Greetings readers, it has been a while since I have laid my golden pen to paper and I attribute my post New Year’s slump to a run of bad luck. Though things ain’t exactly looking up, I realized the only thing that pleases me more than the sound of my own voice is the sight of my own words. To that end, all I needed was a good record to draw me out of the doldrums, get my creative juices flowing and the short circuited synapses firing. Last week I received the requisite inspirational gem that offered some classic songs for my listening pleasure.
Next month, a documentary commemorating the 40 year anniversary of the passing of Nat King Cole will be aired across the globe; and Capitol/EMI is releasing a companion CD titled The World of Nat King Cole with 28 fully re-mastered songs that should please old fans and damn sure make some new ones. This comprehensive retrospective features material that was recorded during Cole’s 20-year career with Capitol Records that began during the mid 1940’s and was cut short by a three pack-a-day cigarette habit resulting in his untimely demise. Forty years is a long time and I for one was just a wee lad when Cole gave up the proverbial ghost. He began his career as a jazz piano player and a great one at that but ended up as one of the premier American vocalists. This forty year mark is the perfect time to revisit his music and remember just how brilliant his talent was.
Surprisingly enough, I only own one Cole record and it is his Christmas Album; you know, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.” So it has come as somewhat of a refreshing surprise to comprehend just how many wonderful tracks this silky voiced songster recorded. Yes, I may be getting older but that doesn’t mean this music belongs only to my parent’s generation, does it? This new collection begins with the cool jazz vibes of Bobby Troup’s classic “Route 66,” which was recorded by the Nat King Cole Trio and features a groovy little guitar and piano solo in the middle section. “Straighten Up and Fly Right” exemplifies the jazz vocal sound of the mid 1940’s and has some silly lyrics about buzzards and monkeys. The trio sound is lean, clean and swings like the Rat Pack on steroids.
In 1948, Cole recorded the stunningly beautiful “Nature Boy,” where his simpler approach was traded in favor of the richer sound of neo classical piano supported by lush string arrangements. This formula gave him a smash hit and set the standard for popular ballads of the post World War II period. This orchestrated method also became a signature style for the artist and “Mona Lisa,” a song that won an Academy Award, was featured in a now obscure film called Captain Carey, USA. However, the track remains a melodic masterpiece.
Another ballad that makes me want to weep in my supermarket fresh, German Pilsner is “When I Fall in Love,” which was recorded by Cole in 1952 and struck gold again in the United Kingdom in 1978, becoming a number one single on the pop charts. Sure, the lyrics are a bit sappy but the combination of violins, cellos and harp, along with a perfect vocal performance are simply exquisite. For you “Unforgettable” fans, you are treated to both Nat’s original version recorded with the late, great Nelson Riddle and the more recent duet with daughter Natalie that rendered a Grammy award winning, posthumous smash hit for her father and mega record sales for her. This song is a testimony to the enduring appeal of a timeless talent and the birth right a daughter who had precious little time to know her famous parent.
I believe it was French poet Rimbaud who said something to the effect of “there are shooting stars that blaze across the night sky.” Perhaps this is a metaphor for brilliant and talented people that we have on this earth for but a short time. Depending on your tastes, it could be Charlie Christian, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Hank Williams, Charlie Parker or Kurt Cobain. With the exception of Charlie Parker, none of these innovative musicians ever saw their 30th birthday. Nat King Cole also had a relatively short life, leaving us just before his 46th birthday. Yet he made an indelible mark on the history of American music and his legacy is a remarkable body of work that can be enjoyed on this new compilation of music. It is small reminder of how the light from his star was spectacular, luminescent and burned far too briefly.
Pretty Vicious – Beauty of Youth
Beauty of Youth is what happens when raw talent and a knack for writing great songs finds itself surviving the hype
The perils of industry hype and stardom have been unforgiving for many young bands. The brutal nature of the rock n’ roll whirlwind is both an inescapable thrill, and the overdose that has claimed the scalp of many. Welsh rock band Pretty Vicious are no stranger to the often destructive nature of record label glory and lofty expectations. The band members were mere teens (15-17) when they signed their mega-deal with Virgin EMI in 2015. What followed was a roller coaster ride of failed recording sessions and the burden of unmet expectations that come with signing big-money deals at such a young age. But the remarkable truth is, Pretty Vicious seem to have come out of the industry slog having survived their initial foray into the fire with an album that is quite a remarkable achievement.
Initially touted as the “next Oasis”, Pretty Vicious have thankfully shunned that tag and done away with writing the next Definitely Maybe for something more visceral. Beauty of Youth is what happens when raw talent and a knack for writing great songs finds itself surviving the hype. If Beauty Of Youth is a record signaling Pretty Vicious’ convalescence after their initial break down, then please, feed this medicine to all the bands.
There is no Oasis, but rather the furious, feverish unpredictability of rock music that we had seen with early Biffy Clyro, early Idlewild, packed with the dangerous uncertainty that came with The Libertines. It’s immediate too; from the raucous riff-heavy opener “These Four Walls” to the vagabond “What Could’ve Been”, much of the album channels frenzied palettes of distortion and beautiful noise. “Force of Nature” is a little Josh Homme, while “Someone Just Like You” is what Dave Grohl sounds like when he’s trying, but the album’s best moment is perhaps the gorgeous, slow-burning “Playing With Guns”. A song that’s composed of great wistful melodies that slowly incinerate the ears with infectious songwriting that makes Beauty Of Youth sound massive while being personal at the same time.
You can’t go past songs like “Move”, with its buzzsaw guitars and wall of energy, without thinking of all the best rock bands we’ve heard over the past decade. It’s got it all- to a T- but its urgency and hectic nature make it feel all the better. “Something Worthwhile” has got the bright lights and big stages of Glastonbury written all over it. And while their 2015 stint at the festival saw them on the “Introducing…” stage, this song is headlining main stage material.
It is quite an achievement to be as accomplished as Pretty Vicious at such a young age. Even more remarkable that they’ve survived the industry machine to release such a damn good debut album. Beauty of Youth is a composed, compelling, high energy debut that answers the question, “what became of the likely lads?”. They went on to write one of, if not the best, rock records of 2019.
Sum 41 – Order In Decline
Long gone are the days of All Killer, No Filler
Canadian pop-punkers Sum 41 have been remarkably consistent over the course of their last few albums. And while we have never stopped calling Sum 41 a pop-punk band, their last few albums have been less about being fun and bouncy, opting instead for a far more serious flavor of rock music. Long gone are the days of All Killer, No Filler, replaced instead with songs that do their best to mimic Muse’s big stadium anthem feel while not forgetting their penchant for metal licks and hefty solos. Truth is, it’s quite a shame because when Sum 41 were more about being fun and silly, their songs had this incredible likeability to them. Forget All Killer, No Filler, they were at their most fun with their often silly 2000 debut Half Hour of Power.
So what to expect with Order In Decline, their 7th full length? Well, if you like easy-to-digest pop-punk anthems, you best look elsewhere as much of the album spends way too much time taking itself too seriously. Not that the results are bad; songs like “A Death in The Family” and “Out For Blood” do the faux-hardcore/melodic punk thing really well. The chugga chugga riffs, toe-tapping melodies, and Deryck Whibley’s snotty vocals continue the band’s well-refined sound. Opener “Turning Away” doesn’t shy from being a little metal, a little rock, a little punk, and sets the high energy tone for the album. The return of Dave Brownsound for 2016’s 13 Voices has solidified the album’s two-pronged guitar attack, and Order In Decline’s production helps on that front- it’s a loud album, it just doesn’t seem to say a whole lot at times. “45 (A Matter of Time)” is the band’s anti-Trump song, and while it tries to provoke, sounds loud, its cheesy protests of “You’re something to few / But nothing to me / Someone so twisted and sick as can be / It wasn’t the plan / We gave it a shot / You’ve proven a real man is something you’re not” won’t exactly inspire a raging fire within the listener. I suppose if you’re turning to Sum 41 to change the course of the future, we’re all in trouble.
Sum 41 love their ballads too- and Order In Decline’s lighter in the air moment (phones in the air for you kids) is the piano-strewn ballad “Never There”. It’s OK, but doesn’t quite reach the heights of effective balladry they showed with “With Me”. The album’s best moment is the blitzing “The People Vs…” which trades the stadium rock for more melodic hardcore/thrash that a little akin to some of the goofy stuff they did on Half Hour. The meaty riffs, a great solo and the soaring chorus pumps much needed old Sum into Order In Decline, and it’s only a shame there isn’t more of it on the record.
As the album closes with the radio-ready “Catching Fire”, listeners are left with one of these two thoughts. For those who enjoy Sum 41 when they’re trying to be the best big band they can be, there is plenty to like on Order in Decline. They’ve found a consistent, polished, and well-produced sound they first hinted on with 2002’s Does This Look Infected?. For those who found their juvenile, snotty attitude on Half Hour of Power and All Killer to be the quality they most enjoyed will respond to Order in Decline with indifference. At least I don’t hate it.