Michael Bolton’s “Time, Love & Tenderness” (1991)

I didn’t know who Michael Bolton was until The Lonely Island’s song  “Jack Sparrow” debuted on Saturday Night Live in 2011. I’m sure some of the humor of the song was lost on me because I didn’t know who Bolton was, but I loved the song. The first week of this July of 2013 is dedicated to two of Bolton’s 1990-1999 releases, the first of which being the 1991 “Time, Love & Tenderness.”

Five of the album’s ten songs have ‘Love’ in the name, so if the album name “Time, Love & Tenderness” didn’t tip you off that this is an album of love songs. Michael Bolton’s got what you need for love songs, which is a beautiful, convincing delivery of lyrics that might make you cringe if you actually paid attention to them. It’s hard to say if that a good thing, or a bad thing. Bolton could be singing really well-written love songs, right? Perhaps I’m just being critical of the genre. At the very least, Bolton sounds spectacular and that’s all I can really say about the man’s skill – so I’ll shift my critical focus to the sound of the album.

You may recall that I non-ironically loved the dated sounds of Jodeci’s “Forever My Lady” which was also released in 1991, however I can’t say I feel the same about “Time, Love & Tenderness.” I wouldn’t say any of the songs are written poorly; some have good beats, nice melodies, but some of the cheesier musical choices are harder to embrace. What stood out in particular were the reverb-heavy, electric-sounding drums that sounded like Yamaha Keyboard samples, which were distracting in the otherwise decent and even enjoyable title track “Time, Love & Tenderness.” I have to say the beat of “Missing You Now”  which has some pretty ironically 90’s drum machine elements, wouldn’t be the same without that sound. The sounds of that decade are the sounds of that decade, and if I’m going to sit back and enjoy some of the sounds from that era I’ve got to accept that they’re not all winners. And “Time, Love & Tenderness” doesn’t suffer because it sounds cheesy most of the time – it suffers with me on a personal level because love songs aren’t my cup of tea – but it’s hard not to say that the album isn’t okay.

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Jodeci’s “Forever My Lady” (1991)

(Originally Published February 7th 2013)
I’ve never really listened to a whole lot of R&B, and I can’t say that after listening to Jodeci’s 1991 debut album, “Forever My Lady”, that I want to listen to more R&B. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with the genre, or Jodeci’s album – its just that neither really clicks with me.

The album clocks just seven minutes under an hour, and it’s not at all an unpleasant hour. The vocals here are pretty sweet, whether Jodeci is in full quartet harmony, or somebody’s singing solo. I particularly like the instruments on display here too – hard to describe but very much a staple for the time. Keyboard effects and oscillations that probably sounded cool then, and “cheesy” now. I enjoy them in a very much non-ironic way.

What really keeps me from fully being able to embrace Jodeci is just their lyrical content. It’s an almost-hour long musical trip about love, break-ups, make-ups, and making love. All fine lyrical topics if done right and sparsely – but this is a full album of static lyrical topics. It’s a shame, because if I were reviewing Jodeci song-by-song I might have lots of really good things to say about each song, but I’m reviewing the album as a whole – and I find it hard to praise one long song above another love song.

Jodeci’s “Forver My Lady” is worth listening to, and I’m glad I took the time to listen to them – but lyrics that don’t go anywhere hold down great voices and nice beats.

Beastie Boys’ “Ill Communication” (1994)

(Originally Published February 5th 2013)
I think the world might have given me the wrong impression of the Beastie Boys. An unfortunate series of events in my youth just created this unfounded dislike of the Beastie Boys within me. A science teacher who I looked up to and respected called them out as being a stupid, sexist band (based on “Girls”). A girl I didn’t care for embraced “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)” as the temporary anthem for a club I didn’t care for. “Sabotage” appeared in Guitar Hero III, and I look back at my Guitar Hero years in mild disgust – which is enough for me to feel weird about the song. Long-short is that a bunch of things that didn’t have to do with the Beastie Boys made me dislike the Beastie Boys, but college is a fresh start, so let’s throw all by past experiences out the door and look at Beastie Boys’ “Ill Communication” (1994).
The world never told me how relaxing the Beastie Boys were. The distant vocal quality, the down-low jazz samples; it doesn’t matter what they’re singing about, or how exciting and funky some of the songs can get – I’m very relaxed during “Ill Communication” (Sans “Tough Guy”, and “Sabotage”, and “Heart Attack Man”). The Beastie Boys made a pretty incredible album here with generous servings of wah-pedal, catchy-songs, smile-inducing lyrics and although it might contradict the whole “relaxing” statement I made before, I found it very easy to “feel” the album. “Ill Communication” lends itself to head-nodding and foot-tapping, it’s very rhythmic, which you could argue is a horrible quality to attribute to music, so I’ll elaborate.

What makes the Beastie Boys’ “Ill Communication” rhythmic? Everything underneath the rapping is infectiously catchy, and while I’ll forget what was being sung and by whom, I’ll never forget the instrumentals of “Ill Communication”. The backing jazz samples, the original backing tracks, the record scratches, the wah-guitars. It’s very unique, to me at least, I’ve never listened to anything like this before – and I love it. What makes it rhythmic? Well, there’s a quality to their music that would make me want to add a little bob to my walk, no matter how embarrassing I might look. Only so many albums can make me actually want to put the security of my outer appearance at risk to further my enjoyment of the music by moving to it.

“Ill Communication” makes me want to move. It’s relaxing, it’s therapeutic, it’s catchy, it’s fun. It’s a great album.

Pearl Jam’s “Ten” (1991)

(Originally Published July 26th 2012)
Pearl Jam’s “Ten”. This album is a goldmine. It’s chock full of amazing songs that really strike an emotional chord for me. If you’re the type of person who can’t get used to or appreciate Eddie Vedder’s voice; you’re missing out.

This album has got thoroughly banging rhythms, a generous heaping of wet guitar solos, and most importantly: memorable and meaningful lyrics delivered by the one of a kind voice of Eddie Vedder. A voice capable of rallying spirits to the sky, and plunging them back into the lowest darkness. The emotional back and forth I experience while listening to “Ten” is special, not many albums do that to me.

Take a listen to the song “Black” and tell me that you don’t recall feelings of loss and hopelessness. It’s beautiful. And then songs like “Even Flow” are full of this energizing positive energy.  “Ten” is an emotional volley where nothing falls flat and it is one of my favorite albums of all time.

Björk’s “Debut” (1993)

(Originally Published July 24th 2012)

Björk is a strange musician, that’s the first thing I knew about her, and that’s the first thing I’ll tell you about her. The second would be that she is an amazing, talented musician. So by no surprise, her 1993 “Debut” is both strange and wonderful.

The Wonderful: “Venus As A Boy” &  “Like Someone In Love” : these two tracks are masterpieces, works that embrace the tones of oldschool love songs and manage to sound like works of their own era.The Fun: “Human Behaviour” & “Big Time Sensuality” : tracks where Björk’s signature twist on punctuation and “growl” really shine, generally upbeat if not unsettling at times, and an assembly of instruments and sounds that speak to the style of the decade.The Strange: “There’s More To Life Than This”. After three unsettling yet fun and beautiful songs, this live track just invites itself onto the album. It’s closer to house music than anything on the album prior to, and after it. During the middle of the song the live track fades out, and Björk starts to sing to us – and then the live track fades back in and – what is even happening?

“Debut” feels like an album of two types of songs – either the song is very minimalist; just a few instruments to accompany Björk’s voice – or on the other side of the coin, you have songs where Björk’s voice is accompanied by loads of synths, catchy bass guitars, drum machines – crowded songs. Not to say that the crowded songs are bad – but I prefer the minimalist.

Songs like “Human Behaviour” and “Big Time Sensuality” are fun, but I prefer songs like “Venus As A Boy” & “Like Someone I Love” – songs where Björk’s voice can shine almost on its own. That “Debut” allows Björk to be both fun and wonderful – and let’s not forget strange – is a blessing, because the album is all the better and unique for it.

But “There’s More To Life Than This” still stands out like a sore thumb.

The Cranberries’ “Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?” (1993)

(Originally Published July 19th 2012)
This is a great album.

And now the hard part: why is the debut album of Irish band, The Cranberries, so great?
There are a lot of elements on this album that reminded me of the album I listened to last week, Cocteau Twins’ “Heaven or Las Vegas” (1990) . Each of the bands expertly layer velvety vocals on top of smooth, light guitars and bass – the end result being really relaxing, melodic music. However, the vocals of Cranberries’ lead Dolores O’Riordan are coherent, carrying lyrics of anger, happiness, dreams, disappointment, and defiance. The Cranberries’ brought substance that I felt was lacking from Cocteau Twins, and managed to sound just as beautiful. One band painted with vivid, bright colors, but few contrasts or focal points;  the other painted with colorful highlights, and used darker colors as shadows to give us something to focus on, think about.
This is a great album, because it delivers substance and the right balance of black and white.

Eiffel 65’s “Europop” (1999)

(Originally Published July 17th 2012)
The aim of The Jade Decade is not to embrace nostalgia. That being said, I did listen to Eiffel 65’s “Europop” (1999) quite a lot in my youth. I was six years old, and it was one of my first CD’s. Now that I’ve disclosed that, I want to get into the album as is. Disregarding all nostalgia, how is this album?

Okay. The album is just okay on all fronts. About half of the album is more than okay, and the other half is less than okay: giving you one big okay album.

The good songs; Blue (Da Ba Dee), Too Much of Heaven, Dub In Life, My Console, Europop, Hyperlink (Deep Down) are full of dark synthesizer melodies, piano breaks, cheesy drums and over-processed vocals.

And the rest of the songs are full of the same things, but somehow just don’t work.

Let’s compare say, Hyperlink (Deep Down) to Move Your Body (a song I might name the worst on this album). Hyperlink is full of references that date the album; talk of modems, the sounds of dial-up – they make  the song interesting and worth listening to. Move Your Body just tries to hard to do just that, with a chorus of “Move Your Body, Every Everybody” that is so dumb it hurts.

So if you take a listen to this album; and I can actually recommend that you do, I suggest that you just keep this in mind. For every time Eiffel 65 surprises with how fun and enjoyable their tracks are, there’s a song around the corner that’s going to make you snap out of it and actively dislike the camp you were just previously enjoying.