In 2016, there’s an amazing connectivity between people and music. You can be in contact with your favorite acts from anywhere you are and anywhere they are. At the same time, there’s a disconnect between the fans and the music. It’s easier for one-hit wonders to skyrocket to stardom and bands with no TV or radio play can sell out concerts.
In order to not sound like I’m hating on the current state of music, it brings me to the point of this article: the album. For some, that’s a big 12-inch scratched up vinyl record, a cassette tape you copied off your friend, the CD you ordered from Columbia House or Amazon, an iTunes or torrent download, or of course a magical stream from Spotify. I want to discuss albums, in their entirety. Ideally, things that will intrigue you all to put some headphones on and give an artist an hour (more or less) of your time. We’ll look at new releases and some classics. So here’s the first installment of “Don’t hit shuffle!”
First up – Lucius Good Grief.
First, amazing word play on the album title and a recurrent theme. If you are unfamilar Lucius, imagine… Or don’t imagine. YouTube them. The band of five has two frontwomen, Holly and Jess, singing in unison while playing keyboards and percussion. Percussion is a huge part of the band. So much so, that the drummer doesn’t have time to sit down. They won me over the first time I ever saw them, as they opened with the “Theme to Jurassic Park.” They have won over a lot of people in a short period of time.
The album opens with “Madness.” Holly and Jess are singing a cappella and the instruments slowly build to a wonderful crash that set the tone for the song and the album. The album is very emotional. In my opinion, it’s an album about the band going through some changes. Specifically, it’s about what going from an opening act to headlining sold out shows and festival slots in just a few years can do to you and your relationships. Now this isn’t a Journey anthem (ahem – “they say the road ain’t no place to start a family”), but it truly looks at this situation introspectively.
As you jump to track two, “Something About You” (a little 80s synths never hurt anyone), it’s a continued journey through the back and forth of how this growth is actually positive. It’s not a veiled sad song among happy music. “What We Have (To Change)” takes us through that place where we all have been. We have to work this shit out or else. The instrumental break in the middle feels like a when an argument turns into a fight, when all you truly want to do is talk through the issues at hand.
The next few songs go up and down with their tempo and emotionality. Now, a song like “My Heart Got Caught on Your Sleeve,” helps you fully understand the power that this band brings. The demo version has even less production than the album version and is truly what makes this band the standout they are.
Whew…so what to do after all that? More 80s synth in “Almost Makes Me Wish for Rain.” And yes, somehow it works. Not my favorite track on the album with parts of Milli Vanilli and parts of Bananarama mashed together. (How is that not a Ben & Jerry’s flavor?) Even a little of Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” is thrown in there. I’m probably not selling this well. It’s a summertime jam about that balance when your inside world and outside world are competing. It ends with the sound of rain, which is a little much, but it puts us back on track for the craziest track on the album, “Gone Insane.”
This song makes me anxious. It feels like after a fight you have with someone, when you’re making sure they know that they’re the crazy one. Okay nothing new. Wait, what happened? Why are you still screaming? Um, okay. (Seriously, at the end of this song I feel like I’m watching a scene from Girl, Interrupted.) Yeah. It’s still going. No. Stop. Please. I’m going to call 911. On myself. Seriously.
So, we move to “Truce.” Thank God! (Okay that’s next, actually.) So, the fight is over. This song brings us right back and it’s a great return. The bell sounds on this track really balance out the great distorted guitars. There’s a few musical breaks which push you a little deeper into the song and pull you back in.
“Almighty Gosh” and “Born Again Teen” return us right back to the 80s in totally different ways. The first feels like a nice early-80s new wave track. (Does anyone else hear “Tarzan Boy” by Baltimora in the guitar riff?) Throw your hands up, let it go. And now it’s time to squeeze into your skinny party pants for the second track. Here’s the anthem (and first single) on the album. This is Bangles 2016 and that is not a bad thing. It’s “Hazy Shade of Winter,” not “Walk Like an Egyptian.” If that reference makes sense to you, you’ll get the song. For all of us that are trying to relive some of our youth, it’s the song you ask the DJ to play because it’s your jam and there’s only so much Bieber you can take. This song is you. It’s me, too.
“Better Look Back” brings us towards the closing of the album and keeps pushing the sound and theme of the album. It’s about looking behind and taking that with you; appreciating that you’re in a different place. The journey is over. Well, almost. “Dusty Trails” feels like the ride into the sunset. We don’t know where we’re going, but we’ll be okay. After all the madness and insanity we’ll be all right.
It’s the way you want an album to end. Unless you bought the deluxe edition, and then there’s some great bonus tracks. “You Were on My Mind” is caught somewhere between the Shirelles and the Ramones. Their cover of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” is just not good and they could have done a better tribute by picking nearly anything else. “Modern Love” perhaps?
We don’t live with albums anymore. I’ve been living with this album for a few months and even the last few listens I’ve given it really open up what is here. People often say they don’t make music like that anymore, but I always disagree. In 20 years, our kids will be saying the same thing that our parents said to us. So let’s reconnect, listen to an album, and don’t hit shuffle.
Frank Manzo is a social worker, DJ, husband and father of two. His music knowledge is expansive and often useless.