“We don’t read the books we write them / With diamond rings / And new lives in the closet / Overdoses, fake deaths / Rehabs in California”
When such highfalutin prose pervades your lyrical grit, there had better be equal, if not pertinent musical validity that justifies this holier-than-thou, snarky attitude. Yet as you progress through A Cynics Nightmare, you are struck more by Tora! Tora! Torrance!’s keen observational capacity rather than the more pretentious nodes that seemingly mars other showy rock bands. And while Nick Koenigs’ voice is trapped somewhere mid spectrum between Julian Casablancas’ nasal flustering and Paul Banks’ darker, monodroned brooding, his emphatic rock wailing fits the glorious garage/noise/punk n’ roll that so savagely reverberates here. If the previously stated lyrical sampling were any more apparent, the striking mélange of guitar toying and pulsating percussions found on “Another Drink to Yr Health” could very well go unnoticed. But this frenzied, almost spastic structural territory is hard to pass up on – derived from what seems to be the exigency for musical assertion and finesse; a combination the band excitably renders well on this effort.
Perhaps the band owes some gratitude to the recent deluge of more garage-influenced, noisy rock affairs; they certainly have emerged in opportune times. In spite of New York’s gargantuan stranglehold on the current gathering of critically acclaimed, much publicized garage/punk bands, Tora! Tora! Torrance! are but a stones throw away in terms of artistic and tuneful abandon. Add to that their certain youthful exuberance and impressive interpretations, and you have a molded rock aesthetic that plays very nicely. Case in point, their slightly humorous but no less truthful account of today’s seemingly misdirected punk scene; in “I Though I Was At a Punk Show”, they adeptly croon over the brash hard rock static, “and at such a young age / and with such a young face / don’t tell me you are that cynical”. A clever jab at what appears to be the lacking trust and school boy attitude that permeates much of today’s punk underground.
The scrupulously lo-fi, somewhat experimental wash of “Bury the Hatchet in Yr Chest” is perhaps one of the flaws found on this release. Something about the murky, grungy bass filling that acts in tedium, a hazed exuberance that lacks bearing and cause. As the backbone wavering fades in on the following “A Cynic’s Nightmare”, it once again reinforces the point that while lyrically proficient, Tora! Tora! Torrance! still boasts some musical weaknesses; this time being the unhurried, peculiar musical wrangling that props Koenigs’ bursting voice. One he uses to denounce love’s less spiritual, bawdier approach that so clearly disseminates in these times of looser moral value; “what happened to the luv song? / I said what happened to the luv? / it’s just the fluid exchange game”, it is by far the song’s more significant quality, the plea of true love rather than lustful thirst, “and I wanna say ‘I luv you’ not only to those hills and valleys”.
While the band never once relies on cheaply constructed melodies, there is nonetheless a feeling of unidentified polish. Never too experimental, not quite avant-garde but not overly harmonious; songs like the essential “Dr Badd” with its well paced choral buzzing and guitar charming replace more tendered mannerisms with engaging, but accessible jagged rock components. And while musically they tread on middle ground between The Hives and garage/punk bands of yore (The Stooges, MC5) with discernibly more mod-punk processes, this none-to-clear straddling of wildly serrated yet noticeably current facets separates these Minneapolis natives from their Big Apple and Scandinavian counterparts.
It is this certain moderate quality that will likely endear them more to suburbanites craving a piece of revivalist rock rather than those more urbane types – an appetizing dose to ears not normally trained for such vitality. Tora! Tora! Torrance! are far from being front runners of the recent rock resuscitation smorgasbord, but they deserve credit for being sharp in a mostly restrained, settled environment.
(The Militia Group)
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.