It’s OK That I’m Old: Flight Feathers Review

Flight Feathers
In the Darkness of My Night
2011 5D Studios

Great independent music is like a great fishing spot; it’s so good you want to tell people about it but as soon as you do then everyone shows up and fucks it up. It’s teenagers, I think, that are most often to blame for turning the simple pleasure of seeing a great unknown band with 100 people for $8 into a nightmare a year later when buying tickets to the same band’s sold-out show off Craigslist for 25% above face value and squishing into a capacity crowd of fucktards who want to sing all the lyrics to the single and record the whole thing on their fucking phone. See: Built to Spill, Weezer, Death Cab for Cutie, Kings of Leon, The Flaming Lips, Bon Iver, Iron & Wine, etc.

As I exited the party bus of my 20’s and stepped onto the commuter train of my 30’s I noticed that there were less and less opportunities to get out and enjoy a concert, especially for the bands I’d loved to see a scant ten years ago, and I’ve found myself being put off by the idea of having to fight crowds of drunken youngsters to see them again and either endure the black-hole-crush of ironically dressed bodies near the front of the crowd or stand at the back with the huddles of bored girls and too-cool dudes frantically trying to hold a conversations above the music they paid to come see. I’ve become old; old to the point where I look forward to going to a show that has fixed seating, old to the point where I’m more excited about finding good parking than I am for the encore, old to the point where I’ll wait for the concert to be released on DVD and watch it by myself on a Saturday afternoon while folding laundry. O.L.D.

But you know what, it’s ok. I’ve come to accept that the part of my life where I can head downtown at 9pm on a Tuesday to see some band in a shitty club just to say “I was there, man” has come and gone. I had a good run, I found some great tunes and I’ve got a mature and discriminating collection of music and I know what I like. Also, the internet has made it much easier to discover unknown bands without having to stand in the dark in a smelly rathole venue hoping you didn’t buy tickets to an all-synth screamo folk quartet and though seeing it live is special so is getting enough sleep to get to work on time and be awake enough to take care of your kids.

Anyway, enough about that. We’re here to talk about some music, right? The artist I want to cover today goes by the name Flight Feathers and is the pet project of one Babi Pal of Brooklyn, NY, a multi-instrumentalist who also recorded and mixed the album himself. I heard Flight Feathers during a segment break on Michael Ian Black and Tom Cavanaugh’s podcast “Mike and Tom Eat Snacks” and followed the link trail to Pal’s Bandcamp page. What I found (and bought) was “In the Darkness of My Night”: 8 tracks of brilliantly executed, bittersweet indie-folk in the vein of Elliot Smith and Mark Kozeleck with hints of Neil Young and Yo La Tengo sprinkled on top. The music is patient and confident, fully realized and ready to go; this isn’t a basement tape or a demo. Pal has created a perfect soundtrack for a rainy autumn day, you can smell the wet dirt, hear the soft wind and feel the peace that comes from staring quietly out the window at the grey sky and bare trees. From the drowsy waltz of “Afterlife” and the unhurried wander of “The Last Dance” to the more upbeat skip of “Freeze the Frame” and the slowly building cacophony that is “The Beating of My Heart” the album hikes through peaks and valleys, alternating between warm and fuzzy and… warm and fluffy? Ok, so honestly it’s not hugely diverse but it’s got enough character to really pull you in and it truly is one of the best records of it’s kind I’ve heard since Red House Painters’ “Songs for a Blue Guitar”. It’s got the tender acoustic ballads, the lazy swirling vocals and the sharp edge of rock just barely scraping across the surface, not enough to cut but enough to scratch the itch.

Chances are I won’t get to see Flight Feathers perform live, as they’re currently just doing local shows, and by the time they make it out here to the NW they may be so huge that I won’t want to go. However, as I said above, the internet is a great tool for discovery and it’s proved immensely useful again as I’d have never found this little gem.

Check out the album for streaming or downloading at: http://flightfeathers.bandcamp.com/

Bob Dylan’s Finest Hour

Bob Dylan is 70 years old today. And, though I haven’t enjoyed much of his recent output, his early albums have a very special place in my heart. There’s a reason this dude was considered the voice of his generation (note to Kanye West: Dylan was elected to the job and had the good sense not to want it). To celebrate Dylan’s 70th, I thought I’d share with you my favorite hour of his music. As recorded by him. So if you’re one of those weirdos who thinks that all of Dylan’s songs are better sung by other people, you can have the day off from reading Bollocks! today. (And yes, I realize most of these songs are taken from Blood On the Tracks and Highway 61 Revisited. They’re my favorite Dylan albums. If/when I do this for David Bowie, you can expect a whole lot of Hunky Dory and The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.)

I’m guessing a lot of people would rank “Tangled Up in Blue” among their favorite Bob Dylan tunes. It’s a great story song, the tale of a lonesome dude who no longer knows if he has the blues or if they have him. It’s got a lot of great lines in it (“I helped her out of a jam, I guess/ but I used a little too much force” is one of my favorites) and I actually really like the way Dylan sings the melody.

“Desolation Row” is far and away my favorite Bob Dylan song, even though it was recently butchered by My Chemical Romance. I just love the imagery he uses; he creates a universe and populates it with lovable losers (characters who show up time and time again in Bob Dylan songs). And then stupid My Chemical Romance comes along, chops that universe into little pieces, and sells it at Hot Topic.

My favorite fact about “Idiot Wind” is that it was quoted in Hootie and the Blowfish’s “I Only Wanna Be With You.” Despite appearing in a Hootie and the Blowfish song, “Idiot Wind” is one of Dylan’s best bitter songs: “You’re an idiot, babe/ it’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe.”

I think Bob Dylan was my first introduction to what I call “broken-ass music” and “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry” is probably the first of his songs (Highway 61 Revisited was the first Bob Dylan album I ever owned. On cassette. I know.) that really gave me that feeling, though it was years before I could articulate it as such. I love the charging, chugging feeling of the song and the line “If I don’t make it/ You know my baby will” kills me every time.

I’ve said about a billion times that one characteristic of the best blues songs is that sense of laughing to keep from crying. Pretty much all of Blood On the Tracks has that element, but “Buckets of Rain” is my favorite example. Dylan has buckets of tears and can still crack a joke and carry buckets of fucking moonbeams in his hands. Truly, this is a dude who can take a beating and remain on his feet. The song is sweet and sad and one of Dylan’s best: “I like the cool way/ you look at me/ everything about you is bringing me misery.”

I’m pretty sure “Dignity” is, by a wide margin, the most recently recorded song on this list. It’s about the worldwide search for that titular quality, it’s one of Dylan’s more simple and direct songs (like “Masters of War”), and that’s pretty much all I have to say about that (okay, one more, very dorky thing: for no particular reason, when I’m playing Red Dead Redemption, I always think of my horse as being named “Dignity,” largely because of this song. Don’t judge me).

Dylan sounds kinda like a Muppet on “I Want You”, but that’s part of its charm. Here’s a dude who is definitely not handsome, who seems to wander around playing a guitar instead of getting a real job, and all he has with which to woo you is a song. This is one of those love songs that borders on the creepy, though. You might not wanna call this in as a dedication to your sweetheart unless she/he is also a big Dylan fan.

“Highway 61 Revisited” is all about the first verse for me, wherein God bullies an incredulous Abraham into taking his kid out to Highway 61 for a little prove-you-love-your-god sacrifice (“God said, ‘you can do what you want, Abe but/ the next time you see me comin’/ you better run”).

Because Highway 61 Revisited is the first Dylan album I owned, “Like a Rolling Stone” is one of my first favorite Bob Dylan songs. I still love it. And yeah, it’s basically Bob Dylan reveling in someone else’s fall from riches to rags, but I’m perfectly okay suggesting that some people deserve to lose everything.

Dylan was always great at employing a faceless, omnipotent Them to instill a sense of paranoia in his characters. “Subterranean Homesick Blues” is one of the finest examples of that. Dylan sings, “Look out kid/ it’s something you did/ God knows when/ but you’re doing it again.” It’s not exactly Kafka-esque, but mostly because it’s funny (okay, I think The Trial is kinda funny, but I have a pretty fucked up sense of humor).

Some folks will probably read this and be all, “What about  ‘The Times, They Are A-Changin’?” Well, the times didn’t a-change, did they? The same people who were pissed about Vietnam were pumped about Iraq. They spent a decade fucking each other in the mud and then spent the rest of their lives becoming everything they used to despise. “Masters of War,” as compared to “The Times,” is still true. “You fasten all the triggers/ for the others to fire/ then you sit back and watch/ while the death count gets higher.” (This song, then, is a great ancestor to Jarvis Cocker’s “Running the World”).

If I include “Just Like a Woman,” I’ll technically be going over sixty minutes. But fuck it – “Just Like a Woman” is one of the all-time best break-up songs ever (“Please don’t let on/ that you knew me when/ I was hungry/ and it was your world”).

So happy birthday, Mr. Zimmerman. And thanks for all the nasally, strident, harmonica-laden awesomeness. I’m gonna go listen to “Desolation Row” like a hundred times (which will take me all day).

Glitter and Doom

Sixty years ago today – the day after Leadbelly died (for those of you who believe in reincarnation, this could be regarded as auspicious), right here in southern California, lightning struck a bottle of moonshine, shattering it into thousands of tiny shards, one of which pierced the pregnant belly of a school teacher, opening her up wide enough for her newborn son to step out into the light. He was born walking – he made a bedroll from his umbilical cord and set off on the road that very day, bumming smokes, bread, and beans as he went. He got a few gigs here and there crooning country/jazz in shitty little bars; no great shakes, but it kept him in cigarettes and whiskey until the early 1980s when he took folk, jazz, rock, beat poetry, Kurt Weill, and everything else, threw ’em in a blender with some stale beer and train smoke, and became one of the foremost songwriters in American music history.

I’m talking, of course, about Tom Waits. Happy birthday, Mr. Waits. You are an American hero; you are, in fact, both a folk hero and a maker of folk heroes and not even Bob Dylan is that anymore. And, in all seriousness, thank you, sir, for the music you’ve been making for most of my life. Thank you.

But to get down to business: live albums, if we’re being honest with ourselves, are almost always treats for diehard fans and no one else. You don’t generally put on a live album as a way of introducing someone to your favorite band. The live album is typically “Greatest Hits with Cheering” but every so often, you get a live album that is a treasure for fans and newcomers alike. Glitter and Doom, by our Birthday Boy Tom, is one such album. There is everything Waits fans love on this album and an energy that is only adequately described as a force of nature. One spin through Glitter and Doom and you will understand why the man doesn’t go on long tours anymore. He puts everything he has into every show he plays, and Tom Waits has a lot. I can confidently say that, if you’re going to like Tom Waits, you’re going to like Glitter and Doom. If you love Tom Waits, you’ll love the album’s second disc, which is Tom Waits bullshitting for half an hour. I know I love it.

One of the bigger problems live albums face, in my humble (ha!) opinion, is that the songs sound like the recorded versions, but there are more assholes singing along. Waits is not content to leave his songs alone, and that creates a very compelling argument for seeking out his live shows. Ideally, you’ll get to see the man in concert but, if you’re like many people who cursed the ill luck of living in a city that Waits didn’t visit on his “Glitter & Doom” Tour last year, you’ll grab a live Waits album and revel in its awesome weirdness, its blustering theatricality, and its distorted beauty.

Tom Waits avoids the pitfall of sounding like “Greatest Hits with Cheering” because he doesn’t have any hits. The radio is not ready for Tom Waits (except for National Public Radio, which is just college radio for college-educated grown-ups – and that’s clearly not driving our culture right now. If it were, you’d hear more Waits and Flaming Lips on American Idol and Sarah Palin would have no supporters) and he steadfastly refuses to let people use his music for commercials. Despite being the only guy I know of to win both the Best Alternative Rock and Contemporary Folk Grammys, Waits has what I consider an extremely healthy disdain for awards. Having said all that, Glitter and Doom does cover some familiar territory to Tom Waits fans. But the songs do not remain the same. “Singapore” ends with Waits simulating a bombing, while “Such a Scream” becomes a chugging funk number (it’s like a Bizarro Prince tune) and “Goin’ Out West” becomes a twisted homage to T. Rex’s “Bang a Gong (Get It On).”

Waits was surrounded by incredible musicians (all the bass on this album is upright bass, played by Seth Ford-Young) for this tour, including his son Casey on drums and percussion (Casey also played the ass-beating drum part on Waits’s cover of “The Return of Jackie and Judy”), but Waits’s voice remains the most versatile instrument in the ensemble. Whether whispering, howling, or growling, Tom Waits has one of the most distinctive voices in music, and he uses it to inhabit his characters fully. On “Lucinda/Ain’t Goin’ Down,” Waits brings William the Pleaser to life as a wounded, terrified, and haunted man who “left Texas/ to follow Lucinda/ Now I will never see Heaven/ or home.” Glitter and Doom tends to mine from Waits’s darker stuff, relying heavily on Blood Money, Bone Machine, and Real Gone for the bulk of its material. The only song that is a repeat from Waits’s other live album, Big Time, is “Falling Down” which was a studio track on that record. It’s nice to see Waits take that tune back after that uber-dilettante Scarlett Johansson mangled it on her ill-advised album of Tom Waits covers (it’s called Anywhere I Lay My Head, for those of you who think I’m making it up. Johansson commits the cardinal sin of thinking that prettying up Tom Waits songs will somehow 1) pay fitting tribute to them and 2) please fans of Mr. Waits. Her album, of course, does neither. I listened to the album shortly after starting Bollocks! and hated it so much that I couldn’t find the words to give it a sufficient review).

Though the album is cobbled together from the fistful of dates Waits played across the American south and parts of Europe last year, it’s sequenced like a proper Waits concert, with all the roaring loud moments (“Lucinda,” “Metropolitan Glide”) and low-moaning soft moments (“Trampled Rose,” “Fannin Street”) that entails. It’s surely no substitute for an actual ticket, but Glitter and Doom is still a nice bone to throw me for not making the road trip to Phoenix to see him in person. I can’t really blame Waits for not wanting to come to L.A., but if he can make it as far as Bakersfield, I’ll be the first in line to see him and I’ll even bring him dinner.

Best Albums of My Life #2: Mule Variations

There are a couple of things that even Pitchfork and I can agree on. #1: the Hold Steady is awesome. #2: you won’t “write a song as good as Tom Waits’ very worst song. Sorry, you just won’t.” They wrote that about the first Tom Waits album I ever heard, 1999’s Mule Variations. And, to this day, it’s the one sentence in all of Pitchfork’s history with which I agree word for word.

I first encountered Mr. Waits on an episode of VH1’s Storytellers and I was immediately struck by how awesome his stories were and how little they had to do with the songs he was performing. And the songs! Sweet Jesus, the first time I heard “House Where Nobody Lives”, I think I had an experience like the Mormon missionaries try to sell you about divine revelation. Here was a dude who was speaking the truth in a way I’d never heard anyone speak it before. I ran out and purchased Mule Variations immediately. That was ten years ago and my copy has seen better days, but it spins just fine and still resonates just as deeply.This album, like many Tom Waits albums, is the real shit – the deep down, bloody, muddy, messy, broken, gospel of sinners, whores, bums, ruffians, ne’er-do-wells, and basically everyone else.

What is it about Waits that’s so goddamn impressive? His songs are journeys, for starters. And, though they are full of specificity (including street names and weather, things Waits views as essential to good songs), they strike a universal chord. Take “Tom Traubert’s Blues”, for example: you don’t have to have actually been somewhere where no one speaks English and everything’s broken to understand exactly how he feels. Right? Waits intuitively understands broken-hearted, busted-ass loneliness and the anguish he howls from the rooftops is our anguish – a friend of mine in college said that Waits is crying so that you don’t have to. You couldn’t do it that well anyway. And that’s due in large part to his voice. I know, I know, a lot of people are all “Tom Waits can’t sing” or “his voice sounds funny” or “he sounds like Cookie Monster” but what they don’t understand is that for what Tom Waits is trying to tell you (about you, about us, about nasty, brutish, and short fucking life), ordinary voices are useless. I’d go so far as to say that they are insultingly inadequate. For the heartache and, yes, the joy that Waits is bringing on his tunes, you need a voice that’s a still-beating heart being tossed into a wood chipper in the middle of a nuclear war. You need a voice that took a stiff shot of whiskey and chewed up the glass. You need exactly the voice that only Tom Waits has. Do you really wanna hear Josh Groban inviting you to come on up to the house when “the only thing that you can see/ is all that you lack”? No. No, you don’t.

Mule Variations is full of some of Waits’s best busted-ass moments, too. On “Get Behind the Mule” (this is how Waits encourages perseverance – he’s not gonna tell you you’re beautiful no matter what they say and that words can’t bring you down; there’s no time for that in the Tom Waits universe. You’ve gotta get up and get to work, just like the rest of us), he gave me a line that resonated through pretty much every failed romance of my life since I first heard it: “Big Jack Earl was 8 foot one/ and he stood in the road and he cried/ he couldn’t make her love him/ couldn’t make her stay/ but tell the good lord he tried.” Again, a lot of people have probably stood in poor Jack Earl’s giant shoes. On “Cold Water”, Waits feels the pain of “pregnant women and Vietnam vets/ out there beggin’ on the freeway/ ’bout as hard as it gets”. That’s a line Bruce Springsteen would’ve sold (and/or had sex with) his mother to write.

But Mule Variations isn’t all gritty, bone-tired heartache, either. It also features a fair amount of that magical Tom Waits weirdness. “What’s He Building?” reads like a list of rumors Waits’s neighbors might cook up about him. “Eyeball Kid” is a circus-freak anthem complete with a telling autobiographical element: the Eyeball Kid was born on December 7, 1949, the same day as Thomas Alan Waits. Like the Eyeball Kid, Waits came here to show us how to really see. And “Filipino Box-Spring Hog” is a recipe for awesome disaster and possibly also a terrible dinner.

The thing (if there is indeed only one thing, which I kinda doubt) that makes Mule Variations a masterpiece (in a career full of them) is how easily the oddball tunes sit along side some of Waits’s finest ballads: “Picture in a Frame” features a line that I find so honest and so simply romantic that it has caused me, upon reflection, to give up writing love songs myself: “I’m gonna love you till the wheels come off.” Maybe that doesn’t grab y’all the same way it grabs me, but when the radio is crowded with people singing about how someone is their whole life or their everything or whatever, Waits’s lyric cuts me to the quick. I want to love someone till the wheels come off and, luckily, I get to. Sorry, Portugal. The Man fans, someone out there really loves terrible ol’ me. No one said life is fair.

And then there’s “Georgia Lee”, a piano ballad about a girl who was murdered. I love that Waits doesn’t just make a tug for your heart strings here. He does nothing less than call God out for dropping the ball: “Why wasn’t God watching?/ Why wasn’t God listening?/ Why wasn’t God there/ for Georgia Lee?”  It’s clear, then, that Tom Waits doesn’t just understand romantic loss. He understands the feeling of being massively, cosmically fucked over, and he can howl that pain for you too. Is it overstating it to suggest that Waits is out there, strolling the universe, absorbing some of the hits for all of us? Maybe; but when I listen to his stuff, I’m not so sure. This is my gospel music, kids – and Mule Variations closes with a kick-drum stomping spoonful of raw spirituality called “Come On Up to the House,” where Pastor Tom tells us to “come down off the cross/ we can use the wood” and reminds us “the world is not my home/ I’m just passing through.” Is that corny? So be it; after my sister died last year, this was one of the songs that picked me back up, that let me laugh and cry at the same time. So for me, Tom Waits’s music has real healing power, the kinda stuff some people find in church and other people find in a bottle.

If a major criterion for being the voice of your generation (or any generation) is being able to tap into the hopes, joys, loves, and fears of that generation with a profound understanding (is that a major criterion? I should hope so), then it might be time to consider that Tom Waits is the true voice of at least one generation and probably of many generations. Sure, he’s not as glamorous as Kanye West and he doesn’t want the job nearly as bad as Kanye does, but his music is 9000 times more honest. In my lifetime, Tom Waits has made some of the most heart-wrenchingly meaningful music I have heard and Mule Variations is my favorite of his albums not just because it’s amazing, but also because it was my gateway into the man’s entire body of work. It has shown me the way to songs that have seen me through pretty much every high and low point of my life for the last ten years.

Shortest Bollocks! Review Ever

Recently, we here at Bollocks!were accused of creating (and foisting upon an unsuspecting public) “overwrought prose.”And by “we”, I mean “me”.

So in an effort to be less overwrought (more underwrought, or just wrought, I guess), I thought I’d sum up 4:13 Dream, the new Cure album, as succinctly as possible:

This album is a fucking mess.

Douche Bagnetic

It’s Rocktober 1st. Rocktoberfest is coming up on the 18th (if you don’t know what that it is, consider it a pity you’re not invited). I’ve bided my time. I’ve read Tad’s “words” if you can call ’em that and I’m ready to weigh in.

So what do I think of Metallica’s Death Magnetic?

Though the internet is frequently derided as the home of indie/hipster types (I’ve been called a hipster for voicing my opinion – also an objective fact – that Journey sucks; I include this just so you have some sort of criteria upon which to judge me), it is full of people who will gladly call you a fag in a tirade replete with misspelled words if you happen to suggest either of the following: 1) Metallica sucks or 2) Guns ‘n’ Roses sucks, and Chinese Democracy is more likely to end the world than the Large Hadron Collider (how, you ask? Why, it will create a massive black hole of Utter Suckitude that will pull the entirety of the universe into it; I think Stephen Hawking has published articles on this). Stop by any given music thread on Fark if you don’t believe me.

So I might be incurring the wrath of these internet Metallica-lovers by saying so, but the fact is, Death Magnetic is not only awful, it’s frequently unintentionally hilarious. These are grown men singing about “death,” “darkness,” “blackness,” and things shouting things like “We! Die! Hard!” (clearly a reference to the fact that you get a stiffy when Rigor Mortis sets in). It’s like watching a Wes Craven movie. No one with half a brain is frightened by Wes Craven movies, just as no one with half a brain believes the spolied millionaires in Metallica are really the tortured souls they’re trying to portray on Douche Bagnetic. This shit should be dark and broody, and all that, but the fact is, Metallica is less compelling as a metal band than Dethklok. When you’re getting your ass kicked by a joke cartoon band, it’s time to hang it up.

James Hetfield, as ever, is a histrionic mess on Death Magnetic. I’m guessing that’s supposed to be cathartic for metalheads or whatever, but it sounds ridiculous. When he shrieks “This I swear!” on “The Day That Never Comes”, I feel like he should be a villain in one of the Joel Schumacher Batman movies. Hetfield’s villain  name could be The Nightmare and he could make puns about death and blackness while singing about hunting Batman down “All Nightmare Long.” Sounds more than a little plausible, doesn’t it? Fortunately, the Batman movie franchise is now in the much safer hands of Christopher Nolan.

Unfortunately, Metallica is still a band. There’s a place for brooding on mortality in song, don’t get me wrong. I See a Darkness is one of the finest (and most cripplingly depressing) meditations on love and death (mostly death) I’ve ever heard. But the difference between Will Oldham and Metallica is that I See a Darkness convinces the listener that this is what was on Oldham’s mind at the time, that he’d actually sat down and thought about this shit. Death Magnetic convinces me that Metallica had a meeting where they pulled metal tropes out of hat and said, “Ooh… that would be cool in a song. Like, what if we badly paraphrase Nietzsche and then scream ‘We! Die! Hard! at the end? That would tight, dog.” You see the difference? It’s not merely the subject matter that’s the problem here – it’s the assholes delivering it.

Death Magnetic runs rampant with examples of Metallica’s painful suck – on “Cyanide,” Hetfield drops this turd nugget: “Suicide/ I’ve already died” See what he did there? He rhymed “Suicide” and “died.” And then says “Cynaide/ dead inside.” Point being, this fucker cannot write. There is not one song on Death Magnetic equal in awesomeness or quality to Lordi’s “Devil’s a Loser.” Not one. There is also not one song shorter than five minutes on this album; Metallica has to allow for Kirk Hammett’s noodly, wah-drenched solos (I was hanging out w/ Radio America after their gig at the Viper Room a couple of weeks ago and Tom Stuart brougth up a salient point. When it comes to using a wah-wah pedal, you have to ask yourself one question: “Are you Jimi Hendrix? If the answer is ‘yes,’ then you can use a wah-wah pedal.”). At a certain point, you have to admit Hammett is an accomplished musician, technically speaking. At a cetain other point, you realize that pretty much makes him the Kenny G of the guitar. Knowing a lot of notes and being awesome at playing notes are two drastically different things.

Of course, the elephant in the room here (the bloated, corporate elephant of cock-rock excess) is “The Unforgiven 3.” On paper, this is just fucking stupid. On record, it’s shameless. Especially when Douche-tallica eases you into the song by ripping off Richard Wright’s (rest in peace) awesome keyboard lick from “Comfortably Numb.” Yes, Metallica has resorted to putting bits from great songs in their shitty songs. The result is an aneurysm-inducing failure of epic proportions. We find out in “The Unforgiven 3” that, according to Hetfield “It’s me I can’t forgive.” I can’t forgive you either, James. Go fuck yourself.

At the end of the day, if you’re like Tad the K-ROQ intern (who was recently found dead, by the way, stabbed repeatly by a shiv made from what appears to have been a broken and/or twisted Red Bull can; contrary to popular belief, I was not at the scene of the crime but in my office listening to the new TV on the Radio album), you’re gonna love Death Magnetic and hate my guts for pointing out that it sucks so hard that it makes me laugh. If you’re like me (a devilishly handsome person with dignity and taste), you probably haven’t even trifled with Death Magnetic. In that case, you might be wondering why I even subjected myself to such torture; I can only answer that my best friend is paying me twenty bucks to sit through Beverly Hills Chihuahua next weekend, so it might have something to do with a masochistic streak buried none-too-deeply under the surface.  Whatever. Go look up “Devil’s a Loser” on YouTube.

David Byrne and Billy Bragg: How Well Are My Heroes Aging?

I used to get a lot of shit when I worked at Tower Records in Boston for liking Billy Bragg. Some of my co-workers would ridicule Mr. Bragg’s snotty British snarl on songs like “Help Save the Youth of America.” I had a few allies there, but for the most part, I was content to ambush people with Billy Bragg in the from Mermaid Avenue, his incredibly awesome recording of some lost Woody Guthrie lyrics (he did the album with Wilco and if you don’t own it, you’re missing one of the most amazing albums recorded in my lifetime, I shit you not). Every time I had Mermaid Avenue on in the store, someone would buy a copy.

Shortly before I left the East Coast (which was, sadly, shortly before Tower Records was wiped out), Billy Bragg reissued a bunch of his early stuff and put out a boxed set, which prompted me to wonder if a new Billy Bragg album wasn’t also in the works. Turns out it was and turns out it’s called Mr. Love and Justice and turns out it arrived earlier this year. It’s Billy Bragg’s least abrasive work to date, which might win him new fans and lose him some old ones. He’s at his most melodic and romantic on Mr. Love and Justice, which is to say he is at his most adult-contemporary.  The album is more about the love than the justice, which is not a criticism necessarily, but it does grind on one a bit to know that Billy Bragg posseses the razor-sharp wit we need here in 2008 to cut some of our more egregiously awful elected officials down to size but uses it only sparingly. But look: if Bragg spent 12 songs saying, “Man, the world is fucked up and the blame can be squarely laid upon corrupt leadership and apathetic citizenry,” you’d shoot yourself by the end of the set. Billy Bragg’s wide-eyed idealism is itself a romantic venture, so it only makes sense that he would ache for love as much as social change. Hence, the standout tracks on Mr. Love & Justice are, in descending order, “O Freedom,” (political – duh), “The Beach is Free” (political and romantic) and album opener “I Keep Faith” (romantic). The rest of the album is pretty good too – for those who long for the old days when Bragg was the only folk singer who eschewed the strummy acoustic vibe for the jangly solo electric guitar, you can check out the deluxe edition of Mr. Love and Justice which features “solo” versions of all the tracks, just the way Billy did it when he wasn’t looking for a new England.

Yeah, Mr. Love and Justice is Billy Bragg’s most FM-Radio album ever, but that’s not really hanging the sellout tag on him; you’re still not gonna see him on the red carpet at the fucking VMA’s. Dude’s still on solid ideological ground and, after three decades of fighting the good fight, I’ll give him a little break to wax romantic. It still beats the shit out of whatever Springsteen is doing now and Billy Bragg has aged better by far than, say, Eric Clapton. The important question here is: who’s gonna pick up the mantle when Billy Bragg is (god forbid) gone? There is one other ex-military Brit singer, but he’s James Fucking Blunt and that guy is not ever (ever!) gonna sing a song that would rock the Grey’s Anatomy soundtrack boat. So who’s left? Bloc Party might walk a similar path, so long as they can avoid another Weekend in the City (look for a review of Intimacy later this week).

David Byrne, one of the other great oddballs of all time, is back this year too, with another Brian Eno collaboration called Everything That Happens Will Happen Today. It’s like a gospel album for agnostics (how many gospel albums do you own that mention “when the angel fucks the whore”? Go on and count ’em up. I’ll wait. Oh? You don’t have any? Odd.); it’s hopeful but not entirely innocent, melodic but not cloyingly grandiose. Byrne’s voice is a multi-faceted instrument and he uses it to great effect on Everything That Happens, keeping the overwhelmingly positive outlook of most of the lyrics from coming off like the score from a Disney flick.

The album opens with “Home,” which lets you know exactly what you’re in for: lots of harmonies, lilting instruments in the background, and Byrne waxing optimistic and world-weary within the same line: “Home/ with the neighbors fighting/ Home/ always so exciting”. You get the sense that Bryne doesn’t wish he was homeward bound quite as enthusiastically as Simon and Garfunkel did, but he’s still glad to be going.

Like Billy Bragg’s Mr. Love and Justice, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today can skirt the line of adult-contemporary radio rock, but its players (Eno’s music, for which Byrne wrote and performed the lyrics) usually hold it to the correct side of that line. Everything That Happens does feature some slow tunes that, at first listen, can sound awful similar, but Misters Eno and Byrne deliver them with an impressively earnest beauty for two guys who’ve been around as long as they have and, upon repeated listening, they kinda wash over you like a Gavin Bryars record.

Neither album is apt to make my best of 2008 list, but they’ve got some great songs between the pair of them that show an ability to age gracefully. Neither album feels like a last gasp before dying by either Byrne or Bragg – in fact, both albums feel like a new breath of life for each artist. Here’s hoping Bragg knocks one out of the park on his next outing, though I won’t suffer a McCain presidency to inspire it.