The Strokes – Room On Fire

The Strokes - Room On FireIt’s official – I must live on another planet, because I missed the music industry hype around the Strokes’ second album, released in 2003. I gather that some of the fans accumuated from their first album in 2001 didn’t dig this one, but as I haven’t heard that one, I really enjoyed Room On Fire. Its eleven songs are compact, economical morsels of catchy-as-hell power pop with almost insanely hummable hooks.

I seldom just fall all over myself fawning over an album, but there simply isn’t a lame song on this disc. “What Ever Happened?” is almost deceptively easygoing as an opening number, but it’s chased down by one of the album’s strongest songs, “Reptilia”, which sees this very small band getting a very big sound. Lead man Julian Casablancas may not have a voice that’s to everyone’s taste, but it grew on me. The guy can sing, but on some songs he sees fit to scream instead – and with repeated listening, I’ve come to the conclusion that his instincts are usually right on the money. “Reptilia”, for example, wouldn’t be quite the same without it.

“Repitilia” is a straight-out-of-the-70s, straight ahead hard rocker, while “Between Love And Hate” and “Automatic Stop” almost show the tiniest hints of reggae influence. “Under Control” takes a few 50s-style riffs and runs them all through heavy distortion. “12:51”, the song whose video was played out as a lost scene from Tron*, almost sounds like the Cars’ first two albums, only the “synth” sounds are actually coming from a guitar. Which brings me to another point – for a five-piece band, and a young one at that, the Strokes are impeccably tight. Actually, at first I typed “impossibly tight.” And I’m not sure that’s wrong either. Instrumentally, they’re a fantastic band.

4 out of 4It wasn’t until after I wrote the bulk of this review that I looked around, saw that there seemed to be some “received wisdom” that this album didn’t live up to the debut, and adjusted things accordingly – meaning I made a mention that some folks see a sophomore slump here, but I certainly don’t. Since I’m evidently listening to the Strokes’ discography backwards, I hope that their first album was as good as Room On Fire, because nothing about this one is lacking to my ears.

Order this CD

  1. What Ever Happened? (2:50)
  2. Reptilia (3:39)
  3. Automatic Stop (3:27)
  4. 12:51 (2:26)
  5. You Talk Way Too Much (3:00)
  6. Between Love And Hate (3:09)
  7. Meet Me In The Bathroom (2:53)
  8. Under Control (3:02)
  9. The End Has No End (3:04)
  10. The Way It Is (2:21)
  11. I Can’t Win (2:35)

Released by: RCA
Release date: 2003
Total running time: 32:26

* In addition to the Tron video, the artwork on the “Reptilia” CD single was the marquee artwork from Atari’s arcade game Centipede. I think I spot a trend…

Doctor Who: The Seventh Doctor Audio Adventures

Doctor Who: Music From The Seventh Doctor Audio AdventuresThe last collection to date of soundtracks from a single Doctor’s adventures, Music From The Seventh Doctor Audio Adventures puts together music from three of the 2001-2002 stories starring Sylvester McCoy. The music collected from each of these three adventures is pretty diverse – it may well be the only CD in my collection that has trance music, theremin and someone playing the spoons on the same tracklist – and it’s also a first in that it contains contributions from the seventh Doctor himself. But more on that in a moment.

The first seven tracks consist of selections from Dust Breeding, and they’re the only straight-ahead, soundtrack-ish cues you’ll find on this CD. In the liner notes, composer Andy Hardwick says he was trying to achieve a “breathy quality” to act as a motif for the dust, but as a standalone listening experience, it’s the moody piano work that stands out the most. The “breathy” synths, when they do appear, actually give the proceedings an almost dated sound.

The most surprising, and enjoyable, music included on this CD are the techno tracks from The Rapture, a story which centered around an Ibiza dance club of the same name with a sinister secret. The multi-talented Jim Mortimore, who has also authored and even illustrated Doctor Who novels from the New Adventures range, gets to work Doctor Who into his “day job” as a techno musician with some lively tracks; the various pieces of “source music” here are woven into a continuous suite whose component parts stand just as well on their own. I was really surprised by how good some of the music for The Rapture was. I also have to give mad props to whoever edited together the extended-length trailer for this story – normally I skip the story trailers because, well, I’ve heard the stories in their entirety by now at least once. I’m always up for listening to The Rapture‘s trailer again though – it’s that good.

From there we go into an all-out SF musical parody. I was particularly looking forward to hearing the music from the comedy story Bang-Bang-A-Boom! by itself, just to see if Russell Stone had worked any clever musical nods in there somewhere that weren’t immediately apparent under dialogue. If anything, Bang-Bang-A-Boom! stops just short of being a disappointment; while the story itself lampoons everything from Buck Rogers to Space: 1999, the music is decidedly more modern. Stone seems to be trying to make fun of the more droning passages of the music from Deep Space Nine and Babylon 5, but he’s trying too hard, and winds up with music that, for the most part, is far more droning and catatonic than anything that the composers on either of those shows could’ve managed – sort of a case of okay, we get the 3 out of 4joke. Things are livened up considerably with the various entries from the Intergalactic Song Contest, featuring Mr. Sylvester McCoy on the spoons. (This may well be the only time that the Doctor featured in one of Big Finish’s soundtrack collections can be counted as a performer in his own right.)

It’s a bit of an uneven listening experience if one tries to go straight through it in a single sitting, but there are some individual gems in the rough on Music From The Seventh Doctor Audio Adventures.

Order this CD

  1. Trailer: Dust Breeding (1:35)
  2. The Sadness That We See In Him (2:52)
  3. Damien Unhinged / Mr. Seta Unmasked (5:43)
  4. Like A Tiger, It Toyed With Me (1:52)
  5. The Dust Belongs To Me! / No Oil Painting (4:42)
  6. Always Knew I’d Die On Duchamp (4:12)
  7. The Future Has Already Happened (1:09)
  8. Trailer: The Rapture (0:52)
  9. Maggie’s Music (1:47)
  10. Triangle Chill (4:04)
  11. Freestyle (2:50)
  12. Brook Of Eden (4:03)
  13. Rebirth (1:41)
  14. Sorted (2:07)
  15. Jude’s Law (2:56)
  16. Pink Pulloff (1:47)
  17. Crystal Devildance (1:08)
  18. Gloves Off (with Jane Elphinstone) (1:29)
  19. Trailer: Bang-Bang-A-Boom! (1:57)
  20. Welcome To Dark Space 8 (1:22)
  21. The Trouble With Dark Space 8 (1:58)
  22. I’m Just Not Like The Other Boys! (The Pits Of Angvia) (1:20)
  23. Dead Drunk (The Death Of A Scientist) (3:02)
  24. This Is The Denouement (Oh No, Sorry, It Isn’t) (2:30)
  25. That Peace Conference (2:50)
  26. When Gholos Attacks (0:45)
  27. That Space Battle (1:04)
  28. Galactivision (3:33)

Released by: Big Finish Productions
Release date: 2003
Total running time: 68:31

Symphonic Suite Gatchaman – music by Koichi Sugiyama

Symphonic Suite GatchamanSo, just doing some random Amazon browsing, I happened upon Symphonic Suite Gatchaman, and remembering what a fantastic, I’d-give-it-five-stars-if-the-ratings-didn’t-only-go-up-to-four listening experience Symphonic Suite Yamato was, I jumped on it. Surely this would be some great stuff, reinterpreting Bob Sakuma’s 70s-era-Chicago-inspired rock-orchestral incidental music into a bigger, bolder, fuller form. (You’ve heard Sakuma’s outstandingly atmospheric music even if you’ve only seen Gatchaman’s English-translated, heavily-edited counterpart, Battle Of The Planets.)

And I still think that’d be a great idea. But that’s apparently not what Symphonic Suite Gatchaman is. With the exception of a new arrangement of the Gatchaman theme song, and a couple of fleeting nods to Sakuma’s style (but not his actual compositions), Symphonic Suite Gatchaman has nothing to do with the original music. It’s a completely new, unrelated work. To say I was disappointed with this revelation would be an understatement.

Now, stepping back and trying to keep some objectivity, I did enjoy some of the music. And if someone was going to step in and rescore some of the original Gatchaman adventures with a large orchestral ensemble playing new compositions to keep the show more in line with major motion picture music…I could see this material fitting the bill nicely. It’s not bad music in and of itself, though it suffers when compared to Sakuma’s dynamic original cues. This stuff may be nicely arranged, performed and recorded, but it’s bland by comparison – think of the difference between classic Star Trek music and the much more subdued sound of Star Trek: The Next Generation. And that comparison is sadly inevitable. I’m just not sure how accurate it was to bill it as a symphonic suite of the original music (which is at least implied by the album’s title). It is a symphonic suite. I’ll give it that much.

rating: 2 out of 4It’s decent music, but considering that the album’s billing had me primed to let a grand, sweeping reinterpretation of Bob Sakuma’s original scores wash over me, Symphonic Suite Gatchaman is still a bit of a letdown. Think of it as “Music Not From, But Still Inspired By, Gatchaman,” and you’ll be okay.

Order this CD

  1. Prologue: Introduction For The Story (2:41)
  2. The Theme Of Gatchaman (3:42)
  3. Lullaby: The Theme Of Red Impulse (6:14)
  4. The Night Of Great City (0:58)
  5. The Battle (5:05)
  6. The Song Of Gatchaman (1:10)
  7. The Theme Of Joe (3:27)
  8. Elegy: Joe’s Death (4:50)
  9. The Theme Of Governor X (5:59)
  10. Epilogue: Peace And A Premonition Of A Crisis (2:50)

Released by: Columbia / Sony
Release date: 2003
Total running time: 37:00

Katamari Fortissimo Damacy

Katamari Fortissimo DamacyThe soundtrack to an almost unreasonably fun video game, Katamari Fortissimo Damacy is one of the most varied soundtracks I’ve ever heard to any multimedia entity, and it’s also one of the few soundtracks consisting of the works of multiple artists that I’ve ever heard rise to this level.

To give just a little bit of background on the game itself, Katamari Damacy is a Japanese import from Namco, the folks who brought us Pac-Man, Dig Dug and other almost illegally addictive video games down through the ages. You control a diminutive Prince, whose father, the King of All Cosmos, has apparently obliterated all the stars in the sky. You’re sent on a mission to create “katamari” – balls of objects all rolled up into a big clump. In the early stages of the game, you pick up pencils and paper clips and other small objects, but if you’re good enough you can eventually roll your katamari over entire oceans, picking up giant squids and islands. Nothing is safe. Everything can be accumulated. But if you try to pick up something that your katamari simply doesn’t have the mass and momentum to accumulate, you’ll either dislodge a few precious items from it – or lose it altogether. The object is to grow the katamari big enough to launch it into the night sky as a new star.

This zany, cartoony fun takes place against the backdrop of some simply wonderful music, making the package even better. (I highly recommend the game too – unsure of whether or not anyone outside of the Far East would “get it,” Namco dumped this game in the U.S. at a budget price of $20 and it promptly sold out its first print run just on word of mouth alone.) The music is whimsical, light-hearted, and has a great energy to it. Few CDs have made me smile as much while listening as this one does on a regular basis.

Yu Miyake’s “Katamari On The Rock” serves as a recurring motif throughout the various songs, and it’s as versatile a tune as you could ask for. Not every song features that element, though. Highlights range from the J-pop stylings of “Lonely Rolling Star”, “You Are Smart” and “The Moon And The Prince”, to the almost Sinatra-esque “Que Sera Sera”, to the New York jazz-flavored “A Crimson Rose And A Gin & Tonic”, to the meandering remixed guitar of “Angel Flavor’s Present”, to a Michael Bolton-style power ballad called “Katamari Love”, to “Last Samba”, which sounds a bit like someone’s been listening to John Williams’ Naboo celebration from the end of Star Wars Episode I. That every syllable of every lyric on the album is sung in Japanese doesn’t diminish my enjoyment of it one bit. Frankly, if anything, this CD gives me a nice, long list of artists whose other works I’ll be keeping an eye out for, if their work here is any indication of their usual output.

rating: 4 out of 4It’s a wildly infectious listening experience and, like the game itself, it has the almost inexplicable effect of brightening my day every time I come into contact with it. It’s almost hard to explain. Even harder to explain is how Namco might possibly top this collection of music for the upcoming sequel, Everybody Loves Katamari Damacy. My first Damn Near Perfect Album List addition in a long, long time. Katamari Fortissimo Damacy is that good.

Order this CD

  1. Nananan Katamari performed by Yu Miyake & Yuusama (1:21)
  2. Katamari On The Rock: Main Theme performed by Yu Miyake & Masayuki Tanaka (5:57)
  3. Overture performed by Yu Miyake & Asuka Sakai (0:49)
  4. The Moon And The Prince performed by Kenji Ninuma & Akitaka Tohyama (5:30)
  5. Fugue #7777 performed by Asuka Sakai (1:22)
  6. Lonely Rolling Star performed by Yohihito Yano & Saki Kabata (5:44)
  7. The Wonderful Star’s Walk Is Wonderful performed by Yuri Misumi (3:12)
  8. Katamari Mambo (Katamari Syndrome mix) performed by Nobue Matsubara, Yuri Misumi & Sakamoto-chan (5:35)
  9. You Are Smart performed by Akitaka Tohyama (3:32)
  10. A Crimson Rose And A Gin & Tonic performed by Ado Mizumori & Asuka Sakai (4:29)
  11. Wanda Wanda performed by Yu Miyake (3:23)
  12. Que Sera Sera performed by Charlie Kosei & Asuka Sakai (5:31)
  13. Angel Flavor’s Present performed by Yu Miyake (5:08)
  14. Katamaritaino performed by Yui Asaka & Hideki Tobeta (5:54)
  15. Katamari Stars performed by Hideki Tobeta (2:28)
  16. Cherry Blossom Color Season performed by Yu Miyake & Katamari Company Jr. (6:14)
  17. Lovely Angel performed by Yu Miyake (1:27)
  18. Stardust Fanfare performed by Akitaka Tohyama (0:08)
  19. Last Samba performed by Yu Miyake, Asuka Sakai & Katamari Samba Company (1:00)
  20. Katamari Love (Ending Theme) performed by Shigeru Matsuzaki & Yohihito Yano (4:09)
  21. Katamari March Damacy performed by Yu Miyake (2:21)

Released by:
Release date:
Total running time:

Steve Winwood – About Time

Steve Winwood - About TimeA long time ago, Steve Winwood was high on my list of favorite artists, back in the days when he was milking that Yamaha DX7 sound for all it was worth – and I loved it, frankly. I was a bit let down when he followed up great albums like Arc Of A Diver and Talking Back To The Night with a long period of silence, and then the mellowed-out Back In The High Life, and then another long hiatus after which he took a head-first plunge into low-tech rock with Roll With It. About Time is a minor letdown to the 80s Winwood fan in me, in that it continues along that path. In retrospect, and having learned a lot more about Winwood’s background since my teenage years, I realize that low-tech rock is what the man’s all about, and perhaps what he’s best at. And on that level, I can enjoy About Time quite a lot.

This time around, instead of trying to recapture his electric-organ-virtuoso Spencer Davis Group days, Steve Winwood is leaning on a sparser, bluesier sound. Every song on About Time sounds like a tune that evolved organically from a loose jam session – and generally, if you’re listening to something with a blues-based sound, that can’t help but be a good thing. And while synthesizers have come and gone out of fashion with him, Winwood still has a full command of his most powerful voice – he still has one of the most distinctive, effortless-sounding voices in rock music. He never sounds like he’s straining to hit a note, and he shows no sign of having written his material around a limited range.

“Cigano” is easily one of the album’s standout tracks, but the show-stealers here are two slow-bake numbers, “Silvia” and most especially “Horizon”, which is one of the best songs Winwood has ever done, hands-down. Now, one byproduct of the easy, bluesy style of most of About Time‘s tracks is that it can fade into the background a bit – even, I’ve found, if you’re listening on headphones. But those standout tracks (and your mileage may vary one which songs are the best on the CD) make it worthwhile. You’ll know which ones you like when you like ’em.

rating: 3 out of 4It’s a good album, and it’s good to hear Steve Winwood getting back into the swing of things. I wouldn’t kick him in the shins for giving us a great pop song like he used to, but songs like “Horizon” are timeless and impossible to pigeonhole – and I’ll gladly take that too.

Order this CD

  1. Different Light (6:36)
  2. Cigano (For The Gypsies) (6:21)
  3. Final Hour (5:36)
  4. Why Can’t We Live Together? (6:39)
  5. Domingo Morning (5:07)
  6. Now That You’re Alive (5:29)
  7. Bully (5:40)
  8. Phoenix Rising (7:27)
  9. Horizon (4:31)
  10. Walking On (4:55)
  11. Silvia (Who Is She?) (11:28)

Released by: Wincraft Music
Release date: 2003
Total running time: 69:51

Tori Amos – Tales Of A Librarian

Tori Amos - Tales Of A LibrarianReally more of a contractual obligation than anything, Tales Of A Librarian brings Tori Amos’ contract with Atlantic Records to an end and provides the fans with her first official best-of compilation. As with so many greatest hits collections, the main critique is going to be in the selection of material, though in most cases Librarian gives you what you’d expect; there’s a heavy emphasis on Little Earthquakes, represented by “Tear In Your Hand”, “Me And A Gun”, “Winter”, “Crucify”, “Precious Things” and “Silent All These Years”. Under The Pink is represented by “God”, “Cornflake Girl” and “Baker Baker”, while “Professional Widow” (wildly reworked; see below), “Way Down” and “Mr. Zebra” are here from Boys For Pele (what, no “Caught A Lite Sneeze”?).

There’s a surprising omission in the selection of songs from from the choirgirl hotel as well, as “Raspberry Swirl” is nowhere to be found; that album’s selection instead consists of “Spark”, “Jackie’s Strength”, and a version of “Playboy Mommy” that I’d swear has been, if not re-recorded, then at least heavily remixed. (All of the songs have been subtly reworked at least a little bit, but this is the most extreme example of that.) Perhaps not surprisingly, Strange Little Girls doesn’t make a showing at all, while only “Bliss” is drawn from the double album To Venus And Back.

The early era of Tori’s career – in some ways her most creatively energized years – is also represented by the Little Earthquakes-era B-sides “Mary” and “Sweet Dreams”, though they aren’t the original recordings.

“Mary” and “Sweet Dreams” were both re-recorded from the ground up for this album, and both of them receive a somewhat more raw, stripped-down treatment than their original versions. “Sweet Dreams” was always a bit of a jaunty, rollicking little number, with Tori backed up by the Subdudes, only here it’s arranged a little more loosely (though still with a full band backing), perhaps a little more representative of how it would sound today played live. It’s also shifted down a couple of keys, losing some of the original’s soaring backing vocals in the chorus. “Mary” has undergone an even more striking change, though – it’s gone from the traditional Little Earthquakes-style piano solo to a laid-back full-band arrangement similar to “Sweet Dreams”. And while I prefer the originals of both songs, these new arrangements aren’t bad. Just different. I’ve actually grown to like this alternative reading of “Mary” quite a bit.

Completely new on Librarian are “Angels” and “Snow Cherries From France”, which of course follow the same style as the rearranged B-sides: laid-back, with a small band, something that wouldn’t have been out of place on Scarlet’s Walk.

The whole re-recorded B-side thing bugs me a bit, because there’s something that would easily fulfill the contractual obligation and please the fans: Tori’s B-sides are a goldmine of fantastic material (in fact, while I rarely review CD singles here, I made an exception for some of Tori’s early CD singles because they were actually better than some of the album tracks). Not only are they good material, but they’ve become fairly scarce on CD. Surely a best-of-B-sides collection is waiting to happen somewhere.

Similarly, the bonus DVD of live material, while nice, misses the boat too – for years, Tori’s fans have been waiting for a video compilation on DVD. At least half of the tracks on Librarian have music videos that are just begging for an official release, and they’re some of the best examples of that medium in the past 15 years. Atlantic has announced and then cancelled a Tori Amos music video DVD at least twice to date; rating: 3 out of 4perhaps Librarian could’ve been a simultaneous multimedia release with these same hits receiving a long-overdue DVD treatment.

As it is, though, Librarian is a nice chronicle of Tori Amos’ career, with some interesting tracks that span the gap between where she’s been and where she’s going next.

Order this CD

  1. Precious Things (4:32)
  2. Angels (4:29)
  3. Silent All These Years (4:12)
  4. Cornflake Girl (5:08)
  5. Mary (4:44)
  6. God (3:56)
  7. Winter (5:45)
  8. Spark (4:15)
  9. Way Down (1:52)
  10. Professional Widow (3:50)
  11. Mr. Zebra (1:07)
  12. Crucify (5:02)
  13. Me And A Gun (3:45)
  14. Bliss (3:37)
  15. Playboy Mommy (4:08)
  16. Baker Baker (3:14)
  17. Tear In Your Hand (4:40)
  18. Sweet Dreams (3:41)
  19. Jackie’s Strength (4:27)
  20. Snow Cherries From France (2:56)

Released by: Atlantic
Release date: 2003
Total running time: 79:20

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