In times of sorrow it seems we craft our greatest work. As we find our emotions wrought with pain, loss and grief, the creative spark within is ignited as if our senses have been lit by a burning light; seeking understanding and comfort as the words, paintings and reels record the very bleeding of our hearts. For Miles Kurosky and his fellow band mates, their well documented personal heartaches of divorce, break-ups and all in between has led to perhaps their most solemn, yet devastatingly breathtaking work of musical art they have collectively lamented upon. It is as if the private endurances have pushed them into the very twilight they find themselves in; teetering on what had appeared to be their demise, Beulah have forged in Yoko what some scribes and poets crave to achieve. The album is artistically responsive, it is an understanding of the sorrow and the successful translation of it into a magnificent collection of multilayered instrumental textures that rage through the scope of cellos, violins, saxophones and pedal steels all while accompanied by sundry penned longing.
From the delicately handled “A Man Like Me”, with its sweeping vocal swoon and temperamental melancholic twists, to the mellow acoustic grace of “Don’t Forget to Breathe”, they impeccably weave the grains of lithe pop and suave rock before sprinkling doses of grand instrumental dynamics and bluesy sentiments. The songs are at opposites to the sparse nature of the disc’s visual features. While both revel in archetypical unhappiness, each plunges into different spectrums of the creative scale. One bides its time in simplicity and illustrative loneliness while the other is a practice in complex audio marksmanship in its interpretation of human despondence and the juggling of immersing oneself in it and graciously facing it with stilted confidence.
While the sullen frailty is a distinct feature that makes its way in the lurking shadows, the air of optimism sparkles so well throughout Yoko. In the seemingly serene “Landslide Baby”; the stillness of the slow onward echo is but shattered into clangy, bouncy and jovial when those celebratory sounding piano fills and jangly basslines swell across its atmosphere. And while the sounds are festive, the lyrical tones of the track would underline a more fleeting romanticism; a cause lost except for the post-relationship indictments and the picking up of the pieces. It is this sort of clever layering of sentimental undertones swept clean by that apparent, indulgent hopefulness that keeps Beulah from falling into weepy and depressing.
In the triumphant “Me and Jesus Don’t Talk Anymore”, Kurosky and gang appear bereft in their countryside narrative; but as the snazzy piano thimbles and the percussion springs, there is an overcoming feeling of amity and the sort of horn-bearing woe that is enveloped in joyous sing-a-longs and communal ambling. And there are few places one can hone their desolation and turn it into wonder and charm; and this here is the place where everyone knows your nom de plume.
Amongst these weary chums are those going by the names “My Side of the City” (a modish garage rock bedfellow), “Hovering” (downtrodden, drifting, but adeptly capable of regaling with the best of them) and a troupe favorite, “You’re Only King Once” (the wise sou’westered traveler with talents as high as the clouds). In this small gathering, these merry men have tested their waters, been through the ups and downs with their When Your Heartstrings Break and their The Coast is Never Clear; they have shared space with the Wilcos and the Spoons in endless comparisons, and once denizens of the streets of Elephant 6, they are now sequestered in these new uncertain domiciles. Unsure of their place in new town, they’ve thrown in their pennies and dusted their casings, canvassed a sparse looking canopy for their work and produced unmatched proclamations for those enduring and recovering. It is a togetherness forged by Beulah’s realization of mortality and their revelations that follow; a reassurance for the spirit. While we could merely ache along, the overriding inclination is for one to embrace this alluring sadness.
Alice Cooper – Breadcrumbs EP
Few frontmen of rock will ever be as enigmatic and as timeless as Alice Cooper
For a large number of Alice Cooper fans who didn’t experience everyone’s favorite snake-adorned shock rocker at the height of his powers through the ’70s, most probably were introduced to Cooper through 1989’s hair-metal infused generational breakout album Trash. That was at least, my introduction to Vincent Furnier, at the age of 9 years old, seeking for something to satiate my love of hair metal and shock rock. Trash was everything Bon Jovi’s New Jersey was- big, radio-friendly- but had that added sense of danger and darkness that didn’t come with the pretty side of hair metal. However, as sure as songs like “House of Fire“, “Bed of Nails“, and the ubiquitous hit “Poison”, are still great today, long-time Alice Cooper fans know that Cooper is at his most enthralling is when he taps into his garage rock lineage, cut from the same mold that was paved by bands like the MC5.
So for those born in the early 80s like myself, the initial foray into the world of Alice Cooper meant that you had to work your way back into this long-running discography to find the rich, often timeless work Cooper is best known for. In 2019 Alice Cooper himself is working his way back on his latest EP, the aptly titled Breadcrumbs. The 6-song EP finds Cooper revisiting music and artists connected thematically by what ties them all together- the Motor City. This Detroit-centric EP features Alice Cooper’s take on songs by Suzi Quatro, The Dirtbombs, Motown soul singer Shorty Long, and of course, The MC5 (the EP also features guest guitar and vocal work from Wayne Kramer). Included in the mix are a reworked version of the 2003 Alice Cooper song “Detroit City” and one new cut, “Go Man Go”.
On his reworked “Detroit City”, the song is given a rawer makeover, sounding far less produced than the original. Gone are the orchestral overdubs with the song relying more on the loud bluesy guitars- perhaps the way it was meant to sound. Suzi Q’s “Your Mama Won’t Like Me” stays fairly faithful to the original, but Quatro’s vocal sneer is replaced with.. well, Alice Cooper’s vocal sneer. MC5’s “Sister Anne” is almost as great as the original 1971version, with the added benefit of today’s production qualities.
The EP’s one new track, “Go Man Go”, is very much Detroit, and very much Alice Cooper. It’s rock n’ roll roots are coated with a little bit of rockabilly, a little bit of garage, a lot of attitude. Like this EP, the track should be a precursor of Alice Cooper’s anticipated next album. The hope is that he continues this work of keeping things dirty rock n’ roll as the results are more often than not, pretty great.
Few frontmen of rock will ever be as enigmatic and as timeless as Alice Cooper. Breadcrumbs is a noble effort meant to tease and build anticipation than satisfy your craving for all new Alice Cooper material. It’s done just that, hinting at what could be around the corner. On top of which it shows that there are few rock stars who will ever reach the status and longevity of everyone’s favorite rock n’ roll snake charmer.
Goo Goo Dolls – Miracle Pill
The Goo Goo Dolls have always just written good music for people who cared only that the music was good
One of the most remarkable things about the Goo Goo Dolls is their steadfast consistency amongst the ever-changing backdrop of popular music. Six years ago when they released Magnetic, I wrote that the band remained unchanged in the face of their supposed “waning popularity” in the eyes of pop culture and radio charts. It’s true that many of their contemporaries that made it big alongside them in the late 1990s are long gone, but for the Goos, they’ve quietly continued to be above everything else, themselves, just older, wiser, and continuingly more refined. Miracle Pill is their 12th studio album and is the natural progression from 2016’s Boxes. Like their previous release, Miracle Pill continues their musical evolution away from alternative rock to the more serene territory of adult contemporary. Sure, it may sound like a bad thing, but like everything the Goos have done over the past 25 years, it’s supremely confident and composed.
They may not write songs with the caustic bite like “Here Is Gone” anymore, but they have been finding comfort in the more introspective pop-strewn melodies found in songs like “Lights”. Similarly, in the new album’s lead single and title track, the Goos tap into bouncy, easy-to-digest pop empowerment. Songs like “Indestructible” show that the band haven’t put down their guitars just yet, constructing songs that are still fond of their alternative rock roots but have found comfort in grander, more expansive sounds.
The album’s best moments are when the Goo Goo Dolls unashamedly tug on the heartstrings like they’ve done so many times before. The quiet jangly nature of “Over You” does this particularly well, while the bigger, electronic-infused arena rock of “Lost” shows that this type of music is just done extremely poorly by bands like Imagine Dragons. “Autumn Leaves” is a throwback to the kind of songs found on Let Love In and Dizzy Up The Girl, sounding organic and wistful, while the closing of “Think It Over” is the kind of song they’ve been hinting at since Something For The Rest Of Us. It’s part quintessential Goos, but contemporary and timeless at the same time.
Credit to the Robby Takac songs of the album too- “Step In Line”, “Life’s a Message”- both some of the finest songs Takac has written. He is often cast in the shadow of John Rzeznik’s more recognizable sound, but on Miracle Pill, his work is the best its sounded since Dizzy.
The Ringer recently wrote a piece titled ‘The Goo Goo Dolls Were Never the Cool Kids, but They’re Still Standing’. I echoed these sentiments in that Magnetic review years ago, but if there was anything long time Goo Goo Dolls fans know is that the band were never concerned about popularity or being “cool”. The problem with being cool in music is that it fades. The Goo Goo Dolls have always just written good music for people who cared only that the music was good. Not much has changed in that sense, and really, that’s much better than being cool.