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Phantom Planet – Phantom Planet

The real difficult decision to make is whether Phantom Planet sounds better flexing their rock muscles or singing mellower tunes.

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California has long been considered the center of upbeat, pop-driven rock sounds; from the Beach Boys to No Doubt, the California sound is one easily defined. Phantom Planet originally found itself in this category of pop rock. They even wrote a song about the state, how could they not fit into the category? Their preceding releases sounded like they should be blared out of your topless Jeep Wrangler as you drove along the Pacific coastline down Highway 101. Well folks, put your ragtop jeep in the garage because Phantom Planet has reappeared with a new sound that may make you forget they ever wrote that little ditty about the Golden State.

The band decided to travel cross-country for their latest self-titled release. They didn’t just physically leave California to record this album in New York; they also left behind the sunny state’s sound, opting instead for guitar shrilling Gotham rock. Comparisons to the Strokes are being shelled out left and right, but don’t initially brush this record off to be the next Is This It, because they honed this garage sound into their own.

The group’s first single, “Big Brat,” is a loud thrashing song with lead singer Alexander Greenwald unleashing a raspy growl that he has been impeding the last few years. One of the paramount assets of this entire album is the way Greenwald manages to flux and change his voice to strengthen the music. He has sharpened the sound of a garage band king, and manages to sound distinctly different than he did on the previous releases. When listening to this record it could cause a person to question whether it was really the drummer who left the band.

Lyrically the album is not remarkable or unique in any way, but the words do have a great flow against the music. “Jabberjaw” is a great example of this because of the way Greenwald unleashes his singing in a faster, more urgent way that coincide with the up-tempo beat of the song. The end of the tune is even equipped with a little screaming that only drives the point home that much better. In “Know It All” the vocals are merely mumbled against quiet background music until the chorus of the song when the drums are let loose and the vocals follows suit.

The real difficult decision to make is whether Phantom Planet sounds better flexing their rock muscles or singing mellower tunes. The first half of the album is basically a mix of different tempo rock songs that pays homage to the likes of Elvis Costello, Led Zeppelin, and yes, even a little to The Strokes. The record starts off by slamming right into a drum solo by drummer Jeff Conrad in “The Happy Ending”. It seems fitting the album start off in such a non-conventional way considering this record is distinctly non-conventional for the group. The one thing that really sets them apart from typical garage sounding bands is that each song on the record sounds completely different from the others. Another stand-out on the album was how Conrad uses completely different drum beats in each song, but still triggers the same reaction in the listener: to tap their feet in an almost uncontrollable manner. The songs speed-up, slow down, and then at the end of the record really mellow out for a nice quiet ending.

This album is one big sing-a-along with catchy choruses and beats that will stick in your head days after you’ve stopped listening. It seems that Phantom Planet has tried on a new style and it fits them like a pair of perfectly worn-in Levis. No need to throw out your copy of The Guest yet, because the urge to listen to “California” may occur, but this record will hold you off for quite some time.

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Alice Cooper – Breadcrumbs EP

Few frontmen of rock will ever be as enigmatic and as timeless as Alice Cooper

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Alice Cooper Breadcrumbs

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.

(earMUSIC)

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Reviews

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

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Goo Goo Dolls Miracle Pill

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.

(Warner Bros.)

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