Bill Engvall: Aged and Confused


RIYL: Jeff Foxworthy, Larry the Cable Guy, Blue Collar TV

Bill Engvall aoppears to be an all-around good guy, and as one of the few clean comics working today, we take no pleasure from saying anything less than flattering about the man or his work. But it must be said; Aged and Confused, Engvall’s new album, is just…fine. It isn’t particularly bad or good – it just moseys along in that safe zone of zip lines, annoying kids, embarrassing naked stories and, something that will definitely appeal to his core demographic, colonoscopies. It’s all harmless enough, and the crowd at Chicago’s Vic Theatre lapped it up. (It is also, thankfully, free of Engvall’s catch phrase ‘Here’s your sign’ bits.) But the painful truth is that it’s just not terribly funny. Borrow it from the library, listen once, return it, and your Engvall fix will be complete. (Warner Bros. Nashville 2009)

Bill Engvall MySpace page
Click to buy Aged and Confused from Amazon

  

Duran Duran: Rio (Collector’s Edition)


RIYL: The Killers, Roxy Music, Spandau Ballet

Finally. Ask an American Duran Duran collector, and they will tell you that every CD pressing of the band’s seminal 1982 album Rio up to now has been horribly flawed, because Capitol had the nerve to use the original mixes of the songs on “Side I,” instead of the David Kershenbaum remixes of those songs that we Yanks grew up with. Some of the Kershenbaum mixes popped up on later CD singles and compilations, but two of them, namely “Rio” and “Lonely in Your Nightmare,” remained in the vaults…until now. This two-disc set features a remastered Rio plus the Kershenbaum remixes on Disc One, and a veritable treasure trove of demos, B-sides, Night Versions and remixes from the various Carnival EPs on Disc Two. If a specific mix or B-side has eluded you up to this point, odds are it is included here.

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As for the difference between the 2009 remaster of Rio and the 2001 remaster, well, if you can spot a difference, let us know. We’ve played several tracks back to back, and they sound identical. (The version of “Hold Back the Rain,” though, is a different mix entirely.) And why shouldn’t they? Colin Thurston’s original production was so crisp and well balanced – not to mention recorded in the pre-digital, compress-the-shit-out-of-everything era – that there is little point in tweaking Rio for the sake of tweaking it. Those long-dormant Kershenbaum mixes, however, could have used a tune-up, specifically in the upper frequencies, so if you had designs of assembling a playlist equivalent of your original Rio cassette, prepare for a few shifts in audio quality. Still, the ability to finally make that playlist, with enough remixes left over to make your own personal Carnival, makes this set a no-brainer. They even tagged a Christmas greeting from Simon LeBon onto the final track on Disc Two. Awwww. (Capitol 2009)

Duran Duran MySpace page
Click to buy Rio Collector’s Edition from Amazon

  

Basement Jaxx: Scars


RIYL: BT, Chemical Brothers, Daft Punk

Only a band like Basement Jaxx could plunge head-first into the world of pop in order to rediscover their independent spirit. The band’s last album, 2006’s Crazy Itch Radio, left us a little cold, as if the band itself wasn’t sure where to go after their 2003 monster breakthrough album Kish Kash. This time around, the Brixton duo have taken copious notes on the current state of dance music, and made an album that says, “That stuff is nice…but we can do it better.” “Rainbows” takes Paul Oakenfold’s four-to-the-floor beat and pairs it with a sky-high chorus, and Sam Sparro lends his pipes to the Euro-house “Feelings Gone.” Speaking of guest vocalists, the Jaxx have outdone themselves here, assembling a so-hip-it-hurts lineup featuring Santigold, Kelis, Eli “Paperboy” Reed, and…wait for it…Yoko Ono. (Yes, it sounds exactly like you think it does, and even includes short breaths that sound awfully close to, yikes, an orgasm.)

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But don’t let “hipster guest list” lead you to think that they’re trying to dazzle the listener with star power; the tunes come first, and they’ve come up with some doozies. The “Maniac”-riffing freak-out “Twerk” is one of the best songs the band has ever done, and they even take a surf pop doo wop detour on “A Possibility.” And massive props for the return Lisa Kekaula, who provided the thunderous lead vocal to Kish Kish track “Good Luck,” to sing the ballad “Stay Close,” which sounds like an electro Tracy Chapman. Scars is a most welcome return to form for the band, and not a moment too soon. (Ultra Records 2009)

Basement Jaxx MySpace page
Click to buy Scars from Amazon

  

Steel Panther: Feel the Steel


RIYL: Spinal Tap, Poison, songs about loose women

The emergence of hair metal parody band Steel Panther in today’s musical climate is enough to cause the space/time continuum to collapse on itself. “The Wrestler” showed us that there is an entire generation of people who love hair metal in a non-ironic way (unlike, say, Ellen Page’s character in “Whip It,” who wears her mother’s Stryper T-shirt as a joke), which means that a talented hair metal band has a legitimate shot at scoring a left-field hit.

So what to make, then, of a hair metal band 20 years past the genre’s sell-by date, sporting chops to the heavens…but a juvenile lyrical streak that borders on contempt? That is the conundrum that surrounds Feel the Steel, the new album by Steel Panther, the artists formerly known as Danger Kitty and Metal Skool. There is no question that they can play, and their knockoffs of more legitimate (but no less cheesy) hair metal songs are spot-on (expect Jon Bon Jovi’s lawyers to sue for the royalties to “Party All Day” in 3…2…1…). But hot damn, does the joke get old quickly, and they can kiss any chance of appealing to the fairer sex goodbye with tale after tale of misogyny. If the object of singer Michael Starr’s desire isn’t a hooker (“Asian Hooker”), she’s a stripper (“Stripper Girl”), or fat (“Fat Girl”), a small-town piece of ass (“Girl from Oklahoma”), or just plain ugly (“Turn Off the Lights”). Starr knows no fidelity (“Community Property,” “Eatin’ Ain’t Cheatin'”), dedicates a chorus to the phrase “two in the pink and one in the stink” (“The Shocker”), and finishes the “More Than Words” knockoff “Girl from Oklahoma” with the words “Yeah, suck it, bitch.” Wow.

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All right, we get what they’re doing here. The original wave of hair metal was littered with songs about underage girls, partying, and partying with underage girls, and Steel Panther is simply taking a Zen approach to it all by also addressing the cheating, the drugs, and the sharing of STDs that those guys chose not to sing about. Ha ha, very cute. The problem is that it loses its impact roughly halfway through the album, and the talk of blowing loads, lube, and mimicking blowjob sounds distracts from the band’s better qualities, namely Starr’s ability to impersonate nearly every singer from the hair metal era. (His David Lee Roth is the best, for the record.) Our suggestion: trim the number of songs about, um, trim in half, and focus on other topics, like what a drag it is to have Satan for a master – there is surely a parallel between being one of Satan’s minions and being a teenager with an overbearing dad – or even better, sing about something so far over the heads of most metal acts (quantum physics, for example) that the songs can stand on their own, rather than in the shadows of their predecessors.

Feel the Steel is good for a laugh, but there isn’t anything here that you – or even Steel Panther – will be playing ten years from now. It is purely an of-the-moment guilty pleasure, though it could have been so much more. Pity. (Island 2009)

Steel Panther MySpace page
Click to buy Feel the Steel from Amazon

  

Wax Tailor: In the Mood for Life


RIYL: Avalanches, DJ Spooky, Portishead

Anyone jonesing for another Avalanches album – and really, who isn’t? – would do well to pick up the latest effort by Wax Tailor, the nom de guerre of French turntablist Jean-Christophe Le Saoût. In the Mood for Life careens between cut & paste pastiche (unofficial “Frontier Psychiatrist” sequel “Sit and Listen,” the rhyme-stealing “B-Boy on Wax”) and downbeat trip-hop (“Dragon Chasers,” “Dry Your Eyes”), with a few straight-up hip-hop tracks like “Until Heaven Stops the Rain” and “This Train” and the ’60s girl pop splendor of “Leave It” sprinkled in for good measure. The old-school rhyme flow is welcome – though the rhymes in “Say Yes” are painful – and while he’s strolling down Memory Lane, Le Saoût makes the mistake of peppering the album with the dreaded ‘skit’ tracks, tiny bridge bits from one track to another that, for the most part, would be just fine tacked on to the beginning of the following track. But we’re splitting hairs: In the Mood for Life, for all its styles, has a singular vision that ties everything together, making this much more than a ‘DJ desperately trying to be all things to all people’ affair. Thank heaven for small miracles. (Le Plan 2009)

Wax Tailor MySpace page
Click to buy In the Mood for Life from Amazon

  

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