Tony Bennett, For the News Tribune
There was a time when Beck Hansen seemed like he could be all things to all people, all at once. Back when Kurt Cobain still walked the earth, when grunge was king, suddenly this weird dude showed up with some kind of blues-rap song called "Loser," and it was huge. At the time, it appeared that an enjoyable one-hit wonder had arrived. Closer inspection of the album the song was taken from ("Mellow Gold") revealed Beck had a much more diverse skill-set than his radio song would have indicated. And his bizarro Indie-label albums from the era showed that even further.
When it comes to country music, authenticity is a valued trait. It's the thing that separates the real deals from the wannabes. Call it what you want: legitimacy, credibility, what have you — it's that x-factor that can take a simple song about heartbreak or struggle and imbue it with a richness that can't be bought.
If you're aware of them at all, you probably know them as the group from the '70s with the weird guy with the Hitler mustache. And now you know why Sparks never became a hugely popular band. Although, it's quite interesting that they were able to become as beloved as they are. Indeed, the cult of Sparks is one that boasts global membership, and it's existed for nearly 50 years. Half a century. That's a long time to be under the radar.
This isn't a popular opinion, but if there's anything Queens of the Stone Age has been since their self-titled debut, it's frustrating. With the exception of their singular "Songs for the Deaf" LP — which was powered by Dave Grohl putting in his best drum performance since he played in some little-known trio called Nirvana or something — the band has put out work varying from straight killer to straight filler, with the latter category being comprised of far too many of the band's cuts.
These guys just shouldn't be this good at this age. Yet here Motorpsycho is, the key two members in their late 40s, laying out another of their yearly platters full of mind-blow. Their latest is a double-album called "The Tower." You might be tempted to take this album's length as some sort of big statement, but these guys put out supersized records on the regular. They're just that productive.
The reason people were mad that LCD Soundsystem reunited is not because they were annoyed they came back to life, but because they had died a perfect death. When the group — led by auteur James Murphy — put their band to rest in 2011 with a huge, emotional Madison Square Garden show followed by a live album and a documentary film, it seemed as if Murphy had ended things perfectly, before the rot set in. No bad albums, no missteps. Just a perfectly formed track record, captured at its grandest moment for all to see in perpetuity.
It's not often you wanna write an album review that exalts the greatness of one song, but Rick McLean's "$1 Million Country Song" (from his new album "Here's Another Fine Mess") is inspirational in that way. More on this in a second.
Banjo time, kiddies.
To most people, experimental abstract drone music (or whatever you want to call it) sounds like someone turned on a vacuum cleaner, recorded it and put that on an album. To others, it sounds highly emotional, rich and transportive in ways that traditional music with rhythm and melody cannot be. And, really, neither camp is wrong. Both are sort of true.