Sunday, June 14, 2015

"Foxtrot" by Genesis (October, 1972)

Dad's Take:

Back before Genesis became an icon of Eighties pop radio, they were a groundbreaking, if sometimes dull, progressive rock band. This particular album, their fourth, is more proof that the list we're working from for these review comes out of Britain, because this particular album, which hit number 12 on the UK charts, did absolutely nothing here in the US. But, hey, it was #1 in Italy.

I have to admit that I've never been much of a fan of Phil Collins's singing, although I think he's a very talented and very funny dude. That bias prejudices me against much of Genesis's work, maybe somewhat unfairly. But people like what they like.

That said, this is a pretty good record, for what it is. It's more accessible to a pop/rock ear than some prog rock is. Sure, it lacks that working-class edge that most of the best rock and roll has, but it is a musically interesting album, with meaningful (if sometimes somewhat obscure) lyrics. There's some real rock here at times, and there are indications that Genesis had some serious radio potential, as they proved later in their career. I like the whimsical pseudo-medieval-fairy-taleism of some of the songs.

I'm actually enjoying this album, but I'm not loving it. There are bursts of brilliance. I think the highlight for me is the "Willow Farm" section of the "Supper's Ready" suite that ends the record. That section is funny and dramatic and I like it. And then, at other times, I find my attention being easily drawn away to other things. I like that there's plenty of rock in their prog, but I'm hearing very little that makes me fall in love with the record.

I'm afraid this is like a pleasant first date that is fun while it lasts, but you know it's not going to go anywhere so you just try to have a good time while you're there. And, yes, one of the reasons is the rather annoying whine of that Collins voice. And the keyboards that sometimes remind me of the old Disneyland Main Street Electrical Parade. Maybe if I went back to this one for a second date, there could be a more meaningful connection, but I feel little compulsion to try it again. Now that I've listened to it all the way through and I know what it contains, if I feel the right mood and have nothing better to do, I might give it another shot. There really is some good stuff here, so I'll keep its number in my little black book.

But, really, if I were Genesis, I wouldn't sit by the phone waiting for me to call. I guess I'm just not that into you.

Brad's Take:

Like most people my age, I pretty much only know Genesis for their album Invisible Touch. In fact, I forget that they were around LONG before that album came out in (the year of your Bradley) 1986. Their popular songs from the 80s are the sound I know them for, so this album was a surprise to me.

Also, I always forget that before Peter Gabriel wrote "In Your Eyes" he was the lead singer of Genesis for a long time. Fortunately, he takes on lots of the vocal duties on this album. So does drummer Phil Collins though.

I don't hate Phil Collins' voice as much as my old man does, but I feel like it Peter Gabriel's works much better for this particular style of music. Phil's voice makes a lot more sense on the poppy 80s tracks that I know him best for. I can't even get into the Disney Tarzan movie that Phil Collins did all the music for. Something about the soundtrack drives me absolutely nuts. It's just too much Phil, I guess.

These prog rock albums are hard for me to get through willingly. I have music A.D.D. or something because when I see a song is over 5 minutes, I get very weary of it. And this particular album only has 2 tracks that are under 5 minutes, and a closing track that is 23 minutes long.

It's hard to tell if I have favorite/least favorite songs on here. Each song has parts that I liked a lot, but just as many parts that I thought were really terrible. If I absolutely had to pick a couple songs to go back to, I'd probably choose "Get Em Out By Friday" and "Can-Utility And The Coastliners." Those two songs had a lot of really enjoyable parts in them.

Overall, I think I'll stick with Invisible Touch.

"I'm Still In Love With You" by Al Green (October, 1972)

Dad's Take:

This album brings back memories. I didn't have the record back in the day, but some of the songs were radio staples, and the sound is so typical of early seventies soul that it was everywhere, whether performed by Green or his contemporaries. It topped the Billboard R&B chart, and hit #4 on the Billboard Top 200.

Al Green has this smooth, classic soul voice, and the songs are perfect for his vocal stylings. The title song, for example, is everything you need to know about soul love songs in 1972 wrapped into one tight little package: not too deep, not too poetic, but loaded with emotion and, well, soul. The other hit, "Look What You Done For Me," is, not surprisingly, a radio-friendly love song punctuated by those early seventies horns and a soft and gentle groove. The second song on the record, "I'm Glad You're Mine," isn't one of the stronger songs, but it still has this cool funky groove that you don't always hear on a ballad, a little reminiscent of Sly Stone. Even Roy Orbison's "Oh, Pretty Woman," gets a groovy soul update that works pretty well. And who knew that the other cover on the album, Kris Kristofferson's "For The Good Times," could be so soulful? But then, Ray Charles already showed us how full of soul a country song could be.

The album is full of songs created in that vein, with Green delivering easy soulful ballads full of his smooth singing and tight, emotional squeals. There;s a sameness (or a unity, if you prefer) that makes the songs flow together, with nothing that jumps out and spoils the mood that the record creates. Typical of this genre, the songs aren't as much about the music or lyrics as they are the vocal stylings, the singing and the little sounds--the squeals and growls and moans--that create the feeling that the songs are trying to convey. At his best, Green was a master of the soul delivery.

If you like your soul on the softer side, or if you're just in The Mood, put this one on. It's such a cool, mostly mellow album full of gentle soul funk. It sounds like sleeping in with your honey late on a Sunday morning.

Brad's Take:

The album art should have been Al Green sitting on a bed, rather than him alone in a chair. It would have been a lot more fitting for these sexy 35 minutes.

The album never drifts away from the 70's sexy-time soul style, which makes it very cohesive. If you like one song, you'll like them all. However, there were still a couple songs that stood out to me. "Love and Happiness" has a really nice beat and groove. "Simply Beautiful" is extra soft and extra sexy, like he is whispering right into the girl's ear that he's singing to. And of course, his twist on the Roy Orbison classic "Oh, Pretty Woman" is a highlight and is very fitting for this album. And like I said, if you like one song, you'll like them all. There isn't a song on here that I didn't enjoy.

I've never gotten into Al Green before this, and I'm kind of disappointed in myself for it. I see this specific LP at an antique store that I frequent whenever I am in the mood to shop for old used records. For whatever reason, I notice it every time I am sifting through the records, and now I realize that I should finally pick it up since it's always caught my eye, now that I know it catches my ear too.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

"School's Out" by Alice Cooper (July, 1972)

Dad's Take:

I like Alice Cooper as much as the next guy my age, but I have to admit, I was surprised to find him on our list. It's almost like the schlock of his act is being taken seriously. Not that that's a bad thing. Thing is, he's fun, and he did some pretty good songs.

It's funny that this one follows Bowie in the list, because Alice Cooper is, in many ways, the dark side of the Bowie coin. It's really clear when you listen to the two albums back to back. Alice Cooper emphasizes the male posturing and the projection of danger, where Bowie lets the feminine side of rock and roll out of the closet, but Alice still hides his strut behind a Bowie-like androgeny, only less pretty. The second song on the album, "Luney Tune," even reminds me a bit of "Suffragette City" and explores some of the same themes as Bowie does with his Ziggy Stardust alter-ego. Also like Bowie, Alice Cooper helps to usher in the weird cheeseball that was the last 2/3 of the seventies.

The stand-out tune on this album is no surprise. "School's Out" was a huge hit. Even those of us who liked school were sucked in by those dorky lyrics of rebellion, the anthem for the end of the last day of school for the rest of the decade. "My Stars" and "Public Animal No. 9" are vintage Alice as well.

This album doesn't take itself too seriously, and yet it pushes the limits in its own way. The Marilyn Manson of my generation comes off as a comic book character now, but at the time, he actually scared people with his act, like Manson would later. But behind it all was a highly image-conscious performer who understood how to commercialize his image, and who had a tight band to help him do it.

This isn't straight-up rock. The music is surprisingly creative. Just check out the instrumental break of the Broadway parody "Gutter Cat vs. the Jets," a song that always makes me laugh. That's followed by the Batman-like (the sixties version) music of the "Street Fight" between those gutter-cats (there are even meow sound effects) and the Jets. West Side Story goes rock, and it's funny and weird and entertaining.

The rest of the album is like that. Seventies hard rock meets Broadway show tunes, with some surprising instrumental bits that are inspired as much by Fosse as they are by Ozzy, even when they rock. It's corny, schlocky, cheesy, stupid, smart, bombastic, dorky, subtle as a stubbed toe, and a whole lot of fun.

A classic? Sure, why not? It illustrates the period when it was made very nicely, and isn't just another cookie-cutter rock album.

Brad's Take:

Alice Cooper is one of the most well known classic metal guys around. I immediately recognize him when I see him in a magazine or on TV. He's just one of those house hold names. He was like the Marilyn Manson of the 70s. But listening to his album School's Out, I came to the realization that I don't really understand why he is so popular anymore. I only know (and like) just one of his songs. At least from this particular album.

"School's Out" is probably the only song I could ever name off the top of my head, before (and after) listening to this album. That song was the only one that stood out to me across this whole album. Maybe because it's the only one I knew, or maybe because it was the only one I enjoyed, but something about this album just didn't do it for me. I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that it didn't sound any different than the other "stoner metal" from around this era, like Black Sabbath, but with a dash of David Bowie's weird experimental spacey stuff. Despite only recognizing one of the tracks, I felt like I had listened to this album a dozen times already.

I really don't have much else to say about it. Nothing surprised me, except for the fact that this album even made the list of "classic albums." It must only be because of the massive title track. Unless I'm completely missing something and it just went over my head.