Album Review: “Odyssey” by Take That

Kudos to Take That for trying something (a little) different.

To commemorate its 30th anniversary as a band, Take That decided to run the old “greatest hits + tour” play that has served many top artists and bands well over the years. Recognizing that their fans didn’t want (yet) another greatest hits collection, England’s premiere man-band decided to put a different spin on the old anthology game.

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Depeche Mode – “Global Spirit Tour” at the United Center

Again, not so much a review as an observation. I enjoyed this show much more than the last Depeche Mode show I attended. The band sounded better and tighter (although that may have been because of the change of venue – Barclays Center had well-documented acoustics problems back then). Dave Gahan and Martin Gore sounded great, Peter Gordeno did a good job playing the “Alan Wilder” role on keyboards and background vocals and Christian Eigner was solid on drums. Fletch showed off some new dance moves, adding an awkward double Durst to his extensive repertoire (which includes the “Funky Cello” and the “Snack Break”). The band only did four songs off the new album, “Spirit” – the same number of songs they did from 1997’s “Ultra.” That’s too bad, because I actually like some of the songs off the new album, especially show-opener “Going Backwards.”

We’re going backwards
Turning back our history
Going backwards
Piling on the misery

We’re going backwards
Armed with new technology
Going backwards
To a caveman mentality

In fact, “Spirit” is quite political – especially when compared to the band’s last few albums. Maybe Trump, Brexit and everything else going on in the world inspired them. Or maybe it was being co-opted by the alt-right. Either way, it made for a great show!

U2 – “Experience and Innocence Tour” at the United Center

Not so much a review as an observation. I enjoyed Tuesday’s show a lot more than I thought I would. I actually preferred it to the Joshua Tree show I saw last year. The new album definitely grows on you and some of the songs sound much better live than on the record (especially “The Blackout” and “American Soul“). And it was cool hearing “Until the End of the World” (one of my favorite U2 songs), “Acrobat,” and the “Hollywood remix” version of “Desire” live.

While Bono and company mostly stuck to the prevalent themes on Songs of Experience, namely positivity and inclusiveness, it was nice to see the band mix it up with a healthy dose of cynicism by bringing back MacPhisto, Bono’s Zooropa-era alter ego. “I was in Charlottesville when the KKK sieg heiled together,” MacPhisto bragged during the intro to “Acrobat.” “Made damn sure the president’s hands were full with stormy weather. Ha! You get it? You can’t make this shit up.”

Nope. You certainly can’t.

Album Review: “Who Built the Moon?” by Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds

There is a school of thought that the feud between the Gallagher brothers is fake – a manufactured back-and-forth between two media savvy rock stars who know that, the more they “fight,” the more publicity they get and the more albums they sell.

Now they’re releasing albums within two months of each other (in fact, it worked out so that Noel’s lead single, “Holy Mountain” came out at around the same time that his brother released his album, As You Were). It’s not quite the same as the 1990s when Oasis and Blur would release records on the same day while the compliant media would fight amongst themselves to see who could make the most “Battle of Britain” puns. That feud may have been largely manufactured, but there were real feelings of resentment on both sides. Plus, the conventional wisdom that Oasis was the band that stuck to what worked while Blur was the band that was more willing to experiment had some element of truth to it.

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Album Review: “As You Were” by Liam Gallagher

Somehow, Liam Gallagher is cool again.

The ex-Oasis and Beady Eye frontman has been on a charm-offensive to promote his solo debut album, As You Were. Whereas the man who used to be notorious for showing up to interviews drunk, high, or both while muttering monosyllabic answers (when he wasn’t shouting obscenities) that necessitated a real-time chav-to-English translator and an ever vigilant censor, Gallagher seems to have matured over these last few years. During his publicity tour for As You Were, Gallagher actually seems sober, funny, insightful and likable – much to the surprise of anyone that knows anything about him (this clip of him making tea is both hilarious and revealing). For instance, an actual headline from Esquire reads: “Liam Gallagher Is Trying Not to be a Dickhead.”

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Album Review: “Now” by Shania Twain

At first glance, Shania Twain seemed to have a perfect life. The gorgeous country-pop superstar and her musical partner, Robert “Mutt” Lange, seemed happily married, raising a family in Switzerland while churning out one perfect, best-selling album after another. Twain became the first (and given how much the industry has changed – probably last) woman to ever have three consecutive diamond-selling albums, and her 1997 blockbuster, Come on Over, is the best-selling album by a female solo singer.

And if wealth, success, marital bliss and physical beauty weren’t enough, her perfection was even confirmed by science. That’s right. Shania Twain was able to take the ultimate (and seemingly unattainable) subjective quality and quantify it.

Turns out, her life was pretty far from perfect. And we all found out about it in the most public way possible.

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“Urban Hymns” Turns 20

1997 was a banner year in British music. Radiohead gave us “O.K. Computer,” one of the best albums ever made and one whose central theme of being consumed by technology seems prescient given the world we live in today. The Blur/Oasis war entered a transitional phase, as Blur took a step back and released its low-fi, American style self-titled album while Oasis charged full-steam into pretension and excess with “Be Here Now.” The Chemical Brothers and Prodigy both released successful electronic albums, while one of their forerunners, Depeche Mode, made a nice comeback with “Ultra” (arguably, the band’s last good album). It was a good year for British pop, too, as the Spice Girls had two albums hit #1 on the charts, and Gary Barlow had his last solo chart-topper before reuniting with Take That.

But one album towered above the rest.

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Album Review: “Buckingham McVie”

Who needs Stevie Nicks?

Apparently, the plan for Fleetwood Mac had been to go on tour with a returning Christine McVie, make a truckload of money, record a new album, go on a retirement tour, and make even more money so that the members music’s longest-running soap opera would never have to work together again if they wished. Lindsay Buckingham and Christine McVie did their part by writing songs and taking part in recording sessions with Mick Fleetwood and John McVie in preparation for what would have been Fleetwood Mac’s first studio album since 2003’s “Say You Will.”

Stevie Nicks, however, decided to go her own way (sorry).

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Album Review: “Wonderland” by Take That

I love Take That.

Not as much as my wife loves them. And definitely not as much as James Corden loves them. But I’m definitely a “Thatter.”

That being said, I had a feeling the band’s latest album, Wonderland was going to suck. Lead single “Giants” did nothing for me (although the parts where they sing “We are giants!” made me laugh – it reminded me of the scene in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” where the evil nerd trio imagine themselves as Gods), and the few songs I had heard in advance of Wonderland’s release didn’t fill me with a whole lot of optimism. The band has seemed to be on downward trajectory ever since the end of the “Progress” tour, what with Robbie Williams’s decision to re-start his solo career and Jason Orange’s decision to take his dancing shoes home. 2014’s III had a few good songs on it, but the other songs on the album, to say nothing of sales, were lackluster.

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The Reluctant Pop Star

“There is no such thing as a reluctant star. Stars are almost always people that want to make up for their own weaknesses by being loved by the public and I’m no exception to that.” — George Michael, 1987.

But there is such a thing as a reluctant pop star. George Michael was no different from the many singer-songwriters desperate for critical acclaim and credibility. What made him unique was that he was willing to throw away his chance at being the biggest pop star and sex symbol in the world because he believed that his songs were good enough to sell themselves.

And in most cases, he was right.

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