with how Zeppelin did it, it’s pure genius.

What’s interesting about this song is it’s actually based off a famous folk song, The Maid Freed from the Gallows, that is hundreds of years old and has been sung in the many regions of Europe with countless variations. Led Zeppelin wasn’t the only ones to record the song in modern times either. Most notably, Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter recorded it as The Gallis Pole in the 1930s, and Bob Dylan recorded it in 1963 as Seven Curses. There are a lot of variations, even between these three versions. Regardless, the basic story is a person, often female but not always, begging for someone to buy their freedom from execution by bribing an official of the courts. Not only do circumstances change between versions, but so does the perspective from which the tale is told. Sometimes the bribe works and sometimes, like in Gallows Pole, it sadly does not. Despite the choice to go with the more sad ending, it’s still an incredible song.

What Works: 

  • Plant I am in awe of Robert Plant’s singing on this album. Obviously, his very famous wailing is a key part of that, but there is so much more. I especially love how playful he is with his phrasing of the lyrics. The way he approaches the verses, which does not quite match up with the obvious way of doing it, results in a very distinct style. I also love the dynamics in his singing. He’s not afraid to switch up between loud and soft, even within a single line of a lyric. Finally, I love his use of repetition. He masterfully knows exactly when and where to repeat a small phrase or even a single word. On Since I’ve Been Loving You, Plant starts repeating words and phrases very heavily towards the end. Most notably for me the “seven, seven, seven” which contrasts to the opening line of the song in which seven is only said once. This resulted in an image of a slot machine popping into my head. Could it be a reference to getting lucky with the woman? It probably was not his intention, but it resulted in an interesting allusion nonetheless. What it does do, and I’m sure this was the intention, is dramatically increase the emotional intensity of the lyrics.
  • Page There is no Zeppelin without Page. In reality, that applies to all the members, but that doesn’t make him any less critical. In Since I’ve Been Loving You, Page delivers this incredibly badass guitar solo that is critical to amping up the intensity of the song as it progresses. Besides solos, Page delivers so many now famous guitar riffs throughout the tracks on this album. He is one of the greatest guitarists to ever live, after all.
  • Accidents One of the best accidents to ever happen in a studio occured on this album. The beginning of Celebration Day was actually supposed to start with a Bonham drum solo, but an engineer accidentally deleted that portion. Instead, they seamlessly connected Friends with Celebration Day, with the Moog synthesizer, using the drone found at the distinctly sounding end of Friends. It sounds brilliant. I was amazed it was a “fix” for a studio screw up.
  • Darkness By the end of my final listen, I was completely surrounded in darkness. As the album progressed, I gradually began removing light sources from the room. First, I shut off the light. Then, I began turning off monitors. Finally, I held my hand over my eyes to remove the last little bit. Why? Was the light distracting? Actually, it was. If you ever really want to listen to an album, and I mean REALLY listen to an album, grab a pair of good headphones and go sit in a dark room by yourself. By cutting off all of your other senses, you can focus on the music with laser precision. I swear to you, your music will never sound better than it sounds in your sensory deprivation zone. Zeppelin III is so beautifully crafted and complex that, yes, the light was getting in the way of my growing need to fully appreciate everything they did with this album. The acoustic songs on this album, like That’s The Way, are incredibly beautiful and beg for your ear’s full attention.

What Doesn’t:

  • Lyrics I am not saying the lyrics are bad. The lyrics are freaking amazing. Well, they are freaking amazing when they don’t get lost in the music. Zeppelin lyrics tend to fade into the background incredibly easy for me in their mid/uptempo songs. I don’t know if it’s because there is just so much awesomeness going on at once or maybe it’s the way Plant enunciated on those faster songs, but I tend to miss out on a lot of good stuff. Immigrant Song, for example, has some seriously kick-ass lyrics that are historically important to the genre of heavy metal since the song started the viking/heavy metal connection. “Hammer of the gods” is an incredibly famous line from the song. I totally missed that line all these years until I read about it. This also explains why I tend to heavily favor their slower acoustic songs from their discography, where their lyrics do not have such tough competition for my attention. Maybe this is more a personal problem than Led Zeppelin’s fault. I would be interested to know if anybody else experiences this dilemma with their music.

In Conclusion: I would have to say if you are going to listen to the album, then sit down and listen to it. There are so many amazing things happening on this album. You might not notice that Since I’ve Been Loving You is the shortest seven and a half minute song ever recorded. The time passes so incredibly fast because it can keep your attention the entire time. I had no idea the song was that long until I looked at the playlist. You also might miss out on the craziness of the wah wah vocals for Hats Off to (Roy) Harper. Or you could completely miss that they basically restart the song over again toward the end of Bron-Y-Aur Stomp. Maybe you’ll miss any one of the numerous false endings or wonderfully syncopated rhythms found throughout the album. Why purposely deny yourself all of this awesomeness because you decided to multitask and passively listen to it instead? Led Zeppelin deserves better than that. You deserve better than that.

Music Video Links:
I couldn’t find any official music videos for the original release. You can find some live stuff recorded later if you look on YouTube.

Streaming/Purchase Links:
Xbox Music

Spotify
Google Play Music
Amazon Music
iTunes

Information Links:
Wikipedia Artist
W
ikipedia Album
Facebook
Twitter
Official Site

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Week 40 Review

The Ataris – Anywhere But Here (1997)

Bottom Line Up Front: This is a 4.0 out of 5 stars album. I know. I know. Another pop punk band crying about relationships. Enough already. But The Ataris do a really good job of mixing things up and Kris Roe has a keen musical sense that makes him smarter than your average pop punker. It’s worth your time.

Artist BackgroundFor all intent and purposes, The Ataris is Kris Roe. He’s the only constant member of the band for it’s entire history since it started in Anderson, Indiana in 1995. The first album (this one) didn’t happen until their demo tape made it’s way to the owner of Kung Fu Records by way of Bogart’s (Cincinnati, Ohio). There’s been 20 members since 1995, so saying they have had some lineup changes is a bit of an understatement. Regardless, Kris has stuck through it all, even when he had no money, was living out of his van in California, and everyone had quit the band. Yet, he still kept pressing on. His commitment paid off as subsequent albums grew in popularity to the point where it peaked with 2003’s So Long, Astoria, which was certified gold. They are currently performing on the Blue Skies, Broken Hearts tour with the line up from the So Long, Astoria era.

Album Background: Anywhere But Here is very traditional punk album in terms of timing as it blows through 20 tracks in a little over 32 minutes. Most of these pop punk tracks last well under 2 minutes. The Wikipedia entry says Kris did everything but the drums, which was handled by Derrick Plourde, for this album. I have no idea how accurate this is, as Jasin Thomason didn’t leave the band until after ABH was released. Also, the credits refer to a member that didn’t join until after the album was released. So I’m not sure what to believe. It really needs to be pointed out that I am talking about the 1997 original release of this album. Kung Fu Records decided to re-release the album in 2002, which happens all the time with early albums when a band gains significant popularity. I’m not certain if it was an effort to make the album sound similar to their current albums or what, but I know that I absolutely hate the 2002 version with every fiber of my being. They changed the track listing completely, added horrible reverb to every track, and created a wall of sound by destroying the original dynamics. I very much appreciate the more raw sound of the 1997 release, and the track order makes more sense to me with the nearly all instrumental track, 1-2-3-4, being the opener.

My anger only intensified with how I discovered this hellish creation. I wanted a higher bit-rate version of the album than the one in my collection. Being the impatient person I am, I bought and downloaded the MP3 album from Amazon without double checking anything. “What the fudge is this?” was the only question that ran through my head as I started up the album on my way to work. I wish it had been a CD so I could have tossed it out of the car window onto the side of the highway like an old bag of McDonald’s*.

*=Not really. I hate when people litter. They’re a bunch of littering jackasses. Please don’t litter.

Favorite Track: This pick should be the incredibly infectious Hey, Kid! but it isn’t. Despite Hey, Kid! being proclaimed by many (most notably and recently by my editor) to be my official theme song with the eerily close to reality chorus of “Bitch, bitch, bitch. That’s all you ever do,” I’m actually choosing a different song. Instead I am going with the 19th track, Boxcar, which is a cover of a Jawbreaker song that was originally released in 1994 on the album, 24 Hour Revenge Therapy. While Kris didn’t write the song it speaks very highly of his sensibilities to include a cover of one of my favorite punk songs of all-time. The Ataris version is dialed back a bit compared to the original version, but I think the song is better off for it. Boxcar, from what I can tell, is a swipe at those who like to say who is punk and who is not. The whole idea of having to strictly adhere to a code of conduct to be punk seems ridiculous because mindlessly regurgitating the punk ideals and principles of others leaves you back at where you started before you entered into the punk subculture. This idea is best expressed in the line of the chorus “I was passing out when you were passing out your rules.” It’s worth listening to for sure.

What Works: 

  • Intro I love the opening track of this album. It start’s with a quick count off then goes full throttle on the guitars and drums for the remaining 40 or so seconds. To me, it’s an iconic moment for punk music. To other listeners, it’s might be that annoying 40 seconds before the album really begins. Maybe that’s why Kung Fu Records pushed it back to end of the record for the re-release. Huge mistake, but it’s just one of many by Kung Fu when they redid everything.
  • 1950s Much of the time, I felt like I was listening to a pop punk Buddy Holly album. Kris has such a keen sense of what makes a good classic pop song. You can clearly hear the influence of early rock and roll acts throughout the album. Speaking of which, I think Buddy Holly was one of the earliest punks in music as he was one of the first musicians to start writing their own material instead of relying on others. Even the standard punk band setup of a vocalist, two guitarists and a drummer was first popularized by Mr. Holly.  Listening to this album also reminded me of the reviews of punk songs by Chuck Berry. He basically asks what’s the big deal with punk because he’s been playing this kind of music for years. And he’s absolutely right.
  • Maturity I think Kris’s level of writing was incredibly mature for a first release. I make my case with the song Take Me Back which is a wonderful satirical take on breakup songs. On this song, the boy begs his girlfriend to take him back while listing all of the wrongs he committed against her in the previous relationship. The song takes it to an absurd level by including things such as cheating 15 times, standing her up on their wedding day, giving her an STD, telling everyone they had sex while on TV and last, but not least, blowing up her car. In a world overflowing with whiny pop punk guys wishing their exes would take them back, this song is incredibly refreshing. He knew exactly what he was doing when he wrote it.

What Doesn’t:

  • Too Many or Too Little Towards the last third of the album, things start blending together. I think a lot of this has to do with how quickly they are blowing through songs. You don’t always have enough time to appreciate the song before the next one starts up. While I was taking notes, some of the songs didn’t have any notes because I didn’t have enough time to think of anything to write. If I don’t have enough time to write anything at all, does the listener have time to get anything out of the song? I know very short songs are a staple of pop punk, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any negatives to this approach. Would a 40 minute album with some of the songs extended out a little longer have been better? Maybe. But unlike Kung Fu Records, I don’t think there is any reason to screw with an album to make it “better” than what it was.

In Conclusion: I really like this album. It’s a solid pop punk effort. If you are going to listen to it, I implore you to hunt down a copy of the 1997 release. The easiest way to find the original CD is probably eBay, where you can get a better description of what you are specifically buying from the seller. It’s also great because you can see pictures of the album art in the jewel case since the 2002 version also uses different album art. So it should be really easy to pick out.

Music Video Links:
I couldn’t find any official music videos. Sorry.

Streaming/Purchase Links:
Amazon Music (2002 Version!)
Google Play (2002 Version!)
iTunes (2002 Version!)
XBOX Music (2002 Version!)
Spotify (2002 Version!)

Information Links:
Wikipedia Artist
W
ikipedia Album
Facebook
Twitter
Official Site

My Thoughts on Music Relativity (Part 1)

Introduction

The frequency of a middle C on a properly tuned piano vibrates at 261.63 Hz. Consequently, the wavelength of that note is 131.87 cm at room temperature. If you double the frequency, then you go up exactly one octave. We tune instruments using a frequency of 440 Hz, aka concert A, aka the A above middle C, within half a hertz as dictated by ISO 1975:16. These are a few of the things about music that are constant regardless of the observer’s state or sound generator. I’m going to focus on the aspects of music that are constantly shifting because they’re relative to the listener. This is the more fun and interesting aspect of music for me. I’m not a composer. I’m not a neuroscientist. I’m not a professional critic. I’m not a music historian teaching at your local university. I don’t have the background to explain how the brain actually processes music nor can I explain the finer points of 18th century French classical music. Then why bother reading this? My hope is that this compilation of observations about the relativity of music, as approached from the perspective of the average music enthusiast, is easily accessible, interesting and more importantly enjoyable. This is going to be a series of posts spread out over a long period of time. The plan is to write one when I’m unable to do a review for a given week.

Music Source Relativity

Before we get into the relativity with respect to the listener, I want to address music source relativity. Basically, how the generator of the music and the surrounding environments change it, and the resulting impact on the listener. I’m going to skip over live music completely for this part because I’m trying to stay around my 1250 word limit. For now, let’s focus on a recorded music such as digital music files like MP3 or FLAC. Assume that if you play the music twice in a row under the same conditions, you generate identical sound waves in the air. I really don’t to go any deeper than that with the physics of sound. Maybe a guest writer could explain the joy of acoustics to your average person. With this assumption out of the way of a repeatable music source (for science!), time for the good stuff. How you listen to music is just as important to the experience as what you are listening to. I’m going to illustrate why the how is so important through a series of hopefully straight forward examples.

Response Frequency Expectations

My brother’s favorite earbuds break and he needs to replace them. Money is kind of tight now so he can’t buy the same pair he had before unfortunately. He orders a new pair after extensive research and picking out the best possible pair he could find off of Amazon based on his budget. Two days later, he opens the package and puts them on. He puts on his favorite track that he’s listened to thousands of times and the look of utter disappointment appears on his face. It’s the same song he’s listened to since 1997. It’s the same MP3 player he’s been using for the past two years. The experience of the music changed significantly though. What happened? The most likely culprit is the bass response of the earbuds didn’t match his expectations. My brother loves bass. More specifically he loves earbuds with a lot of bass. However, the buds were all about that treble; no bass. Is the lack of bass really the problem though? I don’t think so. Expectations played the biggest factor. Expectations can be even more important than the frequency response itself when it comes to enjoying music. Let’s take the same song and throw it on a small Bluetooth speaker. Small speakers are incapable of generating low frequencies. Even with complex fancy designs, there are still going to be limitations. My brother knows this so he happily listens to his song on the small speaker despite the lack of bass. His expectations of how he was listening to the music had a direct effect on the enjoyment of his experience. This why also so many miniature speaker reviews say the speaker is good or not good with the qualifier for a small speaker. Nobody expects them to sound like a home theater so we can keep enjoying our time using them despite their limitations.

Expectation Killer #1: Ear Fatigue

But when do expectations become less relevant or even irrelevant? I think when our ears become fatigued, expectations no longer matter. An older co-worker brought in his fancy new Bose table top system to an office party. He thought it was greatest thing since sliced bread. I felt like I was getting a pencil jammed into my ear. My co-worker experienced loss of sensitivity to higher frequencies as he aged. This is incredibly common. I don’t think you can avoid it. To make the music sound good to him, he turned the treble all the way up. Or at least I hope he did. I’d hate to think that is the default setting. Being in my early twenties at the time, I had awesome sensitivity at that range. And I wasn’t the only one. It looked like most of the people around my age were in physical pain at that party. Regardless of my expectations of how I thought those Bose should sound, fatigued ears trumped them. It’s not just high treble that can cause fatigue either. I’ve had subwoofers cause physical pain as well. A dual 8” Sony subwoofer I owned for a short amount of time before I took it back gave me headaches after listening for even brief periods. That particular subwoofer generated some seriously powerful low frequencies. It was an engineering marvel. I could very clearly feel the sound even though I was unable to hear it if I played a subwoofer test file. You would think that would be awesome but it wasn’t. Not with a continually growing headache anyways. So regardless of my expectations of what a subwoofer should sound like and how well it met them, it went back from whence it came.

Expectation Killer #2: External Interference

The other time I think when expectations are no longer relevant to your music experience is when the external interference overpowers the music to the point where you cannot clearly hear it. I have two examples that I think illustrate this. The first happens when I listen to music in the car. Specifically, when I listen to music with a wide dynamic range, which means there are both extremely quiet and loud parts in a song. Wide dynamic range is becoming a rarity in today’s popular music. If you really want to see what I’m talking about, go listen to some Beethoven. It’ll knock your socks off. I understand there is going to be significant background noise while driving on the highway. I have an expectation that the noise will make the quiet parts difficult to hear. Despite my realistic expectations, listening to that kind of music in my car is frustrating. I tend to avoid it at all costs to limit my frustration. And those in the music industry know this. They know you want music that sounds good in the car which is a primary listening environment so they purposely make music with limited dynamic range. I could go off on a tangent about the wall of sound, but I will save that for another post. The next example comes from my experience with trying to listen to music using headphones while doing yard work and housework. When your music has a loud noise source to compete with such as a lawnmower or vacuum, you’re usually setting yourself up for failure. There are two common outcomes: you’re either going to barely be able to hear the music and thus be frustrated with the experience or you’re going to turn the music up to a point where you can completely drown out the competing noise. Making the music louder is a very natural response given how frustrating it is to not hear it clearly but you are putting yourself at a very real risk for hearing damage.

Wrap Up

Alright. I’m going to stop here. I’m barely scratching the surface of what I want to talk about, but I have to start somewhere. Much like the idea of listening to an album on repeat for a week and writing a review has been an experiment, so is this attempt at writing short essays on the relativity of music. I’m hoping this will get more entertaining as I continue these kinds of posts. And I’m always open to suggestions and feedback so I can improve my writing. If something really didn’t work for you, let me know.

Week 36 Review

The Offspring – Americana (1998)

TheOffspringAmericanaalbumcover

Bottom Line Up Front: This is a 4.85 out of 5 stars album. I’ve been encouraged by multiple people in my life that I need to give the Offspring a serious listen. My editor has been a strong supporter of this effort over the past decade. Her efforts have made me a fan of The Offspring but that serious listen didn’t happen until now with PLTAM. And I’m completely blown away by Americana. There is much more here to love than what I initially expected.

Artist BackgroundThe Offspring have their origins in the early 80s, but they didn’t get their current name until 1986 and didn’t release their first album until 1989. The band was made up of Dexter Holland (vocals, guitar), Noodles (lead guitar), Greg K. (bass) and Ron Welty (drums) at the time of recording. Their breakout album, Smash, didn’t happen until 1994 when it sold 16M copies. It set a record for independent record sales with their label at the time, Epitaph. In fact, it is currently 6X platinum because it still sells reasonably well to this day. With their new success, they eventually moved to the major label, Columbia. It was a messy and controversial transition that is still talked about. I can’t say I disapprove of the move, though, I’m sure there are many punk purists that will never forgive them. But I hope none of them would deny Offspring’s importance in making punk relevant to the mainstream again in the 90s. I think I’m going to end it here as far as covering the history of the band but I would like to add that the Offspring have been incredibly supportive of the digital music revolution. They often tried to make their music available online even when it pissed off the record executives. They also sold Napster T-shirts on their site and donated the profits to Napster. They were doing this when other musicians like Metallica were having complete shit fits about Napster and college students with broadband connections. I absolutely respect them for seeing the bigger picture.

Album Background: Americana is a punk rock album released in 1998. It runs about 44 minutes in length over 13 tracks. It is their fifth album and best charting album having reached number two on the charts. It’s not their best selling, though, as that honor belongs to Smash by a significant margin. The Offspring tried to go back to a more traditional sound with this album as their previous album, Ixnay on the Hombre was kind of experimental and not as well received. Despite the pressures to rebound, Noodles said Americana was very easy to record and this seems accurate as it was recorded in half the time of Ixnay at 18 months instead of 36. Considering again that this is their highest charting album in their discography, I would they say they couldn’t ask for a better rebound. Americana let them show the world that Smash was not a fluke.

I try to keep these album backgrounds short, but there is one more thing I think is worth talking about. The Jerry Springer Show was considered a key influence for the album. Many of the songs are considered short stories of American life rather than satirical views of your average American. It’s an important distinction as I originally viewed the album as mainly satirical after listening to it. One of the songs that was clearly influenced by the show is Why Don’t You Get a Job which covers the topic of relationship leeches. What’s a more interesting influence on the song is the Beatles’ classic Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da. Some people said the Offspring ripped off the Beatles with this song but it sounds more like a similar style of music rather than any kind of ripoff. To put this into perspective of what ripping off a song actually means, let’s compare this to the recent Sam Smith/Tom Petty debacle. In that case, Petty was financially compensated and rightfully so. I’m not aware of the Beatles pursuing any legal action and my bet is because they really don’t have a case. Having “I know I’ve heard that before somewhere…” pop into your head after listening to a new song is one of the most fun aspects of being a music nerd.

Favorite Track: I wasn’t in love with every track on the album, but I really liked enough of them that this was not an easy decision for me. However, I’m going with the title track: Americana. So why did this stick out for me? I love a good intro and Americana excels at this. The first thirteen seconds are nothing but the intense sparse beats of a lone drum set. Then a guitar adds to the slow, steady build up followed by some light vocalizations. It’s over a minute before you hear the first lyric. After the first line, everything kicks into hyper gear as the drums and guitars go full throttle. The lyrics perfectly complement the intense delivery of the instruments with classic punk social angst and the occasional swear words.  In this case, the phrase “fuck you” is expertly placed in multiple context to take advantage of the unique flexibility of the F word. The lyrics mostly concentrate on selfish attitudes of the citizens found in the main character’s dystopian visions. Slowly, he is realizing it is, in fact, a dystopian reality.

What Works: 

  • Multifarious I fell in love with this album before I even reached the highway on my Monday morning commute. When I reached a stoplight, I had to look down on my music player to see if the first song was really that short. It wasn’t. Have You Ever is actually made up of sections so distinct that you think a new song started up. For a band to try that on the opening song with a length of only four minutes, seriously impressed me. I knew right there this week was going to be highly enjoyable. Offspring takes this concept even further with the final track, Pay The Man. This song was supposed to be on their previous album, Ixnay on Hombre, but it was so different that it wasn’t a good fit. The song has a Saharan feel to it and is considered to be far more acid rock than punk rock. It has several distinct progressions over eight minutes with no repetition tying them together. They tried to play it at a concert once. The reaction from the crowd was mostly confusion and musings of how high the band must be right now. The experiment was a failure, which is sad because I would absolutely love to see the song played live.
  • Noodles Of all the members, Noodles has caught my attention most as he was an elementary school janitor at the time he joined the band and is rumored to have been brought into the band because he was the only one old enough to buy alcohol at the time. Also noteworthy is that he was stabbed at an anti-nuclear rally early in the band’s career. He has a distinct look with thick black glasses and skunk dyed hair. His aggressive playing style is a key component of the Offspring’s sound and absolutely critical to their success. My editor also love Noodles and now I understand why.
  • Speed Dexter does most of his writing in his car. He’ll write stuff down when he’s stuck in traffic jams and such. It’s kind of funny that while he’s going so slow that he’s able to see gum clearly on the highway, he’s writing lyrics that are inspiring drivers worldwide to get speeding tickets. I don’t think I’ve ever felt the need for speed quite as much as I did while listening to Americana on my daily commute. And it’s great because each member of the band contributes to this overwhelming feeling to push on the gas pedal. Have You Ever, Staring at the Sun, The Kids Aren’t Alright, Walla Walla, Americana and of course, No Brakes are fantastic songs to get your heart pounding. I don’t condone speeding, but I do wonder how many times the phrase “Sorry officer, but I was listening to Offspring’s Americana.” has been uttered by a driver after they’ve been pulled over.

What Doesn’t:

  • Feelings I hated this song every single time I heard it on the album. It’s a punk cover of the 1975 pop song, Feelings. Feelings is considered one of the worst songs ever recorded. There are really two main reasons I hate this song. The first is that the album is flawless up until it’s played. Worse yet the song is right after one of Offspring’s masterpieces, The Kids Aren’t Alright, which is about the destruction of teenagers whole fall through the cracks of society as they approach adulthood. The other reason I hate the song is that it magnifies any and all weaknesses the band has. It’s almost like they wanted to highlight their flaws and give their detractors as much ammunition as possible when they put it on the album. If somebody wants to say Dexter is crappy singer, it’s pretty easy to make your case thanks to Feelings unfortunately.

In Conclusion: Americana is a worthwhile listen. I enjoyed this album all week. Offspring does a great job of mixing it up throughout the album with good pop sensibilities and creative song progressions to produce a memorable punk rock album. Just please be careful if you plan on listening to it in your car. I’m not paying for anybody’s speeding ticket.

Music Video Links:
The Offspring – The Kids Aren’t Alright (Official Video)
The Offspring – Why Don’t You Get A Job (Official Video)
The Offspring – She’s Got Issues (Official Video)
The Offspring – Pretty Fly (For A White Guy) (Official Video)

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