January Album Reviews

Rock Cellar Magazine StaffCategories:Music

Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Soundtrack)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Their second collaboration with director David Fincher, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s soundtrack album to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is as impressive as their first get-together (the Oscar-winning score to 2010’s The Social Network). The 39-track score begins and ends with gripping covers – Reznor teams up with Karen O. of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs for the collection’s opener, an eerie, off-kilter take on Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song. His customary industrial production offsets Karen O.’s usual high-pitched wail, transforming the classic Zeppelin song to a twisted, contorted version of its original form.
The finale, a run-through Bryan Ferry’s Is Your Love Strong Enough? by How to Destroy Angels (the musical group made up of Reznor, his wife Mariqueen Maandig and Ross), is highlighted by Maandig’s vocals. Her presence gives the song an ethereal quality that plays off its dream-like orchestration beautifully.
As for the instrumental compositions, this is an epic soundtrack – it spans nearly three hours, with its nervous energy and dark rhythms setting a fittingly tense atmosphere, accentuated by quirky synth plucks and an oppressive overall feeling.
The only negative critique to make about this soundtrack it its length – it’s overwhelmingly long, and requires a great deal of focus and determination to make it through. However, this is appropriate, given the oppressive tone of Larsson’s book and Fincher’s cinematic treatment.
It’s all very intense, but well worth the effort.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Amy Winehouse – Lionness: Hidden Treasures

Amy Winehouse’s first posthumous release, this collection of unfinished demo recordings quickly assembled by producers Mark Ronson, Salaam Remi and her family, isn’t quite the tribute it should be.
The music accompanying her fantastic voice leaves a lot to be desired. Opener Our Day Will Come, her take on the 1963 #1 hit by Ruby & the Romantics, has the old-school flair that you’d expect, Winehouse’s silky voice perfectly suited for its doo-wop flavor. The backing track, though, is pedestrian at best.
That trend continues throughout the record, although original composition Between the Cheats is solid all around – simple, straightforward and showcasing her formidable vocal chops.
Her spin on Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? suffers from a flat accompanying instrumental track, which speaks to the challenges that Ronson, Remi et al. must have had with this compilation. These are rough, unfinished recordings. You can’t help but wonder how great these songs could have ended up if she hadn’t succumbed to her personal demons.
Still, Lionness does have its bright moments: rapper Nas stops in on Like Smoke, while Winehouse tries her hand at scatting on The Girl from Ipanema, with fittingly intriguing results. Her duet with Tony Bennett on Body and Soul, the final song she ever recorded, is great, and boasts the collection’s most impressive instrumental arrangement.
This is expected to be the only posthumous release for Winehouse, and as such it’s bittersweet. It’s great to hear recordings that might not otherwise have been released, but hearing them in such unfinished fashion is a detriment to the legacy she has left behind.
Regardless, it’s better to have these songs in this form than to not have them at all.

Rating: 3 out of 5
Jane’s Addiction – The Great Escape Artist

The Great Escape Artist, the first album since Jane’s Addiction re-formed (for the second time) in 2008, is a far better record than it should be.
Coming eight years after Strays, which was released shortly before their second break-up, Escape Artist has a renewed sense of experimentation and vibrancy: from the wavy psychedelia of End to the Lies, the Middle-Eastern feel of Twisted Tales and steady, driving percussion of Curiosity Kills to Dave Navarro’s ominous guitar tones in lead single Irresistible Force, the album is filled with sounds and flourishes indicative of some creative battery-charging that must have accompanied their extended break. Rarely do bands with as tumultuous a history as Jane’s release albums this cohesive and, at least overall, impressively.
Perry Farrell’s signature voice is in classic form, alternating between its customary high register and more subdued, atmospheric levels that play off Navarro’s noodling especially well. Bassist/multi-instrumentalist Dave Sitek, on loan from Brooklyn-based indie band TV on the Radio, injected some much-needed creativity into the album’s conception, and his addition pays off on the finished product. His bass play matches up with drummer Stephan Perkins’ rhythms in a way that reflects the ambitious spirit of the record as a whole.
In all, this is an album many probably didn’t expect the band to be able to make, and demonstrates that they may just have more left in the tank after all; it remains to be seen if they’ll need another break-up to create another one.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Jimmy Cliff – Sacred Fire (EP)

Reggae legend Jimmy Cliff’s first new material in eight years, Sacred Fire, is an excellent warm-up to Existence, Cliff’s planned 2012 full-length record.
Its five songs were composed and recorded with the help of Tim Armstrong of ska-punk heroes Rancid, and his presence lifts Cliff’s cover of the Clash’s Guns of Brixton, blending First Wave and Rancid-era ska keys and rhythms. Cliff sounds great as he assumes the lyrics formerly shouted by the late Joe Strummer.
The quality continues on a playful run through Rancid’s Ruby Soho. It must have been fun for Armstrong to be involved on a cover of his own song, which receives an old-school dancehall makeover. It’s the type of cover that sounds both familiar and original in its own right, and it works.
The only original track on the EP, Ship is Sailing, shows that Cliff is still worthy of cranking out a top-notch, Jamaican-inspired reggae jam. It could have been written in the 1970s, its island vibes creating a time capsule of sorts back to the era when this kind of music was at its peak.
Cliff’s cover of Bob Dylan’s A Hard Rains’ a-Gonna Fall is notably different from the original, again receiving the same keys-heavy treatment that was given to Ruby Soho. The track ends up being one of the brightest moments on Sacred Fire.
The EP closes with a faithful dub version of Guns of Brixton, and leaves the listener convinced that Cliff has plenty more to say, creatively, which is a rarity for artists that have been around as long as he has.
It’s a solid preview of things to come, and hopefully Existence continues where Sacred Fire left off.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Coldplay – Mylo Xyloto

Coldplay’s newest #1 album begins with a flurry of bells and blips, luring the listener into a fantastical dreamlike soundscape before launching into Hurts Like Heaven, a peppy opening number with vocalist/pianist Chris Martin’s Auto-Tuned voice reaching Bono-like levels of grandiosity. Guitar plucks pepper the background, giving credence to the song’s reference to the clouds.
Coldplay have changed a lot from the straightforward piano-guitars-vocals style they used on 2000’s landmark Parachutes. Having graduated to “One of the World’s Biggest Bands”, they’ve adapted their sound accordingly – bombast, excessive production and glossy, whimsical melancholy that comes through on songs like Paradise, Mylo Xyloto’s requisite hit single. It boasts a familiar, almost hip-hop beat, exploding into an infectious stadium anthem with the kind of seeming effortlessness that has made so many music fans grow to loathe this band over the years.
As a theme album about a romantic relationship in a vague futuristic dystopia, the record is both ambitious and safe. Charlie Brown is your standard Coldplay single, with a guitar lead that flitters about before relenting and allowing Martin to repeat some phrases before the uplifting instrumentation comes back around.
R&B starlet Rihanna stops by on Princess of China, a synth-heavy jam that works due to its irreverence.
Up with the Birds closes out the aesthetically-pleasing album, and should appeal to fans of Parachutes. Its mostly stripped-down simplicity is a welcomed finale to a self-indulgent album.
Coldplay have released another mostly appealing album with Mylo Xyloto, even if that appeal is surface value at best. It wouldn’t be bad if they turned down the theatrics and focused more on songwriting the next time around, though.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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