Friday, September 21, 2007

Jimmy Buffett - A Pirate Looks at Billions

Last night at Madison Square Garden, my brother and law and I felt like we were the only ones who did not drink the Kool-Aid. To tell the truth, it was Kool-Aid I could do without. During Brown Eyed Girl (which at one time was a cool cover of a Van Morrison tune, but has devolved into a dance party for guys dressed like lettuce) I looked up at the crowd, and there were 20,000 posers singing and dancing, and having the time of their lives. It was surreal.

Buffett churned out hit after hit, throwing in the occasional new material, but unfortunately, the new material isn't nearly as good as the material from what I call phase 2 of Buffett's career (1986-1996, aka Before the Billions). This period was grossly under represented in the set list (actually, I do not recall any songs from Last Mango through Fruitcakes). Look, obviously Buffett knows what he is doing, as his net worth continues to grow exponentially, and the guy dressed like a tomato was in a state of bliss. Still, I think Buffet has lost something, but that something is very intangible, and certainly beyond the vision of the guy dressed like a bottle of ketchup. Besides, we got to see some young sluts flashing their tits on the big screens! I guess glittering prizes and endless compromises do in fact shatter the illusion of integrity.

I first saw Jimmy Buffett in June of 1988. I do not recall any people dressed up as French fries, or any frat boys wearing grass skirts, or any middle aged house fraus wearing cheeseburger hats. It was just a good crowd of people, enjoying the music of a great story teller. In 1988, Buffett was touring for Hot Water (that is one of his better albums, despite the fact that they guy dressed as a pickle never heard Smart Woman in a Real Short Skirt) that summer, and his set list was a combination of his usual hits and some new material, with some lesser known songs mixed in.

As Archie and Edith would have said, "those were the days."

Today's Buffet crowd is a sub culture of yuppies, frat boys, sorority sluts, with a few old timers mixed in. Jimmy Buffett is the Gene Simmons of mainstream culture. This guy will sell anything. He even sells shrimp! Who is he Forrest Gump? I am just waiting for parrot head condoms, with wrappers that look like shark fins (the guy dressed as a cold draft beer would be the first in line for those).

Last night, our tickets were way up in the "blues", but we never got there. We decided to sneak down into the lower sections and wound up a few rows behind the mixing board. There were several empty seats in the area (I guess a bunch of Investment Bankers were called out of town - so there was one less guys dressed like a cheeseburger bun). I suppose that is the one good thing about pop culture's discovery of Jimmy, the corporate seats are empty sometimes.

I am sure I was the only one at MSG last night who looked at the stage, and thought, next time I am here I will be staring at pyramids and listening to the great Winston Churchill. We shall go on to the end….

Thursday, September 13, 2007

1995 - Rebellion is Here

1995 was probably the best metal year since 1990, with more variety that ever before. Some pretty good albums did not make the cut here (Psycho Motel - State of Mind and Blind Guardian - Imaginations from the Other Side immediately come to mind).

In any case, the sub genres are exploding, as black metal adds atmospheric black metal and death metal adds progressive death metal, etc.

To summarize, as Frank said, it was a very good year.

10. Motörhead - Sacrifice

This is not my favorite Motörhead record, and in my book it is a significant step below 1993's Bastards. They have not regressed down to March or Die, which was horrific, but a step down for sure. Despite this, there is some good riffage here, and some definite signature Motörhead moments.

9. Death - Symbolic

Symbolic is probably my favorite Death album, as there is the right blend of death metal and melodic passages. Schuldiner was a great musician, and always kept the music relevant and fresh.

8. In the Woods - Heart of the Ages

Basically, this is a black metal album, but definitely more like progressive or atmospheric black metal. There are many elements of traditional black metal here (the more annoying moments on the CD) but there are other elements and layers that make this a very interesting and enjoyable listen. Not really driving or hanging-out music, it is more appropriate to listen to when you are just listening to music.

7. Kamelot - Eternity

Oh that awful singer! This album would easily be in the top 2 or 3 if they had a better singer. This guy (I cannot recall his name, but he never got another singing job after Kamelot) is horrible. He is kind of like a poor man's John Patrick McDonald who is a poor man's Geoff Tate. Anyway, you get the picture. This album is full of cool riffs, melodies and solos and despite the singing is a real good debut album from a band who would eventually deliver big time.

6. Running Wild - Masquerade

The wheels are coming off just a little, and Rockin' Rolf's well of ideas may be running a tad dry. In any case Masquerade is a solid but not remarkable album from Running Wild. Really it is only a notch below their last couple. Good stuff.

5. Iron Maiden - The X Factor

I could write volumes on this record. Easily the most underrated album in Maiden's catalog, and probably one of the ten most underrated in metal history. Blaze Bayley is not a good singer, but on this album, a good singer is not necessary. The album is dark and brooding and is perfect for Bayley's voice. A very different approach for Maiden, and here it works quite well.

4. Opeth - Orchid

So it begins, the brilliant career of Opeth. In the early days, Opeth was reaching new heights with every release, and this was the beginning. Really a very good album, considering it is a debut, and while it does not have that perfect ebb and flow like subsequent releases, there are some terrific passages on this record. This album is not recommended for those new to Opeth, but only after one can appreciate their greatness.

3. Conception - In Your Multitude

Easily, this Conception's best to date. It is much more focused and powerful that the first two albums, yet still maintains all the hallmarks of great progressive metal. If you have not heard this band - start here. They were a great band.

2. Iced Earth - Burnt Offerings

Matt Barlow was the missing piece of the puzzle for Iced Earth. The band reaches new heights here, and their crowning achievement, the epic Dante's Inferno is featured on this record. That song alone puts Burnt Offerings in the top 10, but there are a few other stand out tracks here as well.

1. Gamma Ray - Land of the Free

I think most people would agree that Ralf Scheepers is a better singer than Kai Hansen. He is. However, for some reason dumping Scheepers was the best thing to ever happen to Gamma Ray. Land of the Free is a breakthrough album for this band, and for the next half decade, they were the gold standard for power metal. Infectious riffs and powerful melodies lead the charge as Gamma Ray takes it to the next level.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

1994 - For Mathis Lovers

The early 1990's were not a terrific period in metal, but by 1994, there was some light at the end of the tunnel. Quite honestly, my picks for 6-10 are only average albums, but because this was another bad year, they cracked the top 10.

For some sub-genres (Black Metal in particular) this was a decent year, but since I am not a BM fan, Burzum and Emperor, despite critically acclaimed releases in 1994 did not make my list.

10. Axel Rudi Pell - Between the Walls

Flying the banner of 80's metal well into the 90's, Axel Rudi Pell gave us a solid release here. Again, it is nothing all that memorable or different, but real solid nevertheless.

9. Stratovarius - Dreamspace

It is a good album. A lot of speedy stuff and some cool melodies. This was probably the high point for this group, as subsequent releases were too watered down, and not as heavy.

8. Amorphis - Tales From the Thousand Lakes

Kind of Progressive Death Metal-ish, I guess. This is a really cool album, but unlike Opeth, whose debut is still a year away, the songs here do not stay with you long after you listen to the album.

7. Mercyful Fate - Time

The second post reunion album. Not as good as In the Shadows, but better than subsequent releases. Mercyful Fate didn't jump the shark, they slowly climbed over it, and while this is still a good album, this is probably where they should have stopped.

6. Black Sabbath - Cross Purposes

This was really the last gasp for Sabbath. Geezer Butler returned and the result is a competent but not really brilliant post Dio era Sabbath record. A couple of really cool songs bring up the album as a whole which is sadly mostly filler.

5. Orphaned Land - Sahara

OK - here is where it gets good. The debut from Israel's Orphaned Land is a really good album. Even here you can tell they have not begun to realize their potential (they still have not, but I digress). This is a great band with some really cool ideas.

4. Running Wild - Black Hand Inn

This is another in a string of good albums by Running Wild, who were one of the only bands to consistently make sold metal records in the early 1990's. Black Hand Inn is perhaps a notch below Pile of Skulls, but still one of their best.

3. Fates Warning - Inside Out

This is my personal favorite Fates Warning album. It is consistent, with flashes of brilliance. They balance the progressive with the heavy, and keep it interesting and flowing.

2. Dream Theater - Awake

Awake was a big disappointment coming off of Images and Words, but still a really good album. I like it more now than I did when it first came out (mostly because my expectations were so high). Unfortunately, things would continue to decline for Dream Theater.

1. Stone Temple Pilots - Purple

This is really a cool album. Maybe a tad dated now as it reeks of the grunge era, but it is easily one of the best if not the best grunge album of all time. 12 Gracious Melodies. What else is there to say?