Miggs: Wide Awake


RIYL: Butch Walker, Matthew Good, Bon Jovi

Apparently Don Miggs has been making music and touring for several years, but as the bio for Miggs’ eponymous trio proclaims, they may be one of the “best bands you’ve never heard of.”  That’s a blessing and a curse, yet in today’s indie music scene, maybe more of a blessing if you can be heard.  Indie rock/pop label Rock Ridge was impressed enough with Miggs’ accessible, hard-edged alternative pop.  Miggs’ latest, Wide Awake, is 12 songs that ride as a roller coaster might – from addictive anthems like “Let the Games Begin” and the title track to Butch Walker-esque ditties like “Fire” and “Sincerity,” to balls-out rockers such as “Enemy,” with a positively stunning keyboard-driven ballad, “Crawl Inside,” to close out the set.  Miggs the vocalist sounds at various times like Jon Bon Jovi, Walker and Canadian rocker Matthew Good, and those are all guys with pipes.  Add in the production expertise of Ken Lewis (Fall Out Boy, Kanye West) and the rough edges of the band are captured on this release, yet effectively smoothed out as well. Intrigued?  You should be, because this is easily one of the best albums of 2010 that you….wait for it…..have not heard yet.  So do yourself a favor and go hear these guys.  (Rock Ridge 2010)

Miggs’ website: www.miggsmusic.com

Crowded House: The Very Very Best of Crowded House


RIYL: The Beatles, The Everly Brothers, Squeeze

Picking songs for a Crowded House compilation is a fool’s errand. The British press was only slightly kidding when they said that Neil Finn pisses genius; the first three albums he made as Crowded House after dissolving his brother Tim’s band Split Enz in 1984 (Tim had left the band earlier that year) are about as perfect as pop records get, and the band’s fourth album, 1994′s Together Alone, is pretty damned good, too. This compilation, the second attempt to condense the band’s best work to a single disc, has an even harder task in that it includes tracks from the band’s fifth album, 2007′s Time on Earth. Five good to great albums, sliced and diced to one disc, and it’s supposed to be the very, very best of the band.

Nope.

Still, The Very Very Best of Crowded House is no misfire either, since it would have been filled with beautiful, haunting melodies and Finn’s trademark lyrical paranoia regardless of which songs had made the cut and which ones had been forsaken. But at this stage in the game, this is a two-disc affair no matter how you slice it, and as luck would have it, Capitol has released a two-disc version of this set as well. For newbies, that is the way to go, as the single-disc version of this set is simply missing too many great – and nearly all of the upbeat – moments. The band’s first two albums are reduced to a mere four songs, only one of which came from the criminally underrated Temple of Low Men (1988). Together Alone and 1991′s Woodface, meanwhile, account for over half of the songs here. Perhaps they chose to favor the later material of the Capitol years in order to keep the set more in step with the band’s recent work, but doing so makes for the most dour collection of the Capitol years that one could assemble.

The Very Very Best of Crowded House is a four-star collection of a five-star catalog. Go for the two-disc set instead; it costs more, but with the addition of “Hole in the River,” “World Where You Live,” “Now We’re Getting Somewhere,” “Into Temptation,” “Whispers and Moans” and “I Feel Possessed,” that set opens doors to the band’s work that the single-disc set doesn’t even acknowledge. This is good, but more – and more balance – would have been better. (Capitol 2010)

Crowded House MySpace page
Click to buy The Very Very Best of Crowded House from Amazon
Click to buy The Very Very Best of Crowded House (Two-Disc set) from Amazon

My Chemical Romance: Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys


RIYL: Queen, Cheap Trick, Oasis

My Chemical Romance have balls of steel. They shed their pissed-off jilted lover skin in favor of a full-blown rock opera (2006′s The Black Parade), even though they could have made millions mining teen angst for the next ten years. Then, perhaps to diffuse any overblown build-up over their new album, they release a breakneck rave-up as the first single, and gave it the ‘you’ve got to be kidding me’ title of “Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na).” It’s a genius move, really – sneak in the back door, despite being one of the biggest bands on the planet. It makes them look like they’re still hungry, and God knows the pop world (and the world in general) could use a little humility.

The problem is, it may have worked a little too well. With Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys just now hitting shelves and e-servers, “Na Na Na” has already peaked at a slightly disappointing #10, and the label has moved on to the second single. Flash back to 2006, when “The Black Parade” dominated radio for months. You have to think that the label is a little nervous at this point, though they shouldn’t be: Danger Days is a powerhouse of an album, positively stuffed with potential singles and shows the band once again exploring new territory, both sonically (keyboards!) and musically.

The band has cooked up another gonzo concept for the album – a group of desert renegades fighting a massive company in 2019, accordingly to Wikipedia – but it doesn’t weigh down the individual songs. “Sing” is a reach-for-the-rafters singalong, while “S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W” out-Oasis’ Oasis. “Party Poison” is another power pop-ish rocker, and “Summertime” is downright tender, if bleak. The band’s reach had been a bit farther than its grasp in the past, but the songwriting steps up in a big way here.

It would have been easy for My Chemical Romance to shy away from the epic scale of The Black Parade and opt for a minimalist approach to the follow-up, so it is to their credit that they not only went for it on Danger Days, but pulled it off. For all the bashing that the major labels take these days, it’s nice to see one of them take off the reins and let their horses run free. (Reprise 2010)

My Chemical Romance MySpace page
Click to buy Danger Days from Amazon

Nicki Minaj: Pink Friday


RIYL: Rihanna, Missy Elliott, Lil’ Kim

Kick off your first album with a track titled “I’m the Best,” and you’re making a hell of an announcement — either you’re more gifted than your peers, or you’ve just got the biggest balls. With Pink Friday, Nicki Minaj displays a bit of both: though it’s admittedly an uneven affair, this album contains some of the best hip-hop/R&B you’re likely to hear in 2010, and while it doesn’t play to Minaj’s otherworldly rapping talent as often as many fans would no doubt prefer, it still makes for an intoxicating, eclectic debut.

minaj

Of course, unlike most new artists, Minaj has the advantage of being a known quantity before her album even reaches shelves; she’s been all over the charts as a guest artist for months, popping up on songs by Lil Wayne, Trey Songz, M.I.A., Drake, Usher, and others – including Kanye West, whose “Monster” features an incendiary Minaj verse that outclasses everyone else on the song, including Jay-Z and Rick Ross. Nothing on Pink Friday comes close to “Monster” – not even “Roman’s Revenge,” her profane, rapid-fire showdown with Eminem – but that isn’t really the point. Minaj has a lot of weapons in her arsenal, and this album is meant to display them all, while aiming directly at Top 40 radio.

What’s somewhat surprising, given her aggressive/aggressively weird image, is just how savvy Minaj’s pop instincts are – and how successfully Pink Friday makes room for them while incorporating plenty of singularly Nicki moments. This is an album that makes heavy use of Buggles and Annie Lennox samples, and features will.i.am, Rihanna, and Natasha Bedingfield cameos – but it takes the fetid roar of “Roman’s Revenge” and “Did It On ‘Em” to tell the whole story, and she brings both halves together in the stunning “Right Thru Me,” which takes breathless verses about reckless love and leads them into a chorus that brilliantly, nakedly asks: “You see right through me / How do you do that shit?”

That kind of duality is hard to distill in a pop song, and with Pink Friday, Nicki Minaj doesn’t always succeed. But her punches connect more often than they miss – and if that’s mostly because she never stops throwing them, well, that only makes it that much harder to stop listening. Her peers had better lock in those guest spots now – a few more albums like this one, and the words “feat. Nicki Minaj” will be a lot more expensive than they are now. (Universal/Cash Money 2010)

Nicki Minaj MySpace page

Steal This Song: Destroyer, “Chinatown”

For the last five years, there has never been any question that when it came to the songwriting powers that be behind the New Pornographers, I am a Carl Newman guy. It’s not that I disliked Dan Bejar’s stuff – “Jackie, Dressed in Cobras” is still my fave – but his songs never scaled the dizzy heights of pure pop tunes like “Sing Me Spanish Techno,” “The Bleeding Heart Show,” “Stacked Crooked” and “These Are the Fables.”

You’ll notice that I only listed songs from the New Pornographers’ 2005 album Twin Cinema. That’s because I’ve been largely underwhelmed by the band’s work since then. And it appears that Bejar is ready to take advantage of my wavering loyalties.

Armed with yet another album under his day job Destroyer (his tenth in 15 years), the band’s new album Kaputt, set for release in January, might surprise some people. Bejar forsakes his usual disjointed pop for something more casual, like he’s been listening to a lot of ’80s-era Bryan Ferry (which he cops to in the press release), and perhaps even Al Stewart. It seems an odd match on paper, but his voice is actually well suited for the genre, and the tunes he came up with are gorgeous. We’ve been given permission to share the album’s opening track, “Chinatown,” and it’s a must for anyone who digs the Blue Nile, China Crisis, and their ilk. Dig in.

Destroyer – Chinatown

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