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Tyr’s Day Music Review: Gorillaz’ Plastic Beach

Gorillaz albums come around infrequently enough for me to forget that I never enjoy them in their entirety.  I only remember those few great addictive hits which haunt me in between releases. Like Demon Days, I bought Plastic Beach without hearing a single track in advance. I put my trust in front man Damon Albarn to deliver another great album, and that he has done (with the help of a lot of guests)…just not as great as his last effort.

The “Orchestral Intro” made me immediately aware that this album was going to be something special, so imagine my disappointment when it took so long to get to that point.  Snoop Dogg does not enhance the catchy “Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach” and the lovely intro to “White Flag” is a teaser for an awful track. Finally things pick up when Albarn sings on “Rhinestone Eyes”, and then “Stylo” appears.  It’s not my favourite song from Plastic Beach, but it’s easy to recognise as single material (and is indeed the first).  Even Mos Def can’t ruin it—as he does with the absolutely horrid “Sweepstakes” later in the album. And the next track…oh, do I have to?

When I listen to new albums I do my best to predict what the singles will be. This time, I got two out of three, and I have no idea how I could have guessed that one of the most grating tracks would be the second.  On May 9th, look forward to avoiding…  “Superfast Jellyfish” featuring de la Soul, who collaborated on Demon Days’ “Feel Good Inc.”  What the hell happened this time?  It’s…it’s honestly not worth commenting on.  You’ll hear it enough on the radio in a few months.

But fear not! Then comes the run of greatness the opening seagulls promised me, packed between the two worst.  My favourites of the bunch are “Empire Ants” and “Melancholy Hill”, the latter being the best song on the album (which will be the third single later in 2010, presumably to win back fans turned off by the Jellyfish one).  The title track was my other pick for a single; it begins the solid, but not particularly inspiring, cooldown. I hoped for an orchestra reappearance and seagull number at the very end, but they are in the penultimate track for some reason, leaving “Private Jet” sounding tacked on. 

If Gorillaz had cut the weak-ass tone (mos) deaf rappers from this album, it would have made me oh-so-happy.  I love to hear rap well done, but the best are rarely the ones who make it mainstream.  Try Vancouver’s DNA6 for an example of what I’d love to see mixed with Gorillaz’ experimental-pseudo-pop.

I recommend the album, but cut “White Flag”, “Superfast Jellyfish”, and “Sweepstakes” from your iPod.  It has a great sound overall, and is perfect to chill-out to, but where is the “Clint Eastwood”? “Feel Good Inc.”? “DARE”?  Maybe my next spontaneous Gorillaz purchase four-to-five years from now will have a new song of the calibre I expect and crave.

Tyr’s Day Music Review: Sean McCann’s Lullabies for Bloodshot Eyes

I have been a fan of Great Big Sea for years, but was disappointed with their latest effort: 2008’s Fortune’s Favour.  The album has but a single listenable song (“Company of Fools”) as the band strayed from their Celtic roots into unfamiliar rock territory.  Regardless (or maybe in spite) of this, when I saw Séan McCaan was doing a solo project, Lullabies for Bloodshot Eyes, I was immediately willing to buy it without hearing a single track.  I was not disappointed, but not particularly pleased either.  I have a bias in favour of Great Big Sea’s earlier and more traditional work, and without Bob Hallett’s tin whistle, accordion, and dozen other instruments, Séan’s solo effort is missing the sound I expect to be supplementing his voice.  Fans of Great Big Sea might also miss the variety of Alan Doyle’s voice because Séan tends to sing a lot of his songs in a similar style.  For example, if you buy the album on Séan’s website, you’ll be treated to the bonus track “The Death of Queen Jane” which has a simple melody obviously inspired by “John Barbour” (on Great Big Sea’s 2004 release Something Beautiful), but at least the penny whistle makes an appearance.

The major problem with Lullabies for Bloodshot Eyes is that it’s littered with clichés.  I feel as if Séan was using my word of the day poetry format: choosing an overused phrase (or two) and building a song around it.  The first and last songs are written for his two sons, which is endearing, I suppose, but the lullaby format bores me—as do stock lyrics like “Hush now baby don’t you cry, let no tears fall from your eyes.”  Yes it’s a lullaby, but…I don’t know.  I want something more original (which he does deliver later). 

The second track, “Wish”, is composed of pretty weak lyrics (including stock “if I die before I wake”), but then the album takes off with three of its best songs in a row.  The guitar in “Peace among the Bones” picks up the pace and leads into “Hold Me Steady” (Freddy…ouch lyrics again) with its excellent orchestration.  “Gone Tomorrow” was easily my favourite song on my first listen.  The notes almost seem out of Séan’s range, but when Jeen O’Brien’s lovely harmony kicks in…wow.  Something beautiful, indeed.  “Razor & Rust” and “Lazy Lover” keep up the vocal magic, but the latter suffers from being cornier than it is funny. 

“Wasted”, after multiple listens, overtakes “Gone Tomorrow” as my favourite track.  It has the most honest presentation, and despite its slow beginning does not have the lullaby quality the album’s title advertises.  I love songs that build, and although “Wasted” never reaches the intensity of songs like “Good Night Elisabeth” (by Counting Crows) or “Wet Sand” (by The Red Hot Chili Peppers), it is expertly arranged down to the final line sung over silence.  In fact, it’s a huge compliment that I think of those long songs when listening to 3:17 “Wasted”.

I do recommend this album, although I’m going to leave the lullabies off my iPod (my apologies to your sons Séan).  You can sample a few songs and buy the album on Séan’s website: http://greatbigsean.com/site/

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