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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Don't Call It A Comeback

It's been 17 years and change since KoRn hit the music scene, and with 8 albums under their belt, 32 million copies sold, 2 Grammy Awards and a new lineup KoRn has just released their 9th album, titled "KoRn III: Remember Who You Are". The title refers to their first two albums recorded with Ross Robinson who returned for the new album, as though they're picking up where they left off with him. Many will call this album a "return to form" or "rebirth" or even a comeback, but KoRn never left; they just lost touch with what got them started. Guitarist James "Munky" Shaffer said "You can lose focus of why you wanted to start playing music in the beginning because you can get caught up in the money and the fame and the traveling. It’s kind of like, ‘OK, let’s hit the reset button.’"

After the release of their first hits compilation, "Greatest Hits, Vol.1", founding member and guitarist Brian "Head" Welch left the band to pursue religious interests. The band went on to record "See You On The Other Side", their first album as a four-piece band, before drummer David Silveria left on an "indefinite hiatus", eventually replaced by Ray Luzier who is on the new album. Bassist Fieldy has expressed excitement over the new direction of KoRn, "Ray is like the missing KoRn member we never had", going on to say "We know what we're doing on stage with each other, and everybody's on the same page. I've waited my whole career for KoRn to sound like we do now."

The verdict is in, and I couldn't agree more with Fieldy's comments. This album has KoRn sounding fierce, tight and focused and they've rediscovered that raw aggression found in their earlier albums. The first single and album opener (after "Uber Time" intro), "Oildale (Leave Me Alone)", is like an explosion from the first note, opening the floodgates for the raw energy that has been missed for many years. The video for the song and the photographs in the album artwork were shot in the fields of an oil refinery just outside of Bakersfield, CA where the group was founded, and ironically where Munky's father's was transferred to for work which led them to move to the area. The second track "Pop A Pill" sounds straight off the first or second album, a complete and perfect nod to their early days, followed by "Fear Is A Place To Live" which could have easily been on "Issues" or "Untouchables". The album never lets up, every track paying homage to the past with renewed energy.

I wish they would have found Ray 2 albums ago, and made this on the heels of "Take A Look In The Mirror" which is a great album, but the last to feature the original lineup. Making this album then would have saved us from "See You On The Other Side" and the "Untitled" album which played out merely as contract obligations, with only about 5 decent tracks total between the two. If the new album is any indication of what the future may hold for KoRn, these guys are just getting started. I highly recommend this album, next to Follow The Leader and Issues, it's among my favorites already.

Notes about Special Edition: The DVD features in-studio music videos for each track on the album which contains footage of the making of the album, but all edited in, so there are no interviews or insights by the band. There are 3 bonus tracks, one of which is a live performance of "Blind". Honestly, I don't think these bonus features give any added value to this release. The music speaks for itself so just buy the album.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Tool: The Live Experience

Arco Arena Sacramento, CA 7-13-2010

I've been to a hefty number of concerts, mostly in my 20's, but I've never had an experience like the one I had last night when the lights went out at Arco Arena, standing just 10 rows from the stage as the crowd ignited in anticipation of the sonic assault we were about to receive. I've never been that close for a big show like that, although I have seen Cake from just a few feet at a "secret gig" they did back in '98. Like many of Tool's songs, a slow rise of buzzing energy was building up inside, waiting for the music to start when Tool took the stage and launched into Third Eye, which set the mood and tone for the evening. They wasted no time moving on to Jambi, its frantic intro sending the crowd into a fist-pumping, foot-stomping frenzy (myself included). For a band who releases an album every 5 years, they play tight and fierce, as though they never lose the momentum from their last outing.

After a brief interlude song, the intro notes to Stinkfist, one of my favorites, began and that is when I was hit with that wave of bliss that rushes over you at a live show, only 3 songs in. The video played on the giant screens behind the band, giving fans a visual treat to accompany the songs that had us all in a daze. Anyone who knows about Tool and has seen their videos knows that their imagery is nearly as bold as their sound, mostly consisting of stop-motion animation, and seeing those images on the screens behind the band during their show takes the experience to another level. Next up was Vicarious, which begins with an intro that epitomizes the undeniable signature sound of Tool, and is another of my favorites of theirs. A couple of ho-hum tracks went by, Eon Blue Apocalypse and The Patient, before Intolerance, the first song off their first album and coincidentally, the first song I put on the new Tool mix I burned yesterday for the ride there. Next up was Schism, which also begins with one of those unmistakable intros, this one with a rolling bassline and the line "I know the pieces fit, cuz I watched them fall away", the video playing with footage so bizarre you get lost in trying to figure out what you're looking at. The last song before intermission was Forty-Six & 2 which they played flawlessly, another of my favorites.

The band members left the stage after Forty-Six & 2 while a bunch of crew members brought out a 2nd drum set out towards the edge of the stage. The drummer and bassist from openers Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine, led by former Dead Kennedys frontman, took the stage and launched into a very extended jam version of Lateralus, after an improvised bass jam between the JBGSM and Justin from Tool. Before launching into ├ćnima, the final song of the evening which basically talks about the end of the world and Los Angeles being flushed away, Maynard said "It's all going to be alright." Maynard left the stage with a big wave after the song ended, and Danny Carey (drummer) showed off his Kings jersey to which he received a huge roar from the crowd before he, Adam (guitar) and Justin (bass) walked out onto the stage and waved to the crowd, all with huge smiles on their face.

There were a couple of songs I would have liked to hear, such as The Grudge and Sober, but overall this was an amazing night. I have only seen Tool once before, back in 1998, so I can't make much of a valid gauge of this performance against many others but I can say that they sounded like they're ready to go make another masterpiece and you better believe I'll be seeing them on their next outing.

Complete setlist:
Timothy Leary Intro
Third Eye (extended)
(-) Ions
Stinkfist (extended)
Eon Blue Apocalypse
The Patient
Intolerance (extended)
Schism (extended)
Forty Six & 2
Lateralus (extended with drummer and bassist from JBGSM)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Something For Everybody

The results from Devo's song study led to the "88% focus group approved" LP "Something For Everybody" in stores and on iTunes and There are 4 versions, but only one version made it to retail stores, which has a slightly altered tracklist from what was announced at the press conference. There is a deluxe digital version with all 16 tracks from which the final 12 were chosen for the retail version. There is also the digital download of the 12 tracks that received the most votes, which is the tracklist announced at the press conference after the Song Study closed. An explanation was posted on the Club Devo website, and the basic message was that Devo took their fans input and then took creative control and included the songs they felt should be included on the album. Strangely, the track which received the most votes in the Song Study, "Watch Us Work It" did not make it on the retail release. This was very frustrating to me, until I bought the CD and gave it a listen.

I still feel that they should have traded with the less popular songs first in order to get the ones they wanted on the album, being that "Work It" is one of their best tracks ever, and would have been among the top few on the album. However, I must say that I was far more impressed with the album as a whole than I would have expected with the absence of that track. From start to finish, Devo manage to retain their signature 80's sound, while managing to sound "Fresh" at the same time. Standout tracks include "Later Is Now", "Don't Shoot (I'm A Man)", "Cameo" and "Human Rocket", and a song I hadn't enjoyed from the 30-second Song Study clip, "No Place Like Home".

Overall, I do agree with the band's decision to ultimately decide the tracklisting since it is their music, but I wish they would have made the "fan-approved" version available in stores, not just through digital download. This may be a digital era for music, but many music fans like myself still want the physical CD in hand, with album artwork and liner notes. Besides, you get the best of both worlds when buying the CD, because you can rip it to your computer and have the tracks digitally just as you would if you downloaded from iTunes. No matter how you acquire new music, this new release from Devo deserves its place on your CD shelf or iPod. This album lives up to its title, not just in the songs but in the many available versions available.