Tuesday, November 20, 2001

Review: Kid Rock, "Cocky"

The title of Kid Rock's latest album "Cocky," is, if nothing else, appropriate. But perhaps this time he's gotten a little too cocky for his own good.

Fresh off the huge success of 1998's "Devil Without a Cause," Kid Rock sets out to prove he's not a one-trick pony on this album. There's no denying the talent of his Twisted Brown Trucker band, as they effortlessly shift from R&B grooves to headbanging metal to foot-stomping country. I have to question if this is really what fans want from Kid Rock.

Those who enjoyed the punchy mix of hard rock and hip hop on "Devil Without a Cause" may not find much they recognize on this album.

The first single "Forever" mixes a catchy, funky guitar riff with some nice hooks. And the title track, with its self-aggrandizing swagger, echoes the attitude of his last album. But beyond that, this album is a self-indulgent jumble of musical styles which leave the listener wondering what's going on.

Two big-name guest appearances are both disasters.

"Picture," his country duet with Sheryl Crow will be a big hit, I'm sure - and if it wasn't Kid Rock, it would probably cross over to country radio. But it's boring and a bit hard to swallow.

The same with the other country tune "Lonely Road of Faith." It's really hard to take these heartfelt lyrics about devotion seriously coming from someone who was just extolling the "virtues" of strippers on the last song.

The other guest appearance is rapper Snoop Dogg on the track "W.C.S.R." This is a pointless exercise in vulgarity, that seems to be a contest between the two to see how much profanity they can fit in a three-minute song.

Songs like "Midnight Train to Memphis" and "Drunk in the Morning" seem to drone on in a country twang before erupting into something more like what you expect from Kid Rock. They're not bad songs, but I have to wonder how many of his fans are going to sit through the first two minutes to get to the "good part."

It's not all bad, though. When the country/rap/rock formula works, it's fantastic. The perfect example is "You Never Met a Motherfucker Quite Like Me." The song layers twangy guitar over a hip hop beat with just a touch of Southern rock on the chorus.

Of course, I would like to hear him write a song every now and then about something besides himself, but what can you expect on an album named "Cocky?"

"What I Learned Out on the Road" starts with a smooth country sound, then moves to a funky Aerosmith-flavored chorus. It's one of the strongest songs on the album.

Then he takes a heavier turn on "I'm Wrong, But You Ain't Right." The introduction is an obvious tribute to Bob Seger's "Turn the Page," but then the tune explodes into heavy Pantera-influenced screamer.

The Southern-fried blues groove of "Baby Come Home" is addictive, and may be my favorite song on the album. While the Iggy Pop-inspired punk of "I'm a Dog" showcases Kid Rock at his conceited best.

Overall, "Cocky" is not bad. Kid Rock accomplishes his goal, which is to show more musical depth.

But, in all honesty, if I want musical depth, I'm not going to look to Kid Rock. I look to him for uptempo tunes with plenty of swagger, and above all, plenty of fun. While it is a good album, I've got a feeling a lot of fans will wear out the skip button.

Get "Cocky."

Tuesday, November 13, 2001

Review: Kittie, "Oracle"

When I first heard about this group of teen-age girls playing metal, I'm sure I smirked. I could just imagine what they considered metal. But one listen to Kittie's debut album "Spit" wiped that look off my face and made me a believer. The collection of short, punchy and heavy tunes convinced me they were the real deal.

Apparently, convincing guys like me that teen-age girls could indeed lay down some heavy tracks wasn't enough, though. On their latest release "Oracle," the girls from Kittie take it one step further - or perhaps one step too far.

The most intriguing thing about "Spit" was the alternating melodic vocal passages and feral snarls. Combine those with a catchy hook - like the one on "Brackish" - and Kittie produces a song that can rival the best of the nu-metal crowd. On "Oracle," though, they focus less on melody and more on the snarl.

There's no doubt these girls have the chops. The riffs on songs like "What I Always Wanted," "In Winter" and "Wolves," will stand up to those of just about any metal band out there.

It's also obvious they've been listening to a lot of Pantera, especially on "Severed" and "No Name" - tunes ripped straight out of the Pantera songbook. Kittie thrashes through these numbers convincingly, but perhaps they've been focusing on the wrong things about Pantera. While they manage the huge riffs and snarling vocals, they don't quite get the total package. "Severed" gets redundant after a couple of listens, and "No Name" never really takes off.

The album does show glimpses of Kittie's potential. "What I Always Wanted" comes close to matching the best songs on their debut, striking a delicate balance between the band's light and dark sides. "In Winter" is the strongest performance on the album, with a dark and melodic verse and a nice chunky chorus riff. It's followed closely by their crushing cover of Pink Floyd's "Run Like Hell." Kittie gives the song a heavy, bouncing riff and singer/screecher Morgan Lander showcases some interesting vocal inflections on the verse.

For an album that goes out of its way to show how heavy the band can be, two of the last tracks on the album seem like strange choices. Rather than go out with a bang, Kittie instead changes pace with "Safe" and "Pink Lemonade," a pair of interesting, yet morose tunes. The melancholy, keyboard-driven "Safe" is the better of the two, while the industrial-sounding "Pink Lemonade" gets a bit boring. Not a good choice as the listener's last memory of the album.

The songs on "Oracle" are not bad songs, in fact most of them are a bit above a lot of the nu-metal set. But it's also not an album that's likely to spend a lot of time in your CD player. It lacks the hooks and passages that get stuck in your head and won't go away. After a few listens, it gets a little dull.

On "Oracle," Kittie obviously set out to prove that they're more than a novelty act. Unlike their debut album, though, when the novelty wears off on this one, the listener may find there's not much beneath it.

Get "Oracle."

Tuesday, October 16, 2001

Review: Ozzy Osbourne, "Down to Earth"

The madman is back. And this time he's brought one of the best bands he's had behind him since the early 1980s.

"Down to Earth," Ozzy Osbourne's first studio release in six years, marks the return of the always-amazing Zakk Wylde to the Ozzman's realm.

Taking a break from his own band Black Label Society, Wylde returns to his duties as Ozzy's sidekick with all of the crunching riffs and insane harmonic screams his fans expect.

Bass player Rob Trujillo (Suicidal Tendencies, Infectious Grooves) and drummer Mike Bordin (Faith No More) provide one of the most solid rhythm sections you'll find in hard rock. They're also not afraid of a good groove, as you can hear on songs like "Junkie" and "No Easy Way Out."

Trujillo and Bordin even get a chance to step to the forefront on "Can You Hear Them?," which is driven by the rhythm section.

The opening cut of "Down to Earth" announces that this album won't be like 1995's more somber and morose "Ozzmosis," which met with mixed reviews from fans. "Gets Me Through," the first single and Ozzy's tribute to his fans, kicks this album into high gear from the start with a crushing riff and a nice word play on one of his best-known songs.

"I'm not the kind of person you think I am/I'm not the Antichrist or the Iron Man," Ozzy sings. While it sounded a little vanilla to me at first, the tune is catchy and gets stuck in your head after a couple of listens.

One thing that strikes the listener quickly, though, is that Ozzy's voice isn't what it used to be.

I remember reading an interview several years ago that talked about some of the classic tunes he no longer performs live - like "Symptom of the Universe" and "Hole in the Sky," both of which were in his upper registers 30 years ago. His reply was that you'd have a better chance of getting the Pope to sing those songs than him.

Still, Ozzy compensates for his diminished range with some unique phrasings and vocal melodies on songs like "Facing Hell," "That I Never Had" and especially "Alive." The album also shines lyrically, with some clever and often thought-provoking song themes.

Even the ballads - not normally Ozzy's strongpoint - are good. The piano-driven Beatles-esque "Dreamer" puts me in mind of the slower songs on his first two solo albums, and "Running Out of Time" could be Ozzy's best ballad since the Sabbath classic "Changes."

But the star of the album may still be Wylde. Despite his best attempts to tone down his guitar work and give Ozzy the spotlight, he still shines when he's given a chance. His huge riffs pay obvious tribute to Black Sabbath without ever crossing the line into imitation.

The heavy, borderline funky riff of "No Easy Way Out" is easily the best on the album, but "Facing Hell" and "Junkie" are close behind. Wylde's guitar work lends a heavy sound to the album that will have heads banging everywhere.

The real strength of "Down to Earth" is that it incorporates all of the things that Ozzy has done best over the years. It has the raw energy of "No Rest for the Wicked" mixed with the production values of "No More Tears" and healthy doses of "Blizzard of Ozz" and "Diary of a Madman" sprinkled liberally throughout.

The madman is back - and his fans are glad to have him.

Get "Down to Earth."

Tuesday, June 5, 2001

Review: The Cult, "Beyond Good and Evil"

In today's music scene, the words "hard rock" might conjure up images of three-chord, percussive guitar riffs and growling vocalists who all sound the same - or maybe even the rapidly stagnating rap-rock trend. Either way, it's not a flattering picture for most fans of the more melodic end of the genre.

Enter the Cult with "Beyond Good and Evil." The band's first album in seven years is a refreshing break from all the Korn and Limp Bizkit wannabes that dominate MTV and MTV2. It's nice to hear a band that uses its instruments to their full capabilities and a singer with a distinctive voice - two things that are seriously lacking among many of the so-called "nu metal" bands.

"Beyond Good and Evil" offers up a set of blistering, uncompromising hard rock tracks that blend the bluesy rock of the Cult's early albums like "Electric" with the more complex arrangements of "Sonic Temple." The result could be the best album of the band's 20-year career.

I have to admit that I've never been a huge Cult fan. I liked "Electric" and a few scattered songs from their other albums, but with most of it, I could take it or leave it.

When I heard the first single, "Rise," on the radio in Biloxi, Miss., I thought it was one of their older tunes that I'd missed. It was a few weeks later, when I caught the video on MTV2, that I realized it was a new song.

"Rise" is the perfect lead single, signalling the return of the Cult to their hard rock roots after a couple of boring early '90s albums that seemed like just an attempt to make the band relevant to the music scene of the time. "Rise," along with "Shape the Sky" and "Take the Power," are raucous rockers with some infectious hooks - something this album has in abundance.

In fact, "Take the Power," is almost one long hook. It's one of those songs that gets in your head and won't leave.

"Beyond Good and Evil" features a harder edge than the Cult's previous offerings, as the band thrashes through some scorching tracks like "War (The Process)," "The Saint" and "My Bridges Burn." But the band doesn't neglect the softer side. Providing a balance to those all-out rockers are a couple of power ballads.

Unlike the groaners of many of their '80s contemporaries, the Cult's slower songs have depth and elaborate arrangements that make them more interesting.

The beginning of "Nico," a song dedicated to the singer of the Velvet Underground, is reminiscent of the band's hit "Edie (Ciao Baby)." But the song quickly gains momentum, with an uptempo drum beat and some exotic-sounding guitar licks. "Nico" is topped off by a heavier chorus, backed by an oddly-fitting string arrangement.

The other ballad, "True Believers," is a more melancholy tune with some strange guitar work and a nice heavy break near the end.

Where the band truly shines, though, are the songs that capture both ends of the spectrum. A good example is "Ashes and Ghosts," which starts off with a heavy riff, then fades into a spooky, ethereal chorus.

"Breathe" opens softly, then catches a good groove on the chorus with some soaring interludes scattered throughout the song. "American Gothic" is a darker song than the others on the album - and also features an explosive chorus offset by some exotic, goth-style guitar work.

With "Beyond Good and Evil," the Cult has provided a sonic assault that's a welcome relief to the ears of a fan of good, old-fashioned hard rock. But they do it with enough panache to please listeners who are looking for something a little deeper, as well.

Get "Beyond Good and Evil."