Peter Gabriel – New Blood Album Review

As the original vocalist and member of progressive rock/pop band Genesis, Peter Gabriel made the most of his tenure by learning the ins and outs of creating ambitious concepts and developing larger-than-life arrangements. Those creative processes never left him when he followed through with his solo career, garnering a taste for more tightly constructed records with a more focused musical direction. The songs featured on these albums have been so widely played that hearing someone attempt to play them through a karaoke machine isn’t a far-off imagination, but there’s a reason why these songs work so well that they’ve lived on through continuous play. Whatever that reason is, you can decide. Here we are, however, in 2011, with New Blood, the ninth studio album and more of an experiment of Gabriel’s that doesn’t feel too experimental. After all, what hasn’t he done yet to experiment with?

Last year, Peter Gabriel released his eighth studio album, Scratch My Back, which already attempted this experiment before. That is, Gabriel had been inspired to cover artists of the last three decades including Arcade Fire, The Magnetic Fields, and Radiohead. But not only to cover them, mind you. He rearranged them through orchestral means, utilizing a fully-staged orchestra and his voice. It was bold, yes, but interestingly enough, the songs worked because they were being touched by unseen hands. Gabriel was an outsider whose influence may have helped these bands out in the first place, but he was able to adapt these songs as a force outside of their realm. In that regard, the covers were nice companion pieces that were certainly well-produced, even if they didn’t exactly match the original track’s brilliance.

New Blood is entirely within the same vein as this previous effort – well-produced, nicely arranged, and slightly different. The only difference is that he’s applied this orchestral method to his own songs. The album spans fourteen lengthy tracks that cover a good span of his solo career, including fan favorites “In Your Eyes,” “Solsbury Hill,” and “Don’t Give Up.” Again, they are fan favorites, meaning these songs in their original formations exist in the hearts of tens or hundreds of thousands. These new orchestral arrangements are nice additions in their own right, and, like Scratch My Back before it, Gabriel again ensures fans that not only will they enjoy his original efforts, but that they will also find something new in these reworked versions. Sort of.

The tracks do take their time to settle us in, featuring swooning strings, dark piano and bombastic horn sections that very well align with Gabriel’s intentional epic scope. There’s no cutting around the edges here; New Blood just sounds beautifully orchestrated. Interestingly enough, though, these traits, even though more pronounced here, actually don’t sound too different from his original progressive pop creations. “San Jacinto,” for example, utilizes a grand piano in replacement for the electronic piano keys sampled in the original, or an oboe for the same purpose on “Intruder.” I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s offensive, but if you hadn’t heard the tracks in their original forms, you would never have known the difference. It’s as if you could really go either which way with any version featured here, and Gabriel has given you the choice to decide. He also has two tracks here which feature female vocalists, which do offer much softer and harmonious renditions.

Nothing is inherently wrong about New Blood. The experiment just isn’t nearly as surprising now that we kind of know what to expect here, and considering that some of the songs featured on this album feel like less progressive versions of his originals doesn’t really ask of anything new for fans. If this is your first trip into the solo work of Peter Gabriel, you might actually spend more time with this disc side-by-side with his original tracks in digital formats, trying to determine which one you think is better. It’s an album that begs for no attachment to Gabriel’s works, yet it really can’t escape.

Peter Gabriel’s New Blood is available Oct. 11th through EMI Music.

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The Great Kat – Beethoven Shreds Review

It appears that The Great Kat – named one of the “Top 10 Fastest Shredders of All Time” by Guitar One Magazine – has a new album out, and we should all rejoice, right? Sure, if you really want to spend a mere seven minutes of your life trying to comprehend how insanely fast this woman performs classical numbers on her guitar. This isn’t just merely playing guitar at a normal rate and then speeding up the track to sound fast. She literally shreds apart her guitar playing “The Flight of the Bumblebee” at a speed gun shattering 300 beats per minute, resulting in a song that lasts forty-two seconds long. It’s somewhat interesting for its runtime, but therein lies a question. Admittedly, the question is not about her talent, which is absolutely daring and perhaps untouchable in the rock community. Rather, the question lies in whether or not any of it is worth it.

Beethoven Shreds is a loud, roaring, and an abruptly short showcase of music that’s probably better off being listened to and seen performed at a guitar shredding competition than it is here spinning in a CD player. The songs – five of which are classical compositions from Beethoven, Bach and Paganini – are oftentimes so fast that you either have to laugh at its absurdity or cry because you know that these songs have seen better times. Certainly taking a classical piece and covering it is one thing, but when you can’t even recognize the song beyond it’s intended structure then you’ve got yourself caught in a bind. The fact that she plays loud and proud also reveals fault in her interpretations of these pieces, which are much more epic in scale than she makes it out to be.

Instead of allowing the time that these songs deserve, she intends on making them the fastest songs possible, as if it’s some sort of challenge. She does include two of her own original compositions which last (oh my!) over one minute, but even those are more exercises to show off her street cred. Whether or not you find that cocky is up to you, but it still doesn’t impress. The tracks might be more enjoyable actually seeing them performed in a crowd where we could see the intensity of her skill, but the lack thereof on “Beethoven Shreds” gives the CD no lasting appeal whatsoever. If you’re purely looking to find fast shredders, you might be better off searching YouTube and locating videos of performers playing similar classical masterpieces in the same vein at just about the same speed. If not, you’re better off leaving “Beethoven Shreds” and The Great Kat to a Battle of the Bands competition.

Coldplay Announce Fifth Studio Album

Britpop all-stars Coldplay have announced their fifth studio album, called Mylo Xyloto.

What you’re looking at is the reversible cover art for the album (pronounced MY-lo ZY-latoe), and it will have a target release date on October 24th (Oct. 25th in the U.S.).

According to the official release statement from the band, “Mylo Xyloto was produced by Markus Dravs, Daniel Green and Rik Simpson, with enoxification and additional composition by Brian Eno. The album will be released in digital, CD and vinyl formats. A special limited edition Pop-Up Album version will also be available, which will include a 12″ x 12″ hardback book containing graffiti pop-up art designed by David A. Carter, vinyl, CD and exclusive content including photographs, excerpts from the studio diary and the band’s personal notebooks.”

Coldplay will also release a new single from the album, “Paradise,” on September 12th.

Stay tuned for more news regarding Mylo Xyloto in the coming months before its release. You can check out the single “Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall” down below.

Jay-Z & Kanye West – Watch The Throne Review

When rap moguls Jay-Z and Kanye West announced that they were going to collaborate on a new record, you could feel the Earth rumble. The music community had every reason to jump for joy: Jay-Z had major success creating some of rap’s most memorable albums of the past decade, and Kanye West had been on a continual high since the release of his most recent critically acclaimed LP, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Perhaps the two biggest names in rap were about to join forces (as artists, not just as producers) and those of us who appreciated their works separately were now going to have their minds explode. But enough with how we felt before “The Throne” got together (that’s what they’re collectively called). What matters is that their release, Watch The Throne, is now available for us to see which one raps better, right?

Just to set the record straight, there is no question of who raps better here. While each track gives breathing room for each rapper to lay down a verse, this is not really a sparring event. That’s something left for fans to do when they play their albums side-by-side. If anything, Watch The Throne lets friends and partners try to find a unified vision, because really, what do these guys have to prove to one another? They’re arguably the hottest commodities of the rap community and the music community in general, and it should be worth celebrating…right?

Well, maybe it would be more accurate to find out who is really celebrating: the music community or Jay-Z and West themselves. The finished result of what took months of teasing and featuring guests is a rocky one, containing tracks that shine like its album art and obscure like its questionable gimmickry – by that I mean, is there really a reason why these two are making music together? There are many moments on here when you feel their collaboration is for the purposes of self-indulgence, referring to the idea that these two rappers really are royalty and then throwing it upon the listener. I’m not quite sure  that actually makes for great rap itself, a genre that hits hard when it plays hard and intricately applies lyrics to topics with some more humanistic significance. Here it’s just lyrically unimpressive, which is probably the biggest letdown, considering how well these guys do on their own turf.

However, for what it’s worth, Watch The Throne is more or less an admirable experiment, bouncing between musically superb examples of the craft and not-so-great tunes that some might consider even besting some of today’s Top 40. Those superb tracks mentioned, such as “Gotta Have It,” “New Day” and “Murder to Excellence” really shoot for inspired beats that sound very much in Jay-Z and West’s ballpark, bringing the best of their abilities together into a formative mold. That isn’t to say the rest of the album doesn’t do the same justice, but they come off more as the glaze than the mold itself. In fact, tracks featuring guests like up-and-comer Frank Ocean, Jay-Z’s beau Beyoncé and Mr. Hudson are the most overcooked tracks on here, providing so much excess that it ends up leaving little to desire.

By the end of the album, you leave with more questions than answers about this supposed dynamic duo, which doesn’t exactly make this the most impressive rap record of the year as most of us probably assumed it was going to be. Maybe questions are more important when it comes to an experiment like Watch The Throne, which can still pull off the few great songs mentioned, making this an admirable effort from artists who do know what they’re doing given the right ingredients. Having said that, however, the intention of giving power to “The Throne” as a sense for lyricism and marketability is lazy and most disappointing, but some tracks really do bring interesting beats to the table. If you have to have your fill of Jay-Z and/or Kanye West, then there is plenty here to put on your plate, but as someone expecting “two heads are better than one,” I don’t think the tracks not mentioned here are worth having seconds.

Tell us what you think of the album in the comments below and check out Watch The Throne, available now on iTunes and everywhere else on August 12th from Roc-A-Fella Records. (A “Deluxe Edition” is also available through iTunes, featuring four additional tracks including “H.A.M.” and “The Joy” feat. Curtis Mayfield)

Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs Deluxe Edition Now Available

The way The Suburbs was meant to be.

Time has been nice to Arcade Fire. The Canadian indie rockers had a massive year with the release of their third LP, The Suburbs, capping it off with a worldwide tour in support of the album and then taking the music industry by storm, earning the top honor of “Album of the Year” at last year’s Grammy’s. It’s a remarkable album no doubt, and considering the major success that is The Suburbs, the band has now released a deluxe edition exactly one year from its original release to help continue the festivities.

This new 2-disc deluxe edition features the album’s original 16-track tracklist plus two previously unreleased bonus tracks entitled “Culture War” and “Speaking In Tongues” featuring none other than new waver David Byrne, along with an extended version of “Wasted Hours.” Accompanying the release is an 80-page booklet featuring unreleased artwork from the band’s recording sessions and marketing photo shoots.

Also included in the set is a DVD featuring Spike Jonze-directed short film, “Scenes from The Suburbs,” a Behind-the-Scenes look at the making of the short film, and the music video for the single “The Suburbs,” also directed by Spike Jonze.

For those of you who already own The Suburbs, you can easily purchase these additional features digitally via iTunes. For those of you who have yet to pick up this album or are a huge Arcade Fire fan like I am, here is your chance to grab the full package as it was intended.

You can check out the music video to “The Suburbs” down below and be sure to check out The Suburbs Deluxe Edition, now available from Merge Records.