Chris Brown “Graffiti” review

Chris Brown

Artist: Chris Brown
Title: Graffiti
Label: Jive
Rating: 4/10

Corporate line:Preparing for his 2009 release Graffiti, Chris Brown has crossed the threshold from teenager to young man. Experiencing the growing pains, challenges, loves and losses of the past year, Chris has found his way as an artist. While creating his own distinct sound, he has put together a body of work that captures the many dimensions of youth: lost love, disappointment and self discovery counterbalanced with swagger, ambition and partying. Graffiti represents the gateway to Chris’ next chapter as an artist and young adult.

Review:
From go you get Lil Wayne spewing nonsense about Optimus Prime and Chris Brown trying to bring cohesion, but they don’t mix. The over the top Swizz Beatz try to carry it along but its the same sort of mess you get these days when R&B and Hip-hop crash head-on.

There are plenty of points where Brown attempts to apologize. But its too little too late when “Crawl” opens with: “So where do we go from here/ With all of this fear in your eyes?” Same goes for “So Cold” which goes on and on about Brown’s misery of being alone. It’s really hard to believe because he follows this up with “What I Do” singing about “the cars, the gals and the cribs.” Life must really be tough for Mr. Brown. More money, more problems it seems. And then the bottom drops out as Brown blames Rihanna outright on “Famous Girl” when he sings about her cheating on him first: “I don’t wear no halo/You were the first to play the game though.. Should’ve known you’d break my heart.”

Again, Brown goes from deep to shallow. “Take My Time” is the opposite of the guy who is wallowing in self-pity as he sings about “kissing and licking on you everywhere” with a female voice in the background in a sexual manner. The backend of the album “I.Y.A.,” “Pass Out,” and “Wait” are mindless tracks to bang in the club.

“Graffiti” tries to end with Brown playing the role of the victim. “Lucky Me” and “Fallin’ Down” would appear to make you feel that Chris Brown is to be pitied becuase he is breaking down. But seriously, he brought it on himself, so are we supposed to feel bad? He wants us to feel bad because he is a celebrity when he asks: “Why is it so easy for you to blame/I’m only human, we’re all the same.” Honestly, Brown’s arrogance makes it nearly impossible to take him seriously or enjoy music from someone who’s arrogance and lack of self-consciousness is intolerable.

Britney Spears – Circus – review

britney spears circus
Artist: Britney Spears
Title: Circus
Label: Jive
Rating: 3/10

Corporate line:
“Circus” is the seventh album by Britney Spears. It rolls into town on the heels of an MTV VMA awards sweep, where Britney walked away with three Moonmen awards for ‘Video of the Year’, ‘Best Female’ and ‘Best Pop Video’ for ‘Piece Of Me’. Circus is the follow up to her critically well received album, Blackout, just in in time for her 27th birthday. The lead single, ‘Womanizer’ (produced by the up and coming Atlanta production team The Outsyders) has already created a frenzy amongst Britney fanatics, radio and the media alike-underscoring Britney’s continued reign as one of the Queens of Pop.

The good:
“Womanizer” – It is what it is… a dance song without substance soaked in sexuality. Mission accomplished.

The rest:
“Circus” – “There are only two types of guys out there/ the ones that can hang with me/ and the one’s that are scared” could be evaluated in many ways–but it seems like those who can hang have to be able to deal with the lunacy that is her life.

“Out From Under” – Spears whispers through this song without selling anything other than a pop ballad cliche.

“Kill The Lights” – Queen of pop? That’s the proclamation. Too bad they tried to pull that off on a track that is easily one of the worst songs on the album.

“Shattered Glass” – From bad to worse.

“If You Seek Amy” – Wait, this is even worse. The chorus is pathetic.

“Blur” – Let see, Britney is drunk, has sex and then wakes up with someone who she doesn’t know and wonders “what did we do last night?” I hope she isn’t trying to be a role model.

Finally:
Britney is trying desperately to follow in the shoes of Madonna as she reinvents herself again. This time its as a sexy queen of emotional comebacks. Instead Britney went from a girl to a woman to a mom to a … well you can fill in the blank. Either way you label her this Britney Spears release is a circus.

Akon – Freedom – review

akon
Artist: Akon
Title: Freedom
Label: Universal
Rating: 5/10

Corporate line:
Singer/songwriter/producer, Akon burst out of the starting gates with the winningly melodic and compulsively danceable single “Right Now (Na Na Na).” The song is sparking up the charts in a record-setting pace that’s familiar to Akon’s millions of fans worldwide. “Right Now (Na Na Na)” is the lead track from Akon’s 3rd upcoming album FREEDOM. The infectious song is the #1 Most Added at Rhythm Crossover radio stations in its first week of release. “Freedom” features collaborations with Hip- Hop’s “man of the hour” Lil Wayne (“I’m So Paid”) and Akon’s platinum artist T-Pain (“Holla Holla”). Akon broke out on the music scene in 2004 with the platinum album TROUBLE that featured singles, “Locked Up” and “Lonely.” He returned in 2006 with the triple-platinum certified “Konvicted” CD. The Senegalese native broke chart history in 2007 as the first artist to simultaneously hold the #1 (“I Wanna Love You”) and #2 (“Smack “That”) positions on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart twice. He went on to become Billboard Magazine’s Top Artist of 2007, the #2 Hot 100 Producer of the Year, and #2 Hot 100 Songwriter of the year.

The good:
“I’m So Paid” f/Lil’ Wayne – Weezy brings vocals that sound like he hit the helium luckily Young Jeezy kills on the song and steals the show.

The rest:
“Right Now (Na Na Na)” – Right from the beginning when Akon throws the electronically-altered vocals is when its all over. Akon doesn’t need the effects on his vocals so why do it? It’s over done and cliche now.

“Troublemaker” – There are occasions when Akon could win the heart of women everywhere and then he loses it.

Finally:

Akon did it the wrong way. He ran his vocals through the seriously ridiculous robotic effects and blew the whole album. Whenever you hear vocals like that the first thing that comes to mind is someone that isn’t confident in their vocals. And Akon has no excuse–except perhaps he doesn’t have the abilities to pull this album off without the effects.

Beyonce – I Am Sasha Fierce – review

Beyonce
Artist: Beyonce
Title: I Am Sasha Fierce
Label: Sony
Rating: 8/10

Corporate line:
One of 2008’s most hotly anticipated album releases, “I Am..Sasha Fierce” marks the artist’s first new studio collection since the Grammy-winning multi-platinum-selling “B’Day” debuted at #1 on charts around the world shortly after its international release on September 4, 2006. With all songs co-written and co-produced by Beyonce, the artist’s third studio album is her most personal, reflective and revelatory collection to-date.

The good:

“If I Were A Boy” – The rare deep moments in the career of Beyonce comes with lyrics like “I think I could understand/How it feels to love a girl/I swear I’d be a better man.”

“Halo” – Another song that has more meaning than the usual Beyonce song. It’s nice to see her expand beyond the bubblegum pop songs of old.

“Disappear” – This is more vanilla and yet Beyonce’s voice steals the show and makes you forget that what you are listening to doesn’t call for depth.

“Ave Maria” – Beyonce only toys with the Mozart piece and yet it works surprisingly well.

“Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” – Sickly sweet and fun.

“Diva” – Hot, hot, hot. It’s funny to listen to Beyonce sing on a track that could easily be a hip-hop song.

The rest:
“Video Phone” – The rare track that doesn’t kill.

Finally:
Beyonce is fierce. This is a surprising album. Why? Because its so solid and has many areas of depth that go beyond the norm of a pop singer. Anyone with a slight interest in Beyonce would do themselves a favor and buy this album.

David Cook – David Cook – review

David Cook
Artist: David Cook
Title: David Cook
Label: RCA
Rating: 4.5/10

Corporate line:
American Idol winner David Cook’s self-titled debut album is produced by Grammy winning Rob Cavallo (Green Day, Kid Rock), David Cook is a quality album full with radio hits. Cook co-wrote 9 songs from his debut, along with songwriters like Chris Cornell, Brian Howes & Cathy Dennis. The 1st single “Light On” was co-written by one of rock music’s most influential innovators, Chris Cornell, lead singer and songwriter for Soundgarden and Audioslave, and acclaimed producer / songwriter Brian Howes, who has worked with superstar rock bands such as Hinder and Puddle of Mudd.

The good:
Got nothing for you.

The rest:
“Declaration” – Sadly this makes Cook sound like cookie-cutter rock from the ’80s. I cringe at the thought of David Cook doing Journey and yet we now know what that would sound like.

“Heroes” – Not even close.

“Light On” – Even though this song was written by the Chris Cornell it didn’t mean that David Cook had to try and sing it just like Cornell and yet that is exactly what happened.

“Mr. Sensitive” – Paint-by-the-numbers rock.

“I Did It for You” – Cook has never been duller.

Finally:
Where is the experimental David Cook that won American Idol? Cook can sing but he lost all his personality on this album. Perhaps they should have let him singing songs he wrote instead of trying to take on the personality of a dozen other writers. This album is completely lost on me.

“Light On” video

Nickelback – Dark Horse – review

Nickelback
Artist: Nickelback
Title: Dark Horse
Label: Roadrunner
Rating: 4/10

Corporate line:
Nickelback have established themselves as one of the biggest rock bands in the world. With over 26 million albums sold worldwide they have made their mark in rock and roll history. Their new album, ‘Dark Horse’, is one of the most anticipated releases this year. The band brought in legendary producer Mutt Lange to produce the record with Nickelback and longtime collaborator Joey Moi.

The good:
If you find one let us know.

The rest:
“Something In Your Mouth” – As laughable as Warrant’s “Cherry Pie.”

“Gotta Be Somebody” – This will probably end up as a top-ten single, but it’s as generic as Nickelback has ever been.

”Burn It to the Ground” – Another reason not to buy the album.

Finally:

Nickelback could have called the album “Juvenile” or “Here’s All We Got Left” because this is plain boring, juvenile and routine. There isn’t a hit song within a mile of this album. To compare it to AC/DC’s anthems would be like sticking history right up the ass of a legendary band. Nickelback hasn’t earned the right to sleep on the job.

David Archuleta – David Archuleta – review

David Archuleta
Artist: David Archuleta
Title: David Archuleta
Label: Jive
Rating: 7.5/10

Corporate line:
American Idol Season 7 fan favorite, David Archuleta has become a household name as he spent his 2008 summer on the nationwide American Idol tour with his fellow contestants. This album includes a sequence of Pop tracks from the industry’s most talented writers and producers. Archuleta’s first single ‘Crush’ was produced by Emanuel ‘Eman’ Kiriakou.

The good:
“Crush” – A great choice as a single. It lets Archuleta pick up where he left off on Idol with a confidence and power that made him a fan favorite. It doesn’t hurt that the song is smooth as honey.

“Touch My Hand” – Love the falsetto. This isn’t the vanilla pop song everyone would expect. It’s great to get the unexpected.

“My Hands” – Big, bold and surprisingly potent.

“Desperate” – This song makes Archuleta sound maturer than he ever has.

“Your Eyes Don’t Lie” – Starts off interesting and never loses that cool vibe that carries throughout. I’m not sure why one of the album’s best tracks is hidden at the end of the album.

The rest:
“A Little Too Not Over You” – A sappy, boring ballad.

“Running” – Another relatively boring song.

Finally:
For what it’s worth I thought Archuleta should have won American Idol and now he has a chance to take on David Cook once again. I think history might prove that Archuleta was the real winner. It’s great to see that Archuleta didn’t go in the obvious direction of recording mindless pop songs. Instead he took a few risks and they paid off.

The Grateful Dead – Rocking the Cradle: Egypt 1978 – review

Grateful Dead
Artist: Rocking the Cradle: Egypt 1978
Title: Grateful Dead
Label: Rhino
Rating: 8/10

Corporate line:
The album marks the 30th anniversary of The Dead’s historic concerts at Giza-More than 3 hours of rare and previously unreleased music remastered in HDCD plus over 100 minutes of extremely rare, previously unseen concert and behind the scenes footage.

The review:
Fans have been experiencing the Grateful Dead Egypt concert on bootlegs with variable qualities. By all indications this is a concert that should have been released on CD/DVD or some other audio/visual release long ago. Just listening the CD you can feel the immensity of the concert and when you watch it on DVD you can see it–but the visual is never as good as the audible version.

The DVD version is far too herky-jerky. It’s amateurish but even that won’t deter fans of the Dead. With two days of footage spread out over an hour you get some tasty bits to enjoy. It’s just a shame the quality wasn’t above average. It seems clear no one realized at the time the enormity of the concert so it wasn’t given the due at the time. If the Dead had enlisted a professional camera crew this might have been one of the great concert videos of all time.

The best aspects of the CD are the vast number of great songs. The recordings aren’t perfect by any means. There are reports of equipment failures and other reasons why everything didn’t go as planned, but you can’t argue with a set list that looks like “Sugar Magnolia,” “Terrapin Station,” “Looks Like Rain” and “Ramble on Rose.” There is a lot to love aurally–as long as you aren’t expecting perfection.

Here is the full album setlist:

Disc 1

1. “Jack Straw”

2. “Row Jimmy”

3. “New, New Minglewood Blues”

4. “Candyman”

5. “Looks Like Rain”

6. “Stagger Lee”

7. “I Need A Miracle”

8. “It’s All Over Now”

9. “Deal”

Disc 2

1. “Ollin Arageed”

2. “Fire On The Mountain”

3. “Iko Iko”

4. “Shakedown Street”

5. “Drums”

6. “Space”

7. “Truckin’”

8. “Stella Blue”

9. “Around And Around”

DVD

Track Listing

1.“Bertha”

2. “Good Lovin’”

3. “Row Jimmy”

4. “New, Minglewood Blues”

5. “Candyman”

6. “Looks Like Rain”

7. “Deal”

8. “Ollin Arageed”

9. “Fire On The Mountain”

10. “Iko Iko”

11. “I Need A Miracle”

12. “It’s All Over Now”

13. “Truckin’”

Featurette: “The Vacation Tapes”

Travis – Ode to J. Smith – review

travis
Artist: Travis
Title: Ode to J. Smith
Label: Fontana
Rating: 8/10

Corporate line:
“Ode To J. Smith” by Travis is 11 tracks of their loudest, edgiest and most arresting record yet. The album was recorded at Rak Studios in London and produced by Emery Dobyns (Antony & The Johnsons, Patti Smith, Battles) and mixed at Electric Lady Studios in NY. Healy says this album was ‘born out of a rush of creative urgency, a need to make a record; it has to be amazing…the most cohesive thing we’ve ever done. When you move so quickly, there is little time to reflect. You have to be decisive.’ In 12 years, Travis has sold ten million records, numerous accolades, headlined festivals all over the world.

The good:

“Something Anything” – The catchiest song since “Sing.” I’ve doubted for a long time that Travis had it in them to produce this good of a track ever again. I’m pleasantly surprised.

“Chinese Blues” – “The snow was falling on his shoulders by the side of the road” is the songs ghostly opener that never leaves your mind. The guitars roar with the same urgency of REM’s “Monster” and help us discover something we never knew about Travis–they can rock.

“Long Way Down” – This sounds oddly familiar. I hate to claim that it sounds like Oasis’ fabulous track “Importance of Being Idle” but it’s hard not to draw the numerous parallels.

“Quite Free” – Good at some points. The bridge is weak–if that were cast aside it might have been a much better song. It’s catchy and certainly going to get a lot of replays.

“Last Words” – If “Sing” had a twin this would be it. It’s unbelievably addictive and is one of the tracks that best fits the Travis that fans have known for a decade.

“Friends” – A good song even though it mimics some thing Keith Richards might have laid down in the past.

“Get Up” – This sounds like a slower version of K.T. Tunstell’s “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree.” So much so that Tunstell might start contemplating legal action.

“Song To Self” – Very, very catch but not exactly brilliant. Another Travis song that you could sing over and over again.

The rest:

“J Smith” – If the epic flavor would have been there from the opening of the track it might have falling in the good bucket. Instead it ends up in the leftovers.

“Broken Mirror” – For a solid twenty seconds you might mistake this for a Nirvana song. Too bad Fran Healy doesn’t have the same power and urgency in his voice.

Finally:

With great lines still in Healy’s arsenal like “You’re designed to fall apart on the day the warranty ends” on “Chinese Blues” there is still hope that Travis can continue to be a good band. I know all hope was lost after the last release–but “Ode To J. Smith” is a new light shining on the Travis and its history and future. The album “Closer” was a bore–but with the release of “Ode of J. Smith” Travis is officially back.

Watch the video for “Something Anything”

Watch “Song to Self”

Watch the video for “J. Smith”

Shiny Toy Guns – Season of Poison – review

shiny toy guns
Artist: Shiny Toy Guns
Title:Season of Poison
Label: Universal
Rating: 5.5/10

Corporate line:
“Season of Poison” is the highly anticipated sophomore album from Shiny Toy Guns. The album is the follow up to their critically acclaimed Grammy nominated debut record “We Are Pilots” which was released in 2006. The band spent the better half of 2 years on and off the road progressing their dance/rock and electronic roots. Once again producing the album by themselves, founding members Chad Petree (vocals, guitar) and Jeremy Dawson (synthesizer, bass) used 2008 technology to marry dynamic late-70’s style synthesizer programming with face-erasing stoner rock; gently spreading this over layer upon layer of ethnic and tribal rhythms. Not to mention their keen pop sense in lyrics and arrangement have collided with the legendary mixing abilities of super-engineer Andy Wallace to create a completely new color in the future-forward musical spectrum. The first single off of Season Of Poison is “Ricochet”, a heavy rhythmic guitar laden song already being heard on radio stations across the nation.

“Season of Poison” marks an evolution for the band not only sonically but in the band dynamics as well. Sisely Treasure from the band Cooler Kids replaced departed vocalist Carah Faye Charnow who left the group this past summer to pursue other interests. Dawson explains, “We moved forward with our initial choice for co-lead singer of the band in 2002, longtime friend Sisely Treasure. At that time she was still locked into her Dreamworks Records deal with her former project Cooler Kids and we were not able to professionally move forward with her. So we have returned to the exact original idea and lineup that Shiny Toy Guns was meant to be.” With a new singer who is also now a writing partner to Petree and Dawson, Treasure brings in whole new complimentary perspective to the band. The result is a hard rocking, groove shaking album that will appeal to die hard Shiny Toy Guns fans and new ones alike.

The mercurial foursome (which also includes Mikey Martin on drums), has been described as everything from ‘glam-goth-new wave-chic’ to ‘electronic mash-up with a dance floor destroyer,’ thanks to their riveting breakthrough single “Le Disko” which topped the charts in 2006. The playful dance-anthem permeated radio and clubs, was featured in advertisements for Motorola and Apple and was a single of the week on iTunes’ playlist. The band also was a “MTVU Freshman Five Artists for Fall 2006” as well as a MTV and MTV2 Discover and Download artist. They appeared on several television shows such as The Late Show with David Letterman, Late Night with Conan O’Brien and Jimmy Kimmel Live. The positive attention and legendary live shows led to an incredible accolade for the band, a Grammy nomination for Best Dance Album this past year.

The good:

“When Did This Storm Begin” – Interesting in parts but not necessary as a whole. Sisely’s attempt at vocal toughness leaves a lot to be desired.

“Money For That” – One track that doesn’t let fans down.

“It Became A Lie On You” – This is the one song that will have you listening over and over again.

The rest:
“Ghost Town” – Compared to the first two tracks this is completely ridiculous. Sisely’s contribution lacks any power.

“Frozen Ocean” – Painful.

“Ricochet!” – I’m sorry, but any song that appears to feature Sisely never holds up against Chad Petree vocal tracks. They sound hollow and weak no matter how tough Sisely tries to sound edgy.

Finally:
Sadly “Season of Poison” is mostly unremarkable. There are a lot of good ideas but some that miss entirely. The addition of Sisely Treasure hurts more than it helps Shiny Toy Guns. The tracks where she appears are the least interesting and devoid of any substance.