Posted by: jgurner | June 8, 2010

Disappointing Music

I don’t buy a lot of commercial music any more. And some recent choices are making me reconsider the little I do buy.

Actually, the choices, at least in the past, would seem sound enough. In some cases they were CDs by artists I’ve been listening to for years, even decades, but, for whatever reason, their recent offerings have been way less than satisfactory.

I know just as with anyone, an artist can hit a slump. They can make a bad choice of subject or material, or listen to the wrong person or let the wrong person get their hands on their work. It happens. Unfortunately, in my case, it makes me less anxious to run out and buy the next offering, waiting, perhaps, until I find it in a cheap bin somewhere.

Here are some examples, and I’m going back quite a while, almost a year in some cases, and coming forward to just this past week:

The Manhattan Transfer – For 30-plus years I have listened to the Transfer and loved almost everything they’ve done. Album after album has been a musical treat, often taking off in unexpected directions and offering some of the best vocal jazz you’ll ever hear. Tonin’, where they did pop duos with a wide variety of artists, would be the exception to the rule. Imagine my excitement when I saw the group was releasing an album of tunes by jazz legend Chick Corea – The Chick Corea Songbook. I anxiously awaited the release. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a somewhat bland album, at least for me. Of course, I have to qualify this by saying I would rather listen to disappointing Manhattan Transfer than probably 99 percent of all the other music out there. Still, it’s kind of like that Christmas when you were a kid and instead of getting the cool new Micronaut Battle Cruiser, you got a Bible instead. It’s a major disappointment.

The Flaming Lips – I’ve only become a recent fan of the group. I became a fan after getting the group’s Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots a couple of years ago, long after it’s release. Since then I’ve gotten a few other albums from the group and was blown away by the strangeness of their Christmas on Mars movie (which also included a soundtrack CD). So, I was seriously looking forward to their last CD, Emnryonic, hoping it would be packed with the off-kilter sounds I’d come to love. Instead, what I found was a lifeless, rather dull album that had more akin to the Christmas on Mars soundtrack than to Yoshimi or At War With The Mystics. I don’t have enough invested in the group to be bitterly disappointed at the lackluster release. It was more of a disappointing trip to your favorite chain restaurant kind of feeling.

Sweet, sweet Nora Jones – When I first heard “Don’t Know Why” on the radio back in 2002, I fell in love with Norah Jones. Then, when I heard the entirety of her first album, Come Away With Me, she had me heart and soul. Add to that three incredible albums since, plus great work with other artists and getting to sit in the eighth row at Mud Island with my friend Libby at her concert a couple of years ago, and she gets a special place in my heart. Unfortunately, my heart aches a bit after hearing her last album, aptly titled The Fall. Part of the disappointment comes from the fact that she takes off in a bit of a different direction from her earlier works, which is fine. Norah is not just about smooth jazz and a sexy voice. She can outright rock when she wants to. But this felt like it should have gone back to the drawing board and a little more time and energy should have been put into it, maybe leaving some of the songs out for the eventual boxed set that will come out. This was a bigger disappointment than The Flaming Lips, but not devistating. It’s like a Wesley Crusher episode, where you know they’re capable of something much better and you feel that, eventually, you’ll get at least something close to Yesterday’s Enterprise.

Which brings us to the latest acquisition…

Keane – This is by far the most recent group on this list I’ve come to listen to. I got their first album Hopes and Fears right before the release of their 2006 album Under the Iron Sea. Pu those two together with their third offering, Perfect Symetry, and you have a very impressive start for any group. Unfortunately, that all came to a screetching halt with this summer’s offering, Night Train. Sure, it’s a post-rehab, recorded all over the world, stopgap album, but it turns the sound that made the group such a bright spot in todays’ pop music scene on its head, and not in a good way. It was over produced. It strayed away from using the piano as the main instrument in leiu of guitars. It tossed the band’s melody driven song style out the window fora more formulaic sound. And they included a rapper on a couple of the tracks. That’s just wrong. Their choices make this more of a patchwork collection with the style being all over the place. The record company exec who pushed them into these tunes and this release should be shot. Maybe they’ll get back on tract with their next full blown studio album, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

The one of the bright points to the past several months, at least as far as commercial music is concerned, was the new album by Australian rockers Jet, Shaka Rock. Jet’s first album was aided by their tune “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” being featured in an iPod commercial. With guitar licks swiped from the Rolling Stones and melodies swiped from the Beatles, the album rocked. They avoided the sophomore slump, at least as far as I’m concerned, with Shine On. Then, the band hit a rough patch and took some time off before coming out with Shaka Rock.

While it doesn’t rock as much as Get Born, their first album, it’s at least  equal to Shine On. And it’s great to have some great, guitar riff driven music to listen to every once in a while.

Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the spectrum is Sting and his not necessarily Christmas album If On A Winter’s Night… This is the best thing Sting has put out in a while and definitely has become one of my favorite holiday themed albums.

Maybe the tide will turn. I don’t keep track too much of when groups are releasing albums like I used to. I mainly just stumble across new, or newish, releases when I decided to peruse the CD aisles at Best Buy or Wal-Mart.So who knows what will turn up.

In the meantime, I’ll just keep my iPod packed with great homemade music from MacJams.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: