Thought I would review a few highly anticipated upcoming albums for y'all, rated on a scale of 1-10*:
The icy beat and mournful organ hum that opens "Silence" -- the lead track from the English trip-hop trio's first studio album in more than a decade -- were to be expected, but I was surprised to hear vocalist Beth Gibbons foregoing her usual torchy, soulful delivery in favor of Tuvan throat-singing. Imagine my shock when I discovered this new vocal style carried through the entirety of the 11-track disc! It was so jarring, in fact, that I barely noticed the group's instrumentation quickly veering away from their usual breakbeat atmospherics and toward a strange sort of bluegrass-metal hybrid, culminating with guest appearances by Alison Krauss and Megadeth's Dave Mustaine on the Appalachia-crusher "Magic Doors." It's good to hear Portishead stretching its boundaries, but unfortunately this experimentation ultimately falls flat.
Death Cab For Cutie
It's risky taking risks -- that's why they're called risks, and Ben Gibbard and gang took perhaps the mightiest risk we've seen from a major-label band in some time by following up Plans not with a batch of new tunes, but twelve re-interpretations of REO Speedwagon songs done in the band's inimitable heart-on-sleeve manner. And for it, Narrow Stairs is an absolute triumph -- the way in which Gibbard and guitarist Chris Walla harmonize on a particularly bittersweet rendition of "Time For Me to Fly" will absolutely send shivers up and down your spine. DCFC easily could have given us a dozen more "I Will Follow You Into the Dark"s, but this move was sheer genius, and both the band and their fans are the better for it.
Guns 'n Roses
After all the years and all the hype, Guns 'n Roses' latest was destined to be either the listening experience of a lifetime or the most colossal flop in music history. I regret to say that Chinese Democracy is the latter, marred mostly by the fact that singer Axl Rose didn't even bother to show up for any of the tracks. Literally. They're all sung by Natalie Merchant, and the only instrumentation to be heard is what sounds like the pre-sets on a cheap Casiotone MT-40 keyboard; if anything, it's a poor approximation of what the late Wesley Willis was doing back in the '90s. Certainly, in some quarters Chinese Democracy will be hailed as willfully abstruse genius, but frankly I'd hoped for much, much more.
* No advance copies for any of these upcoming albums were provided prior to my writing these reviews. They are "educated guess previews" -- I figured if it was good enough for Maxim (re: The Black Crowes), it's good enough for us!