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Melissa Auf der Maur – This would be paradise – Reviewed

February 13, 2009 Leave a comment

There’s a game I like to play with some of the rock bands that I listen to, akin to Six Degrees of Seperation. It doesn’t really have a name, but if it did, it would be something like “Who’s Playing Whose Album?”

Remember back in the day when Hole needed a bassist because Kristin Pfaff died of a heroin overdose? Courtney Love talked to her friend Billy Corgan who called up his friend Melissa Auf der Maur, who then auditioned and joined the band, then joined Smashing Pumpkins (to replace the M.I.A. D’arcy). Somehow in there she got mixed up with Paz Lenchantin of A Perfect Circle, Josh Homme and Nick Oliveri of Queens of the Stone Age, Josh Freese from A Perfect Circle and Nine Inch Nails, and a gazillion other people. In short, Melissa Auf der Maur is in a multitude of circles that I keep my eyes on pretty well.

Somehow her new site redesign escaped me. As well as the release of an E.P., entitled “This would be paradise”(sic). The E.P. ties into the release of her new album, which I believe to be titled MAdM and is scheduled for release sometime this year. (Late March, I think I read.) The new site has some fun little teasers for audio, but the real nugget is that the full E.P. is avaiable for streaming on her site.

So, without further ado, here is a review of those three tracks:

  • “The Key”
    The biggest strength Auf der Maur has is her voice. She is a capable bassist, but her voice is pure magic. Her harmonies are nothing short of sonic heaven. This song puts a great emphasis on those harmonies, as the song itself is fairly sparse until about the two-minute mark. I can’t say for sure, but I think Josh Freese may have played drums for this track, which wouldn’t be surprising. The “weird noise factor” can’t be discounted on this track, either. Guitars swirl, bizarro synth lines chop around the soundstage. The melody and tempo seem to be “typical” Auf der Maur faire, but the slight swing conveys a sense of motion that is always present in an Auf der Maur solo track. Song rating: B+
  • “Willing Enabler”
    Starts out with a clean guitar ostinato, and continues with a slightly more uptempo beat from “The Key”. My biggest problem with the first solo album was the lyrical content, which seemed quite… I don’t know. The lyrics on that album sway from very good to absolute garbage, and this song lets the listener know she hasn’t really moved away from that. “Willing and able/A willing enabler/But these boulders, they do squeeze” LOL WUT? I know what she’s trying to say, but it goes from a great lyric with great delivery into insanity. Anyone that’s read my Death Magnetic review knows that I tend to get on lyricists if they start insulting people’s intelligence, and this is an example. Replace “squeeze” with an number of synonyms, and the lyric becomes instantly better while still conveying the same message. For someone that seems as smart as Melissa Auf der Maur, she really ought to buy a thesaurus.

    The song, musically, is fantastic. But those lyrics completely take me out of the feel, and that’s never a good thing in a song. Song rating: B

  • “This would be paradise”
    An instrumental track, it keeps in the Auf der Maur “sonic experirmentation” theme. It contains an exteneded audio sample of Tommy Douglas, a Canadian political figure, who is credited with forming the first socialist government in the Western Hemisphere and bringing universal healthcare to Canada. (Auf der Maur is staunchly Canadian, if such a thing is possible.) Combining the title, the sample, and the whimsical tone of the music, the listener can construct the meaning: this fantastic idea of healthcare and equality for all… would be paradise. I think, as a sonic oddity, it has merit, but I think I’ll probably be skipping the track if it’s included on the album unless I’m listening the full way through in one go. Song rating: C

The only thing that really, truly bothers me about the E.P. is that it’s unavalable in CD, it’s available as digital download or vinyl copy only. Now, I love me some vinyl, but I don’t know if I want to lay out the cash for something I can’t rip to my computer and take with me. At the same time, I don’t want to simply download the digital copy that I can’t really get in a superior audio quality. Incidentally, they don’t supply bitrate or format details with the download links, so I have no idea how good the files actually are. I may break down and spend $3 on the download, but we’ll see.

All in all, I now know that Auf der Maur’s past 3 years haven’t been spent doing nothing. I realize she’s been making some cockamamie movie, and has been spending a ton of time “living life” and all that, which she’s entitled to, but I know there’s a lot of good music still left in the can. Her contributions to Hole’s Celebrity Skin and her own solo album attest to this. This E.P. has done it’s job: I’m excited for the new album. So let’s get to it!

Bonus Section
The Grammys.

This is one of the few years that I thought the right people won. I’m not big on the hip-hop, but I’ve been told Lil Wayne’s awards are well-deserved. I’m confused as to Death Magnetic‘s inclusion in the Rock category, but all in all, a good year. The Coldplay performance made me laugh a little, because aside from being pretty good, it was a dead-on U2 impression. I half expected Bono and The Edge to come on for backing vocals during the “woah oh oooooh” section at the end of “Viva La Vida”. Also, what the hell was Jay-Z doing in that song? “You got your Jay-Z in my Coldplay!” “You got your Coldplay in my Jay-Z!” Radiohead was good, even if it was only Thom and Johnny.

Finally, what was U2 even doing there? I realize they have an ablum coming out, and I realize CBS was trying to run the ratings, but they weren’t even nominated this year. Also, my inner bastard was laughing at U2, Radiohead, and Coldplay all being at the same show. Lucky their songs were all different enough to keep the “but they’re the same band!” comments out of most people’s minds.

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Coldplay: Let’s Face It–It’s Not THAT Bad

June 27, 2008 Leave a comment

Onetime critical darlings (remember 2003?) Coldplay released their new album this week. With the highly lengthy title Viva la Vida – something something who cares (okay, so that’s not entirely accurate… let’s just call it Viva la Vida, because that’s all people will call it anyway) they’ve finally fit in the missing piece from their U2 emulation to actually include Brian Eno in the production. But was he really missing?

Coldplay’s earlier efforts evoked U2 in a way that seems almost chilling. At the time–and, truth be told, even today–I believed it was a stab at pure capitalism. By taking the best bits of early U2 and early Radiohead, Coldplay’s X&Y was steeped in the desire to be the biggest Brit band ever. Except, of course, for U2 and Radiohead. However, the new album seems to be moving in a different direction. Not necessarily toward individuality, because I don’t think the band will ever move away from Adam Clayton-esque basslines and Bono-esque vocal melodies and Radiohead-ian guitar chord progressions. No, I think the direction they are moving toward is relevence. This is an album that seems to realize (and, according to Chris Martin’s Rolling Stone interview, a band that realizes) they don’t necessarily bring anything new to the table. By adding Brian Eno to the mix I’m afraid they fail in that respect.

I’m going to go on the position that Eno has done as much to homogenize their sound on this album as he did to push their horizons. Yes, the band incorporated Latin and African rhythms. Yes, there are lush soundscapes and changed up vocal registers. But too much of the album’s first half is taken up by the same plodding numbers that could be filler on any late-era U2 album. Only when they venture into more straight-ahead rock songs do Coldplay really seem to be an actual, real-live band. I predict right now that after “Vida la Vida” and “Violet Hill”, the singles will be “Lost” and perhaps “Lovers in Japan/Reign of Love”. If they choose to release that many singles. Which I think might be a bad idea.

This is not to say that I dislike the album, quite the contrary. It’s actually the first Coldplay album I’ve come across that I could listen to more than a few times in a row. I think that they have a real talent for finding pleasing melodies and chord progressions. From a technical standpoint, the band just works. When they get a good rhythmic groove it’s hard to not move to it.

And all the other, mainstream reviews of the album I’ve read seem to forget that hey, sometimes music isn’t about the lyrics. I’m not going to say the Chris Martin is the next Bono. Hell, half the time, Bono isn’t the next Bono. I’m saying that Coldplay has a knack for combining its influences into something that is naturally pleasing. They are not as homogenous as, say, Nickelback. They are not the downfall of the industry, and they’re definitly not–as they were famously dubbed by the New York Times–insufferable. Chris Martin may not be the most eloquent, to-the-point political writer, but you know what? That’s not really what the band is about. They’re not U2, they’re not Rage Against the Machine, they’re not The Clash.

And that’s why I think people are so pissed off at them, because they’re not who they seem like they’re trying to be. People feel duped. That the band they think should be conforming to a preconceived notion of a politically-charged British band that is simultaneously musical/lyrical/artistic genius, are, in fact, not either of those things.

Are Coldplay the best band on the planet? Hardly. Is Viva la Vida the best album of the year? Hardly. Is it the best they’re capable of? Pretty doubtful. But U2’s first collaboration with Eno was The Unforgettable Fire… and then The Joshua Tree. I think that if Coldplay stays with Eno, the next album might be where Coldplay finally make the world at large say “You know, maybe these guys are really going somewhere.”

Final/side note: the last half of the album is vastly superior to the first. Were Viva la Vida released as an EP, I think it might work better. What is it about bands these days? Is it that hard to fill up an album? In the age of digital singles, do people care about getting a full album? I know I do…