In No Particular Order…
Amplifier – The Octopus
The sophomore release from this British prog rock group is nothing if not ambitious. At nearly two hours, The Octopus has a vague concept involving the eponymous cephalopod and houses songs that frequently exceed the 8-minute mark. However, its songs are not loaded with the superfluous genre experiments and masturbatory guitar solos that one has come to expect from albums like these. In fact, the songs of The Octopus are surprisingly straightforward and tempered. But, alas, a ten-minute piano ballad is still a ten-minute piano ballad, and it isn’t long before the album begins to seriously sag. On a track-by-track basis, The Octopus is bearable, but as a dense whole, it’s far too much waiting for very little payoff. While not quite on the same dreadful level of Judas Priest’s concept album, Nostradamus, The Octopus does very little favors in digesting an album that is both too long and too boring; one of the most potently disparaging combinations in music.
Wanda Jackson – The Party Ain’t Over
Anyone expecting another Van Lear Rose was sorely disappointed. Hell, anyone expecting another Consolers of the Lonely was disappointed. Jack White’s 2011 musical clock-in was an unfortunate musical accommodation for a singer who, admittedly, did not have much of a strong voice to begin with. Amidst White’s trademark fuzz and a rather intrusive horn section, Wanda Jackson sounds uncomfortable throughout The Party Ain’t Over, awkwardly shuffling through the blues (“Thunder on the Mountain”), bosa nova (“Rum and Coca-Cola”) and Amy Whinehouse covers (“You Know I’m No Good”). This isn’t the worst thing that White’s put his name to (The Stripes’ tactless genre stretch, Get Behind Me Satan, is a tad worse), but it’s a genuine surprise to see someone as talented as he finding so many ways to tamper with an album that could have been pretty good despite its innate weaknesses.
Minks – By the Hedge
As background music, it’s pretty innocuous, but when closely inspected… it’s still pretty innocuous. Which I guess is fine, but I don’t know about you guys, but I don’t have the time to listen to the kind of nebulous shoegaze that I could find in the records of far more talented bands. Sure nothing on By the Hedge is outright offensive and “Indian Ocean” is a very pretty instrumental, but I’m seeing the forest for the trees here and all I’m seeing are the sprouts of what could be passable shrubberies.
Rise Against – Endgame
This is an unfortunate way to break this to all you Rise Against fans out there, because my review for this album has yet to be posted, but Endgame, the sixth album from Illinois punks Rise Against, is the band’s worst. The good news, though, is there is a reason for this, and it is for lack of trying. When Rise Against experiments, at least something good comes out of it (the good tracks from The Unraveling and Siren Song of the Counterculture), but Endgame finds the group treading some serious water, trying to scrap up the remnants of the near-perfect Appeal to Reason and coming up with something crass and uninspired. Rise Against sound rudderless on the album, something that I can imagine would be incumbent upon a band coming off two fantastic releases. I just hope the group can shape up for the new decade, because their type of firebrand punk rock is still a necessity in these increasingly trying times.
Social Distortion – Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes
And speaking of underwhelming punk stalwarts, what was Social Distortion doing in the seven years since they released an album? By the sound of Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes, it was a steady diet of lollipops, rainbows and Teletubbies reruns, because Social Distortion sound downright peppy on their newest release. A choir? Optimism? Last time I checked, I was a lazy, smelly, unemployable loser with nothing to hope for but a pair of jeans and a beer when I’m twenty-one, not the fucking light of the Earth Mike Ness pretends to purport me to be. Although, overall, pretty decent, Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes is a startling turn for a group that laid such a large claim to making passive rebellion sound genuine.