Monday, March 26, 2018

Journey: The Eyes Of A Woman

"In the eyes of a woman, there's nowhere to run."

Is there anyone who doesn't love Journey that is conscious of the band's work? This is like the ultimate rock band of the 1980s that is forever loved thanks in large part to the classic anthem Don't Stop Believin' from Escape (1981), a recording that's rolled out from time to time to the overture of new fans. After that fans of Steve Perry and Neal Schon discover just how endless in high quality the group's amazing catalogue is thanks in large part to the sweet, golden pipes of Steve Perry.

Since Perry's official departure in 1998 the band has never been the same for many fans myself included. Speaking for myself, outside of Foreigner and Lou Gramm, I don't think I've ever missed a band quite as much as Journey as it was constituted with Perry at the helm on vocals.

Each recording is graced with at least a handful of gems and Perry was born with an absolute gift. The band's cannon of songs is seemingly endless and beloved but sadly remains static today.

Surprisingly his solo work never quite matched the melodic and hook-laden qualities of his work with Schon and Jonathan Cain. As a trio in Journey those three men wrote some of the best songs in pop music for a decade.

Sure we loved Steve Perry on Oh Sherrie (A US Billboard number one), but after that and Foolish Heart his knack for a serious melody dwindled to a degree as did his pop success and he's been all but quiet for two decades. Sad to see a voice like that silenced for so long despite promises of a new recording for years now. Come on Steve. We miss you. For the love of God or strange medicine we need you.

As a music fan I'm hard pressed to pick any one song, apart from the aforementioned Don't Stop Believin', as their best because Perry and company has churned out a body of work that is magic with hook after delicious hook.

Driving that highway to hell (called work), The Eyes Of A Woman hit the speakers and the volume turned way up. The golden chords of Perry's voice filled the cabin and it was a flawless performance. It's truly next to impossible to just mention one golden song, but this was as good as any.

Looking back at Raised On Radio (1986) while hearing this gorgeous composition this writer and listener was reminded of just how perfect that recording was from beginning to end. It was a rock classic for the ages. Released in April 1986 it became a summer soundtrack of my youth on those days by the ocean in the blistering sun. It's an eleven track gem that is nearly flawless. So many great songs and The Eyes Of A Woman is just one that comprises the classic Raised On Radio. It's just one more fantastic track from that recording that I have adored forever. The writing is indeed simple and a clear tribute to the seduction of a woman's beauty. There's nothing terribly noteworthy about the writing, but it was always the band and the vocal delivery by Steve Perry and the execution of performance that gave each song its heft and credibility. Journey could sell anything and do it in spades.

Raised On Radio (1986). A-. An outstanding eleven track rock and roll album that included Girl Can't Help It, Suzanne, I'll Be Alright Without You, Happy To Give, Be Good To Yourself and more. Perry and the band were riding high and yet it would be their last recording for a decade until the one off return of Perry with the band for Trial By Fire (1996). I was raised on Raised On Radio and loved the group yet had no idea it was essentially over with this great recording.

The Eyes Of A Woman. A. A beautifully mesmerizing pop song that illustrates how flawlessly the group weaves its musicianship with Perry's own God-given instrument. Evidence the group had an enormous gift for a time.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Tracey Thorn: Queen

"Am I Queen, or something else I might have been.
A star, backseat of a blacked out car.
Is that me or someone else entirely."

There is something quite queen-like about her. At 55, singer/songwriter Tracey Thorn returned with her fifth recording, Record (2018) and a sterling collection of mid to up-tempo hip swayers likely more in keeping with her late era output with musical and romantic partner Ben Watt as Everything But The Girl.

With over fifteen original recordings under her belt and an impressive run of genre styles (Everything But The Girl have tried things most wouldn't dare touch) there is something about the song Queen that sort of speaks to the Bedsit Disco Queen's (the name of her 2013 autobiography) right to have earned the recognition and title in her own right.

Not since hearing the return of Tina Turner and Private Dancer (1984) and I Might Have Been Queen have I felt such a worthiness be readily applied. But Thorn replaces Turner's fiery soulfulness with a reflective and nostalgic soulfulness.

There's also a maturity and richness to her voice that seems to deepen even more with age. Still, Thorn has always been an impressive and unique vocal presence on the pop scene foiled on occasion by Watt as duo Everything But The Girl.

Here at The Pop Song Blog she earned the Recording Of The Month nod in March 2018 over and above Ali Campbell's sprawling A Real Labour Of Love (2018) issue.

At a nice, tight nine songs Thorn's Record collection captures a kind of retro analogue-like easy dance groove presence that seems to work as a cohesive unit musically. Fans of her work and her voice will not be disappointed (not the Campbell fans should steer clear of his aforementioned collection).

There is also something about Thorn's age that feels appropriately world weary further inflecting the music that deepens the experience. Check the accompanying video as Thorn delivers a wonderfully evocative and simple performance that seems to work beautifully with the track.

I love Thorn. She's emotively beautiful to me in so many ways, but it saddens me to think that appearance and traditionally expected good looks is so important in today's pop music because the world is missing out on the talents of the Tracey Thorns as a result of such shallowly applied expectations. If you're not a sex kitten, despite often less than compelling voices that accompany those bodies, well then move over. Thankfully this listener grew up in an era when anyone could break into the business of pop music.

Record. B-. A nine track collection that is a slow grower but one that is mostly a more than satisfying twirl through a retro era disco and one drenched with a sense of wisdom, reflection and a sobering realization of age and time and what it means to be a woman without preaching (Sister).

I will say I worried when I saw the sticker on the sleeve of my recording. 9 Euphoric Feminist Bangers. What is a red-blooded American male to think of that? I have no major complaints on Thorn's approach to female self-empowerment other than I feel these things are entirely opportunistic in 2018 and the era of #MeToo and it just doesn't feel genuine particularly with all she's accomplished without the need to identify by gender.

Thankfully, she's by no means a man hater, but, like most today, Thorn happily sides with the endless windfall of female activism and of course why should we expect anything less than the incessant drum beat of pop culture jumping on board these bandwagons. Gosh, isn't everyone a victim nowadays? Does everyone need to live through racial and gender identity politics?

The collection even ends with the perfect finale that captures it all in Dancefloor. How ironic? The dancefloor, a place for all shapes, sizes, genders and races to just share a mutual love of music.

So Record isn't euphoric perfection, but maybe it's a gender thing. But seriously, I don't think so.

Queen. A-. Easily the strongest, best track on the record and one that works as a kind of anthem-like theme to the singer herself.

Friday, March 16, 2018

K.Flay: Run For Your Life (from Tomb Raider)

"Bite off the venomous head.
Follow the chemical scent.
Look for the whole in the fence.
Fast as you can.
And run for your life."

A busy life has me running for my own life so this one is as fleet a foot as the title suggests. It seemed as good a time as any to note, today, on the opening of the remake of Tomb Raider (2018) starring Alicia Vikander (Ex-Machina) (why do they love this franchise so?), K.Flay returned with a brand new track in Run For Your Life.

Perhaps it's the desire for a new female action hero, but once again the update to the original Angelina Jolie mini-franchise is classic middling escapist entertainment fare that offers nothing truly exhilarating as adventure films go. In fact the music for the film often provides a good deal of heavy lifting in creating the energy for the picture. Still, beats a Marvel movie for my money.

This song too is fairly rousing. The new track kind of caught me off guard but Flay continues to pick up speed in her career churning out some stellar alternative rock. This comes hot on the heels of Sade's return a week earlier with the beautiful Flower Of The Universe for the film A Wrinkle In Time (2018).

Fans of Flay's music should hurry and check out Run For Your Life with that catchy almost feline-like chorus hook that infuses the song with a kind of jungle-like prowl and pursuit.

Run For Your Life. B+.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

K.Flay: Giver

"I'm learning to live.
I'm trying to be better.
I'm learning to give.
But I don't know if I'm a giver."

Singer songwriter Kristine Meredith Flaherty (a.k.a. K.Flay) is a swirl of sass and attitude. She modulates beautifully when she sings. She fearlessly struts her stuff talking through songs like a femme fatale version of The Pet Shop Boys' Neil Tennant. She defiantly embraces rap between melodies. And finally seamlessly wraps her songs up in an unexpected mix of alternative and pop depending upon her mood. K.Flay is a wonderful addition to the music world as she seems to effortlessly put it all together as a sass master who is certainly not immune to self-reflection and self-criticism.

Her first recording Life As A Dog (2014) had its moments with songs like Everyone I Know, Make Me Fade and Can't Sleep but it's her sophomore effort Every Where Is Some Where (2017) where she seems most confident, bold, brash, kicking out a microphone stand and taking the world by the fucking balls. You have to love that kind of attitude and approach in the manufactured star-making world of American Idol. It's always refreshing to see a new arrival like K.Flay amidst the relentless waves of Swifts, Perrys and Grandes of the world. She's just different. And she's been paying her dues as far back as 2003, over a decade before releasing her first full-length recording.

There's something dirty, raucus, even, dare I say, sex-kittenish yet tomboy about the streetwise K.Flay that kind of makes it all work for her. She's like an alternative throwback, in terms of spirit and independence, to the likes of Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth) or Kim Deal (The Breeders), a rough and tumble version of Melanie C. (Spice Girls), but her genre-defying style and ability to alternate between music types makes her an absolute blast to listen to. K.Flay draws from a large expanse of influences, but she is indeed special, a one of a kind.

You don't catch the notice of Imagine Dragons, tour with the band and re-work a track like Evolve's Thunder unless you have a lot to offer. K.Flay is making serious waves releasing non-album singles, collaborations with a shit ton of other artists and even landing herself a theme track for the new Tomb Raider (2018) film starring Alicia Vikander.

But as cohesive work her second effort is filled with great cuts and I was torn on whether to highlight High Enough or Giver here at The Pop Song.

But driving down a lonely country road amidst a sizable Nor'easter and turning up the volume sealed the deal when Giver arrived and tore up the speakers of my car with more attitude and bad ass sass than any pop star has a right. It all seems to come so naturally for her too. It's not an act or contrived like so many of these pop stars today. K.Flay has talent and this music fan admires her effort to keep it real and make music that she feels true to. I'll be thrilled to watch this one and see it continue.

Giver and the rest of her second album have me completely hard for what will come next from the artist. It's a breath of fresh air to hear someone not trying to fit a mold and just deliver some sonically impressive, great music. Keep kicking it K.Flay!

Every Where Is Some Where (2017). B+. This rule-breaking modern rock rap affair is filled with great tunes including Dreamers, Giver, Blood In The Cut, High Enough, Mean It and You Felt Right among my favorites.

Giver: A. K.Flay absolutely gives her all on this track and the rest of her fantastic second recording. This is also the second track on the production. And we can't wait to see what she's giving next, because she's learning her craft and how to deliver it. She's learning to be better and she undeniably has so much more in her to give.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Gordon Lightfoot: Sundown

"Sundown ya better take care
If I find you been creepin' 'round my back stairs.
Sometimes I think it's a sin.
When I feel like I'm winnin'
When I'm losin' again."

Maybe it's because my name is Gordon. Maybe it's because it's rare to find a solo artist out there with that name. There is a certain affinity and affection there for the man from this writer especially when my speakers lit up with the classic Sundown just after sunrise this morning.

When I was a young teen friends ribbed me in a playful (not vicious) manner (or so I chose to believe) calling me Gordon Lightfoot in the school yard. At my ripe young age Gordon Lightfoot was a fairly household name to their parents no doubt but hardly a cool artist to be connected to. Still, there were far worse things to be called. This writer had a passing familiarity to the singer/songwriter and it really wasn't until much later that I discovered an appreciation for some of the man's work. It was clear there actually was music and song by Lightfoot that was a true joy to the ear.

How many people out there haven't heard Sundown? Not many aside from a majority of today's youth many of whom seem to lack a historical appreciation for all music and fancy songs with fitting lyrics like "young, dumb and broke." I have to believe there are some kids out there open to an older song like this one now and again. This writer has always appreciated the variety in pop music that has arrived each decade. I'm never shy to an old or new song and always listen with an open mind and ear.

Sundown (1974) was a Billboard number one hit in the United States for the Canadian singer all those years ago. It was his only number one in the USA despite incredible success in his native Canada including three number ones there.

The artist brought us a number of stellar guitar-based pop rock songs like Carefree Highway (1974), the equally classic If You Could Read My Mind (1970; reaching just number 5 on US charts), the beautiful Beautiful and the ambitious The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald (1976).

This music fan was surprised to discover, as of this writing, Lightfoot was still very much alive and performing at the ripe young age of 79. Nothing makes me happier than to find an artist out there still wielding his instrument of choice and enjoying his craft and sharing it with the world. This is a man who has been making music and performing for over five decades. WOW! Go Gordon go!

Sundown (1974). B-. Spearheaded by its title track and Carefree Highway, the effort is a breezy collection of what feels like an American journey---not bad from a Canadian. Gordon hits a sweet spot with his guitar driven crooning. It's a thoughtful, light and reflective style that seems completely absent in today's music. These productions are great for an afternoon drive in the sun even if the collection sounds a bit repetitious in style in spots.

Sundown. A. An amazing hook to an almost flawless car cruising track with an almost Western motif and flourish that brings you back to the feel good era of the 1970s when that decade didn't always offer a whole lot to feel good about. Still, you had to live it to really appreciate it. Songs that bore fruit during the era can still be appreciated today like this one.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Simple Minds: Sense Of Discovery

"Waiting for a moment that you think won't come.
Belief is no illusion but you must go on.
The heart is like a temple, one you cannot see.
Inside this world's discovery."

It's clear that veteran alternative rock act Simple Minds can bring the signal and the noise, but for this fan of the band I am often moved when lead singer Jim Kerr lets space breathe between movements and sound. Songs like Blindfolded, Hypnotised and Moscow Underground allow Charlie Burchill to shine rather than getting lost in the sonic wall.

For me their was a soaring majesty, breadth and scope to the theme-packed long form outing that was the magnificent, ambitious Street Fighting Years (1989).

When the band reaches for greatness in inspired compositions like See The Lights from Real Life (1991) I'm forever blown away and stirred to my soul.

Three of their recordings truly touched me as written about here. More recent outings have had their moments to be sure. Big Music (2014), with a nod to past glories (Broken Glass Park), is laden with hooks and melodies that perhaps echoed their greatest outings and that recording became a favorite from start to finish. Like its title it's a big bold winner.

Leave it to Kerr and Burchill, two of the band's founding members, not to remain still or stagnant. Walk Between Worlds (2018) tries some new ideas and sometimes land them successfully, but it is still a work in progress or discovery for me. Unfortunately the effort doesn't quite hit the mark for this music fan try as I might to absorb its rhythms and overall sonic approach. Big Music was inspired and perhaps a little nostalgic even but it struck all the right cords for me and was filled with the kind of space that invades Sense Of Discovery on the new production.

Nevertheless, this music fan applauds Scotland's finest Simple Minds for trying something new and for indulging their innate sense of adventure and discovery and no one can deny the group is having fun doing it. The group would not be at it for over four decades if they were a one note opera. Having said that Walk Between Worlds doesn't quite hit my wheelhouse when it comes to my personal pleasure zone for the group. My ear for the band is more in keeping with the kind of song on display here. A song like Sense Of Discovery is damn near perfect Simple Minds.

Sense Of Discovery is at once fresh when it comes to the band's approach to big music with a touch of throwback resonance that harkens back to the likes of Alive And Kicking from Once Upon A Time (1985). Fans of the band will know exactly I mean when they hear it. Clocking in at over six minutes and as the last official song on the outing, Sense Of Discovery goes for epic and is a gorgeous Kerr classic.

The song, in particular, may be less about the new attempts and new discoveries of its resident album in full and more about a rediscovery of what has worked so beautifully for the band for years while applying some new touches---the big, bold, stirring, emotional, epic, musical experience. Like the recording title from which this is spawned it's a walk between worlds past, present and future. Like Spirited Away which closed Big Music, Sense Of Discovery is one of those living, breathing, beautiful, expansive compositions fans love when the band takes full advantage of both their craft and use of space. It closes this journey and blows me away.

Walk Between Worlds (2018). B. A solid outing with highlights like Magic, Summer, In Dreams, Barrowland Star and the final track on spotlight here.

Sense Of Discovery. A. A strong Simple Minds opus of reflective, thoughtful ponderances to simply get lost within. It's yet another reminder of just how wondrous some of the band's songs have been all these years. The uninitiated to Simple Minds have much to discover. And once again loyal fans are rewarded and reminded there is still much to look forward to and discover along with Kerr and company.

Friday, February 23, 2018

The J. Geils Band: Love Stinks

"You love her.
But she loves him.
And he loves somebody else.
You just can't win.
And so it goes til' the day you die.
This thing they call love it's gonna make you cry."

As a kid The J. Geils Band was something like a group of gods in my house to my brother and I growing up. The magnificently epic Love Stinks led the charge as we watched the whizzing wheels of our cassette player fast forward and rewind to our favorites. We didn't know a thing about love. It was the late J. Geils (he sadly passed away in 2017), lead guitarist for the band, with the powerful rock and soul lead vocals of Peter Wolf who taught us very clearly that love stinks and its inescapable. We believed them and the group's clear, concise, definitive proclamation.

As kids my mother had ever so generously purchased each of us our own respective music players. My brother had the cassette player. This writer gambled with the eight track player. It quickly became evident I was on the losing side of history along with the Beta tape crowd. My brother, ever the winner, was just that with his cassette playing stereo. At least for a few years longer than me he was winning.

And that's another thing about popular music, is that it takes us back. There's a nostalgic memory marker on these songs for us sometimes and Love Stinks, apart from being a big, bold pop song is one of those songs for me. It's a stroll down memory lane. It transports us. It brings us back to a special time, a moment, a love. It has the potential for that extremely powerful emotional connection to the past for us. The J. Geils Band is one of those musically audacious bands for me.

The Massachusetts-based band delivered our youthful minds that tremendous power ballad via their recording of the same name Love Stinks (1980) at the start of one of the great music decades.

The whirling disco-tinged buzz saw ran through Come Back and strange story-driven numbers like No Anchovies Please must have concerned my mother, but the oddity of the mix and the weirdness of it all spoke to our curious minds.

The J. Geils Band formed as far back as 1968, but finally hit pay dirt in 1980 briefly and then quickly followed with Freeze Frame (1981) which included the self-titled top ten hit and the Billboard number one Centerfold before Peter Wolf departed for a solo career and the band disbanding shortly thereafter.

There was something about that crazy Peter Wolf, with his American swagger with a touch of Mick Jagger, that elevated him to crazy cool god status for me, but alas my affection for his music ended with his first two solo recordings for EMI, Lights Out (1984) and Come As You Are (1987). More on one or two of those tracks in the future here.

As for The J. Geils Band they filled a certain niche and period of my young life and I'll forever have fond memories of some of their songs in the early 1980s. Some of their songs were fantastic, even teaching us at a very young age a thing or two about love and sex and centerfolds. And Love Stinks is a hearty, musically audacious, thick, robust rocker that brings us back home.

Love Stinks: C+. The J. Geils Band never made a perfect recording for me and neither did Peter Wolf as a solo artist for that matter, but they had some great singles. Love Stinks has some good moments. Just Can't Wait, Come Back and the incredibly strong title track saw the band make a mark.

Love Stinks: A. A tremendous track led by that cock sure guitar thanks to the band's leader and Wolf with a strong rock vocal. Wolf was at his best in the 1980s. A truly remarkable and playful voice.