Music CD Reviews: Alternative Rock
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Alternative Rock

Alt. Rock reviewed with a discerning ear.

Tori Amos, Crucify [EP]

This was my introduction to Tori Amos. Like many people, I had heard she had done a cover of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" where you actually could understand the words. Well, I of course, had to have that and therefore also discovered that she had done other terrific covers of Led Zeppelin ("Thank You") and Rolling Stones ("Angie") songs.

It was also a good introduction to her original work as "Crucify" and "Winter" (both from Little Earthquakes) are included. This led to the purchase of Little Earthquakes and the rest--as they say--is history.

Tori Amos, From the Choirgirl Hotel

I got into Tori during the Little Earthquakes period. I bought Crucify and Under the Pink and sort of gave up because what I thought was there to begin with wasn't doing it for me anymore. She seemed to be covering the same old ground as before. Boys for Pele was simply downright depressing.

Then came Choirgirl. My wife picked this one up because she was a fan as well--more so, actually. So much so that I was getting tired of listening to all the albums I had stopped listening to because she was playing them all the time. Then she put this one on and that changed.

From the first janglings of "Spark," I knew there was something different going on here. The album continued and I thought "this is what it should have been." The music was terrific, the lyrics less oblique, and it was all enhanced by the new electronic sound Tori had adapted to her own needs.

This, by far, is my favorite Tori album. I have heard the others since (To Venus and Back and Strange Little Girls, as of this writing) and have failed to be impressed, but whenever I go back and listen to From the Choirgirl Hotel again, I continue to discover new layers in the music and effects. In particular, the steel guitar on "Playboy Mommy" makes a very emotional song especially moving.

Tori finally surprised me, and pleasantly. She still intrigues me and I'll sample each new output, but it wasn't until the release of Scarlet's Walk that I felt the same effect as this album gave and still gives me.

Tori Amos, Strange Little Girls

I picked this up for my wife (as she is the big Tori fan in the family) on release day. She seems to have enjoyed it immensely, while I longed for the stylings of Tori's original works.

Strange Little Girls has some good interpretations, granted. "'97 Bonnie and Clyde" has never been so haunting, and "Heart of Gold" is completely unrecognizable. However, I feel that if the label is going to release an album of covers, they should at least accompany it with an album of new original work. I listened to this album a few times (with the exception of the interminable "Happiness is a Warm Gun"), and haven't listened to it since.

With her Tori-written work, one is constantly finding new things to enjoy (and discovering new meanings to old words), but with this, I felt I understood everything from the get-go. I would recommend this only for completists and/or die-hard fans.

PJ Harvey, 4-Track Demos
John Parish and Polly Jean Harvey, Dance Hall at Louse Point

4-Track Demos is PJ Harvey Unplugged! Well, OK, not really, but these are stripped down versions of some of the songs on Rid of Me. Just goes to show that the basic entertainment is in the song itself. There are also other songs included like my favorite, "Reeling."

Not essential to your collection, but if you're a PJ fan, you'll want it anyway.

In addition, words and music--the basic building blocks of song--are all you'll find on Dance Hall at Louse Point, this departure from rock vocalist Polly Jean Harvey. Together with guitarist John Parish, they create stark beauty in its simplest form.

A lovely disc for fans of PJ, or for anyone who likes singer-songwriter type music.

The Sugarcubes, Life's Too Good

After moving into my new house, I discovered a box with tapes I'd forgotten all about. This was one. So, one Saturday, while assembling shelves in the garage, I popped it in and was taken away.

I've never liked Bjork's solo work (except for "It's Oh So Quiet"), and now I know why. I love her voice, it's the music I don't like. Here I like the music, too. Post-punk rock and roll combined with Bjork's wailing on key come together into a perfect whole. This is how she should sound.

Oh, I understand about artistic growth and all that. But when it comes right down to it, isn't entertainment the wanted result? And this album is definitely entertaining. "Birthday," "Motorcrash," "Deus," these are all terrific songs. One sign of that is even if you have trouble understanding the lyrics, you still get the point.

I long for a Sugarcubes reunion. Or, maybe I should leave well enough alone. I guess I'll have to buy a CD eventually, but for now, just let me a Sugarcubes cassette fan.

Suzanne Vega, 99.9 F °

I'll just start off by saying that I am not a Suzanne Vega "fan." I find folk music generally offputting because of its innate pretention.

I must have simply been waiting for something like this to come along. The songs are terrific, the beats contagious, and the music way ahead of its time.

Perhaps this inspired Tori Amos to go electronic on From the Choirgirl Hotel (my favorite Tori album). Perhaps the producer is due the credit. Perhaps I just came in at the right time and the songs hit a chord with me. All I know is I never get tired of listening to these tunes, I've featured this album on at least two of my Listmania!'s, and I can't really get into anything else by her (except for Nine Objects of Desire, which represents a bit of a departure from this format).

The lack of length of the songs has given some pause, but I believe they are the better for it. In fact, my favorite, "When Heroes Go Down," clocks in at just under two minutes.

I would recommend 99.9 F° for anyone looking for introspective tunes with a good electronic feel, especially fans of Tori's Choirgirl album.

(Note: since the writing of this review, my tastes have matured and I no longer find folk music as innately pretentious as I once did. I have left this review intact as it is a portrait of the person I was when I wrote it.)

Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

After hearing all the hubbub about Wilco's trouble getting this album distributed, and reading the glowing reviews it was receiving, I had to go out and get it. This is one of the best recent purchases I have made. At first listen, I was jarred by the seeming dissonance of the first track, "I am trying to break your heart," but later found myself humming along with the excellent hook that is its basis.

Other songs stand out after a first listen, particularly "Heavy Metal Drummer" with its sadness-laced humor. This is a very multi-layered album and I am sure to find new facets with each listen.

If you like experimental rock with a catchy pop mentality (artists like Beck, Radiohead, Moby), then you will find a lot to like in Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Reprise doesn't deserve to have such a terrific band on its roster. My congratulations to Nonesuch, a label that took a chance and to whom I am glad to pay full price for this CD.

  • ...more to come...