Been a while since I featured 50-word music reviews (see here for a primer), partly because I’ve mostly missed 2014’s new music. Turns out, though, that it’s the old white guys that I’ve kept pace with this time, which is, um, unexpected. Anyway, let’s go.
beck – morning phase – 10.0
Beck’s low voice, harmonic sense, and guitar-plucking guide us, and his players respond astonishingly. The string arrangements by David Campbell (Beck’s dad) drive it home, though the weird, catchy songs embolden as they are. Morning Phase arrives like dewdrops and daybreak, eschewing irony to let in full blooms and tears.
Reminds you of: The Beach Boys / The Byrds / The Grateful Dead, circa Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty
bob mould – beauty & ruin – 8.0
Mould calls the album’s first single, “I Don’t Know You Anymore,” but we know him—squalling guitars, catchy lyrics, nasal singing, angry moping, gorgeous noise. Right? But “The War” shows the chaos transforming into acceptance and grace. Hell, one song’s even titled “Forgiveness.” About time for a 54-year-old man, eh?
Reminds you of: The Who / Sugar (duh) / Japandroids, with a bassist
phish – fuego – 7.5
Damnit, boys, why open with the nine-minute prog flashback, thus burying potential hits (“Sing Monica,” “Devotion to a Dream,” “The Line”) underneath it? Newbies will write this off as pretentious before reaching the (mostly) great songs here. Indeed, they are songs, not jam vehicles, with actual heartbreak, beats, and melody.
Reminds you of: Genesis, when Peter Gabriel was singing (first track) / Genesis, once Phil Collins starting singing (the rest of the album) / The Police
u2 – songs of innocence – 6.9
They’re specific this time, instead of striving for universal (vague) significance. I mean more than the lyrics—the melodic synths, distorted guitars, and crisp rhythms give the album clarity, pungency, and urgency. Sharp snapshots reign here, not fuzzy panoramas. Bono can’t help his swooping, quasi-religious over-emoting but you knew that.
Reminds you of: The Jesus and Mary Chain / Sting / Nine Inch Nails, when Trent Reznor’s being pretty