Paradise: Hiding In Plain Sight

paradise

Deluxe albums are weird, man.

Bonus tracks are weird, man.

Wait, lemme back up: it isn’t that bonus tracks are weird. Many albums offer demo versions, acoustic versions or live versions of popular cuts on remastered and deluxe editions of albums. That’s not weird — that’s to prevent depreciation.

Because albums are one of the few luxuries which rarely go down in price unless they were on sale. The regular price is usually $9.99, no questions asked. So when a deluxe edition is offered for $2 to $3 more, my eyes squint.

“What’s in the fine print?”, “What’s so deluxe about this version?” and “Am I really getting my money’s worth?” are all questions that come forth, but only one really vexes to the point of dissatisfaction:

“Why would they add more studio tracks as a bonus?”

Seriously though, Led Zeppelin didn’t add “Houses of the Holy” to Houses of the Holy because they didn’t feel it fit thematically. And they stuck with that decision despite my vehement disagreement. They didn’t offer it as a deluxe edition bonus track. It was either on the album or it wasn’t.

(Side tangent: if you’ve ever listened to the album Houses, you would know that the track “Houses” would’ve done more then fine on that album. But that’s a rant for another day, oy vey.)

So when I bought pop-indie duo Slow Club’s second outing, Paradise, in it’s all deluxuriousness, only one question came forth:

“What the fuck?”

It wasn’t live, it wasn’t acoustic, it wasn’t a remix. The eponymous “Paradise” was a bonus studio track.

Again, I had to stand back, scratch my head and ask: “what the fuck?” because much like “Houses,” the track “Paradise” not only felt thematically relevant, but it’s one of the best fucking tracks on the album. If anything they could’ve swapped out some of the less effective “regular” tracks for the two bonus studio gems.

From there, I thought nothing more of it: the deluxe edition was excellent, and spoiler alert, I recommend this album. Until I started listening again.

I got angry: “Why would a band do this? Are they just insane?”

Well, let’s just say, it takes me a while for things to sink in. I looked up the regular version of the album. The bonus tracks weren’t there as I expected. But then I noticed that the run of time of Horses Jumping was about 4-5 minutes too long.

“Paradise” was those precious extra minutes. And if anything, it made me savor the duo’s quirky awkwardness just that little bit more because this album is all about revealing some secrets while keeping others.

Let’s Begin.

Daniel Radcliffe is the only reason why I even bothered to give a damn about Slow Club in the first place. Honestly.

It was 2012, the second half of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows had been on DVD for a good amount of time and Daniel Radcliffe was looking for his next little project. Enter Slow Club and their single “Beginners,” straight outta Paradise.

The guitar was raw, the rhythm astonished me, the percussion played my ribs like a xylophone and then the vocals rang out like the cries of a ghost.

And suddenly, it wasn’t about Radcliffe anymore.

Rebecca Taylor’s vocal power is quite frankly, impressive. It’s not overwhelmingly emotional à la Adele or speaker-splitting à la Florence Welch. It’s haunting, it’s remorseful and, at times, it’s pissed. But most importantly, it’s raw.

More importantly, even if Slow Club doesn’t necessarily have the singer-songwriter type production, they definitely borrowed the lyrics:

And in a moment it all came to this

The greatest book you ever read came from my favorites list

Of all the things to lose,

It’s you I choose.

So not only does the music hit like truck, not only does Taylor’s voice ring like a bell but the lyrics too, punch with some weight. And this isn’t limited to this here single.

The album is chock full of good, solid songwriting, top-to-bottom:

“Two Cousins,” the album starter, features a piano riff replete with remorse in every note struck. Each note just echoes like cold cries for a warm face, asking for somebody, anybody, who can relate. Paired with Taylor’s voice, it’s a bloody fantastic opener which showcases exactly what to expect in Paradise.

“Never Look Back” takes hints of soul and slow dance and mashes them together with indie sound quality and lyrics about loving a dead baby brother. Message aside, that’s a pretty effective method to show they’re no longer just a twee pop duo.

“You, Earth or Ash” is Taylor’s confessional — not that such is what makes it special, every song on this album needs a priest. No, what this makes this track special is Taylor’s slow build in vocal power, paired with a light melody, a bass track, a clap beat and an even lighter kick-drum.

There’s never been a cloud in the sky for you

Without this what will I do?

And I know soon you’ll go and I’ll pass you, earth or ash

One way or another, Taylor’s going to get over the man who broke her heart with a quiet choir at her back and that haunting voice echoing through the chamber hall.

But it’s “Horses Jumping” which takes the cake in sounding the most singer-songwritery about of this album. Watson takes the lead vocal roles here, and despite not being quite on Taylor’s level, he does a solid job making a true companion piece to “You, Earth or Ash.”

Really, those two tracks should be played back to back. In terms of “That’s 70’s Show” (which I have been shamelessly binge-watching), “Horses Jumping” is Eric’s song where “You, Earth or Ash” is Donna’s song.

Both are trying to deal with a breakup. Both think that the other is doing just fine. But by the time the two songs and the album is over, the facade is fractured. Both are damaged and need time for self-repair.

Super Bonus Section.

Eventually, the bonus tracks would appear.

And really, almost all of them are good and one is… ugh.

Yes, I’m talking about the Malcolm Middleton and Adrian Moffat cover of “Two Cousins.” I dislike the singing style, so I usually actually eschew beliefs of completing albums and strike that one right off the queue every time I listen to Paradise.

Whether the composition is good doesn’t negate the fact that it makes me feel like blegh every time I listen. At the very least, it’s equalized by the addictively quieter acoustic version of “Two Cousins.”

However, two bonus tracks could qualify as favourite song on the album, if not best.

“Paradise” takes the albums theme and drives it home. Despite all the pain that Slow Club expresses over relationship fallout, the duo still just want to be back with the one they loved before shit hit the fan.

Meanwhile, “Half Drunk” is the bar crawling, one night stand single. Sometimes relationships shouldn’t develop past one night. And featuring what sounds like glockenspiels and xylophones, Taylor and Watson combine to perform one hell of a duet that won’t last through the morning.

Summary (Super Deluxe Bonus Section).

I’ll sum up this in album in four words: it’s a breakout album.

It takes the previously happy and twee image of life they produced in So What, and smashes it to bits in the wake of someone else smashing Taylor’s and Watson’s hearts to bits. Listen to this album for some strength after breaking up. Chances are, both you and your ex are going to be pretty miserable and this album will let you indulge in that misery.

As far as the music goes, it’s competent and it’s good. Perhaps it doesn’t quite complete the concept or develop the story — there’s no specific moments where either Taylor or Watson make the “It’ll be better soon” epiphany.

But the misery is just as much a part of the process as getting over it. So if Slow Club wants to indulge, it’s probably for the best to let them, otherwise some of these great tracks would not be on the album.

And if you want to indulge, I suggest the Deluxe Edition for some extra medicine. However, the regular edition will try to soothe your aching heart just as much.

Producer(s): Luke Smith

Track Listing:

  1. “Two Cousins” (Great opener)
  2. “If We’re Still Alive”
  3. “Never Look Back” (Theme heavy)
  4. “Where I’m Waking”
  5. “Hackney Marsh”
  6. “Beginners” (Music video highly recommended)
  7. “You, Earth or Ash” (Taylor’s time to shine)
  8. “Gold Mountain”
  9. “The Dog”
  10. “Horses Jumping” (Watson’s time to shine)
  11. “Paradise” (Fantastic closer; bonus content begins afterwards)
  12. “Half-Drunk” (Personal favourite)
  13. “Palms”
  14. “Two Cousins (Acoustic Version)”
  15. “Never Look Back (Acoustic Version)”
  16. “Two Cousins (Malcolm Middleton & Aidan Moffatt 1999 Version)”

Notes: “Horses Jumping” and “Paradise” are squished together on the regular edition; everything past “Paradise” is deluxe edition content.

 

 

Songs About Jane: Sex, Drugs and Pop n’ Roll Circa 2002

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“Hey, Lucas.”

“What?”

“I’m trying to choose between reviewing Rod Stewart or Maroon 5, which d’you think I should go for first?”

“I mean, which album by Maroon 5 are you reviewing?”

“The only one that mattered.”

The only album that mattered.

No, seriously. I’ve heard It Won’t Be Soon Before Long, Hands All Over, Overexposed and parts of V. I acknowledge their existence. None of them will matter like Songs About Jane mattered.

Before we even discuss whether or not this album is good, shit or a little bit of both, we have to acknowledge that it is probably the most ubiquitous listening experience to any young adult with ears between 2002 to 2004.

This was before Adam Levine had a fashion line, a show or an ego. This was before Kanye redefined rap, before people thought Christina Aguilerra was an artist and before Rihanna needed that damn umbrella. So listening to this album after seeing just how far this band has come since is a bit of a time trip.

Maroon 5 have not lived this album down and as the future goes on, I don’t know if they ever will. I may sound dire, but seriously, it’s one hell of an album. Between screwing and getting screwed, the band frequently mixes the two with some of the slickest songwriting this side of the millennium.

From “Harder to Breath” to “Sweetest Goodbye” this album is like the sexiest greasy-haired car salesman between my ears. Each track he’s selling me a different broken car for four times the price.

And I would be lyin’ if I said I wasn’t buyin’.

The track listing may sound similar in substance and style, but they don’t fall into Mumforditis: a damning flaw of sameness and routine. Nah, this album knows the difference between coherence and sameness. Thus, Songs About Jane will rock your world in all the different ways that Jane rocked Maroon 5’s.

This band fucks.

Sorry, not sorry.

That’s exactly what this album is for: fucking. Whether for romance or therapy, this, along with Let’s Get It On, is an album made for the creaking bed, the rocking van and wherever the hell else people want to get freaky with it.

This album knows what any 25 year-old likes. It knows they like to be romantic, risqué, raunchy and wrathful. It can be a killer during “This Love” and kinky during “Shiver”. It will ooze sweat during “Harder to Breathe” and then play under the covers during “Sunday Morning.”

The latter in particular is the real highlight of the album, solidifying the band’s erstwhile funky, hip-hop pop-rock style into 4 minutes and 5 seconds of rising intensity.

Play “Sunday Morning” and not a soul would ever want to leave that bed. From the kick drum strokes, to the throbbing piano riff and all the way through the fading cymbal clashes, the track is like a low heat brand, slowly burning the image of tossed sheets and slow heartbeats right into the memory of the listener.

The lyrical picture is just so sweet:

“Fingers trace your every outline/ Paint a picture with my hands/ Back and forth we sway like branches in a storm/ Change the weather, still together when it ends.”

It hits all the bases for the pop’n’roll style of Maroon 5: singable, relatable and sensible, the band creates the perfect storm of sex and games. It’s just a goddamn shame that Maroon 5 ignored it on their latest compilation, Singles.

“Shiver” is another highlight, a seductive rocker timed at 3 minutes flat. Levine may be singing, but it’s the listener who’s shivering from his suggestive lyrics and Valentine’s jittery guitar.

However, the album will always be remembered for the power couple of “This Love” and “She Will Be Loved.” The former being the aggressive, “fuck you, I’m done” power rocker of disillusioned youths from the early 2000’s and the latter being the power ballad of unnoticed and unrequited love.

The band rocks on both, but it showcases the power of Adam Levine. He’s that boy who can’t stay away from trouble despite good intentions. He’s that boy who will suffer for no good reason unless he thinks it is a damn good reason: the right girl.

For better or for worse, this album introduces us to the cult of Levine.

More please?

Honestly, I thought it would be worse. I thought the album would smack me across my baby-faced cheeks, break my rose-tinted glasses and then stab me right through the nostalgic heart. Fucking hell, I’m glad it didn’t.

The only weak song on the first half of the album is “The Sun” but the album does peter out after “Sunday Morning.”

The last four tracks have some bark, but they don’t bite as hard as the earlier cuts. This doesn’t make the album drastically weaker — “The Sun” and “Secret” are the only two songs that feel legitimately weak and slow. It does however mean that someone could leave the album at “Sunday Morning” with a feeling of damn good value.

Funnily enough though, all the cuts still sound fresh because the band barely went back down this route. A sad conclusion for such a brilliant album.

However, would this album stay as fresh and fun if Maroon 5 hadn’t flipped the script with It Won’t Be Soon Before Long?

The closest return was Hands All Over, a criminally underrated album even if it doesn’t have the same punch as Songs. It also feels like the album that should have come after Songs. This is important because it means instead of five years passing between the two albums, there was eight. It’s really hard to return to a specific style and sentiment after eight years of separation, which makes Songs About Jane intensify in strength where Hands All Over falters.

If Songs had been followed up by Hands, Maroon 5 would have been cemented as the pop-rock-funk band of the mid 2000’s. At the very least, Songs About Jane should still ring fresh to listeners. It places 2002-2004 in a standstill and drags us to it.

So when an album can do that, it deserves classic status.

Producers: Matt Wallace and Mark Endert

Track Listing:

  1. Harder to Breathe (sweat inducer #1)
  2. This Love (“fuck this, I’m done” rocker)
  3. Shiver (sweat inducer #2)
  4. She Will Be Loved (power ballad)
  5. Tangled
  6. The Sun
  7. Must Get Out
  8. Sunday Morning (personal favourite)
  9. Secret
  10. Through With You
  11. Not Coming Home (stay for this one)
  12. Sweetest Goodbye

All tracks written by Adam Levine and Jesse Carmichael except “She Will Be Loved” (Levine, James Valentine), “Tangled”, “The Sun” and “Sweetest Goodbye” (Levine) and “Not Coming Home” (Carmichael, Levine, Ryan Dusick).

 

The Getaway: Reinventing The Chili Pepper

Chili pepper’s have a way of surprising people, I suppose.

It all just depends on a person’s tastebuds. Some may surrender to the simple jalapeno, others may see their chances with a habanero and still others may be just insane enough to eat three Carolina Reapers for their chance at (dubious) glory.

However, I doubt any of these red hot peppers have anything on Anthony Kiedis, Flea and Chad Smith, who seem to plow through the years like a Carolina Reaper would my soul.

Thankfully, where the Carolina Reaper would melt my tongue like hot asphalt, the Chili Peppers would rather roadtrip my ass to a musical junkie’s paradise, filled to the brim with electronic images of the psychedelic underbelly . And, enhanced by Danger Mouse’s production and a more invigorated Josh Klinghoffer, they arrive there on pat and in form albeit with some minor *cough* “Detroit” *cough* roadbumps on the car.

Klinghoffer comes to play

Perhaps that’s what’s so striking about this album in the first place. Danger Mouse and the Red Hot Chili Peppers is a pairing that definitely qualifies for the just-so-crazy-it-might-work award when it comes to making an album post-Frusciante.

Danger Mouse’s electronic background totally changes the dynamic of a Rick Rubinfluenced band. Hip-hop has taken the backseat while synthesizers and electronics on the fritz dominate the stereo of these Peppers. If the goal was to change up their style, they definitely started on the right foot.

And that’s where this album is strongest: Klinghoffer found a producer with whom he can see eye-to-eye. I’ve not listened to I’m With You, but my friend Kahleb, a Red Hot Chili Peppers superfan of the hottest degree believed it was Kiedis, Flea, Smith and Klinghoffer figuring out how to replace Frusciante, “probably with an ungodly amount of pressure on [Klinghoffer] to be like John.”

In that sense, The Getaway is Klinghoffer’s escape. Whether towards the past or the future, Klinghoffer sounds like his own guitarist on this record from the get-go.

You see, with the gun still smoking and the flashbang still ringing in our ears, Klinghoffer is off, energizing the title track with some much needed battery acid funk.

Not before long, Flea joins in with his own nine-volt of energy, ready to scream “it’s alive!” while the electricity boogies off his bass guitar.

Yeah, right about there, that’s the moment where I said: “Oh fuck, they finally figured it out.”

The funktronics carry this mother of reinvention. Hell, sometimes the electronics funk so hard under Danger Mouse’s production that they take charge of certain cuts, see: “Sick Love” and “Go Robot.” Yeah, those aren’t your normal peppers. They’re synthesizers drenched in hot sauce and psychedelia and soaked in funk.

Klinghoffer and Danger Mouse try their damnedest to make sure this album doesn’t suck eggs, and damn it they succeed through sheer force of will and artistic ability. It feels good to say that the band has begun to move away from their mid-00’s sound routine and towards something new with funky cues from the past.

Holes in the getaway plan

This album does come with its hiccoughs, however — particularly its seeming disjointedness at times. I’m paging “Detroit,” here:

I don’t know what could have saved that song, but man do I want to skip that half-baked cut in a heartbeat every time it comes on.

Actually, there’s a thought– I do know what would’ve helped this album: a little more time.

This album really started after Flea broke his arm. The production cycle was halved and while the majority of these songs are lifted and carried by the talent which was put into them, there are points where the album is left up shit creek without a paddle. Some times it feels like Smith gets replaced by a drum machine or is drowned out by the sheer lusciousness of the production. Even Flea capsizes from time to time in this electronic waves of Klinghoffer and Danger Mouse.

This is where the Peppers could’ve used pruning because it doesn’t follow that songs like “The Getaway” and “Go Robot” would lead into “This Ticonderoga” or, god forbid, “Detroit.” They’re like lead weights to what is otherwise a deep electronic funk experience. Hell, even “Dreams of a Samurai” could’ve used some love.

So when this album fails, it’s because Kiedis, Flea and Smith are playing not to lose rather than to win. Fortunately this doesn’t happen too often as the older Peppers give Klinghoffer and Danger Mouse free reign to experiment with their sound.

If anything, they just need to grow comfortable playing with this motherboard of funk, otherwise when the Peppers can’t groove together, how the hell are we supposed to?

End of the test drive

However, when the Peppers do support Josh in driving the Red Hot Chili Pepper van, they begin to sound like a band ready to flaunt their new paint job. See, I’m not excited for this album per se — and don’t get me wrong it’s a good album — but for where they go after it.

The threads that this album creates tells me that for all their age, the Peppers are not closed off from new ideas, a refreshing thing to hear for all fans.

Overall I would give this album a solid B-. It has its moments of glory: “The Getaway”, “Dark Necessities” and “Go Robot”; its gems: “Sick Love”; but also its questions and its concerns (*cough*Detroit*cough*). The strongest thing about this album is it’s potential to become a fan favourite for a new generation of Peppers fans. This album can bridge the gap between these beloved yet grizzled funk-punks and the electropop of a modern era and I’ll be damned if that isn’t a good enough reason to enjoy the Pepper’s latest offering.

Producer(s): Danger Mouse

Track Listing:

  1. The Getaway (Excellent opener)
  2. Dark Necessities (Baloo sticks the needle in)
  3. We Turn Red
  4. The Longest Wave
  5. Goodbye Angels
  6. Sick Love (Anthony Kiedis meets Elton John)
  7. Go Robot (Personal favourite)
  8. Feasting On The Flowers (Danger Mouse funks)
  9. Detroit (Dear god, my ears hurt)
  10. This Ticonderoga
  11. Encore (Dear god, my ears are better)
  12. The Hunter
  13. Dreams of a Samurai (Dear god, my ears are confused but OK with it)

Tracks 1-4, 8 & 12 written by RHCP & Danger Mouse.

Tracks 4, 5, 7, 9-11 & 13 written by RHCP.

Track 6 written by RHCP, Elton John & Bernie Taupin.