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

Saturday, July 21, 2007

In Your Ear - White Stripes, Bright Eyes, Ryan Adams
Kevin Wood /Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer
Icky Thump
Wea Japan, 2,580 yen
Listening to the opening title track of Icky Thump, it is clear that Jack and Meg White have a firm grounding in the classics--classic rock, that is.

Backed by ex-wife Meg White's entirely adequate drumming, Jack White works his way through the classic rock guitar riff book, moving from Led Zeppelin to the Rolling Stones, with stylistic nods to progressive rock bands such as Genesis and Yes. There's even a synthesizer solo. And that's just the first song on the album. Later, the listener is treated to blues in a variety of styles on "300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues" and even a sort of retro-lounge on the duo's melodramatic cover of Patti Page's "Conquest."

"Effect and Cause" and "Rag and Bone" are light-hearted romps played for laughs. The latter, a shopping list of junk and where to find it, sounds more like a script for the inevitable video than an actual song, with Jack White even managing to rhyme "catacombs" with "microphones."

Musically, there is nothing groundbreaking here, nor are the lyrics especially deep. It may not be music for the ages, but the White Stripes are never short on weird energy and Jack White's classic rock homage reminds the listener of what made the classics great to begin with. This is a fun album that a lesser, poppier band would have reduced to a froth of jangly guitars light enough to float away. The heavy garage rock aesthetic of the White Stripes keeps it firmly grounded and encourages abuse of the volume dial.

Cassadaga Universal,
2,200 yen

Would somebody buy Conor Oberst a puppy or take him to see the White Stripes or something?

Somebody needs to cheer him up, because his doom-struck angst nearly spoils an otherwise great album of catchy Americana. Bright Eyes' Cassadaga, named for a tiny Florida town populated largely by psychics and spiritualists, is a pleasant rootsy ride through Middle America, with the best tracks, especially the lead-off single "Four Winds" and "Classic Cars" somewhat reminiscent of the best work of the Waterboys, despite Oberst's apocalyptic pronouncements.

Just as Oberst turns some of the album's hootenanny moments into "American Gothic--The Musical!", the opening track "Clairaudients (Kill or Be Killed)" is a decent song rendered almost unlistenable by the addition of what sounds like a medium babbling away over a Sturm-und-Drang orchestral overlay of the kind that came and went with Pink Floyd's Atom Heart Mother.

Luckily, the album's other dozen tracks are eminently listenable, even with Oberst's buzzkill overseriousness.

from an earlier effort:

Easy Tiger
Universal, 2,500 yen

The prolific Ryan Adams follows up his three 2006 releases with another dose of introspective ballads, folk-rock and lo-fi soul. Writing here with his band the Cardinals, Adams' songs continue to sound like the work of some alternate-universe better-voiced Neil Young that never met Crazy Horse. Adams and the band work their rock chops with "Halloweenhead," get all slinky and sinister on "Nobody Listens to Silence Like a Girl" and offer up an alt-country gem, "Pearls on a String," that is a sunny, all-too-brief, mandolin-driven slice of concrete-canyon cowboy heaven.

(The Daily Yomiuri, Jul. 21, 2007)

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