New Music Reviews: UPLIFTER, 311 / PRELIMINAIRES, Iggy Pop

Can we just say that we’ve passed the irony of “I hope I die before I get old” with the fact that Pete Townshend, who wrote “My Generation” in 1966 is, in fact, old, and living without the use of most of his hearing? You’ve got to hand it to the Rock & Roll generation, most of them did not die of overdoses on illegal drugs, but are living into old age, due in large part to the availability of good, legal, life lengthening drugs. That said, I do raise my glass to Robert Plant, who decided not to put together a Led Zeppelin reunion, siting the possibility of disappointing fans, and the fact that ‘It’s very hard to go back’.

These two albums are by artists who are getting up there in age. Of course, 311 less so than Iggy Pop, but both have learned to deal with aging in the music business in their own way. 311, by keeping their sound, and Iggy, by changing his.

311 “Uplifter” Released June 2 2009

I’m listening right now to 311’s new “Uplifter,” and perusing their website. The Omaha/LA quintet has called this album “the heaviest of their career.” World beat, reggae, dub, squeeky clean hip hop sounds have been the hallmark of their sound, not exactly what I call heavy. But that’s the sound that has paid the bills till now, and it doesn’t sound like they’re about to change the equation.  The current mix on “Uplifter” is more alternative sounding though, thanks to producer Bob Rock. (Bon Jovi, Motley Crue, Aerosmith, Metallica) For the most part, the album is very Southern California, very chill and laid back.

Uplifter  is 311’s ninth studio album. The CD/DVD combo includes 14 songs (12 w/ the Standard edition plus exclusive tracks from Amazon and iTunes so 16 total) and an 83 min video of the “Road to 311 Day 2008,” a behind-the-scenes look at the band’s celebrated day: March 11. The album was produced at the Hive Recording Studios in Los Angeles, LA, currently owned by 311. When asked how the new album fits in with the older releases, Nick Hexum (lead singer) said, ‘It’s a similar feeling among the band members to the one we had after recording Music and the Blue album.’ And according to SA Martinez, the band’s Vocalist/Turntablist ‘We’ve just finished what is perhaps our finest album yet.’ The band recently released a video on their official YouTube page featuring Bob Rock and the band recording a track using Guitar Hero World Tour.

Lyrically, the band doesn’t seem to have broken any new ground here.  When Nick Hexum la-la-la’s through the skippy little two beat number “Too Much Too Fast.” he sings “What is revealed? What is concealed? It makes all the difference, say what you will, we unreeled that human web just to see how it feels?” Cute, but the thought crossed my mind that Lincoln’s “Little Black Stereo” could do the same tune with more heart. (http://www.myspace.com/littleblackstereo)

Yes, these are catchy tunes by a s0lid band who’s heyday began with 1993’s “Music.” But is the band still relevant in 2009? The tight “I Like the Way’ shows that they can be. A funky rhythm section juxtaposed with an electro rap chorus works it’s magic deep in a groove.  “I like the way you keep it from me, woah ohhh, I like the way you move in front of me.” Alright, it’s not exactly Arthur Rimbaud, but in a shlocky pop world, it seems that the band is in a “whatever it takes to get you through the tune” mode. What’s most important though is that “Uplifter” sounds just like a 311 record.

The equation doesn’t always work. “Get Down” starts with a nice bottom heavy guitar line, and clean, fast drum breaks by Chad Sexton. Then comes a strange, new age-ey jazz bridge and then back to the main line. From this track, it’s obvious that there must be piles of  “the sacred gange” being consumed in 311 land.

If you’re a 311 fan, you’ll love “Uplifter.” If you’re not by now, you know why, and there’s nothing here to change your mind.

2.5/5

Iggy Pop “Preliminaires” EMI/Astralwerks US~ Released June 2 2009

Why do old rockers love to sing jazz? Iggy Pop has gone French on this release, a beautiful introspection inspired by French novelist Michel Houellebecoq’s 2005 novel, The Possibility Of An Island. This is Iggy’s 15th solo album in a long career dating back to the late 60’s. Word is that he’s on something of a death trip, possibly brought on by the passing of his longtime friend/bandmate Ron Asheton of a heart attack in January.  On “Preliminaires,” (foreplay in French) Iggy experiments with French ballads and New Orleans jazz. His voice has never been this rich, and, of the rockers who have gone jazz, he is my favorite. (Rod Stewart, Cindy Lauper, Queen Latifah etc…) I love the timbre of his voice, and his reading in French is so sexy, you get visions of Kurt Wagner (Lambchop) or Leonard Cohen. But that spell is broken when the “Woody Allen sounding clarinet solo” pops on, you wake up, scratch your head, and wonder what this thing is all about.

One cannot look at Iggy Pop, real name James Newell Osterberg, Jr., without thinking what a beautiful specimen of a man he is. Still vicious looking at 62, one rarely sees such muscularity and vascularity in an individual. But Iggy is a craggy, crabby old man now, with a bleak world view. He’s been quoted as saying that he is “sick of listening to idiot thugs with guitars banging out crappy music.” What does he think he was in ’69? How soon they forget. Preliminaires is a must add to any Iggy collection, because as we know, rock legends do evolve, and sometimes they stray from far away from rock.  And sometimes they come back.

Look for the Broadway Books Biography on Iggy which promises to be the definitive biograpy of the ‘Godfather of Punk.’ Iggy Pop: Open Up and Bleed,  in bookstores now.

3.5/5

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