dada – How to Be Found

dada - How to Be FoundAfter dada’s terrific self-titled fourth album, the band was dropped by their label MCA; they went on hiatus soon after. Michael Gurley and Phil Leavitt formed Butterfly Jones, while Joie Calio started working on a solo project. The hiatus wasn’t quite permanent, however, and in 2003 the guys got the band back together for an extensive tour. In the new year, they’ve finally managed to pry a group of previously-unreleased songs away from MCA and released How To Be Found. Far from a collection of rejects and outtakes, the album is an addition to the discography on par with the band’s previous efforts.

Most of these songs sound like they’re in the same mold as the tracks from dada, but on How To Be Found the production and mix are a little more spare, a little more raw – very reflective of the band’s live sound. The album is fairly evenly divided between high-tempo rockers, such as “Crumble” and “Nothing Like You”, and more meandering almost-psychedelic tunes, including “I Wish You Were Here Now” and “Love Is a Weird Thing”. Leavitt’s drums feature heavily on a number of songs, totally carrying the high-energy “It’s All Mine “along and blending beautifully with Gurley’s guitar and Calio’s bass on “Any Day the Wind Blows”. “What’s Happening to Steven” blends those elements with some great organ work to give the song a bit of a classic-rock feel that’s not out of place on the album. As always, the lead vocals are handled by Calio and Gurley, and while I love the music these two have done on heir side and solo projects, put them together and their voices support and play off each other to great effect.

I usually prefer dada’s rockers to the slower stuff, and this album is no exception. I can enjoy tracks like “Guitar Girl” and “I Wish You Were Here Now”, but they don’t give me the almost transcendent glee that I 4 out of 4feel listening to “It’s All Mine” or “Any Day”. Two exceptions would be the album opener, “The Next Train Out of My Mind”, which does a great job of “warming up” the listener for the rest of the album, and the wistful “Reason”, which has some great vocals from Calio. This is a solid and very welcome return for one of my favorite bands.

Order this CD

  1. The Next Train Out of My Mind (5:40)
  2. It’s All Mine (4:27)
  3. How to Be Found (3:27)
  4. Crumble (3:07)
  5. Nothing Like You (2:57)
  6. Guitar Girl (4:45)
  7. Any Day the Wind Blows (4:46)
  8. Blue Girl (4:08)
  9. My Life Could Be Different (3:35)
  10. What’s Happening to Steven (4:03)
  11. I Wish You Were Here Now (6:06)
  12. Reason (3:51)
  13. Love Is a Weird Thing (4:32)

Released by: Blue Cave
Release date: 2004
Total running time: 55:31

Rob Dougan – Furious Angels

Rob Dougan - Furious AngelsIt seems like a lot of remix maestros have been bursting onto the scene as solo artists lately – Moby, BT, Fatboy Slim, you name it – but few of them have as unique a sound as Australian Rob Dougan sports on his debut album. Having put his unique spin on the works of a number of artists including Kylie Minogue, Dougan discovered a whole new unexpected audience when one of his songs was used very briefly in The Matrix. Remember the “lady in the red dress” training scene where Morpheus demonstrates the dangers of the Agents to Neo? The low-key atmospheric menace leading into that scene is a short excerpt from Dougan’s “Clubbed To Death” single. When The Matrix exposed Dougan’s song to not just a new audience or two, but rabid new audiences, he wisely repeated the move by reworking another of his songs for the soundtrack of The Matrix Reloaded.

That song is “Furious Angels”, also the namesake of Dougan’s first solo collection, and it could hardly sound more different than the beat-heavy movie version (this version strips out everything except Dougan’s vocals and the orchestra). Yes, Rob Dougan sings on several of his songs, his lyrics veering between hope and vengeful spurned love, and his delivery darting from a style I’d describe as “Dylan does ENZSO” to a smoother approach that I describe as “Neil Diamond woke up with laryngitis and sang a big splashy James Bond theme song anyway.” Dougan is not a great vocalist, and when one considers that most of his songs are drenched with the sweet sound of an honest-to-God orchestral backing, his growly, rumbly vocals are even more incongruous. But when one listens to him singing the vengeful vows of “Left Me For Dead” and “Furious Angels”, or the world-weary “Speed Me Toward Death”, it somehow seems right that he didn’t hire someone with smoother pipes. “Speed Me Toward Death” is probably the catchiest of the vocal tracks on here, as it really encapsulates my earlier comment about someone gruff trying to croon a Bond theme – it’s grandiose, morbid, violent, and yet funny in its own bitterly ironic way. It’s also one of the more accessible tracks on Furious Angels, with some funktastic guitar work getting a word in edgewise amid the orchestral splendor. It’s about as close to a perfectly balanced song as Dougan gets here.

But Dougan isn’t all angst and darkness, as “One And The Same” proves. And perhaps the best piece of music on the entire album is the closing number, “Clubbed To Death II”, which bears little resemblance to the other track bearing that name, and musically speaking it’s far, far more interesting. It’s an instrumental with a strange kind of wistful, world-weary hope to it, and a lovely and deceptively quiet piano solo lulls you into a false sense of security that the song’s over. It’s a great little number that I wish was about two or three times rating: 4 out of 4longer than it is. And it proves, as does the rest of Furious Angels, one thing: Dougan is ready for a film scoring assignment of his own, not just riding shotgun with Don Davis. Hopefully someone who’s actually making a movie will pick up this hint too and put Dougan on the case, because I’m ready for more where this came from.

Order this CD

  1. Prelude (0:44)
  2. Furious Angels (6:09)
  3. Will You Follow Me (3:52)
  4. Left Me For Dead (4:41)
  5. I’m Not Driving Anymore (4:37)
  6. Clubbed To Death (7:28)
  7. There’s Only Me (5:39)
  8. Instrumental (4:27)
  9. Nothing At All (6:34)
  10. Born Yesterday (7:34)
  11. Speed Me Towards Death (4:34)
  12. Drinking Song (3:59)
  13. Pause (0:35)
  14. One & The Same (Coda) (5:46)
  15. Clubbed To Death II (3:48 – hidden track)

Released by: Cheeky / Warner Bros.
Release date: 2003
Total running time: 70:27

Duran Duran – Decade

Duran Duran - DecadeWith a little bit of trepidation, I popped the retrospective collection of Duran Duran’s first ten years of hits into the CD player one night, only to come away from it with a reminder of how much I liked Duran Duran’s early stuff.

A lot of the material on Decade had the privelege of radio running it so far into the ground that it pierced the crust, rammed through the mantle, and continued playing right into the core of the planet. But with the benefit of time, hindsight and giving it a shot at an unbiased listen, it’s easy to see why – Duran Duran’s early singles were catchy as hell, loaded with new wave vibes, funky basslines, hard-edged guitar licks, and some of the best vocal harmonies anyone was doing in the early 80s. Period.

Naturally, the singles from Rio dominate the first half of the CD, but it was with “Is There Something I Should Know?” and “Union Of The Snake” that I was reminded of just how good Duran Duran could be when firing on all cylinders. Those songs are catchy enough to be repeat-track material. I still think Le Bon and company reached their apex with the Bond movie theme song “A View To A Kill”, which out of necessity (and tradition) elevated the production style to a slightly more epic level. I’ll probably get lynched by some McCartney fans for saying this, but it’s as good a Bond movie tune as “Live And Let Die” (in fact, upon further reflection, I think I like “A View To A Kill” better).

Sadly, what happened after that didn’t quite hold my attention.

The later songs didn’t grab me as much as their earlier efforts, with attempts to branch out in new directions. “Notorious” lived up to its name by just not doing it for me – it went into Chic-style territory that INXS had already more than adequately revisited by that time. Likewise, I always found the faux-jazzy “Skin Trade” irritating. “I Don’t Want Your Love” was almost a return to form, but almost made them sound like a rating: 3 out of 4boy band. “All She Wants Is” gets things back on track, so naturally the album ends there.

For all their attempts to reform and hit it big again, perhaps Duran Duran would do well to take a quick refresher course in how they made it into the spotlight in the first place – they’ve never gotten back to sounding this good.

Order this CD

  1. Planet Earth (4:07)
  2. Girls On Film (3:30)
  3. Hungry Like The Wolf (3:25)
  4. Rio (5:38)
  5. Save A Prayer (5:33)
  6. Is There Something I Should Know? (4:05)
  7. Union Of The Snake (4:20)
  8. The Reflex (4:25)
  9. Wild Boys (4:16)
  10. A View To A Kill (3:33)
  11. Notorious (3:58)
  12. Skin Trade (4:25)
  13. I Don’t Want Your Love (3:47)
  14. All She Wants Is (4:36)

Released by: Capitol
Release date: 1989
Total running time: 59:38

Depeche Mode – Exciter

Depeche Mode - ExciterI’ll admit it upfront: Depeche Mode lost me for the longest time. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Violator, though there was stuff to like on that album. But it was the group’s 90s output – especially Ultra – that had me tuning them out. But at the risk of sounding a little too cheesy, I found Exciter much more exciting. This album sees Depeche Mode – and specifically core members David Gahan and Martin Gore – on the rebound from some of the events that helped the group hit that low ebb.

Gore’s songwriting acumen, which seemed to be on the decline, is back in full force with a number of fascinating and listenable tunes. And it helps that Gahan is back in fine form (and even better voice) for the first time since Violator. Normally I point out standout tracks, but the truth is, there’s little on Exciter to not enjoy. My personal favorites, however, have to be the dreamy “Comatose” – replete with the kind of mesmerising chords and structure that haven’t been a mainstay of the pop music landscape for decades, only with an updated sound and some of the best Gahan/Gore vocal harmonies ever – and the bouncy and slightly sarcastic “I Feel Loved”. Other highlights include the slinky Breathe and a thundering anthem to the goth generation, “The Dead Of Night”.

Overall, I’m thrilled with Exciter – this is the best thing Depeche Mode has done in rating: 4 out of 4years. When they started out, they were mavericks on the pop scene, abandoning any sign of traditional instrumentation for the innovative sounds they could coax out of the then-new synths and samplers available in the new wave days. Even though that field’s pretty crowded now, Depeche Mode surprised me with this album, which shows they’re still the innovators they were twenty years ago.

Order this CD

  1. Dream On (4:19)
  2. Shine (5:32)
  3. The Sweetest Condition (3:42)
  4. When The Body Speaks (6:01)
  5. The Dead Of Night (4:50)
  6. Lovetheme (2:02)
  7. Freelove (6:10)
  8. Comatose (3:20)
  9. I Feel Loved (4:20)
  10. Breathe (5:17)
  11. Easy Tiger (2:05)
  12. I Am You (5:10)
  13. Goodnight Lovers (3:48)

Released by: Warner Bros.
Release date: 2001
Total running time: 56:48

dada

dadaThis album – the band’s fourth and probably last – features just about everything that’s good about dada. The energy and harmonies most prominently featured on Puzzle are back, and so are the catchy melodies, this time with a little bit more electric guitar and production complexity. “Where You’re Going” uses echoing guitar as an anchor in the background, while the percussion, bass and more guitar drive the song. “The Ballad of Earl Grey and Chamomile” features more great guitar work and is a close second as my favorite song on the album. It’s yet another look back at happier times, which might become a clichè if dada didn’t do it so damned well. The background vocals on the chorus do a tremendous job of making you feel the excitement of those better days. “Information Undertow” has some of dada’s most inventive lyrics, and they only seem more apropos four years later, although my appreciation of lines like “I’m everywhere I want to be, nowhere especially” may say more than I want to about my own online habits. Goodbye is rating: 4 out of 4a beautiful ballad about the end of a relationship. “Beautiful Turnback Time Machine” is a cool track about what we’d do if we could do it all over again. “This Thing Together”, a song whose optimism may or may not be tempered by the “You know I’ll miss you when you’re gone” chorus, is carried by the vocals but has a great rhythm to it.

Order this CD

  1. Information Undertow (3:33)
  2. Playboy in Outerspace (4:53)
  3. Where You’re Going (3:39)
  4. California Gold (5:30)
  5. Thins Thing Together (3:48)
  6. Sweet Dark Angel (4:10)
  7. Goodbye (3:55)
  8. Beautiful Turnback Time Machine (4:21)
  9. Baby Really Loves Me (4:13)
  10. Spinning My Wheels (4:45)
  11. Outside (3:08)
  12. The Ballad of Earl Grey and Chamomile (3:46)
  13. Agent’s Got No Secret (4:22)

Released by: MCA
Release date: 1998
Total running time: 54:11

dada – Puzzle

dada - PuzzleTo the extent that dada has any hits, this is where you’ll find them. The sometimes-cynical sense of humor of “Dizz Knee Land”, with its once-again-pertinent line “I just flipped off President George / I’m going to Dizz Knee Land!”, permeates a few of the other tracks, like “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow” and “Posters”. But there is also a solid emotional core to the songwriting. “Timothy” is the story of a boy whose life is so depressing he resorts to fantasy; the accompanying strings might come off as overbearing if they weren’t so well balanced by the understated bass, acoustic guitar and vocals, all of which build in intensity throughout the song. “Surround” is one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard. At its core, it’s just percussion work and acoustic guitar playing a melody that’s simple yet elevating (with similar lyrics), but it layers other instruments in so well that the resulting harmonies intensify the feeling. Dim captures the sense of desperation of a person who looks back on his life at the end of a rating: 4 out of 4relationship and isn’t sure how he got where he is; as he asks, “Can’t this car go any faster / ’cause I can still see where I am,” the drums and electric guitar drive the song forward. I don’t have a DNP list like Earl’s, but if I did, it would be right up there. Suffice to say it’s one of my favorites.

Order this CD

  1. Dorina (6:06)
  2. Mary Sunshine Rain (4:39)
  3. Dog (4:13)
  4. Dizz Knee Land (4:06)
  5. Surround (3:38)
  6. Here Today, Gone Tomorrow (4:42)
  7. Posters (4:05)
  8. Timothy (4:00)
  9. Dim (4:21)
  10. Who You Are (3:25)
  11. Puzzle (6:20)
  12. Moon (5:18)

Released by: I.R.S.
Release date: 1992
Total running time: 54:58

Depeche Mode – Violator

Depeche Mode - ViolatorHailed as a change in direction in the group’s sound, this 1990 album from Depeche Mode introduced one new element: guitars, or at least better-than-usual samples thereof, in addition to the usual wall of synths and samples. But aside from what instruments were being used, this was a big shift in another way, one that I liked – an emphasis on melody and decent songwriting rather than production techniques and pushing the limits of synths and samples for their own sake. There’s actually decent music on here.

Highlights include the slinky “Sweetest Perfection” and low-key “Waiting For The Night”, along with the hit singles “Personal Jesus” and “Enjoy The Silence” (which were followed up by a somewhat smaller hit, “Policy Of Truth”). “Blue Dress” hails back to the lighter, more melodic Depeche Mode of the early 80s, in sound if not in subject matter, and features some of David Gahan’s best vocals in years. Across the board, the vocals on Violator are better than on any Depeche Mode album since Black Celebration.

Martin Gore’s guitar work stands out enough to let us know we’ve been missing out on a decent guitarist ever since Depeche Mode went all-synth.

Also, there are some untitled instrumental interludes hiding after a few of the other tracks, including a rating: 3 out of 4haunting piece called “Crucify”, which lurks at the end of the “Enjoy The Silence” track.

And finally, the album’s last track, “Clean”, truly becomes an exercise in irony in hindsight, when one considers that lead singer Gahan later went on to attempt suicide and enter drug rehab. (Then again, Gahan didn’t write the song – Martin Gore did.)

Order this CD

  1. World In My Eyes (4:26)
  2. Sweetest Perfection (4:44)
  3. Personal Jesus (4:56)
  4. Halo (4:30)
  5. Waiting For The Night (6:07)
  6. Enjoy The Silence (6:13)
  7. Policy Of Truth (4:55)
  8. Blue Dress (5:42)
  9. Clean (5:28)

Released by: Reprise
Release date: 1990
Total running time: 46:58