Thursday, June 26, 2008

Very early, very quiet

My son, Sean, has been home on summer vacation for the last two weeks, which is fun because I like having him around, but not-so-fun because some of my clients expect me to be working full-time anyway. I’ve had a very long white paper hanging over my head all week, and I got up at 5:30 this morning to finish it in the couple of hours after it’s light and before everybody else gets up. And I did…finish it, 4100 words on the evolution of socially responsible investing. Now I have to give it an hour or two and actually read the thing, make sure it makes some sort of sense…Sigh.

Anyway, nothing up today, but there are a couple of reviews I missed over at Blurt. Frightened Rabbit, which I liked a lot, and Billy Bragg, which I found utterly disappointing. (and I love Billy Bragg…Talking to the Taxman is in my top 25 all-time for sure.)

Frightened Rabbit

Midnight at the Organ Factory
Fat Cat

Following fast on the scruffy glory of Sing the Greys, this second album by Scotland's Frightened Rabbit might well fall victim to inflated expectations. Still, it's hard to see much let-up in the frantic strumming, the manic pounding, the occasionally foul-mouthed but always touching vulnerability. "Modern Leper" seems just as laceratingly self-searching as last year's "Square Nine"; "Heads Roll Off" is this year's "Music Now," a slow-building anthem that carries hurt and joy in equal measures; and "Keep Yourself Warm" gets the "Behave!" award for memorable, not really-repeatable-in-mixed company lyrics. ("You won't find love in a hole/It takes more than fucking someone to keep yourself warm.") The big change this time is an organ drone drizzled like syrup over scrubby guitars and skin-puncturing drums. Still, just as before, Frightened Rabbit's fist-pumping anthems hide a raw, beating heart -- the clear winner in any possible organ fight.

“Heads Roll Off”

Billy Bragg
Mr. Love and Justice

The world needs a great Billy Bragg record right about now, a bracing, unsentimental indictment of evils both insidious and overt, couched in self-effacing sarcasm and sung in that trustworthy, endearing croak. The world still needs this record, even after the release of Mr. Love & Justice, because, to be blunt, this is not the one. The early half of the CD comprises muddled-headed generalities about middle-aged domestic life. Opener "I Keep Faith" is an A&R exec's wet dream of an over-produced, underthought ballad, while "M for Me" reduces couples therapy to Sesame Street levels of insight and sophistication. You don't get a whiff of why we care about Billy Bragg musically until well past the middle, with the "Levi Stubbs"-ish soul of the title track, or politically until the biting "Oh Freedom" and the darkly humorous "Johnny Carcinogenic Show." Next time, less love, more justice.

But this is why I love Billy Bragg:

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