Entertainment Music

Bowie tops the week's CD reviews

By Darryl Sterdan, Special to Postmedia Network


David Bowie
The Next Day

Don’t call it a comeback. Call it THE comeback. The return of the thin white duke after a decade is arguably the biggest event in rock since Led Zep’s 2007 reunion. But while that was nostalgia, Bowie is — as always — about reinvention. Much like his character in The Man Who Fell to Earth, the David Jones we meet on his 24th album introduces a new evolutionary stage of music’s greatest chameleon and fiercest innovator. While many elements of these 14 songs — from the clanging guitars and honking sax to Tony Visconti’s chilly atmospheric production — will ring a bell to fans of ’70s fare like Lodger, Bowie recombines them with his typical flair, balancing artsy experimentation with classic pop songcraft and post-modern arena-rock. He even mutates his unmistakable baritone croon, changing his delivery and sound from song to song as he delivers dense, inscrutable lyrics about Berlin and alienation, fame and tyranny. In other words: It’s not just a new Bowie album. It’s a great new Bowie album.

RATING: 4.5 (out of 5)



Sound City
Various Artists

Dave Grohl does it again. The Nirvana drummer-turned-Foos frontman adds another credit to his resume — documentarian — with this cinematic love letter to the L.A. studio that changed his life. Featuring interviews with a who’s who of rock royalty, the 108-minute Sound City chronicles the birth, growth and demise of the place where classic albums from Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours to Metallica’s Death Magnetic were recorded — along with a little ’90s grunge platter titled Nevermind. But it doesn’t end there; Grohl, who bought the studio’s console when it closed, invites all-star alumni like Stevie Nicks, Rick Springfield and Josh Homme (plus ringers like Paul McCartney) over to record new songs (available separately on the soundtrack Sound City: Real to Reel). So in the end, Sound City isn’t about a room or a board or a bunch of rockers’ reminiscences; it’s about humanity and authenticity in music — things that, like recording studios, are casualties of our digital age. Except on Grohl’s watch, that is.

RATING: 4 (out of 5)


Eric Clapton
Old Sock

Slowhand has nothing to prove. So the guitar god doesn’t try on his 21st album. Instead, he takes up where 2010’s Clapton left off, jumping from blues to jazz to rock to reggae as he covers everyone from Hank Snow to Peter Tosh. As casual and endearing as its title.

RATING: 3 (out of 5)

Girl Who Got Away

Away, indeed — as usual, it’s been five years since Dido’s last disc. And as usual, this fourth full-length sweetly seduces you with the same cocktail of ethereal folk-pop, edgy electronics and tragic lyrics, topped by Dido’s soft-focus coo. She has a way.

RATING: 3 (out of 5)

Chelsea Light Moving
Chelsea Light Moving

You can’t have the light without the heavy. Sonic Youth guitar abuser Thurston Moore cranks up the amps with his new crew, adding a dose of pulverizing metal to his angular indie-rock and atonal freakouts. Less arty and more cathartic than recent SY.

RATING: 4 (out of 5)

Jeff Healey Band
House on Fire: Demos & Rarities

Not all posthumous Healey discs are created equal. Thankfully, this is one of the good ones. Issued on the fifth anniversary of the blues-rocker’s passing, these fully formed outtakes from the mid-’90s capture him at the top of his game. Recommended.

RATING: 3.5 (out of 5)

Son Volt
Honky Tonk

Less alt, more country. True to its title, the fourth disc from singer-guitarist Jay Farrar and his latest Son Volt lineup is a genre exercise, paying homage to the classic low-neck twang and slow-burning shuffle of the down-home Bakersfield sound. Perfect for Saturday night. 

RATING: 3.5 (out of 5)

They Might Be Giants   

Short and sweet. Oddballs TMBG prove less is more on their aptly named 16th disc, cramming 25 quirk-pop nuggets — some under 10 seconds — into 45 minutes. Luckily, that still leaves time for zippy, Zappaesque odes to black ops, karate chops and coup d’etats.

RATING: 3.5 (out of 5)


Get your mind out of the gutter: The title of KMFDM’s 18th disc is German for art. They’ve certainly mastered the art of consistency — these 10 visceral, violent cuts pump ’n’ grind to the same slamming beats, distorto-crunch guitars and death-disco synths as always.

RATING: 3 (out of 5)

Palma Violets

Meet this week’s overhyped British band. Or not. While the Londoners offer an intriguing mix of garage-rock, post-punk and goth — thanks to plenty of baritone bellowing and swirling organ — only a few of their songs are memorable enough to last until next week.

RATING: 3 (out of 5)

White Paint

Hollerado love gimmicks. The Ottawans sold their first CD in a baggie; this followup is handpainted. Thankfully, they also have a knack for crafting indie-pop nuggets from their inexhaustible supplies of post-punk sugar-buzz energy and anything-goes creativity.

RATING: 3.5 (out of 5)

Dawn McCarthy & Bonnie Prince Billy
What the Brothers Sang

The siblings in question: Don and Phil Everly. But forget hits; Faun Fables’ McCarthy and Palace Bro Will Oldham delve deep into the folk-rockers’ archive, resurrecting the heartaches and harmonies of album-cut rockers and pastoral obscurities. An eye-opener.

Justin Hayward   
Spirits of the Western Sky

Long time, no see. It’s been a decade since the Moody Blues cut an album, and 17 since Hayward’s last solo disc. Not that you can tell from these orchestrated pop-rockers and romantic ballads — though the country and bluegrass detours make a nice addition.

RATING: 3 (out of 5)

Kate Nash
Girl Talk

“I’m not having any fun,” Nash claims on her third album. No wonder; these songs find the sharp-tongued Brit picking at the scabs of her broken heart — and venting her spleen — to the strains of cathartically punky (and typically quirky) guitar-pop. Her loss, your gain. 

RATING: 3.5 (out of 5)

Nataly Dawn
How I Knew Her

If you know Dawn, it’s from YouTube quirksters/TV jinglemeisters Pomplamoose. On this kinda-sorta solo album, she and partner Jack Conte offset their usual bubbly whimsy by introducing layers of poignance and introspection. Get to know another side of her.

RATING: 3.5 (out of 5)


There’s plenty more where Sound City came from. Or at least there ought to be. Dave Grohl’s new documentary on the legendary L.A. studio (see review above) is so detailed and engrossing it makes you wish somebody would turn it into a TV series (I’m looking at you, Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen). Some Season 1 suggestions:

Abbey Road
The musical home of The Beatles, Pink Floyd and countless other British legends — and that crosswalk.

Sun Studio
The birthplace of rock ’n’ roll in Memphis is tiny and a tourist trap, but it’s still where the magic happened.

Hitsville U.S.A.
Motown’s Berry Gordy revolutionized music from his Detroit HQ in two houses.

Chess Studios
From Muddy and Bo to The Rolling Stones, they all recorded at 2120 South Michigan Ave.

Rolling Stones Mobile Studio
Speaking of the Stones, their studio on wheels was hired by Led Zep, Deep Purple and many more.

Electric Lady Studio
I visited Jimi Hendrix’s funky Manhattan digs once. Just seeing the storage room gave me goose bumps.

Le Studio
Used by Rush, April Wine and others, this defunct Quebec facility deserves a chapter in CanRock history.

Gold Star Studio
Another L.A. landmark, where The Beach Boys cut Pet Sounds and Phil Spector built his Wall of Sound.

Ardent Recording Studio
The Memphis stomping grounds of Big Star, Sam & Dave, The Replacements and Jim Dickinson.

Muscle Shoals Sound Studio
Famed for its house band The Swampers, the Alabama studio hosted the Stones, Aretha Franklin and more.


Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Who are Karen O and co. kidding? Despite claims they’d be going back to lo-fi on their April 16 release Mosquito, this first single is anything but garage-rock. Instead, it slowly builds from a smouldering ballad to a fully landscaped gospel roof-raiser. A good start.

RATING: 3.5 (out of 5)

Justin Timberlake

Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the silliest of them all? JT’s absurdly overhyped comeback continues with this second sneak peek at his 20/20 Experience album. Too bad it’s a boring eight-minute R&B slow-jam that makes D*** in a Box seem like Prince.

RATING: 2 (out of 5)

Mariah Carey
Almost Home

Carey quits feuding with Nicki Minaj for the cameras to get back to work with this suitably soaring and inspirational cut from Disney’s new Oz outing. Surprisingly, she even does it without her usual melismaniacal overkill. Guess she gets enough of that at work.

RATING: 3 (out of 5)


Johnny Winter
Live in Japan

Still alive and … well, hanging in there. Albino blues-rock guitar hero Winter may be slightly past his prime, but this 85-minute gig from his first Japanese tour (in 2011, surprisingly) proves he hasn’t lost his touch — even if he sits down to work his mojo these days.

RATING: 3 (out of 5)

Matchbox Twenty
These Hard Times

Love Matchbox Twenty but hate YouTube? You are clearly the target market for this bootleg-quality release, which mashes together nine songs from the pop-rockers’ intimate 2007 Soundstage TV appearance. Even so, you’re probably better off waiting for a rerun.

RATING: 1 (out of 5)




Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
Specter At The Feast

Billy Bragg
Tooth & Nail

Earth Rocker

Depeche Mode
Delta Machine

The Fabulous Thunderbirds   
On the Verge

To Beast or Not To Beast

The Invisible Way

Elvis Presley
Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite (Legacy Edition)

Josh Rouse
The Happiness Waltz

Marnie Stern
The Chronicles of Marnia


Justin Timberlake
The 20/20 Experience

Various Artists   
The Music Is You: A Tribute to John Denver

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