Monday, July 5, 2010

Framing Hanley - A Promise to Burn

Written by Pirata Hermosa

The second album from the five-member band from Nashville, Tennessee will be in stores on July 6th. Having spent the last few years touring with bands like Saving Abel, Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, Hinder, and Hollywood Undead, the band has had plenty of time to mesh together and come up with a more refined sound with new guitarist Ryan Belcher who took over for Tim Huskinson in 2008.

After just one listening of the album, two things immediately stand out. The first is that the band has a good sound and overall it’s very enjoyable. The second is that you can’t recall what any of the songs actually sounded like. There doesn’t appear to be anything with a real hook, nothing that leaves you humming any of the melodies. In fact, with many of the songs it’s difficult to determine what was the chorus and what were the verses. Thankfully, I was taking notes the first time I played it so I could go back later on and see what my first experience was and if anything changed over subsequent listenings.

"Intro" is just some creepy piano music. It doesn’t really add anything to the album and could have just as easily been the start of track #2. After hearing this a few times, it’s just as easy to skip over it. There has never been an "Intro" that was worth listening to more than a couple of times. "The Promise" is sort of a cross between a Coheed & Cambria song and Fallout Boy but a little slower. It is very guitar-oriented and doesn’t seem to have much of a chorus.

"Wake Up" is finally the first song on the album that has some kind of life. It’s a little more commercial than some of the others and has good vocal harmony. It has a little bit of a Rooney flavor to it. "Bittersweet Sundown" is a decent song, but seems to have an overwhelming large amount of chorus compared to the verses and leaves the song somewhat unbalanced. But after a number of hearings, you might actually find yourself humming this in the grocery store.

"Warzone" is the best song on the album. It was the only song that stuck out even slightly at first. It has a standard verse, bridge, and chorus formation and has lots of stops, starts, and changes throughout. This song just seems to get better and better the more you listen to it. "You Stupid Girl" starts off with a slow, almost whispering style voice where the music sounds darker and could have used a deeper more sinister vocal arrangement. But the tempo quickly picks up and other than the initial vocals, ends up being one of the best songs on the album.

"Weight Of The World" is a little schizophrenic as initially it’s a piano ballad song mixed with acoustic guitar as lead singer Kenneth Nixon sings a love ballad. However, the chorus saves the song when all the electric guitars and drums kick in. It also ends up having the only catchy chorus on the album. "Fool with Dreams" comes across as a really sappy ballad. It’s not a bad song, but there is an added sound effect on the track that sounds like a helicopter throughout the entire song. And that helicopter just seems to stand out more and more each time you listen to it.

"Back To Go Again" sounds like it was written by the Jonas Brothers. It has a very pop sound to it, and when the line “This isn’t a song about candy, but we’re still suckers the same,” is sung you can’t help but think of bubblegum pop music. "Livin’ So Divine" just gets lost on the album. By the time you’ve gotten this far, you really need something to stand out, and it just doesn’t. The only surprise is that you hear the first and only real scream on the album.

"You" is the worst song on the album. It starts off with an acoustic guitar and Nixon singing after he drank a bottle of scotch and gargled some razor blades. The beginning is incredibly painful to listen to. And it doesn’t get better when he decides to sing in his normal voice because the song is very whiney. After just a couple of times of listening to this song, you’ll skip this track every time.

"Photographs and Gasoline" has an interesting flavor to it. It’s got a good sound, a little bit of techno mixed in and if not for its placement between too crappy songs, it might be a little more memorable. Of course, the fact that they tack on a goofy intro for the final song of the album doesn’t help at all either. It’s the sound of someone flicking a lighter, then some piano comes in, and the lines “Jack be nimble/ Jack be quick/ Jack sent to Hell with a candlestick/ oh it will be/ oh it will be a hot time in the old town tonight,” is recited over it.

After listening to the ridiculous intro to "The Burn" and it’s over-the-top orchestral beginning, this song is a huge disappointment. It just comes across as some super-egotistical, pompous song about burning Hollywood to the ground. It leaves you with such a bad taste in your mouth that it’s only bearable to listen to the first couple of times. And it’s too bad, because there is some really good guitar work on it.

The DVD that comes along with the new album says that it’s going to be about the creation of the album and their experience sequestered in Soundmine Recording Studios in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. After watching just a few moments of the band saying that they have nothing to do up there and are just playing some of the songs with no kind of insight or real commentary from anyone, it appears that the DVD is a huge waste of time. But thankfully just as you are about to turn it off it suddenly changes and focuses on the band’s history, previous tours, and even does a short spotlight of each member.

Compared to the first album, it’s obvious to see that the band has come a long way. The music is tighter and much more professional, but at the same time something is lost as it sounds almost over processed and the songs themselves really lack the initial hooks to draw in listeners quickly.

And in the music industry it’s crucial to have that immediate draw. The music is good and the songs will grow on you, but most of the time people give it one listen, and if they aren’t captured by something right away they are going to toss it in the pile and never listen to it again.

Article first published as Music Review: Framing Hanley - A Promise to Burn on Blogcritics.

Classic Albums Makes Paranoid Fun

Written by Sombra Blanca

It’s hard to believe the song "Paranoid" was an afterthought for Black Sabbath. The title track from their seminal 1970 album was also the last to be added, created in 20 minutes and, along with "Iron Man," has come to define the four lads from Aston, England. Band members Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Bill Ward and Terry "Geezer" Butler all share the tale of the creation of "Paranoid", both the song and the album, during the Classic Albums documentary series.

A wonderful concept, the series lets those who created some of music’s most important modern albums — Dark Side of the Moon, Songs in the Key of Life, The Joshua Tree and Graceland, for example — give in essence a play-by-play for the origins of each song. Series producers also bring in the assorted cast of critics and musicians for praise of the music and its place in history.

One of the great things about the Black Sabbath documentary, compared to some of the others, is all four original band members are still around to discuss Paranoid, giving even dedicated "Sabbath-teurs" some new insight into a band that changed rock 'n' roll, and arguably created heavy metal.

With the band’s now 40-year influence still present, so much of what they created seemed to just materialize out of thin air, or perhaps fermented liquid and pungent herbs. The documentary provides just enough discussion about the band’s history, which of course started with an emulation of the Beatles, as well as their self-titled first album. That’s key because the viewer hears about gigs at the Star Club, where the Fab Four got their start. Black Sabbath had eight 45-minute time slots each day, but only eight songs, so each set was a 45-minute jam of one song.

One could, and perhaps should, be punched in the face for calling Black Sabbath a jam band. Yet it was that experience through which the band not only became a four-piece juggernaut, but also developed much of the material for the first two albums. "It just flowed out with the riffs," Geezer says. "We all played together like each of us knew what was coming next."

The documentary takes us into the studio with the band and sound engineer Tom Allom, who worked under producer Roger Bain. Bain had seen the band live and wanted to recreate that sound – all in two 12-hour sessions.

But it’s mainly awesome for two reasons: each of the three bandmates, except for Ozzy, all play their parts at one time or another while discussing the songs. We watch and listen to Iommi on the origin of the "Iron Man" riff, and Geezer gets his due, showing how "Mars" from Holst’s The Planets suite evolved into the bassline for the song "Black Sabbath."

The other reason is Allom, who mans the production boards and singles out instruments with some of the songs – playing each individually on "Paranoid", for example. That includes Ozzy’s vocals – and not the ones you hear on the album.

The funniest part of this documentary is listening to Ozzy adlib "Paranoid" while trying to figure out how to compliment the music. But it’s nice to hear Geezer talk about Ozzy’s contribution when, even though he didn’t write the lyrics, Ozzy had a knack for coming up with harmonies on the spot, or singing exactly in tune with the guitar and bass.

As far as the outsiders’ perspective, it adds the most to "Iron Man" mainly because of what Henry Rollins has to say, especially about recreating the riff at the end of the song. While Rollins is his usual eloquent and just-plain-cool self, it’s unfortunate he’s the only musician brought in to discuss the album. The rest are historians and music writers and editors. It would’ve been nice to see those influenced by Sabbath talking about Paranoid, even if it’s the stoned-to-"Planet-Caravan" kind of stories.

As the band members and Allom explained, the song "Paranoid" sprung from the need to fill the last three or four minutes of the album and came together on a dime after the band returned from the pub. Iommi picked up the guitar, plucked the strings for the now-legendary riff, and "we all started scrambling for our instruments," Ward said. The song not only went to the top of the charts, but was also the second and final choice for the album title.

What some times gets lost in the power of the music itself — several used the word "menace" — is the overtly political and social lyrics mainly written by Butler. As he explains in his soft-spoken, always smirking style, the peace movement and the hippies had mostly overrun popular music. Although I’d disagree with Butler that nobody was really singing about the war and other, occasionally controversial issues, it was important to the band to bring that element into their music. So the documentary puts Geezers lyrics into a context fans of classic rock radio might not yet understand.

These were four guys from middle-class homes in working-class neighborhoods outside of Birmingham, and their environment didn’t inspire flower power. Butler, at the same time, developed an interest "in the occult and astral planing and all that cobblers," and his interest spread to the other band mates. He was quick to point out there was no Satanism, other than Walpurgis, the satanic Christmas that was changed to "War Pigs." The lyrics that evolved delved into politics and war, drug abuse and a celebration of drugs, and even racism — the latter creeping into "Fairies Wear Boots" after Ozzy’s confrontation with a skinhead gang in England. What makes the Classic Albums series unique, though, is hearing Geezer and Ozzy explain how there weren’t enough skinhead lyrics to finish the song, so the singer just made something up about LSD.

Again, these are tales coming straight from the band members, and that is the best part about the documentary. The critics and historians, nuts to them. It’s just fun to hear Ozzy talk about his first royalty check, and Paranoid is full of those fun moments.

The special features really could be called deleted scenes, because it’s more background told by the same people. But the band does talk about its first U.S. tour and the difficulties of moving across the pond, and expands on their influences aside from The Beatles.

Not every band deserves this type of treatment, to delve into their lives and music. But this is Black Sabbath. Enough said.

Article first published as DVD Review: Classic Albums Makes Paranoid Fun on Blogcritics.