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The Top Albums of 2020, So Far: 18 October 2020

Top Albums of 2020 So Far

I’m back! I suppose there’s some explaining to do. After 1.5 years of publishing every week, I needed a break from blogging. I was burnt out after trying to prepare so many posts during the early days of COVID-19 quarantine. I spent some time working on some other projects (like my first novel!), and now I feel comfortable coming back to Your Dad’s Car Stereo refreshed and ready to write some more. During this sabbatical I never stopped listening to music, in fact, it gave me more time to focus on new releases! Something that you might not know about me is that not only do I listen to the album for YDCS every week, I try to listen to at least one new album per week. Usually it’s a release from an artist that I’ve never listened to before, but if one of my favorite artists put something out that week, then I’ll listen to that too.

This week, I would like to take a look at some of my favorite releases of 2020 so far. This has been a great year for music so far, and I hope you take the time to listen to some of these albums. You might just find a new favorite single, artist, or subgenre. In no particular order, here are my favorite albums of 2020, so far. Enjoy the list!

RTJ 4- Run The Jewels

Killer Mike and EL-P are back at it again with RTJ 4, the fourth installment in the “Run The Jewels” series. This duo is one of the best rap groups in the game right now. Their raps manage to be both poignant, socially conscious, appropriately braggadocios, and creative. Released ahead of schedule in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, the album is a bouncing soundtrack to the Black Lives Matter movement that never seems preachy, but speaks to both of their opinions on the social state of America. Regardless of what you think about the movement, I believe this album will go down as one of the greats in the genre and be remembered for its role in spurring a generation to action. Highlights include “Yankee and the Brave,” “Out Of Sight,” “Holy Calamaf**k,” and “Goonies vs. E.T.”

It Is What It Is- Thundercat

Thundercat is a fantastic bassist, and although you might not know his name, you might have heard his contributions on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. This smooth album is all Thundercat, and most of the album has a modern funk influence. Spacey vocals, fantastic instrumentals from his backing group, and some great bass solos. One of the highlights of the album are Thundercat’s lyrics. He’s known for his funny songs, and they definitely make an appearance on It Is What It Is. Check out songs like “Dragonball Durag,” “I Love Louis Cole,” “Black Qualls,” “How Sway,” and “Funny Thing.”

Chromatica- Lady Gaga

Mother Monster is back and just as good as she ever was with Chromatica. 2016’s Joanne was a return to Lady Gaga’s pre-stardom, open mic night roots, but Chromatica is harkens back to her first commercial albums as The Fame and Born This Way. Chromatica was produced by American producer BloodPop, and the album is dripping in his signature multi-layered electronic sound. The singles off of this album would have been in every club across the country if it weren’t for the pandemic. You may scoff, thinking this is just another pop album, but it does have some good messages in songs like “Free Woman,” and “Rain on Me.” Above else, this is a fun, easy album to listen to that will have you dancing all day long. Check out “Alice,” “Rain on Me,” “Stupid Love,” and “Sour Candy.”

The Slow Rush- Tame Impala

2020 finally brought us a new Tame Impala album, five years after the release of their critically acclaimed Currents. Tame Impala is an indie group that exploded out of Australia with their last album, and this has been one of the most anticipated albums of the last few years. Even though we had to wait five years for it, I’m honestly glad because the final product is fantastic. The Slow Rush is essentially a continuation of Currents; high-echo vocals that are often difficult to discern, esoteric lyrics, and a great electronic sound. If you’ve never listened to this group or have never really been interested in indie music, The Slow Rush is a great place to start. The whole album is really good, but check out “Instant Destiny,” “Borderline,” “Breathe Deeper,” and “Lost in Yesterday” for some of the best songs.

What’s Your Pleasure?- Jessie Ware

I have had “What’s Your Pleasure?” on repeat for the past three months. This is my pick for one of the best albums of the year. English singer-songwriter Jessie Ware managed to put together an album that legitimately sounds like it could have been a Sheila E album produced by Prince. The whole album drips in a late 1970s/early 1980s New York disco/funk sound mixed with Detroit big bass. The image that I get listening to this album is that it could have fit perfectly as the soundtrack to a smoky 1970s nightclub. If you’ve been pining for new Prince music since his passing a few years ago, What’s Your Pleasure will scratch that itch for you. Songs that are definitely worth checking out include “Soul Control,” “Read My Lips,” “Spotlight,” and “What’s Your Pleasure?”.

TRANSLATION- Black Eyed Peas

The Black Eyed Peas have had a rough few years and haven’t managed a big hit album since 2009’s “The E.N.D.”. They released two albums since then, a handful of singles, and Fergie left the group to focus on recording The Duchess 2. They needed something big to get back on track and TRANSLATION hit the mark dead on. This reggaeton album capitalizes on the latin trend in pop music right now, features significant portions in Spanish and Tagalog, and makes great use of samples from acts as diverse as Corona’s “The Rhythm of the Night,” and Rick James’ “Superfreak.” Many artists (like Kanye West) try to hide their samples so that they’re not as obvious, but I actually appreciated the forwardness of the samples on TRANSLATION; it made the album easier to follow for a non-Spanish speaker. Songs to check out include ”RITMO,” “MAMACITA,” “VIDA LOCA,” and “GIRL LIKE ME”.

Energy- Disclosure

The English electronic group Disclosure finally released their new album Energy in 2020, five years after 2015’s fantastic release Caracal. The group is best known for their string of hits in the early 2010s featuring Sam Smith, AlunaGeorge, and Lorde. They’re a collaboration heavy group that I think has truly picked up the ‘English Electronic Torch’ where Basement Jaxx left it in 2013 with Junto. As the title would suggest, this is a high-energy double LP that features house songs with samples from around the world. Energy is decidedly a more worldly album than Caracal, pulling a significant number of samples from African music. Overall, this a solid house album from one of my favorite electronic acts. Check out songs like “Douha (Mali Mali),” “Ce n’est pas,” “ENERGY,” and “Tondo.”

Thank You For Using GTL- Drakeo The Ruler

We’re wrapping up the list with a decidedly more artistic effort. Drakeo the Ruler recorded Thank You For Using GTL exclusively while he was incarcerated by rapping through the phone in prison (GTL being a company that provides phone calls to inmates) and having his producer add the beats afterwards. The album was clearly recorded through a phone, the vocals are scratchy and hard to hear at some points, but during the times where they’re more pronounced Drakeo raps about his time in prison, his alleged innocence, and the crimes of his fellow inmates. This album, laced with profanity, is not for folks more sensitive to language, but it does provide a haunting look into the U.S. prison system. There are frequent interruptions that remind the listener that Drakeo was being monitored while he was on the phone. I can’t highlight one particular song on this one, but if you’re looking for something off the beaten path, Thank You For Using GTL might be the album for you.

The opinion above is protected under the Fair Use provision of United States Copyright Law, 17 U.S.C §107 which allows for the fair use of a copyrighted work for criticism without infringement on the copyright.

The Smiths- The Queen Is Dead (1986): 29 June 2020

The Smiths – The Queen Is Dead (1986)

Welcome back to YDCS! I had to take a few weeks off to move house, but now that I’m settled, we should be back at the reviews for the long haul! This week we’re listening to a quintessential album from the 1980s that helped define the sound of the era, The Queen Is Dead by The Smiths. Fronted by Morrissey, The Smiths were the original indie rock band, casting away the synthesizers that were so popular in the mid-80s and focusing on honing a tight sound with only guitars, drums, breathtaking vocals, and creative wit in their lyrics. The Queen Is Dead is a continuation of the same sound that The Smiths established on their earlier albums Meat is Murder and their self-titled debut but shows more refinement than before. This album drips with a slow, moody atmosphere that brings out every emotion from elation to despair.

I’ve wanted to review The Queen Is Dead for a long time, but had never gotten around to it because I wasn’t sure how to go about it. Not only is it often cited as one of the best albums ever released, it’s also not a traditional rock album and trends closer to a folk rock sound than a hard rock sound. It shows the wide range of sounds that you find across the genre, as we’ve seen with groups as diverse as the Sex Pistols, Steely Dan, Duran Duran, and now The Smiths. The Queen Is Dead is an outstanding album, and I’ve rated every song on it highly for a few reasons: First, Morrissey’s vocal performance is enough to carry the album even without the rest of the band. He runs through every track with such precision that it’s difficult to pay attention to anything else, lyrics and backing instrumentation included. That’s critically important because The Smiths were a lyric group, and you’ll need to listen to each song a few times to get the most out of the album. If you’ve never listened to The Smiths before, either because you don’t like their music or you’ve never had the chance, then this is the best place for you to start. I hope you enjoy the album!

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

The Queen Is Dead: Wow. It’s not often that a song has so much hidden meaning that I need to look up the lyrics and read them to get a handle on the song (It could also have to do with the fact that I’m an American listening to a song protesting the British monarchy…). Politically, this was a major song calling out the British monarchy, Prince Charles’ role riding his mother’s (Queen Elizabeth II) coattails for his life, and calling out royal watchers for not prioritizing other things in society (ie. Increasing drug usage among young people) over the royals. I’m not going to say anything regarding the validity or invalidity of the argument as we aim to be apolitical here on YDCS, but in terms of significance, this rivals the Sex Pistol’s “God Save the Queen” for its lambasting of the monarchy. Dad’s Rating 9/10

Frankly, Mr. Shankly: “Frankly, Mr. Shankly” is the least impressive song on the album in my opinion. It discusses the decline of fame as one grows older, which ties nicely with the theme found in “The Queen Is Dead,” while not being overbearing and beating on the same point too much. Musically, this song is forgetful and one of the least remarkable on the album, mostly because this record has too many songs that stand leagues ahead. Dad’s Rating 5/10

I Know It’s Over: I know that The Smiths were ballad-heavy, and this is the first song on The Queen is Dead where we really see that clearly. We all know that I normally dislike ballads, but there’s something about The Smiths that actually makes me listen closer to ballads. I think it has to do with Morrissey’s beautiful vocals. Many acts lack the chops to do a proper ballad any justice, but if there’s one person who can do it, it’s Morrissey. Having said that, this one is just okay in my book, but only because I prefer the song that follows “I Know It’s Over” even more. There’s nothing to fault in the performance, but everything comes together so cleanly on the following track that it makes this one forgettable. Now, if you’re listening to this song in album format then you won’t be disappointed with the performance, but I wouldn’t elect to put the single on a playlist. Dad’s Rating 6/10

Never Had No One Ever: “Never Had No One Ever” might be my favorite song on the entire album. I love how moody it is and how the heavy bass and minor key play beautifully into the wailing vocals. “I’m alone and I never had no one ever.” How about that for lyrics?! This song is so sad and really made me feel the same, but at the same time it’s so beautiful that I couldn’t take it off repeat. The Smiths are often described as one of the original “emo bands,” and songs like this are the reason why. There’s so much raw emotion that you can feel the pain in the vocals. Musically, this is a fantastic execution and job well done. Dad’s Rating 10/10

Cemetry Gates: We go from the lowest low possible to a high high with “Cemetry Gates.” This is a fun track that reminisces about the lives about people that have died with a literary undertone (listen for the references to Keith, Yates, Wilde, and Shakespeare in this song!). This is a great tongue-in-cheek song that shows perfectly the sarcasm that The Smiths were known for and eve more-so, their creative songwriting ability. Dad’s Rating 7/10

Bigmouth Strikes Again: “Bigmouth Strikes Again” features my favorite instrumental section and production on the album. The guitar solos are really outstanding on this track, and it’s one of few considering that The Smiths eschewed big solos on their songs. Instrumentally, this is the strongest song on the album and shows a completely different side of the band than earlier tracks like “Never Had No One Ever.” I also really like how they added a second version of Morrissey’s vocals pitched up through the chorus too. That’s a great production tool that gives the song a new level of depth and a haunting quality, despite the fact that it’s an up-tempo song. Really good one here! Dad’s Rating 8/10

The Boy with the Thorn in His Side: I had to skip over “The Boy with the Thorn in His Side” a few times because I wasn’t sure what to say about it. It’s sandwiched between two really good songs, but it’s not a bad song in its own right. My biggest issue with this track is that it’s too darn repetitive. I feel like every time I heard it, the only thing I heard was ‘the boy with the thorn in his side’ over and over again. Morrissey claims that the song is about the music industry, and knowing the amount of metaphor across the rest of the album, I think it would be remiss to judge this song at face value.  Dad’s Rating 5/10

Vicar in a Tutu: “Vicar in a Tutu” doesn’t match the rest of the album in musical style, but explaining their anti-religious and pro-individuality sentiments through the instrument of a vicar wearing a tutu is a pretty strong image. I’ll give kudos for being bold enough to write a song as tongue-in-cheek as this, but also knock it down a peg for its plain musical arrangement. Dad’s Rating 6/10

There Is a Light That Never Goes Out: This is a CLASSIC! “To die by yoooour side, is such a heavenly way to diiiiie.” This is the first song that I think of when I think of The Smiths, and for good reason too. It’s not spectacular musically, and it’s not my favorite vocal performance on the album either, but it’s a painful story, told beautifully, with exceptionally clean arrangement. There is literally nothing to fault with this song. Every note is performed perfectly, it’s mixed perfectly, and I think it’s a great testament to the hardworking attitude and strong technical abilities of the band. Dad’s Rating 10/10

Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others: I thought my headphones were broken at first when I listened to this song! That is one of the coolest introductions to a song that I’ve ever heard. “Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others” is exactly the closer from The Smiths that you would expect. It subverts your expectations by actually talking about dreams, expectations, and legacies but referencing weight. Musically I enjoyed this song too. It has a strong new wave influence that was notably absent from the rest of the album and made for an interesting closing song. It’s not often that a song with a completely different style from the rest of the album can close, but by incorporating the witty lyricism that the band was known for turns out to be a strong running theme and helps this song out. Job well done! Dad’s Rating 8/10

The opinion above is protected under the Fair Use provision of United States Copyright Law, 17 U.S.C §107 which allows for the fair use of a copyrighted work for criticism without infringement on the copyright.

Yes- Close to the Edge (1972): 8 June 2020

Yes – Close to the Edge (1972)

Welcome back to YDCS! This week we’re listening to one of the most significant albums in the prog rock genre, Close to the Edge by Yes. Close to the Edge came hot on the heels of 1971’s Fragile, but went with a completely different style than the earlier album. This album would be the band’s first foray into prog rock before firmly cementing themselves in the genre with the follow-up album Tales from Topographic Oceans. Yes remained primarily a prog rock group until changing their sound again with 1982’s commercially successful 90125, but their mark on the genre would remain with this album. Close to the Edge would go on to be one of the most consequential albums in prog rock and mentioned in the same breath as albums like Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon, Jethro Tull’s Thick as a Brick, Rush’s 2112, and Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s Brain Salad Surgery. Each of those albums were significant to defining what it meant to be “Prog.” For example, Thick as a Brick solidified the significance of long-form songs, and 2112 introduced the idea of science fiction and fantasy in rock. What Yes did with this album was find a way to combine elements of classical and religious music with classic literature and rock music, some of which would pop up in other prog rock albums throughout the 1970s.

Close to the Edge is one of my favorite albums. I love the fact that the lyrics and message of the title song were based on Herman Hesse’s “Siddhartha.” I love how the band didn’t tie themselves to traditional musical structures, instead composing the album more as a single musical movement than as separate songs. I the displays of musicianship, beautiful vocal harmonies, and odd choices for instrumentation. How many times have you heard a church organ solo on a rock album? If you answered ‘Never,’ the this is your chance! Finally, I love the fact that Yes let their music and their art speak for itself and tell its own story. Oftentimes, the lyrics are difficult to discern, either due to the fact that they’re sung in a high voice or layered on top of each other in post-production to make them sound spacey, but you don’t need to know what’s being said all the time. The music tells as much of the story as the lyrics do. You’ll find something different to enjoy about this album each time you listen to it, and I hope you enjoy one of my favorite albums, Close to the Edge.

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

Close to the Edge (I. The Solid Time of Change, II. Total Mass Retain, III. I Get Up, I Get Down, IV. Seasons of Man): The title track for the album is as epic as a song can possibly be. I’d like to break this song down by section to make it more manageable. The song starts with an extended jam session and the most frenetic, energetic guitar performances I’ve ever heard, both the lead and the backing acoustic guitar. The song lulls you with a calm section before launching into the main theme of the song. The vocals are so ethereal that they’re used more as another instrument than a method to deliver lyrics. That’s not the first time you’ll hear Yes do that on this album either.

The song changes to the second mood at around the seven-minute mark. The main ‘Close to the Edge’ theme continues through the song to help tie the track together, much like an orchestral piece. “Total Mass Retain” is the shortest section, acting as an interlude for “I Get Up, I Get Down” and primarily features a short bass and keyboard solo.

Once you get to “I Get Up, I Get Down,” you feel like you’ve instantly been transported somewhere between a cave and space. The music makes you feel as though you’re in an unidentifiable natural setting. Lyrically, it continues to draw inspiration from “Siddhartha” through the whole section, making references to characters and scenes from the book and slowly building into two peace-breaking, iconic church organ solos; the first thing I think about when I think about this song.

We close the song out with a much faster paced section, “Seasons of Man” that closes out the song both lyrically and thematically, continuing to draw from “Siddhartha” with the often-repeated phrase, ‘Close to the edge, down by the river…now that it’s done, go to the sea,” serving to show that life goes on from one body of water to another body, and emphasizing one of the major tenets of Siddhartha, reincarnation. Musically and lyrically, you’ll hear something different each time you listen to this song, and it’s one of my favorites for its depth, metaphor, and grandiosity. Dad’s Rating 10/10

And You and I (I. Cord of Life, II. Eclipse, III. The Preacher, the Teacher, IV. The Apocalypse): Again, because this is a multi-part song, I’m going to break this one down section by section. “And You and I” is less esoteric than “Close to the Edge” and is overall a softer piece of music than the relative chaos of the former. Section I, “Chord of Life” has a strong classical European influence, and it reminds me of backing music that I might put in a movie set in Ireland or Scotland. Musically, it’s not particularly interesting but it does set the scene for “Eclipse.”

The second section continues the main “And You and I” theme that you’re introduced to right off the bat, but gets really abstract, really fast. If “Close to the Edge” was written to put you in a natural setting, “Eclipse” takes that makes you feel like you’re travelling through space; it’s ethereal and artistic, keeping up the idea that you don’t need lyrics to understand the point of the song.

“The Preacher, the Teacher” begins to pick the pace of the song up as we approach the end of the song, and I’d like to highlight the bass work and guitar work in particular. The bass line is really complex, but gets hidden behind the lead guitar and synthesizer. Take a minute to appreciate the supporting section during this section. They could have easily gone with a simpler bass line and the song would have worked perfectly, but the complex structure contrasts nicely with the simple, but well-played guitar line.

Finally, even though the song picks up tempo through “The Preacher, the Teacher,” Yes slow it back down for the last section with a beautiful vocal harmony that puts you right back in that space mindset and a brief acoustic section to tie it all together. The simple, folk style suits this song well as it contrasts with the harder styles of “Close to the Edge” and “Siberian Khatru.” Overall, I rate this lower than “Close to the Edge” because, while it’s still a great prog rock piece, it shows less musical diversity than the former. Everything was played perfectly and well-thought-out in terms of song construction, and the album did need a slower piece, but after listening to the other two songs, I know that there was a way to eek more musical diversity out of the band on this trac. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Siberian Khatru: “Siberian Khatru” is another fantastic example of what Yes was able to do with rock. Half the time you can’t understand what Jon Anderson is saying, and when you can understand what he’s saying, none of the words seem to fit together. Like the rest of the album though, the lyrics don’t matter in relation to the song, they only matter in relation to how they sound with respect to the rest of the instruments. That feeling is the most important thing; to me I feel like I’m flying underwater every time I listen to this song; the airiness of the music just puts me in that headspace.  Instrumentally, this is a superb song. Steve Howe’s solo at around the mid-mark and at the end of the song are some of my favorite moments in recorded music. The keyboard and bass-work during that end solo are also amazing. The way that Yes closes out “Siberian Khatru” is the benchmark by which I judge the endings of all albums. It crescendos into this huge sound with vocal harmonies before fading out, fittingly, without much being said. Dad’s Rating 10/10

The opinion above is protected under the Fair Use provision of United States Copyright Law, 17 U.S.C §107 which allows for the fair use of a copyrighted work for criticism without infringement on the copyright.

Stray Cats- Built For Speed (1982): 1 June 2020

Stray Cats – Built For Speed (1982)

Welcome back to YDCS! This week we’re listening to the act headed up by one of my favorite solo artists, Brian Setzer. Built For Speed was the first U.S. studio release by the Stray Cats. The Stray Cats were responsible for the re-introduction of rockabilly, an early form of rock and roll that combined elements of rock, country, and boogie, into the mainstream sound. Built For Speed may have been one of the most significant albums to come out of this revival, but despite the success of the album, the band wouldn’t last. Brian Setzer would go on to forge a solo career as the front man for the Brian Setzer Orchestra, a big-band/rockabilly hybrid group with multiple hits through the early 90s. The Stray Cats continue to reunite for concerts every few years, most recently in 2019 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the band.

I’m a massive Brian Setzer fan, and he’s one of the few acts that I’ll go see live whenever he passes through (I’ve actually seen him twice in the last three years with a third concert hopefully later this year). The Brian Setzer Orchestra’s album The Dirty Boogie was the first album I ever owned, and every time I hear him, I can’t help but think of his showmanship and incredible musical capacity. He’s never cited as one of the best guitarists or vocalists in rock, but the combination of his signature Gretsch guitar and spoken word-like lyrics are unmistakable. Built For Speed is a fantastic album that you can’t help but dance to. The Stray Cats put it all out on the table for this album to put out a classic 1950s rock sound and solidly distanced themselves from the pop/synth sound that began dominating rock in the 80s. There are few acts out there that so perfectly capture the essence of Americana in the 1950s, but the Stray Cats did a magnificent job of doing just that with Built For Speed. I hope you enjoy this rockabilly revival!

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

Rock This Town: We start off Built For Speed with a song that became an instant classic in the discography of rock, “Rock This Town.” I thought this song was a cover the first few times that I heard it, but after learning that it was a Stray Cats original, my opinion changed from thinking that it was pretty good for a cover to amazement at the attention to detail and similarity in sound to the classic 1950s rock sound. They fooled me. For the longest time, I thought this song was originally recorded in the 50s. Not only is “Rock This Town” perfectly emblematic of the Stray Cats, it’s a fantastic display of musicianship from every section in the band, most notably Setzer’s multiple guitar solos. It captures snapshots of life in the 1950s with references to jukeboxes and greasers and perfectly represents what the rockabilly revival was all about. Dad’s Rating 10/10

Built For Speed: The title track to Built For Speed leans closer to the country side of rockabilly than the rock side of rockabilly that we heard on “Rock This Town.” While the verses don’t do much for me on this song, I really appreciated the tuning and mixing on the guitar solo where you can really hear the difference between the hollow-body guitars favored by Setzer and a solid body guitar that would have a significantly less ‘twangy’ sound. Dad’s Rating 5/10

Rev It Up And Go: “Rev It Up And Go” is the weakest song on the album in my opinion. It’s not bad, but when you listen to the rest of the album, there’s energy that seems to be missing from this song that is appears in bounds on others. Maybe they recorded this one on a bad day, but “Rev It Up And Go” feels like a band that’s just going through the motions when you know what they’re capable of. Dad’s Rating 4/10

Stray Cat Strut: This is THE signature song for the Stray Cats, and I haven’t seen a Brian Setzer Orchestra show where he didn’t play this one. That goes to show how far this song has permeated the genre and is emblematic of the Stray Cats and the rockabilly revival (It doesn’t hurt when your band name is in the song title too). “Stray Cat Strut” is a great blues inspired track with fun lyrics that I will always sing along to. The band feels really polished and in good harmony on this track too. One part doesn’t stand out from the others, they all just came together to put down a bluesy rock track. Dad’s Rating 10/10

Little Miss Prissy: “Little Miss Prissy” is another one of those songs that I immediately identify with the Stray Cats. It’s not their best song, and it’s not even the best song on this record, but there’s something about calling out a certain type of person with this song that is very appealing. The instrumental section for this song isn’t anything to write home about, but the lyrics keep it afloat. Dad’s Rating 5/10

Rumble In Brighton: “Rumble In Brighton” is one of the better tracks on the album. It almost has a hard surf rock sound to it, which is fitting considering that it’s about the English beach town of Brighton. The howling vocals and guitar are highlights on this track that get left out of others on the record. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Runaway Boys: Setzer fans really love this track, but I don’t understand all the love for “Runaway Boys.” I think this is one of the weaker songs on the album, right there with “Rev It Up And Go.” Frankly, this song is boring. I know what the Stray Cats are capable of, and I know that can play a song with more energy than this. The one highlight that we get on this song is a more forward bass section than on other songs. For fans of the standup double bass, this might be the song for you. If you’re not in that camp then you might want to skip this one. Dad’s Rating 4/10

Lonely Summer Nights: “Lonely Summer Nights” is the only downtempo song on this record, and it shows a completely different side of the band. I’m pretty transparent about my distaste and lack of attention for downtempo songs, but “Lonely Summer Nights” is different. Maybe it’s the classic 50s instrumental, or the beautifully sung vocals, or the saxophone solo. I’m not sure which, but this is a great song that could have been plucked straight out of “Grease.” This slow dance is worth listening to! Dad’s Rating 8/10

Double Talkin’ Baby: After a song like “Lonely Summer Nights,” “Double Talkin’ Baby” feels impossibly fast! It’s one of the most blisteringly paced songs on the album, and the placement after “Lonely Summer Nights” emphasizes that even more. I love the energy of this song. The band is firing on all cylinders, whooping and hollering behind freewheeling guitar and my favorite upright bass performance on the record. Dad’s Rating 6/10

You Don’t Believe Me: This track leans more heavily towards the blues and country side of rockabilly than the rock side, but I think that it does it better than “Built For Speed.” The vocal performance is better and the track has a better groove than the former. “You Don’t Believe Me” is a good example of one of the two extremes of the genre. Dad’s Rating 6/10

Jeanie, Jeanie, Jeanie: If we could have taken “Lonely Summer Nights” out of the movie “Grease” then we could have taken this one right out of “Back To The Future.” Do you remember the scene when Michael J. Fox’s character plays the guitar at the school dance? I feel like he could have easily picked this song instead and it would have fit right in. This is plain old rocker that’s fun to listen to. No frills, no crazy thrills, just a good rock song. Dad’s Rating 5/10

Baby Blue Eyes: We close out Built For Speed with one last rockabilly track. While some songs on the B-side tend to play towards either the blues/country side or the plain rock side of rockabilly, “Baby Blue Eyes” splits the difference well. No part tries to outplay the others on this song, and it feels like a cohesive end to the album. Dad’s Rating 6/10

The opinion above is protected under the Fair Use provision of United States Copyright Law, 17 U.S.C §107 which allows for the fair use of a copyrighted work for criticism without infringement on the copyright.

Eric Clapton- 461 Ocean Boulevard (1974): 25 May 2020

Eric Clapton – 461 Ocean Boulevard (1974)

Welcome back to YDCS! Thanks for holding on through some more obscure acts for the last few weeks! Last week, I promised a return to a more recognizable act for this week, and now I’m here to deliver with Eric Clapton’s 461 Ocean Boulevard. This was Clapton’s second solo studio album after breaking away from Derek and the Dominos in the early 70s. This album was a landmark for Clapton’s career; he had spent so much of his early musical career on drugs and rehab that he knew he needed to change. While working through his addiction, he began listening to old blues records. Those acted as a strong influence on the songs he wrote for this album and would profoundly impact the tone of his next few albums, most notably Slowhand.

461 Ocean Boulevard is full of some fantastic musical moments and has a softer sound than I think a lot of people expected from a Clapton record. In that respect, that was the perfect sound for him at the time. Having just beaten a heroin addiction, maybe it was time to change the sound and influence from the hard rocking times of the Yardbirds and Derek and the Dominos to put that part of his life behind him. Either way, 461 Ocean Boulevard was here to make a statement; Clapton’s back and he’s still got it. Ever the songwriter, Clapton’s personal, stripped back approach to musical composition is on full display and he put a lot of his vulnerabilities out for the world to see. The takes a lot of strength, and when music is written with that level of personal emotion, the result is nothing short of spectacular. This is a great album and I hope that you enjoy the music and appreciate where it came from.

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

Motherless Child: We start off 461 Ocean Boulevard with a taste for what we’ll be getting for the rest of the album; a strong, bluesy, roots sound. “Motherless Child” is atypical in structure for a blues track in that it it’s almost five minutes long (most blues tracks top out at three minutes), but this is a Clapton blues song, so we have to have enough runtime for a solo or two. The instrumentation is really sharp and I looked forward to hearing that slide guitar make a return pass later on the album, but what stood out to me the most was actually the production quality. The mixing was really crisp and stands up 46 years later. I like a dirtier production sound too (a la Jim Croce), but I find that it helps focus your attention on the vocals where a crisper production focuses your attention on the instrumentation, and that’s where Clapton’s strength lies. Dad’s Rating 7/10

Give Me Strength: “Give Me Strength” is one of the most personal songs on the album and appears to be directly influenced by Clapton’s rehab and working through the emotions of his addiction. It takes a lot of strength to actually record a song talking about how you need/needed help. You can’t help but proud of someone for admitting that. This is also a great example of how the production can affect the way that you listen to a song. Compare this with “Motherless Child” and you’ll notice that the vocals, while sounding a little muffled, are much more pronounced while the instruments take a back seat. That’s the work of a great sound engineer. Dad’s Rating 7/10

Willie And The Hand Jive: “Willie And The Hand Jive” isn’t the first cover that we’ve heard on this album, that honor actually goes to “Motherless Children,” and it’s not the last that we’ll hear either. This is a typical hand jive arrangement, but it’s notable that he chose to slow down the hand jive to put a blues twist on it. Slowing it down, I don’t think you could actually hand jive to this version, but he was able to make it a good blues rock song! I’ve never heard anything like this before, but I think you’ll like it too! Dad’s Rating 7/10

Get Ready: I liked “Get Ready” a lot! The riff for this song is super funky and gives the track a great groove. I’m not sure who the woman is who features with Clapton on this song, but her deep voice is a welcome addition and compliments his rougher sound nicely. This is a track for sitting out and listening to, not rocking out, but it’s still a good song that’s worth checking out. Dad’s Rating 6/10

I Shot The Sheriff: We close out the A-side with a cover of a Bob Marley song, the legendary “I Shot The Sherriff”. This track instantly recognizable and pays appropriate homage to Marley’s legacy, mirroring the vocal performance closely but diverging on the instrumental performance by adding a funkier rhythm to the low-end to give it more of a bounce. One of my favorite things about this song is that Marley once met Clapton and complimented his performance of the song. This isn’t just one of Clapton’s best songs, it’s one of the best songs in classic rock, and it will always be told in the context of both rockers, Marley and Clapton. Dad’s Rating 10/10

I Can’t Hold Out: Now we’re moving on to the B-side with a largely instrumental track that pulls from a typical blues sound. This is a back-to-basics 12-bar blues song that is really easy to listen to. It won’t win awards for creativity, but it is well performed. The flourishes that Clapton puts on the solo are enough to keep your attention and make you want to see what the rest of the side has in store. Dad’s Rating 6/10

Please Be With Me: Oh boy, it’s a ballad. I don’t do well with ballads, but I made it through “Give Me Strength.” Maybe I’ll make it through this one too…nope. “Please Be With Me” is a beautiful song with a pleasant guitar acoustic performance, but I won’t remember it after this review. A ballad needs to be something truly special for me to remember it, and this one just couldn’t do that. Dad’s Rating 5/10

Let It Grow: It’s hard to believe that a song this good was buried on the B-side! “Let It Grow” does exactly what it says it will do; the song grows as it goes on, rising from a humble acoustic track into a huge sound. The instrumental performance is what really held my attention on this song, in combination with the beautiful vocals. This is a well-balanced song that crescendos inspiringly in the last minute and a half, and that stuck with me. My one criticism is the actual lyrics of the song, and that’s why it’s not rated higher. “Love is lovely…” I mean it sure is, but maybe we could have found a better way to say it. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Steady Rollin’ Man: “Steady Rollin’ Man” was a great hidden gem on this album, although it’s hard to call anything on a Clapton record hidden! This is a fantastic blues track with a great groove and some real rock moments. The backing instrumentation with that weird synth in the background is different enough that I’ll remember that one for a while. Clapton also opens up the guitar for one of the best solos on the album on this track too, wringing a great “wah wah” solo out, and doing something different than I expected, which would have been a typical slide guitar solo. Check this one out! Dad’s Rating 8/10

Mainline Florida: We close 461 Ocean Boulevard with a sleepy rocker in “Mainline Florida.” I almost wish that this was a bluesy song to close out an album that was heavily influenced by the genre. Putting a sleepy rock track at the end doesn’t have a good sense of finality. The solo is really unusual on this song too. I think he was trying to channel a bluegrass sound, maybe by using a squawk box, and it wasn’t pleasant. Ende the album at “Steady Rollin’ Man” and you’ll feel a better sense of finality than pushing on to “Mainline Florida.” Dad’s Rating 3/10

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