"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Kevin Wood / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

A Bigger Bang
Toshiba EMI, 2,548 yen

The day will eventually come--probably about three weeks after Keith Richards' funeral--when the Rolling Stones no longer rock, but their latest release, A Bigger Bang, shows that time has not yet arrived.

Bang is the best Stones album in at least a decade, harkening back to the band's golden era of Exile on Main Street and Sticky Fingers. While not quite in the same league as those earlier classics, Bang could almost be taken for a collection of early '70s B-sides.

Despite the ravages of time, Bang has the energy of a band a third the age of the Strolling Bones. Kicking off with the none-too-subtle barnyard double entendre of "Rough Justice" ("At one time/ you were my prairie chicken/ now you've grown into a fox/ Once upon a time/ I was your little rooster/ am I just one of your cocks?"), Bang has plenty of Mick Jagger strut, but the real musical impetus is the relentless, driving beat provided by Charlie Watts and the twin rhythm guitar attack of Richards and Ron Wood.

The Stones have never really had a strong instrumental soloist in the rock guitar hero mode since the tenure of Mick Taylor, but Richards can do more with a handful of power chords and some distortion than most musicians can with a full orchestra. He and Wood use slide guitar fills and crunchy rhythm riffs to excellent effect. Richards even gets to trade places with Jagger, taking the lead on two songs.

Standout tracks include the acoustic blues number "Back of My Hand" and the rocker "She Saw Me Coming." Politically inclined fans will enjoy the skewering of the White House cabal in "Sweet Neo Con."

The Stones take a lot of abuse from hipper-than-thou critics for their huge corporate-sponsored tours and relentless plowing of the same blues-based classic rock field, but it's a genre they largely invented and perfected long ago.

Twin Cinema
P-Vine Records, 2,415 yen

On first listening to Twin Cinema, those unfamiliar with the New Pornographers might think they've stumbled onto some long-lost drug-inspired late-'60s collaboration between ABBA, Brian Wilson, Jefferson Airplane and Blondie.

The Vancouver supergroup (most of the members have had success with other bands or as solo artists) draw on a wide diversity of influences and abilities to craft incredibly layered, complex power pop that embraces '60s psychedelia, folk rock, New Wave and producer-driven progressive rock with trace elements of punk and a dozen other rock sub-genres. Despite the array of influences, the thoroughly postmodern Pornographers' sound is not so much derivative as it is distilled, and the heady mash of inspirations makes a potent brew.

The band makes excellent use of its wealth of vocal talent with alt.country songstress Neko Case trading lines with frontman and main songwriter A.C. Newman (Zumpano) and gruff-voiced Dan Bejar and the whole band chiming in on harmony backing vocals that add further energy and depth to the tuneful melange of sound.

Newman's hook-laden songs stray far from the typical verse-chorus-verse-chorus pop structure, yet manage to be catchy and memorable while following a form all their own. While maintaining a cohesive sound throughout the album, the cuts range from up-tempo indie rockers like the title cut to the more gentle, sunny-sounding acoustic-guitar tinged "These are the Fables" and the Beatlesesque "Sing Me Spanish Techno."

(Sep. 8, 2005)

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