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2010 Song Reviews

Haley Cassidy and the Sunshine Rebels: The Fool (2010)

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The Fool

Prologue (The Fool, Part 1) B+

He starts the album off with a piano ballad, which is a bold move on his part! Usually artists have to start out with fast songs to get their audience pumped-up and then give us all these boring acoustic ballads. But not Cassidy Haley and the Sunshine Rebels! It's a BALLAD! The melody is decent, but he sings it using a muted, “soulful” singing style that I hear out of most American Idol contestants. It comes off as plastic to me. Nonetheless, the vocal melody is decent. The production was also done well although I'm not sure why it was necessary to litter it up with rain sound effects. It's probably a part of the “concept” I don't understand. Anyway, this is quite good.

Fly B

Another ballad? The GALL! Honestly I can't really tell this apart from the previous song except it's a bit longer, and I don't hear the rain sound effects. There is something likable about that melody, but his flamboyant, fill-heavy singing style seems to try to distract me from it. The instrumentation is rather classy. There's the usual strummy acoustic guitar, but I also hear a lonely violin noodling around and some cinematic-styling synth strings lending some added drama to the affair.

Spindle B+

NOT a ballad! Although listening to this start out, I think it would be. The first fifty seconds consist of some reverb-heavy sound effects and slow synthesizer chords. But then a subdued but fast-paced drum beat pops up, and Haley starts singing. He keeps the soulful fills to a minimum, I suppose because there's not much of that you can do in a fast-paced song. I do like that groove he constructed. The drums are finely textured and sound like they're made out of well-polished wood. (If you can, at all, picture what a percussion groove made out of well-polished wood might sound like... I can't dance about art, either.) Unlike the ballads, this is fun to listen to. I took this album with me on a walk yesterday, and I think it made me pick up the pace. The groove nor the melody is infectious at all, but certainly fun.

Whiskey in Churches A-

Before listening to this album, I was expecting it to be fantasy-themed, but listening to this song, I would think it was supposed to have been some sort of Western. (Oh wait... It took me embarrassingly long to get it... Butch Cassidy and the Sunshine Kid... Alrighty...). This is kind of a cool song although I'm not especially big on how it starts. We hear Haley singing “soulfully” while some bluesy electric guitar noodles in the background. But then a clappy groove pops up for the chorus, and with a lot of twang and a bit of camp in his voice, he repeats “Oh my god, my god, my god” throughout the chorus. I swear, that's the coolest this guy ever sounds. If he would have concentrated the whole album on that sort of singing, then I would have had to think of something else to write about in the second paragraph of this review.

Daylight Breaks B+

A nice ballad, and it might have been nicer if he wasn't trying to sound so fancy with his vocals. The melody is good, but not something that would get caught in my head. On a positive note, while the melody might not be great, he's able to capture some strong dramatic intensity, which carries me on for the ride. But the star of this show has to be the sweet acoustic guitar strumming and whichever kind soul is playing that noodly violin in the background, which seems to me more melodic than the actual lead vocals.

This Time C+

This is kinda where Cassidy's lack of memorable-hook-writing abilities starts to bite him in the ass. This isn't an acoustic, vaguely-convincing confessional number, it doesn't change its dramatic tensity at all from start to finish, and he also doesn't come up with a fun groove to tap your foot to as he did with “Whiskey in Churches” or “Spindle.” Rather, this is just an ordinary pattered-drum-loop/acoustic guitar number of the sort that we've heard and subsequently forgotten about from The Dave Matthews Band. Like DMB, it won't offend you if you want to play it in the background. Even when I pay close attention to it, I'm not particularly bored with it. That's about the best I can say for it.

Interlude (The Fool, Pt. 2)

I don't see the reason he brought this up again. It's basically the same thing with the rain sound effects, and the mildly interesting piano-ballad melody. It's only a minute long, so it's easy for me to pretend it doesn't exist.

Foolish Boy B-

The one thing I'm noticing Haley can do well when he puts his mind to it is song development. This song has a well-formed push from its quiet beginnings to a more dramatic conclusion, and all of it is able to hold my attention quite well. Particularly the drumming, which starts as militaristic, but gradually gets louder and more bombastic as the song progresses. It's unfortunate that the melody doesn't interest me whatsoever. It sounds like every generic thing I hear on the CCM radio (which is a step down from DMB)! So, this isn't likely going to be something I'll revisit.

Burn B-

It's about this point of the album when my attention-span starts to wander away, and I have to try to force myself to stick with it. Once again, there's nothing to report in the melody department. The development and instrumentation continues to be quite good, though. It starts with that slow, acoustic, “confessional” beginnings with some minimal contributions from jangly guitars, string instruments, and xylophones. After sounding nice for awhile, it starts to stagnate until its final half when a full-fledged drum beat comes in and picks everything up. A bit too little, too late, I say. Nonetheless, it's nicely done as a whole.

Ride the Night C

This is more on the lines of what I would expect to hear out of an American Idol album. Bland melody, technology-heavy synthesizers, processed vocals, rather cold and depressing atmosphere... Listening to it isn't terrible for the first minute or so, since it's a bit of a novelty to hear the heavy drum machines and dance groove after everything else, but I grow tired of it quickly after that. The good news about the processed vocals is that they aren't terribly obnoxious. It just sounds like the CD was skipping a lot.

Dying to Live B+

Well, this is a welcome change-of-pace. Here is a song that I can listen to and enjoy without trying to force myself, although I swear that melody sounds uncannily like a song that I hear played a lot in church. (Not that I want to sound heathenish, but I dislike most of the songs that I hear played at church.) But at least the melody is good, and that coupled with Haley's already established production abilities makes this one of the clear highlights of this album. It's mostly an upbeat song with some thunderous, danceable drums, and some nicely paced bass guitar. The star of this show, however, is that he backs it up at opportune moments with a boisterous and youthful choir. ...Honestly, I don't think you can go wrong with a boisterous and youthful choir.

Moon River B+

Yes, this is that song from Breakfast at Tiffany's. I love that song, so there is clearly something amiss with this cover version. This is probably the best place to hear how distracting his vocals are; he tries hard to come off as a fancy, soulful singer, and he does that by inserting some unnecessary filler notes that starts to obscure the melody. I do like the minimal instrumentation, though, which consists of a thoughtfully strummed acoustic guitar and a pretty violin.

Epilogue (The Journey Begins)

The journey begins, indeed. I'm reviewing a George Michael album after this. I tried listening to it once a couple of days ago, and I couldn't make it. ...But before that journey can commence, I must finish this one. This three-minute track is basically a sound-effects piece where we're treated to the sound of a babbling brook and a forest of tweeting birds. Midway through, Haley starts to hum to himself. That's all I have to report about this.

Michael Jackson: Michael (2010)

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Hold My Hand B

The title of this song comes with a message that it's a duet with Akon, an R&B singer that I never heard of before. If you listen to the first 20 seconds of the song, you'll hear someone sing “Akon and MJ” just in case you needed further confirmation. Akon's name looks a bit like “acorn.” Does he fear squirrels? Was he nuts about getting the opportunity to duet with Michael Jackson? (I've got more of these bad jokes. Maybe I should write some Akon reviews?) Anyway, I'm not terribly thrilled with the way this Zombie Michael Jackson album is starting. The mid-tempo beat is about as canned as it gets, and Akon's vocals are airy and emotionless. ...Maybe they started this album with an Akon duet was to show how passionate Michael Jackson's vocals sound in comparison? On the other hand, the hook isn't terribly bad, and I like that gradually builds up to end with a full-blown gospel choir before fading out nicely with a tender piano solo.

Hollywood Tonight B

The chorus isn't very good at all, a trite thing that I would expect a 12-year-old to come up with and be proud of and then come back to years later and see how much he or she has grown. ...But wow. For such a lame chorus, they dressed up the rest of the song nicely. It starts with some echoey, a cappella singing that's vaguely reminiscent of Gregorian chants, and the verses section is snappy with a nice toe-tapping bass-line. Jackson sings just as you think he would; with all those grunts and yelps and “woos” that he's somehow always able to come up with in such precision. The lyrics aren't terrible... it's a simple ditty about a woman going into Hollywood for the first time with big dreams...

Keep Your Head Up C+

I can't say I've been such a huge fan of Michael Jackson's sentimental ballads when he was alive and Zombie Michael Jackson is no exception. What I dislike most about this song is that unfortunately canned and lifeless. People have been using drum machines for ages, so why do people like littering their songs up with these limp sounds as opposed to something a little more enlivening? The melody isn't terrible, but like the previous song, it's not particularly memorable either. There is another build-up to a full-blown gospel choir by the end, which does end up helping it generate some badly needed steam.

(I Like) The Way You Love Me B+

This is a really good song, but with a botched production job. The melody is sweet, airy and laden with hooks. Perhaps they drag it out for about a minute too long, but that's just a nitpicky thing. It sounds like an old-school R&B ballad from the likes of Earth, Wind & Fire, and that's of course to his credit, because that band wrote some very nice ballads in their day. What I don't like about the production is (surprise, surprise) the canned drum machines. They're so limp and tinny. Blech. Someone please rid me of these drum machines!

Monster C

According to the song title there's “50 Cent” featured on this track. I bet 50 Cent is regretting his choice of stage name. If we assume a 3% inflation rate since he released his debut album in 2003, the value of that 50-cent piece would have been reduced to 39.5 cents. There's some food for thought. ...Anyway, MJ and 50 Cent collaborated to make this distinctly mediocre piece. It starts out with a scream, which makes me think for a moment that they were trying to recreate “Thriller,” but they end up just providing a boring, elephant-like groove while MJ half-raps an unmemorable verses section. The chorus is a little better, but it's still not memorable. 50 Cent starts rapping in the middle of this, and I'm wondering *why?* For some reason, he brings in these drum machines that sound like machine guns. Maybe if they were using machine gun sound effects, it would be one thing, but … yeesh. This production is horrible.

Best of Joy B+

According to Wikipedia, this one was written in 2009, which makes it one of the last songs he ever wrote since those little-rosy-cheeked-naked-boy angels from heaven came and took him away from us. This is another one of those R&B ballads that sounds like Earth, Wind & Fire could have written it in the late '70s. Unlike some reviewers, I don't mind it at all when “modern” pop bands write old-school songs. There's no school like the old school, I say. This song is a little bit off-putting to me at first, because I've been sick and tired of their tinny drum machines... but when I sit back and give it more of my undivided attention, I realize that I don't mind the drum machines that much here, and the pop hooks are pretty strong here. It had a ways to go to really make me love it, but it's still quite good.

Breaking News B+

As far as obnoxious production standards go, this is one of the more tolerable ones mostly because I'm distracted by the multiple strong pop hooks that Jackson strings together. (But seriously. TINNY DRUM MACHINES. Stop it!) I like the scaling synthesizer strings that opens it, and the central pop hook is pretty catchy... But more importantly, he takes it on a rather soaring middle-eight, which really captures my attention. ...Based on the merits of the melody, this would have been approaching A-territory, but the drum machines really ruin this one. (Also the lyrics are about MJ paranoid about the media, which … to be honest, I don't blame him for wanting to write songs about that... Who on earth was more media-hounded than Michael Jackson?)

(I Can't Make It) Another Day B+

This song features Lenny Kravitz, if we are to trust what's advertised on the back cover. It starts out a little pompous with some scaling synth-strings and a few hits from a timpani, but then *sigh* another tinny drum machine pipes up. I suppose it was Kravitz's influence that provided that gruffy guitar riff, which is pretty cool. ...Jackson really hits those high notes with this song! Heeee heeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!! There was some speculation that producers littered this album with samples that Jackson probably never intended to be added. That's gotta be one of them.

Behind the Mask A-

Alright, according to trusty old Wikipedia, this one dates all the way back to the Thriller era, and it shows... BECAUSE IT'S AWESOME. The producers weren't doing it any favors by adding in more of those disgusting tinny drum machines (Come on! Be true to the era and add in some REVERB!!!!!!). But it's not as bad as other songs from this album has been, and I'm left to appreciate Jackson's nicely passionate singing and his surprisingly strong pop hooks. The bass groove is pretty danceable, and I like hearing those robot voices come in at certain points. There are some nice harmony lines provided by some synthesizers hiding deeply in the background, and a saxophone is given the chance to noodle around a bit midway through. ...It's unfortunate that the producers had to lay down their turds all over these tracks, because this is a potential dance-pop masterpiece.

Much Too Soon B+

Did I say that I dislike most of Michael Jackson's ballads? ...This ballad also dates back to the Thriller era, which I guess is before he started getting all freaking goofy with his ballads. By far the best thing about this song is that it's the ONLY one here without any of those horrible drum machine sounds. So, by default, I can call this my favorite song of the album. On the other hand, as far as ballads go, this one's somewhat bland. Its melody isn't memorable at all, and I'm not too sure I appreciate those hefty, syrupy helpings of synth-strings the producers layered on it. But I almost don't even care at this point.

Johnny 5th Wheel & The Cowards: J5W (2010)

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Johnny 5th Wheel

O My Soul B+

Well, I won't say this is the most original song on the planet, but it is quirky. It's a lighthearted song featuring amateurish vocals and a bouncy accordion. I want to say it sounds a little like a drinking song, and he even has other members from the bar providing back-up vocals. It's nothing that would blow your mind, but it's good natured. Also, you can tell it's extremely low-budget, which adds to the charm in my book.

Brotherly Love A

This one actually gets a bit of a tense atmosphere together. This song's folky acoustic guitars and warm violins combined with the driving beat reminded me of the It's a Beautiful Day debut album, which of course is a great album. The vocals probably aren't great, but he does manage to sound dramatic as though he were singing in a Broadway musical, which of course is a nice touch. This is a good song, and I'd recommend you go out and listen to it on their MySpace page.

I've Got a Secret B

This song has an OK hook, but they seem to repeat it a bit too much. They also don't bring in any especially cool instruments for me to latch onto like they did in the previous two songs, which had the accordion and the violin respectively. I suppose this one has a trumpet, but it's not nearly as jewel-encrusted. What we're left with is a nice folk-pop ditty with a marching drum beat that doesn't seem to be as memorable as it ought to be.

Follow the Wheel (Part III) B-

Back to the music that reminds me of drinking songs! This one's a waltz played with an accordion and acoustic guitar, and the melody is sung with “la-la-lahs” in the background. The melody isn't too hooky, but it's very silly.

Phil Lewis: Movements in Space (2010)

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Movements in Space


This is a 30-second intro of quiet Planetarium style synthesizers...

Let's Play A-

Just a warning, you'll not find anything particularly original about this, but it's so catchy and fun that you probably won't care. The opening riff is catchy and bright, and the vocal melody is somewhat complicated and contains a hook at every turn. My only complaint is that this isn't extremely well orchestrated. Surely he could have done something more with that bass other than having it go boopy-boopy-boopy-boopy-boopy the whole time. That said, the spacey electric guitars he uses to glitter up the song are really cool.

Sad A-

This guy really knows how to write a pop song. It has a fun verses section, a soaring chorus, and a pleasantly diverting instrumental interlude! It's by the book for sure, but it's nice to hear things that are by the book sometimes. I wouldn't call this melody brilliant or anything—it seems a bit cheesy to me, frankly—but it's catchy and sweet. The huge, “Kashmir” style strings that come in at times are a nice touch, and he continues to use those really nice spacey guitars to help make this rather beautiful.

Just One Kiss A-

Another excellently strong pop song, this one sounding especially anthemic. Again, this isn't original or groundbreaking in the slightest bit, but it's so sweet and catchy that I have an impossible time listening to it without having a huge smile implanted on my face. That chorus is so soaring that it takes a bit of me along with it. ...And yet, it still comes off as cheesy to me as a whole. I can't decide if it's the melody or if its the somewhat plasticy instrumentation (consisting of fairly bland bass and drumming, standard string synths in the background, but some nice dreamy guitar licks).

Shine A

Ah, finally he's doing something with that bass. This is hardly the first time I heard the bass jump and skip about like that, but it lends the song a little extra personality apart from its already extremely catchy vocal melody. His chorus and verses sections are equally as catchy and bright, which doesn't happen nearly enough in pop-rock. This sounds like it could have been an adult contemporary hit from the '90s, and I would have liked hearing it on the radio. ...I know I mention the spacey guitar work in all these tracks, but they continue to be extremely good. This time, he uses more extended, fuzzy notes, screeching away deeply in the background with tons of reverb.

Sadness So Beautiful B

He's finally slowing down to deliver a ballad. It's sweet, but it never catches fire. The melody has some hooks in it, but not enough, and the instrumentation doesn't do a whole lot either, featuring a lightly grooving electric guitar and some space-age synthesizers deeply in the background. He must've known this was a bit boring, so he put in some hand claps at the end. It doesn't really work...

Burn Burn Burn B+

He's revving up the fuzz glam guitar for this one, and I like it! He's filtering his voice through some sort of reverb machine, and I like the effect it has. Where this song loses out (for me) is the riff seems awfully cheesy, and the chorus isn't too far behind. I can't be too sure why, but the cheesiness factor of his songwriting starts to catch up with me here...

It Never Stops B

Still bright, cheery and sunny like most of these songs have been, but I find the melody to be not quite as catchy as the others. That tight Cars-like riff is cute, but it's pretty dull. The instrumentation continues to be nothing special, although I like some of those spacey effects he put on his voice in part of this!

New Star B-

I like the chorus, but the song as a whole comes across as rather flat and lifeless. I might have thought that about the songs that opened the album, but many of them had this really effective anthemic quality. When he's just sitting back and singing a rather subtle folksy ballad, it's not quite as enjoyable to me. I will say that I like the strings and twinkly guitar at the beginning, and I sort of wish he kept that vibe going throughout this whole thing!

Now That the Lights Are Out B

Oh man... I'll have to repeat what I said at the end of the previous song review. Whenever he's not trying to write a soaring anthem, he comes across as rather average. Of course, he's still a good melody writer, and this is as bright and pleasant as all these songs have been. I enjoy listening to it. But the lite-pop-rock with a hint of bossa nova are just too standard and flat for it to really stick out at me... It's quite a shame he wasn't a little more imaginative in the instrumental department.

Dumb and Stupid B+

That rhythm section is almost so campy that it's good. The constant da-da-da-da-da-da bass and the clean boom-thunk-boom-thunk-boom-thunk drum beats is cute. At least the guitars turn in some nice tight licks, and his vocal melody is fun and bubbly. The middle-eight sections and the chorus are a bit awkward, though. He completely stops that regular rhythm and starts singing with power chords. The part with the xylophones doesn't work that well to me either. (At least there's xylophones, which is a nice change of pace as far as instrumentation has been in this album!)

One Step At a Time B

That busy, echoing drum machine is pretty nice and gives the song a little texture, which he includes some nice guitar tones in the background. The melody is interesting in spots, but somehow that aspect of the song just isn't taking off for me. Maybe something could have been done to make it flow better. This is an enjoyable song to listen to sort of casually, but as I'm studying it, it seems like there's something big missing. The fade-out at the end to some ambient noises was a nice touch!

Mr Haynes: Up After Dark (2010)

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Up After Dark

Wasted Mouth A

This song opens with some space-age synthesizers that helps give the song texture. It's a good texture, too, because usually these kinds of backdrops sound cold and boring to me, but he actually gives them a subtle rhythm and melody. (If you get a chance to listen to this album, pay attention to the background!) Of course, you'll also probably love the first listen of the song since it has a very catchy melody. He clearly knows how to structure a pop song. It has verses, a chorus, and a properly intertwined synthesizer soloing section. His soft and friendly singing voice might not be the greatest fit for this sort of song. However, I think we all know from Neil Tennant that it can work if you tinker around with the style. (I know nothing about singing... God knows, I have a terrible singing voice!) Nonetheless, it's a very nice voice, and it hits all the right notes. He has an excellent falsetto, which he only uses occasionally so as not to abuse it. I like the bouncy synth-bass groove, which keeps the song bouncy, and there's enough reverb on it so that it doesn't shatter my eardrums. (I'm especially grateful for that one... Man, I have to be very careful listening to unknown indie-pop bands with headphones on.) Anyway, this is a technically refined pop song, and an enjoyable one as well.

Waiting Here A

I watched a Curb Your Enthusiasm episode recently that reminded me of Al Green, and then I listened to this song that really reminds me of Al Green. As I said in the previous track review, Haynes has a nice falsetto voice, and he uses it a lot here. Also, this song uses an electric piano and that ultra-clean, mid-tempo drum machine gives me that head-bobbing, Al Green vibe. So, the mixing is perfect!!! But what about the melody? Once again, this is another home run. I liked it immediately the first time I heard it, and I like it just as much on this sixth or seventh listen. It's a good, flowing melody with plenty of nice hooks to soak up. Really well done. Highly enjoyable.

Life Looking At Screens B-

There's my life for you! Not only am I slated to start a career that will consist of me looking at a computer screen all day, but that's also what I do in my spare time. Browsing my friends' profiles on Facebook... ...Ugh, I'm rambling again. Anyway, this song doesn't quite seem to take off quite as well as the previous songs did. He's writing a slower, less drum-heavy song here, which is generally fine because I like ballads, but unfortunately I'm rather bored with this one. The textures are more monotonous and less involving (a thumpy drum with absolutely no fills, boringly strummed guitars, forgettable space-age background synthesizers). The vocal melody isn't too bad, and there's at least a decent hook in the chorus.

Brazil, 1970 B

Actually, I was planning on accusing the previous song of overstaying its welcome when I realized that I just wasn't noticing that track ending and going onto this one! They bleed into one another seamlessly, and there's not really any stylistic changes. This does mark an improvement, however. I hear a guitar riff I like hearing, and there's a little bit of a tension build-up in the middle of the song, which piques my interest. The final third is OK, but it doesn't really go anywhere.

Please Be Happy B-

Easier said than done, mon frere. (Why can't those uppity French people just speak English like the rest of us? And don't get me started with those French-Canadians who pretend they don't understand English, but really they do. Those highfaluting, Frog-wannabes aren't fooling anyone.) Anyway, this is a slow, atmospheric ballad. It's really difficult to write these songs and make them interesting, and I'm not sure Mr Haynes completely succeeded in that regard. (I suppose “Twenty-First Century Man” by ELO is about the best these sorts of songs can ever get.) But this one is just a bit slow for my taste. Fortunately, the vocal melody is engaging enough to keep me from nodding off, and the delicate and hypnotic textures I hear going in and out of my speakers are also very well-done.

White Shirt, Pencil Skirt B+

Once again, I don't notice that the previous song ended and a new one had begun. He's doing a bit of a Sgt. Pepper thing, I guess. This one has a drum beat, which definitely helps matters for me, since drum beats always help me like a song. The clapping rhythm was also a nice touch that helps keep it bubbly. The space-age synth-scape he creates is OK, but I'm not sure I like it so much when it starts to flood the whole song out. The vocal melody is fun to listen to, but not quite as memorable as some of the previous songs. All in all, quite good, but not that memorable.

Someday B+

It's probably worth noting that I think this song marks a slight improvement to the previous one, but that monotonous drum rhythm is a real distraction. Why not let it evolve? (Easy for me to say, as a lowly critic, right???) The drums do actually change by the final third, but by then it seems like it was a bit too late. Other than that, this is a good song. Maybe you'd call it a power ballad? He keeps the sci-fi synthesizers going (which do come off as a bit plain but certainly less washed over than they sounded in the previous song). The melody catches a few hooks, and Haynes sings it as though he's singing it to the sky. All in all, an enjoyable effort.

If All Fails Tonight B

I'm not big on the first minute of this song, which contains some of those washy space-age synthesizers. About the only thing that happens is that there's a gradual introduction of a pulsating bass guitar. Once Haynes starts singing, it picks up some steam. Things start to get busier. A tambourine comes in at the two-minute mark, and a full-on drum beat pipes up twenty seconds later. I like the build-up even though it's quite slow. The vocal melody is OK, but seems to play second fiddle to the atmosphere. I usually think that's a mistake (and one reason I have trouble getting into Radiohead), but it's at least decent here. (Really, if you're going to go this route, I think the textures should be way more involving. Difficult to do, yes, but necessary if you want people to notice you!)

The City That I Know B+

Speaking of textures, I like that steel drum thing he does here! It reminds me of The Delays' first album, which is a wonderful creation, so that's cool. Haynes also seems to know how to program an album. I can tell this is near the end of the album. It has a “conclusive” aura to it. I like his vocal melody even though it gets drowned out a bit by the synthesizers. Again, the concentration here is on the atmosphere and not so much the vocal melody, but the melody has a few good hooks in it. There's an odd record scratch in the middle and the texture completely changes, which completely interrupted the flow. I suppose that's the point of a record scratching sound-effect, but I suppose I'm not a huge fan of using that as a transition marker. (Honestly, one of the reasons I've started to feel more and more awful about reviewing music made by people who will probably read the review is because I feel awfully presumptuous criticizing music that I don't think I can actually improve upon. I give this song a B+, and I have no idea how to improve it!)

Wake-Up Call A-

This song has a good-times, feel-good vibe to it, which ought to be trademark for the ends of all albums. The upbeat drums are back, and so are the happy melodies. The bass-line at the beginning is involving and sort of fun. There are some lively pop-song back-up singers, which helps the texture. The spacey background synthesizers create a more involving texture than they had in previous songs. Unfortunately, it's not the sort of song that sticks with me after it fades out, but it's fun to listen to.

OK Go: Of the Blue Colour of the Sky (2010)

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Of the Blue Colour of the Sky

Wtf? A

How are you supposed to pronounce that? Wtf. Wtf. Wtf. It sounds Yiddish when I try to pronounce that. Anyway, this is a fun, catchy little pop song I'm sure the hipsters would like. In fact, I like it, but I'm not a hipster. How does that work? This has a catchy synth-bass groove, a little bit of funk-riddled guitar, and a memorable melody sung in an amusingly squeaky falsetto voice. It's bubbly rhythm involving handclaps makes it even more fun. It's pretty clear to me OK Go never wanted to be anything other than a fun pop band. Given that, I think they achieve something a little *more* than that through the course of this album. But the fun-factor is at their forefront, and I say that's cool. We need more fun bands.

This Too Shall Pass B+

They're bringing out the power for this one, but not the fast-paced maniacal energy of their previous albums. Ah, who wants high energy songs? I like the loud, glorious feeling projected by those drums and keyboards. Midway through they start to sing a completely different song, which is more quieter and pretty hooky. I would call this a masterpiece or anything. It probably could have used more cohesion. But it's a fun listen.

All is Not Lost A-

Now this is some catchy music. The mid-tempo riff is pretty simple, but they provide mesmerizing texture with that pulsating rhythm. The main vocal melody, while not something I'd imagine you'll ever find yourself whistling under your breath in the middle of the day, is hooky enough to make it a lot of fun to listen to. Like the previous song, I can't say this is a masterpiece, but I enjoy it well enough.

Needing/Getting B

Lacking a little bit of the melodic invention and/or the fun-factor that these guys have been well-known to produce pretty frequently. Nonetheless, I like this song as well with some feedback-riddled guitars in the chorus and more of that deep synthesizer keeping the groove. My complaint about this one is it seems awfully empty at the end... Like they ran out of ideas for it and just made the drummer keep on with the beat for a few extra seconds.

Skyscrapers A

Alright! A lot of reviews I read of this album were from critics who didn't particularly care for OK Go's move away from their high-energy mayhem and onto more quiet, subtler music. If they keep on coming out with songs like this, I don't mind this move at all. This song opens with a creepy, mid-tempo bass-line that isn't necessary catchy but it's fun to hear it booping around down there in a cute, friendly manner. The singing is in such a falsetto voice that it's almost out of his range, but magically it comes off as rather soulful to me instead of annoying.

White Knuckles A

I want somebody else to listen to this album and tell me that the midsection of this album isn't juicy as hell. This is a louder, flashier power-pop song with a very catchy melody and a hell of a lot of fun to listen to. But there's a certain, darker undercurrent to it that makes it seem a little bit deeper, perhaps edgier. At any rate, this is really good. You'll like it. I think.

I Want You So Bad I Can't Breathe A

I'm not kidding. The middle of this album is really good. I wrote the opening paragraph before I started these track reviews, and I was getting a little bit worried that I had somehow overrated it. But after 10 listens? Nah, I like to think I can process an album after 10 listens. This is another mid-tempo song, this time with a subdued disco bass and more of that rather soulful falsetto singing. In the '80s a song like this would have been hazy and drugged up, but this one's much more plain and yet it manages to transmit its emotion. Plus, the melody is hella catchy.

End Love A+

I found my first favorite song of the 2010s! And it's such an '80s throwback that it for some reason reminds me of that song Hugh Grant sung in Music & Lyrics. The main reason I like this is the melody and the upbeat rhythm, but there's a certain post-modern bitterness that seems to resonate with me. This seems like an upbeat synth-pop song, but you listen to it and it's pretty clear it's not happy. Quite good! This is much different than OK Go's earlier albums and it's for the better. ...I can listen to this song forever. I must've played it five times in the process of writing this track review.

Before the Earth Was Round A+

I do a lot of complaining about vocoders (or maybe the more precise term for these are “autotuners”) in some of my other reviews for sounding so stupid and fake. But these guys almost overuse it in a way that gives the vocoder a different light. The voice sounds so processed that it's like a computer singing to you. Ah, but even if the vocoder itself bothered me, I would have liked this song anyway because of ANOTHER very infectious melody and that rather hypnotic mid-tempo groove they come up with. Once again, this is really good.

Last Leaf B+

OK Go go acoustic! (Why did they have to pick such an awkward band name?) This is a two minute folk song. It has a nice melody (I like that hook they come up with whenever he sings “Foreeeeeeeever!”) and seems earnestly sung but I find it a tad empty. Certainly folk is not their forte, especially since they're so good at the power-pop and '80s synth-pop throwbacks, but this is pleasant and doesn't take a whole lot of your time.

Back From Katmandu A

This sounds like a post Clouds Taste Metallic Flaming Lips song except it's orchestrated pretty sparsely. But it still has that big atmosphere, and a very memorable melody. So who's to say this isn't a great song despite not having The Lips' instrumental ingenuity? It's well-produced for sure, at least, and it captures my attention as I'm listening to it. I also approve of this sounding like the Flaming Lips, because it helps freshen up this album's diversity!

While You Were Asleep A

You know, all the great artistic bands of this day surely would have given a spaced-out song like this a little more of a thicker synthscape treatment, but OK Go seem pretty well content with a simple scaling synthesizer pattern and reverb on the vocals. The skysearching vocal melody is catchy and sweet, anyway, and the drums continue to sound crunchy and helps make what could have been a boring ballad into something with a little more zip. I have to mention that I like those atmospheric tubular bells in the middle, and that kind of drum-heavy haunted house thing they do in its final minute. That's extra credit.

In the Glass A

Well if you weren't convinced yet that OK Go wanted to be a more serious band, here's the ultimate proof: a six minute epic closer with BIG drums BIG bass BIG keyboards. Some of those heavy, swoopy Mellotrons make me think I'm being dive-bombed by airplanes. It's easy on the ears of course just like everything is here and there are hooks in the melody. Maybe it gets a little too dead in the middle, but that's just a minor complaint and doesn't last too long, because they build it back up layering sound after sound as they keep on repeating that chorus. ...Not too shabby!

Ringo Starr: Y Not (2010)

Read the full review:
Y Not

Fill in the Blanks A-

Well, what did you expect? This is a an extremely cutely pub-rock tune featuring one of the world's most overused riffs. Nobody ever accused Ringo of being inventive, I guess. You'll hear these gruff guitar sounds amidst an an extremely polished bass guitar groove and some stiffly played keyboards in a high register. The gruff guitars, supplied by Joe Walsh, are quite fantastic, actually, and the stiffness of the keyboards and bass surprisingly come off as interesting. The vocal melody is boring, but I can say that about 99.8% of pub-rockers. Ringo's vocals still sound like Ringo! That's not bad considering how ancient he is.

Peace Dream B-

Ah poor Ringo... I bet he sat up in the '70s hoping that he would eventually live to see world peace, but now he's old enough to die, and I'm afraid that day will never come. I, on the other hand, am dead determined to live long enough to start seeing Star Trek come true. According to First Contact, we will have warp speed and meet the Vulcans when I'm Ringo's age. ...Back on topic, Ringo wrote this pleasant mid-tempo ballad with Gary Wright (the “Dreamweaver” guy). It's a cute little toe-tapper and won't do you any harm, but the melody is quite dull. (Oh Paul McCartney plays the bass! Just like the good old days!)

The Other Side of Liverpool B

This is another mid-tempo song that's like the ordinary sort of song you'd probably enjoy hearing a pub-rock band play for awhile, but you'd completely forget it the moment it's done. The drums are loud and crunchy, the guitars are well-played and fun, there's an electric organ noodling in the background. It's very standard. I just wish Ringo could come up with a livelier melody. (This was co-written with Eurythmics' Dave Stewart! ...Hm, there's not enough Dave Stewartness in this, methinks...)

Walk With You B

I'm wondering how redundant of me it is to describe Ringo Starr songs as “pleasant.” I guess this ballad is especially pleasant and features an alright but forgettable melody. If you hear this, and you're not intent on hating a Ringo Starr album, you'll probably like it. But will you remember it after it's done playing? It's possible, but it's having a hard time getting under my skin. The most interesting thing about this song is it's co-written with Van Dyke Parks, and he's doing a duet with Paul McCartney!

Time C

Bleeeeeeeeech... I can't say this song (also co-written with Dave Stewart) is technically worse than these others, but it's pretty clear the lukewarm feeling of these songs are starting to get the better of me. There's only so much unmemorable mid-tempo rock 'n' roll that I can handle in one sitting, you know? ...But even after relistening to the other songs, it's pretty clear to me that this one's quite a bit more tepid. Even the somewhat jazzy piano solo at the end has me bored.

Everyone Wins B+

Well here's something that's pretty decent! According to the all-knowing Wikipedia, this is a rerecording of a B-side dating from 1992 (when he released Time Takes Time), and it's quite a lot of fun to listen to. The hooks are solid this time, and the orchestration is dense and well done in spite of the drum machines! (Drum machines in a Ringo song???? Surely I jest... And do I detect a vocoder??? Oh, no...) It's hardly a masterpiece, but let's give our little friend Ringo a pat on the head for this one.

Mystery of the Night B-

This is not such a terrible power ballad co-written with long-lost Marx brother, Richard Marx. (Apparently he had a bunch of hits in the '80s and '90s...... I've never heard of him. He had a mullet.) The melody is a little stale, but it's kind of a fun listen. Come to think of it, it does sound an awful lot like a late '80s/early '90s adult contemporary ballad. Mmmkay.

Can't Do No Wrong B+

This country-fried bar-rocker was co-written with Gary Burr who played Radar on M*A*S*H. It's fairly ordinary and forgettable for the genre, but Ringo always sounded fun singing songs that have a little swing and swagger to them, and I also like that light Vegasy horn section he put in here.

Y Not C-

WHAT IS WITH THOSE ROBOTIC VOCAL EFFECTS? ...Grrr, Ringo. We don't want this old man succumbing to the standards of Madonna's American Life, do we? Granted, his use of these vocoder effects isn't nearly as annoying as all that, but I still find it to be irritating and completely useless. This songwriting is pretty childish, too. But that just means it's typical Ringo. Although I'm wagering that this is even more irritating than usual.

Who's Your Daddy B

...or granddaddy. Here is old man Ringo performing a duet with Joss Stone. I'm in no way a fan of Joss Stone, so her guest appearance means next to nothing to me. But I'd imagine her actual fans would be upset to hear Ringo's karaoke partytime style vocals coming in all the time singing “Who's Your Daddy?” as Stone is trying to do all that frilly soul singing. ...But anyway, this pub-rocker is fun and it gets a tapping beat.

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All reviews are written by Michael Lawrence.