Aural Pleasure 

‘Earth’ Bound


Planet Earth

Prince
(NPG Records)
It’s hard to think of another rock or funk artist who’s defied the ravages of time with as much ease as Prince. While Sly Stone was a hollow shell by the time he hit his mid-30s, Michael Jackson long ago became a cosmetically warped Peter Pan, and Jimi Hendrix played his last solo at 27, the 49-year-old Prince looks and sounds like he (not Jackson) napped regularly in a hyperbaric chamber: Virtually unchanged from the hi-heeled funk Casanova we remember from the 1987 Sign O’ the Times tour.

If anything, Prince has only improved as a live performer over the years, taking his innate virtuosity and showmanship and bringing a sense of grace he couldn’t yet access when he was trying to appease the screaming MTV crowd that packed his shows during the Purple Rain era. He still hits all the same high notes, and he seems to feel them a bit more these days.

But age has affected Prince in subtle ways. Over the last 15 years, we’ve seen a gradual hardening of the musical arteries, a latent conservatism in his work. As catchy as his 2004 single “Musicology” was, it was slightly disheartening to hear this famously futuristic musical provocateur pine for the analog days of classic soul. It was the R&B equivalent to Bob Seger’s “call me a relic” retro-mongering on “Old Time Rock and Roll.”

Last year’s 3121 (particularly the funky fresh single “Black Sweat”) offered some encouraging signs, but Planet Earth finds Prince continuing to grapple with his place on the contemporary music scene. As with all of his albums, the production, playing, and singing are always accomplished and passionate. If he’s phoned in a performance over the last decade, I haven’t heard it. But some of his songs do feel tossed off, and his ballads (once the most eccentric jewels in his canon) get mushier with each album. Along those lines, “Somewhere Here On Earth” is a quiet-storm bore, while “Mr. Goodnight” is primarily redeemed by its self-mocking details: “I’ve got a mind full of good intentions/ and a mouth full of Raisinets.”

Dedicated Jehovah’s Witness though he may be, Prince is still at his best when does the playful sexual tease. “The One You Wanna C” hits the same pop-rock groove as “When You Were Mine,” “Chelsea Rodgers” is irrepressible skate-rink disco, and “Guitar” finds him choosing the company of his six-string over that of a woman. Imagine what he could do if he still had something to prove.

— Gilbert Garcia


‘Con’ Artists


The Con
Tegan and Sara
(Vapor/Sire)

It’s not necessarily an insult to say that Tegan and Sara’s back story is more intriguing than their music. As lesbian identical-twin sisters from Calgary, Alberta, they automatically stand alone in the long pantheon of pop duos. And to their great credit, they fight any efforts by their record company to broaden their potential appeal by downplaying their sexuality.

While the sisters work comfortably with a formidable range of musical backing — from driving punk-pop to spare indie folk to retro electronica — their fifth album, The Con, consistently conveys a sense of musical rootlessness, a generic quality that implies that subject matter always trumps sound for them. Their distinctiveness comes from their intuitive and eccentric feel for vocal harmony, and the way they frankly dissect relationships. On tracks such as the despairing “Knife Going In” or the tense “Relief Next to Me,” they are earnest but not sentimental, and pop-friendly without succumbing to cutesiness.

The production of Death Cab for Cutie’s Chris Walla never overwhelms T&S and provides a few inspired touches (notably the synth swoops of the title song). But music this colorless puts undue stress on lyric content, and while T&S convince you that they’re hurting (“The thunder moves/ like damn drawers slamming in my frame”), they don’t tell you anything particularly interesting about that pain. In an age of irony and obfuscation, their brand of naked earnestness is welcome, but it shouldn’t be mistaken for insight.

— Gilbert Garcia


Evil Dead End 


The Lost Tracks of Danzig

Danzig
(Evilive Records)

In a scholarly analysis of Glenn Danzig’s music career, it would probably best suit the man known as “Evil Elvis” to reflect on the cult trilogy of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead films.

Danzig’s first band, the Misfits, was raw, fresh, and exciting. The Evil Dead, an independent film, was so graphic no U.S. distributors would lay their hands on it.

Both artistic ventures demonstrated a reverence for the classic horror-movie elements of revulsion mixed with dark humor. Also, both presented classic antiheroes: Glenn Danzig’s persona as the devil-locked character of “Danzig” and the wry depiction of Evil Dead’s Ash Williams by actor Bruce Campbell creating a platform for two separate, but virtually equal cult institutions.

After Danzig disbanded the Misfits, he formed Samhain. Like Evil Dead II, Samhain was basically a retread of the original.

Danzig and Raimi departed from their original concepts entirely in their subsequent final chapters. Both presented their frontmen as brooding, muscular leading men, as seen in the live 1993 video for Danzig’s “Mother” and the iconic Army of Darkness (Evil Dead III) movie poster, featuring a bare-chested Ash with a chainsaw. AOD is an epic adventure and unlike the first two films, has a broader scope of style and characters. Danzig, the band, can be considered a musical epic.

But the greatest similarity between Ash and Danzig is that they both embody the word cheesy. On the long-awaited The Lost Tracks of Danzig, a comprehensive collection of 26 outtakes and unreleased songs from his solo career, the good, the bad, and the evil mingle and exchange bodily fluids.

The first disc, covering material from Danzig I-IV, highlights the pinnacle of Danzig’s musical legacy. “Satan’s Crucifiction,” and “Cold, Cold Rain” rank with some of Danzig’s best songs, while an open letter to Louis Farrakhan in “White Devil Rise” is an intriguing listen. Disc two, chronicling Danzig’s waning creativity over the last decade, is often boring. A great cover of the Germs’ “Caught In My Eye” can’t save weak tracks and unnecessary remixes such as “Underbelly Of The Beast.”

The most helpful thing Lost Tracks can do is persuade Danzig fans to dust off their copy of How The Gods Kill and let the good times roll.

— Ryan Markmann


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