CD reviews: Pet Shop Boys, David Lynch, Harry Nilsson
Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Pet Shop Boys
As the 1990s dawned and music listeners were eager to move on to new sounds and styles, hair metal wasn’t the only musical genre to take a hit as grunge and hip-hop rose to prominence.
The synthesizer-heavy style of electronic dance music (EDM) was, for the most part, labeled dated by the hipsters of that era.
A few acts managed to weather the drought, but the ’90s were a tough time to be an EDM act.
One EDM act that made it was Pet Shop Boys.
Indeed, the duo of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe scored a hit with the 1993 release “Very,” which sold 5 million copies. Keep in mind that was right in the thick of the grunge rock movement.
Tennant and Lowe have not slowed down since then. The duo that first scored with the ’80s single “West End Girls” has released its 12th studio album, “Electric.”
In trademark Pet Shop Boys style, the album is filled with upbeat, synth-leaden melodies punctuated by Tennant’s oh-so-proper British accent.
The passage of time hasn’t really made it necessary for Pet Shop Boys to alter its sound much, so while the album does contain a certain amount of ’80s flashback potential, it also sounds as fresh and futuristic as one would expect an EDM album to sound.
Standout tracks include “Axis,” a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “The Last to Die” and the ultra-catchy melody of “Love is a Bourgeois Construct,” which would have felt right at home on “Very.”
While not every track on “Electric” is a winner, Pet Shop Boys has once again delivered an exciting, danceable EDM record that can stand up to anything that younger acts like Daft Punk can come up with.
It’s nice to know that, in a business where some artists will change their sound to sell more records, some acts still do things the way they always have.
Key Tracks: “Axis,” “The Last to Die,” “Love is a Bourgeois Construct”
The Big Dream/Sacred Bones
There have been plenty of musicians that have jumped mediums to direct a film or two, but rarely do you hear about a film director recording a music album.
David Lynch isn’t your normal, everyday filmmaker, though.
The genius behind films such as “Eraserhead” and “Wild at Heart” and TV projects like “Twin Peaks,” Lynch does things his own weird way.
Music has always figured heavily into Lynch’s film projects, whether it was naming a film after the Bobby Vinton hit “Blue Velvet” or getting Nine Inch Nails, Smashing Pumpkins and David Bowie to contribute songs to the soundtrack of his film “Lost Highway.”
“The Big Dream” isn’t Lynch’s first full-length album release. In 2011 he released “Crazy Clown Time,” which, like Lynch’s films, refused to follow the normal rules of contemporary music making.
“The Big Dream” comes off equally as weird, which isn’t to say that it isn’t listenable.
Truth be told, Lynch is a much better filmmaker than a singer, but he deserves recognition for assembling a weird, sometimes disjointed collection of music that drifts between blues rock and industrial.
Lynch handles the vocals, and while his voice isn’t going to threaten the livelihood of any professional singer out there, he can definitely carry a tune.
Standout songs such as the album’s title track, “Cold Wind Blowin’,” “Are You Sure” and a surprisingly good cover of Bob Dylan’s “The Ballad of Hollis Brown” are veiled in a mix of distortion and echo effects that throw the listener a bit off balance.
Listening to this album leaves one with the same feelings one might experience after viewing one of Lynch’s more mind-bending films.
For fans of Lynch’s well-known sense of weirdness, that just might be this album’s biggest selling point.
Key Tracks: “The Big Dream,” “The Ballad of Hollis Brown,” “Are You Sure”
The RCA Albums Collection/Sony Legacy
If all you know of singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson are a few of his bigger hits such as “Coconut,” “Without You” and “Everybody’s Talkin’,” then you really don’t know Harry Nilsson.
The Brooklyn, N.Y.-born artist was a ridiculously gifted composer, and from the mid-’60s to the early ’80s, Nilsson composed a staggering amount of great material that he either recorded himself or sold to other artists.
Now, almost two decades after his death, Sony/Legacy has released “The RCA Albums Collection,” which collects 14 of Nilsson’s best albums, including “Pandemonium Shadow Show,” “Harry,” “Nilsson Schmilsson” and “A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night.”
Especially notable is the inclusion of “The Point!,” a children’s fable written by Nilsson in the late ’60s that is absolute genius in its simple moral.
For Nilsson fans who might already own all of the studio albums, it should be noted that the boxed set also includes a trio of bonus discs. The first CD, titled “Nilsson Sessions 1967-1968,” features studio outtakes that include demos recorded for The Monkees, as well as covers of songs by The Coasters and Procol Harum. CD No. 2, “Nilsson Sessions 1968-1971,” features more studio rarities and outtakes from those years, including a dozen unreleased tracks. The third CD covers the years between 1971 and 1974, and features still more outtakes, demos and alternate takes of songs.
In all, the bonus discs give Nilsson fans a total of 58 rare or unreleased Nilsson recordings, which would be enough for a boxed set of their own. Add those to the 65 bonus tracks included on the studio albums, 26 of which are previously unreleased, and you start to get an idea of how jam packed this set is and why Nilsson fans will be salivating over it.
Key Tracks: All three “Nilsson Sessions” bonus discs
By Devin Grant