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Neil Young – Greatest Hits

Ignoring a ludicrous track ordering, lack of liner notes, and quite possibly the worst music DVD ever created, Greatest Hits is an album filled with musical gems

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The short review of this album is one word: No.

The longer review goes something like this…

I always knew the music industry was heartless, but this is a new low. Like a beautiful baby abandoned at birth and left to a life on the street, this CD has all the workings of a genuine masterpiece, but not a single drop of the love a project like this required. Ignoring a ludicrous track ordering, lack of liner notes, and quite possibly the worst music DVD ever created, Greatest Hits is an album filled with musical gems. But don’t let that fool you- Neil Young wrote albums upon albums of gems; it took two discs to sum up a small section of his career (on the much superior Decade), and this selection disregards so much of his catalog (75’s essential Zuma, 96’s excellent Merkinball are both ignored, not to mention the entirety of Buffalo Springfield’s recordings) that it cannot even be recommended as a beginner’s introduction to the world of Young. Unlike a band like Guided By Voices or an artist like Donovan, Neil Young never filled his albums with filler. Young is far closer to Bob Dylan, whose greatest hits span three volumes. On this album, the listener gets 16 tracks. Let me make myself clear- it would be an insult to Young to own this slapdash album in place of his catalog.

Of course, this is not to belittle the songs themselves, but instead the sequencing, song choice and overall lack of care given to these masterpieces. The album opens jarringly with the sprawling 9-minute rocker “Down by the River” followed by the even longer “Cowgirl in the Sand.” This deterrent effect can be blamed on the pointless chronological track listing. The order adds no effect of progression to the compilation, because Young jumped from genre to genre throughout his career, and instead makes Greatest Hits feel even more rushed and cheap. After “Helpless,” the albums third track, a mellow acoustic series of tracks follows, save the CSNY classic “Ohio.” This has the effect of implying to the uninitiated that Young forgot how to rock for a portion of his career. Why the album’s creators neglected to include even one track from perhaps his most emotional album, Tonight’s The Night, is unthinkable. “Heart of Gold” is still one of the most heartbreaking songs ever written, but it losses its fragility when shoved next to the mammoth “Like A Hurricane.” No two tracks flow into each other, and no two tracks would seem like a logical progress if the album’s producers had actually listened to the track order before they released the album.

What rock songs they do include in the album’s later part, such as the so-so sludgy live version of “Hey Hey (My My)” (replete with god-awful backup singers) and the mandatory anthem “Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World,” are neither his finest, nor especially characteristic tracks. And the bonus DVD is nothing if not the final insult to the buyer’s intelligence. One might reasonably expect concert footage, interviews, or even music videos. What the DVD contains is something far less essential- video footage of a record player playing the songs that are on the album, followed by two not-great music videos. That’s it. Occasionally, the camera shakes or loses focus temporarily, giving the “film” even more of a low budget, freshman-film-school-project feel. Neil himself even realizes this, and, in his own cryptic way, apologizes for this half assed (and conveniently just in time for Christmas) cash in. The liner notes for this CD consist of one line written by Young himself. The line shows exactly how mechanical, half-hearted, and capitalistic this CD really is: “Greatest hits inclusion based on original records sales, airplay and known download history.” This is the biggest rock tragedy since “Baba O’Riley” was hawking SUVs; and a sad statement about the lack of heart in the recording industry today.

(Warner Bros.)

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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

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Pretty Vicious

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.

(Big Machine / John Varvatos Records)

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Sum 41 – Order In Decline

Long gone are the days of All Killer, No Filler

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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.

(Hopeless Records)

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