Music to Your Ears: Eminem, Alkaline Trio and Paul McCartney

I somehow missed a week, Labor Day and the start of the NFL season threw me for a loop. Let’s take a glance at the latest two weeks, chock full of melodic, delightful oddities:

Eminem – Kamikaze

A surprise debut on the final Friday in August, this unsettlingly strange Labor Day rap album became more laborious as it went along. I used to think of Eminem as a malcontent intent on spreading venom that turned up as daisies at the end of the day. He always seemed to want to push the latest divisive sentiment, a shock jock stuck in a white rapper’s body. Coming out of Detroit, he always dreamt he was destined for something greater than his upbringing. Now that he’s achieved all that, even on the back of tracks that weren’t up to true rap standards, what can he lose? Kamikaze has been controversial for all the typical reasons, which makes it all the more boring when you realize the content isn’t even approachable to the outlier listener. In my hot take opinion, Eminem is long past his expiration date.

Key Tracks: Lucky You / Not Alike / Good Guy

Alkaline Trio – Is This Thing Cursed?

It’s been several years since true relevance for this, one of my favorite early-2000s pop punk bands, but the party never ended for Matt Skiba, Dan Andriano and Derek Grant. The edge that welcomed us to albums like From Here to Infirmary and Crimson is far in the past, but the elder statesmen of emo are still letting their feelings flow deeply here. Assuredly handling drums for the album (and unfortunately not the subsequent tour), Grant slams us into the title track with a flurry of force. Skiba’s familiar wail harkens us back to a time when we just wanted to know where we’d be hanging out later tonight in first single “Blackbird” and “Sweet Vampires” is a true testament to the staying power of this genre, beyond the barbs thrown at it in its early years. All in all it’s a nice recurrence of a band I hoped would make it and I’m sure is happy to keep the fire going, however stoked they are.

Key Tracks: Sweet Vampires / Blackbird / Little Help?

Muse – Simulation Theory

You know how we’ve felt about most of this EP, the band released all but one of these tracks from this EP over the past year or so, all the way back to “Dig Down” in May 2017. If we don’t get a full-length from the boys out of Devon, this should suit just fine. Maybe they’ll take a page out of John Mayer’s book and release a single or two and a short EP once in a while. That’d be fine with me, as all of these are solid entries in their singles oeuvre. The gem here is the newest track, “The Dark Side” which opens the EP – Matt Bellamy looms over the tune like a puppeteer eager to burst forth with cyberpunk electricity. The more this stuff sounds like video game music, the more I’m into it, though.

Iron & Wine – Weed Garden

Another EP in store for us, singer-songwriter Sam Beam has a soft-spoken selection of six songs this September. Always the type to take things lightly, Beam showcases his range here on several jovial selections. “Waves of Galveston” is a surprisingly joyous tune, while “What Hurts Worse” brings to mind a mid-2000s indie film. The typical mood on Iron & Wine albums is one of an autumnal drive through candy-colored forests, so this is assuredly a breath of fresh air. Maturity for once looks hopeful in the grim light of day.

Key Tracks: Waves of Galveston / Autumn Town Leaves / Milkweed

Paul McCartney – Egypt Station

When you get to be a certain age, and more importantly a certain status, you have a hell of a lot of leeway on what you do with your talent. Sir Paul is one of the most beloved musicians of all time. If we took a time machine to the year 2300, they’ll speak of Mozart, Wagner and the Beatles still. McCartney had the ability to carve out a solo career of his own that to a varying degree rose above those of his compatriots, mostly due to half the band dying younger than we would have liked. Egypt Station laments some of that,

Key Tracks: Fuh You / Come On to Me / Caesar Rock

The Kooks – Let’s Go Sunshine

Another British import that’s crossed the Pond are The Kooks whose recent attempt to keep early 2000s Brit rock alive with their latest is a tad lackluster. Vocalist Luke Pritchard is calmer here than before, tossing forth a handful of lovely hymns that could almost be considered acoustic. Gone is the bite of albums like Konk and Junk of the Heart, but the theme of this goes hand in hand with the title – it’s certainly sunnier that past works. Fans of their harder stuff won’t be altogether disappointed, as Pritchard’s signature tremble handles lyrics like “I find it hard to be part of / the city when it’s so undone / and it makes me feel like / I want to die” with tenacity. Perhaps this is just a more mature group, much like those of the Britpop core that have come before them. I don’t think this is quite simply forgettable, but it certainly isn’t the most re-playable of their albums. Mostly, and this isn’t the best of praise, I’m just glad they have new songs?

Key Tracks: Chicken Bone / Fractured and Dazed / Weight of the World

Spiritualized – And Nothing Hurt

This band is a bit newer to me, and I fell madly in love with their lead single, “A Perfect Miracle”. The candor of the lyrics speaks to me on a level that I knew immediately it would hit big with me for the rest of the year. Suffice it to say, I was hotly anticipating the rest of their album as it debuted this past weekend. Most of the tracks remind me of the original hook that latched me into their fan club, but I’m not overall enamored with the album. It labors towards the end, and despite frontman ‘s best efforts to heighten the appeal with his falsetto vocalizing, it’s not enough to cover the uninspired guitar work and non-existent bass line. What sort of becomes a dull album is not without its highlights, however, as a jaunty mirage appears in the middle of the album in “On the Sunshine”. I’m hoping the band picks up in future albums, of course, and I’ll always have this first wonderful single. Perhaps they’re more of a live band, more of an experience?

Key Tracks: A Perfect Miracle / On the Sunshine / The Morning After

Paul Simon – In the Blue Light

Speaking of people named Paul past their prime, a beloved member of an iconic duo dropped an album last Friday that I thought was actually something new. To my surprise, the laconic collection of songs is an assembly of little-known hits re-arranged drastically. How drastically, I’m unsure, as I would never have known the originals. In fact, I was a bit duped for one 2000 track, “Pigs, Sheep and Wolves” that lamented how terrible the political venue was becoming. Ironic to set it up for today’s re no? Clearly you can find the parallels between the lyrics here and what’s going on today? If it has to be this spelled out, was it worth it to resurrect these non-classics? As it is, none are particularly sparkling, perhaps they should have remained buried.

Key Tracks: go listen to Bridge Over Troubled Water again

That’s all for now, folks. Next few weeks include new ones from Carrie Underwood, Rod Stewart, Metric and even Cher as we fade into the fall season. Pumpkin spice and Josh Groban anyone?


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