Jack White

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with the ex-White Stripes main man Jack White. Tracks such as Blue Orchid and My Doorbell showed off his true potential, mixing left-field originality with contemporary sounds, to create the most unique rock band of the last twenty years. However, too often he didn’t fully commit to his ambitious ideas, so that he ended up creating songs that where neither here-nor-there. Personally, I found these moments to be too big of a problem for me to truly love the White Stripes, meaning I’ve always had to pick through the clutter to find the gold.

After The White Stripes ended in 2011, Jack White turned his attention to his solo career and promptly released his first record, Blunderbuss, in 2012. Tracks like Freedom at 21, I’m Shakin’ and the title song Blunderbuss held up to the substantial legacy created by the White Stripes, whilst also managing to push his musical boundaries. Many solo artists fail to live up to the expectation created by the bands that elevated into their solo career, but Jack White managed to avoid this common trap and excel in creating a special record that I appreciated much more than any album produced by The White Stripes.

Last week Jack White unveiled Just One Drink; the third song to be heard from his upcoming second solo record, Lazaretto. Whilst it’s not his most revolutionary track, it is a traditional rock ‘n’ roll powerhouse, with plenty of swing provided by a thumping piano backdrop. If there was one complaint I could make, it would be that the layered vocals of the chorus and the second verse sound too cluttered; almost like the two voices are fighting for dominance.

https://soundcloud.com/thirdmanrecords/just-one-drink/s-sIjSh

However, the other two tracks to be heard from the album so far are much more adventurous, and dare I say it, flawless. High Ball Stepper is an instrumental which cycles through contrasting sections of intensely overdriven riffs, layers of effects, haunting vocal chants and piano tomfoolery, turning one simple riff into a orchestra of noise and beauty. The title track Lazaretto continues in this vein; White’s frantic vocals remind of White Stripes’ Icky Thump and the track is crammed full with guitar experimentation and even makes use of strings.

It appears that in his post-White Stripes days, Jack White has been freed from the confines of fans’ expectation, allowing himself to release records that see him finally fully committing himself to his experimentation, both in terms of instrumentation and genre. The results so far have been impressive and have gone a long way to remove the hate from my love-hate relationship.

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H. R. Giger

I always have the greatest respect for artists who provide innovative pieces for bands to use on their album covers. In the past I have looked at the works of Storm Thorgerson and Jeff Jordan, but today I turn my attention to the artist most famous for designing the creatures in the Alien franchise: H. R. Giger. His typical work involves amalgamating mechanical images with the very human theme of erotica. He described his hybrid creations as ‘biomechanical’ and inadvertently created a style that would become replicated by many artists and designers over the world. Sadly H. R. Giger passed away last week, on the 12th of May, so to celebrate his work, here are four of his most extraordinary pieces commissioned for musical artists.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer

Although I personally dislike the music of ELP and its associated permutations, Giger’s artwork for their fourth release, Brain Salad Surgery, is fantastic. The piece is symbolic of fellatio, just like the album’s title and combines these ideas with the typical mechanical style that features so vastly across his work. The art was considered extremely shocking, whilst the physical album was praised for its design; the cover opened like a gate, revealing the human-like woman from beneath the industrial exoskeleton.

Debbie Harry

Like Brain Salad Surgery, the cover for Debbie Harry’s Koo Koo was featured on Rolling Stone’s top 100 album covers of the century. It’s not hard to see why, the image of Debbie Harry with four needles (each one representing one of the four traditional elements) thread through her face is strangely disturbing and not easy to forget. Debbie Harry is the name under which the lead singer of the band Blondie performed her solo material, and although this music is far removed from metal, you’d be excused for thinking the album’s contents is much heavier than it actually is.

Korn

Giger’s artistic input to music extends further than just album art. One of his most iconic works is the metallic sculpture of a biomechanical woman that doubles up as a microphone stand, which has been abused by Korn’s frontman Jonathan Davis for over a decade. The stand has become an iconic symbol for Korn’s live performances and is one of Giger’s most recognisable sculptures.

Celtic Frost

Giger’s work tended to be controversial due to the extended use of genitalia, but on the Swiss death metal band’s second album, To Mega Therionit was his portrayal of Christ being used as a slingshot in the hands of Satan that offended. It’s hard to imagine a more fitting partnership than Celtic Frost and H. R. Giger, so it comes as no surprise that the album went on to be a great inspiration, both musically and visually, for the still growing genres of black and death metal.

R.I.P. H. R. Giger 1940 – 2014

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Deathstars

Deathstars are a Swedish gothic metal band, who despite having some commercial success in 2006, have remained fairly underground throughout their fourteen year long career.

Their debut record, Synthetic Generation, was released in 2003 and was heavily inspired by the sounds of Rammstein and Marilyn Manson. Although the sound was becoming increasingly overused by an army of mediocre industrial acts such as Mindless Self Indulgence and Dope, Deathstars’ debut effort was tinged with glam and packed a punch greater than that of their rivals. Deathstars take the best elements of Manson and supercharge them, leaving a sound characterised by whispered horror-themed lyrics, bubbling glam synths, electronic squeaks and tom-based drumming.

Their most successful period came with the release of their second effort Termination Bliss, and in particular, the leading tracks Blitzkrieg Boom and Cyanide. The album wasn’t too dissimilar from the last, except for the improvement in song writing which came about from learning to cut the fat, as well as the tasteful implementation of choral and orchestral elements to create richer and fuller textures (most notable on Motherzone and Termination Bliss).

Their third effort, Night Electric Night, saw the band taking a notable step towards the glam aspect of their sound, losing a lot of the heaviness found on the first two records. The main change was with Whiplasher Bernadotte’s vocals; they had begun to sound stale and unimaginative in places, to the point of being able to work out how he would sing the lyrics before the tracks had even been played.

The first track to be released from their upcoming fourth album, The Perfect Cult, unfortunately follows the same path. The track, entitled All The Devil’s Toys, has a chorus that once again could be copied and pasted onto anything from Night Electric Night and a musical basis that fails to impress. However, the greatest reason for my disappointment, is the fact that they have had five years to create this album, yet have only managed to mimic the worse aspects from Night Electric Night, and to me, that is inexcusable.

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Linkin Park

Last night Linkin Park premiered Until It’s Gone, the second song to be revealed from their upcoming album, The Hunting Party. In numerous interviews the band have announced the record will be much more guitar-orientated than its predecessors, which saw the once nu-metal band experiment with the world of synths and electronica.

However, Until It’s Gone, comes across like a b-side off of Living Things, with bland verses and a chorus whose only lyric is the cringe-inducing cliche of “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone”. In fact the only hint of aggression during this four minute track comes across as the song ends, with Chester finally entering into a scream on the final lyric.

Every release since Minutes to Midnight has been led by a radio-friendly single, so this track’s release came as no surprise, but it’s not its commercial-orientation that bothers me. Previous radio-friendly releases have at least been strong tracks, What I’ve Done was simple but powerful, The Catalyst was energetic and creative and Burn It Done showed promise. Until It’s Gone has none of these traits; it’s lyrically poor, whilst the music is generic and void of any emotion.

The first song that was released from the record was a different story. Guilty All The Same welcomed back the guitar riff and featured a minute-and-a-half long intro which exploded into life and showed signs that the six-piece had finally learned to amalgamate electronic influences with the metal guitar riffs, which provided the foundation for their nu metal success. The track isn’t perfect though; Rakim’s rapped verse sounds like it was added on at the last minute, disrupting the flow of the song and the outro guitar is weak and relies too heavily on effects. In addition, the production job was intended to be raw and ragged, but it was taken too far, leaving parts of Guilty All The Same sounding cheap and lazy.

So far the picture painted by the two released songs is not the best. I really enjoyed both A Thousand Suns and Living Things, because they stuck with a style and wrote strong tracks within that domain, but with The Hunting Party no style has been defined as of yet, which has led to one track that is too busy with ideas, and another that succeeds at nothing. Hopefully the other ten songs on the record can change my mind, because I’ve always loved the way Linkin Park constantly re-invent themselves and are successful at doing so.

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