First and foremost, you have to appreciate what vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala and guitarist, producer extraordinaire Omar A. Rodriquez-Lopez of The Mars Volta are doing in a time where mainstream music is all about dollars and cents. You might not be into the indie and prog-rock thing but you can’t ignore what this band is doing in this current day and age. They have in fact conquered the men in suits. They simply do things their way and their latest masterpiece; Francis The Mute is no different. The hot shots at Universal didn’t even hear a second of this album until it was finished. Also, to classify this album as indie rock or prog-rock would be unfair. It seems the word indie is thrown around more and more these days for bands that aren’t pop enough for radio play, but really don’t deserve to be forced into the genre when their music contains not one ounce of stimulating, thought provoking material at all. So even I’m at fault when I use those words to describe this music, but what else can I say when The Mars Volta hold a sound that is beyond unique? Well, I guess you could say their music is in a league of their own. The Mars Volta are defining their own genre of music; a genre that centers on ambition and aspiration above everything else.
While the guys in The Mars Volta claim this isn’t truly a concept album, it’s hard not to believe that everything and anything these guys play musically isn’t in fact conceptual on some level. Centered on a character from a diary that was found in the back seat of a car, you can’t help but think there is a deep, important, underlying meaning to this story. What it is, well I guess that’s the mystery and intrigue that make The Mars Volta so fascinating and interesting. The album is full of loose ends in the story but I think that’s part of what is going on.
Francis The Mute is a bewildering five-part structured, 77-minute cadenced and rhythmic composition that tells the story of our character mentioned above. The songs even contain movements in the arrangements. When your average song time is around 12 minutes and your longest track is over a half-hour long, inserting movements here and there really add to the story telling aspect of the album. Who would’ve have ever thought one song lasting around 31 minutes long would end and leave you feeling somewhat unfulfilled? That’s the magic and enchantment behind this music, you want to follow the story and you want to discover the ending. It is really arduous and challenging at times to follow the path when the vocals turn to Spanish rather than English. But what keeps you from slipping away is you can still catch on as to what is going on because the music then provides the peaks and valleys of the tale. One aspect that really lacks on this album is that the songs don’t flow as evenly into each other as they did on De-Loused in the Comatorium but the guitar work is as magnificent and peculiar as ever; very little lingering, and consistent musically all the way through.
It’s very hard to pinpoint at times whether you adore the actual music of The Mars Volta, or the ambition and willingness of the band to offer something so eccentric at times you have no clue what the hell is going on. But when it comes down to it, these guys are not just doing something different, they are doing things rarely achieved before.
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.