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Thrice – The Artist in the Ambulance

Thrice are passable in this much maligned era, but in a musical landscape in dire need for a Dave Mustaine in ’86 or a Hetfield of ’83, The Artist in the Ambulance feels a lot like a Jon Bon Jovi in ’87.

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The outlet for anger is a well documented element of the music cosmos. It seems the birth of its most vile incarnation can be traced to the early/middle 80’s, when most less-discerning rock bands were laced in leather and big hair. It was during such bewildered times that the likes of Dave Mustaine and James Hetfield assumed the burdening role of turning glam influenced rock on its backside. Taking the seeded grit of previous flag bearers Motorhead and adding an incredible dose of unrelenting fury that only the most demented could possess; they tore open metal’s underbelly and implanted their own demonic seedling, coined by many as “thrash”. It was the blitz-like guitar flailing coupled with the often sinister lyrical tones that resulted in a chaotic uprising in music that has very rarely been seen after.

It’s been 17 years since Peace Sells … But Who’s Buying? and 20 since Kill ‘em All, both deemed essential recordings of said genre; and it seems in the years proceeding, few have ever come as close as when Mustaine was hell-bent on topping his former band mates (not even Mustaine and Hetfield themselves). The intensity and outright disregard that both bands exhibited were like pages from the darkest chapter of hell; volatile and equivocally self-destructive. Today, there is little of such animosity; and there is nothing self-destructive, volatile or even remotely unrelenting about Thrice. Instead there is an apparent twist between the desire to be chaotic and the apprehension towards being too chaotic.

Chief lyricist Dustin Kensrue is well-schooled in dark poetic adages; in “Under a Killing Moon” he pens, “the blood on your black gloves / it is none of your concern / if you want to call our bluff / get in line and wait your turn / and watch the witches burn”. While certainly reaching levels of pervasive morbid inklings, it appears he is content at simply reciting dark goth-like poetry. And it seems Kensrue’s tendencies have arisen from broken hearts and mistrust; in “The Abolition of Man” he scowls “It’s not too late to save the remnants of our hearts / so stop giving up our last shot at love / our only chance to find the meaning of the beat beneath the blood” and in “Silhouette” he coins, “your eyes followed me here / your eyes seamless and sure / they leave me broken and in need of a cure”. Maybe Kensrue is slightly peeved, but angry and hateful he is not.

However, the biggest gripe lies not in Kensrue’s treatment of words, but rather in Thrice’s apparent indecision between being metal with punk/melodic traces or being punk with metal inclusions – an uncertainty they avoid only twice; in the aforementioned “The Abolition of Man”, they rely heavily on metal crunching, crushing growls and the sort of remorseless attitude that one would hope they could maintain. It is in stark contrast to “The Artist in the Ambulance”, this track is plain and simple, bland melodicore, but at least the aspirations here are clear.

Nevertheless, their desire to mix together metal tones with penchants for melody ends up as a diluting agent of sorts; the opening cut “Cold Cash and Colder Hearts” begins aggressively enough – the trademark gruff of Kensrue, but it quickly resolves into far more generic territory; quiet/loud musical shifts and airy vocals before, near the track’s end, reverting back to far more grating instances. It seems as if Thrice wish not to alienate (or rather, wishes to attract) those more inclined to catchy hooks and accessible refrains. It is also apparent that lead axe-man Teppei Teranishi is the able guitarist who clearly displays the voracity to let loose metal’s finest screeching; as showcased by brief moments throughout this release (notably in the opening bars of “Under a Killing Moon” and “Blood Clots and Black Holes”) but is often restricted by having to play lame riffs of catchy nuances (see “All That’s Left”).

Thrice is quite the anomaly; on one hand, they appear to be on the cutting edge of today’s marketable brand of “harder” music, but on the other, they seem caught up in trying to justify this nonsensical “blender” approach to songwriting. An approach which strangely enough, has taken a far less creative turn since their last release, The Illusion of Safety (2002). Take heed, Thrice are passable in this much maligned era, but in a musical landscape in dire need for a Dave Mustaine in ’86 or a Hetfield of ’83, The Artist in the Ambulance feels a lot like a Jon Bon Jovi in ’87.

(Island Records)

Reviews

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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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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