Ray Van Horn, Jr. is a veteran entertainment journalist whose writing and live photography has been featured in Blabbermouth.net, Dee Snider’s House of Hair Online, Fangoria.com, Horror News.net, About.com Heavy Metal, MetalManiacs, New Noise, Music Dish, AMP, Hails & Horns, Unrestrained,Noisecreep, Impose, Pit, The Big Takeover.com, Rough Edge.com, Pitriff and others. His blog The Metal Minute won a “Best Personal Blog” award in 2009 from Metal Hammer magazine and he wrote and produced his own hard rock e-zine, Retaliate.

He has contributed essays to UK author Neil Daniels’ Iron Maiden and ZZ Top biographies. Ray’s fiction has been published in various periodicals and anthologies, including his flash fiction piece “Off the Record” for Akashic Books’ “Mondays Are Murder” noir series. His recent short stories “Before the Ball” and “Widow” were featured in subsequent editions of Alex S. Johnson’s Axes of Evil anthologies. Ray wrote serialized original superhero fiction for Cyber Age Adventures and five of those stories appear in the anthology Playing Solitaire. He was the winner of Quantum Muse’s fiction contest in 1999.

Ray is a former NHL game analyst for The Hockey Nut and one-time host of the forum “Comic Books” at ReadWave. He has done beat reporting, photography and lifestyle articles for Metromix, an affiliate of The Baltimore Sun, Carroll Magazine, The Northern News and The Emmitsburg Dispatch.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Random Shuffle Shelf Reviews: Confessions On a Dance Floor, All For You & Peter Gabriel (Security)

Greetings, readers! I'd like to introduce what should equate into a regular feature here at The Crash Pad: Random Shuffle Shelf Reviews.

While inherently this is a self-serving exercise, the intent is to have a bit of fun and if it works, maybe that sentiment will be shared by you all. The premise is simple. In-between other topics here on the site, I will corral a small handful of albums from my shelves and throw out a mini review just for kicks. The genres will be intentionally mixed to accommodate the diversity of my readership and to reflect the spectrum comprising my broad music tastes.

I've written more than a thousand audio, video and book reviews on a professional level, but this format is intentionally loose, first person and spoken from a full-on intrinsic standpoint. I will be issuing overall grades for the albums themselves and then to serve you singles-only iPod junkies, I'll flag highlight cuts from each album. Hopefully I can turn you on to some vibes you may or may not have been hipped to and likewise, I invite your comments and open discussion.

With that, let's ride...

Madonna - Confessions On a Dance Floor

Madonna's 2005 electronica-kissed love letter to long-ago Studio 54 and danceaholic Manhattan, Confessions On a Dance Floor, has been praised by the rave underground and pop fashionistas but well ignored by the mainstream. One thing that's endeared me to Madonna all the way from the beginning of her career is to try and predict what she's going to pull out of her trick bag next. She is the U2 and David Bowie of her vogue trade, fearless and always in search of reinvention. We've always seen the potential for a disco album from Madonna, but not one with such polish instead of the suggestive cheese whiz that could've sunk this venture ankle-deep. You can ring a bell for the seventies if you want to, but Confessions On a Dance Floor is one of the smartest, freshest dance pop albums laid down in this era--and the original, for that matter. We might not've hated disco as a collective as much if Madonna had been around.

Even though the Abba sample flirting behind her otherwise banging single "Hung Up" is a disruptive connector segment, said tune throbs on its own pulse and the rest of this album becomes one exploratory vehicle after another through bobbing dance flushes and intelligent sculpture modes. For awhile, Confessions On a Dance Floor is a rump-shaking sexpot affair that steers away from its brash moxy in favor of tempered grooves and deeper layering. Madonna's fangy "I Love New York" is a head-bobbing jammer, though you know London and Paris likely take exception to this one. Thumb-biting fun, but quickly outclassed after Madonna breathes sweet nothings into "Forbidden Love" and then throws some heel-sliding veneer into her boogie shoes.

Confessions then becomes Madonna's disco overhaul of Ray of Light where she beckons Shanti and sets her vocals free, trusting in the cosmic properties that made the latter album such a masterpiece. While I would recommend the early-on thumping ditties for partyheads, it's the shucking strut of "Like It Or Not," the Prince-like street hustle of "Push," the astral jive fanning the flames of Madonna's self-broiling on "How High" and the textured and driving "Isaac" that gives Confessions On a Dance Floor its staying power. Like Maxine Nightingale, Madonna brought us right back where we started from and this time, it's a worthwhile stay. Pump it up.

Grade: A-
Choice Cuts: "Hung Up," "Sorry," "Push," "How High," "Isaac" and "Like It Or Not"

Annihilator - All For You

If there's one metal album I'd stake my rep on knowing it's historically been dealt a unanimous raspberry, it's Annihilator's All For You. If you follow the genre, you know the legend of Jeff Waters, namely the fact this cat is one of the most talented guitarists of his ilk. You also know in the past Waters has had many associates flock under the Annihilator banner. It got to the point Waters ended up recording his music single-handedly and keeping it all attributed to Annihilator. His former reputation as a maverick cost Waters considerably, at least until he reassembled a full body after releasing the well-received Metal album from 2007. My past interviews with Waters revealed a much-grounded guy who knew he had a chance to dominate the industry and he regrets certain decisions that thwarted his genesis.

Never Neverland may be Annihilator's undisputed masterwork while Alice In Hell remains their bonding agent to the genre. All For You is a very distant cousin to Alice and I mean loose, since there's only a few songs that can be connected to the original album. Most who've come to All For You have ripped on its strange dynamics and random silliness. Personally, I love All For You for those reasons and for Waters' insane shredding and titanic riffs. Some of his heaviest and most intricate work can be found here and on the subsequent Annihilator release, Schizo Deluxe. It also introduces Dave Padden, one of metal's unsung heroes and second best Annihilator vocalist behind Coburn Pharr. Speaking of dynamic, Padden can damn near do it all and he makes this album as entertaining as Waters' riff rampages (no pun intended) and shred-o-matics--not to dismiss Mike Mangini's flailing blast beat theatrics.

Often faster and harder-smashing than a Gronkowski touchdown play, All For You implausibly throws in two quirky ballads amidst the mayhem, "The One" and "Holding On." Herein lies another complaint from much of the metal press, and yeah, they're off-setting in comparison to the deafening tonal crunches of Padden's manic ralphing and Waters' six string lava. Nonetheless, they still settle in once you acclimate yourself and as long as you hold to the belief Jeff Waters is going to torch the rest of this album. Essentially a single pilot at the helm of blazing turbines with two talented tailgunners at his back, Jeff Waters succeeded on All For You far more than he's been given credit for. His ballsy maneuver of tossing a slow, trippy breakdown in the midst of the epic metal thrashing madness of "Both of Me" has been criminally discounted. No more, I say. Hail, Canada and hail Annihilator...

Grade: B+
Choice Cuts:
"Demon Dance," "Bled," "The Nightmare Factory," "Rage Absolute" and "Both of Me"

Peter Gabriel - Peter Gabriel (Security)

One of the most gifted songwriters and performers of our time, Peter Gabriel's recorded body is both exhilirating and sometimes tough to digest. Such as it goes when you possess such multifaceted musicality and songwriting theory. Of Gabriel's four self-titled albums, it's this one which receives the most attention as it yields his best-known crossover song, "Shock the Monkey." While Melt is the best of the quartet and Car his most radical, Security is another prime example of Gabriel's propensity to both devastate and gravitate. It also has the tendency to meditate within itself, which becomes a chore at times and thus prevents the album from making a bombastic statement as promised in the beginning with the orgasmic "The Rhythm of the Heat."

That heart-pumping tribal outtro to "The Rhythm of the Heat" is one of the most exquisite and inspiring vibes I've ever heard in music and while "San Jacinto" (a gorgeous, slinking composition on its own) seeps out of such percussive grandeur, it's somewhat of a disappointment. This is only because "The Rhyhtm of the Heat's" cinematic momentum is skidded so abruptly it almost hurts--at least until "San Jacinto" reaches its climaxing choruses, holding the line, as it were.

Something of a befuddlement, Security later opts for restraint after "Shock the Monkey" shakes and escalates the album with its power pop shimmy. If nothing else, Peter Gabriel is a shrewd buck on his vehicles, leaving at least one radio-friendly piece amongst his canvasses and palettes, the latter strictly for his perusal. "Lay Your Hands On Me" benefits from a soul-reaching chorus, yet "Wallflower" reflects its namesake and proves anticlimactic before Gabriel swerves the venture to a hipster's hike of Afrobeat with "Kiss of Life." Prior to it all, "The Flower and the Fishing Net" is seven minutes of near foot-shooting avant guardism and "I Have the Touch" is Phil Collins-esque with its synth grooves, electro sways and pounding drum patterns. At least "I Have the Touch" works and prompts the hand-shaking it summons out of its audience. Still, nothing on this album matches the soaring explosiveness of "The Rhythm of the Heat" and if that's pointless needling against a best-selling album, then so be it. I still yank this off the shelf a handful of times each year regardless, because it is a fascinating release. Mad respect to Peter Gabriel, but Security had so much more to give. At least Gabriel soon scored Gen X gold with So.

Grade: B-
Choice Cuts:
"The Rhythm of the Heat," "I Have the Touch" and "Shock the Monkey"

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