Hello everybody, and welcome to the third edition of Rapid Fire Reviews, a series in which I share some quick thoughts on albums I’ve listened to recently. Today, we have four wildly different albums to get through, so let’s get started!
J. COLE – 2014 FOREST HILLS DRIVE
I suppose I’m about 4 years late on this one, huh? Well, I guess it’s never too late to finally listen to an album that’s supposed to be a modern hip-hop classic. Did it live up to the hype? Unfortunately, and I’m sure a bunch of you will disagree with me, but I think it did not. However, that doesn’t mean I think this is a bad album, I just think it didn’t really deliver anything that special. I mean, I like the tracks where J. Cole disses everybody (“Fire Squad,” “G.O.M.D.”), but the “looking back on adolescence” vibe on many of these tracks is kind of played out at this point. Plenty of rappers have done this same thing before. And while Cole’s technical skill is certainly above average, the repeated themes and standard beats aren’t enough to make this album much more than “ok.” And a nearly 15 minute finale where he just credits everyone for helping with the album? Not only is this kind of pretentious, it’s also just a massive waste of time. I couldn’t even make it all the way through.
Most of the songs were fine: “Wet Dreamz” was catchy, even it its imagery was a bit too…vivid…”St. Tropez” had a nice jazzy vibe, and “03 Adolescence” was another good track. I just think too many of these songs mesh together and aren’t very unique. Sorry, rap fans, but, while 2014 Forest Hills Drive had some good moments, I think To Pimp A Butterfly destroys this one.
YES – FRAGILE
Next up is a 1971 progressive rock album from British band Yes, entitled Fragile. This album certainly had a lot to enjoy, such as Chris Squire’s amazing bass playing, Bill Bruford’s tight drums, and Jon Anderson’s great voice. However, there were also a few useless songs on this album, including the slightly catchy but oddly placed “Cans and Brahms,” the kind of annoying “We Have Heaven,” and the admittedly cool but way too short “Five Per Cent for Nothing.” These tracks are all less than 2 minutes and none of them lead to anything too interesting.
This album had some real highlights though. The first track, “Roundabout,” is a prog classic for a number of reasons: some of the best bass work you’ll ever hear on a song, the beautiful acoustic intro/outro, and a really cool rhythm. “Long Distance Runaround” is another super catchy track with a unique time signature. “The Fish” is a cool track that gives me some serious Krautrock vibes (specifically Neu!). Overall, Fragile is a pretty good album, but “Roundabout” is the only track I would call outstanding.
GRATEFUL DEAD – AMERICAN BEAUTY
After long hearing this band’s praises be sung all over the place, I finally decided to give this album a shot, and it definitely didn’t disappoint. This album has some real great songs: “Friend of the Devil” is a perfect bluesy folk tune, “Sugar Magnolia” has some great singing and nice psychedelic imagery, “Candyman” slows the pace down nicely, “Ripple” is absolutely beautiful, and “Truckin’” is a ridiculously catchy finale. It’s no surprise why people from Bill Walton to Bill Clinton are Deadheads: these dudes made some great music.
FIREHOSE – FROMOHIO
I’m really not quite able to put into words why I love fIREHOSE so much, but they’ve gotta be an all-time top 5 favorite band of mine. I just think their music is a gestalt of everything I love in rock music: they’ve got the folk/blues sound, they’ve got the high-energy punk vibe, they’ve got some funky bass grooves, they’ve got damnably catchy songs, they’ve got a sense of humor, they’ve got sad songs, they’ve got epic songs, they’ve got short and sweet songs, they’ve got everything. And it all blends together and forms something that’s truly unique, something completely novel and fresh with each additional listen. Their music follows no rules and is so much fun to listen to; if I made music, I feel like this is the type of music I’d strive to make.
If you remember my top 30 albums list, you’ll recall that I had fIREHOSE’s debut, Ragin’ Full On, at #5. The truth is, any of their first three albums, including fROMOHIO, could’ve made the list. But, enough about the band themselves, let’s talk about the actual album.
It’s so damn good. Like holy shit, it’s a perfect album, in my opinion. There are some perfect pop songs to choose from, such as “In My Mind” and “Time With You,” as well as reflective tunes like “If’n” and “Understanding.” The folksiness of “Vastopol” and “Liberty For Our Friend” is off the charts, and Mike Watt’s bass is at full force in “Whisperin’ While Hollerin’” and “What Gets Heard.” There are some great instrumental pieces, too, such as the aforementioned acoustic piece “Vastopol” and George Hurley’s drum solos “Let the Drummer Have Some” and “Nuf That Shit, George.”
The lyrics are great too. Just take a look at these segments:
From “Riddle of the Eighties”
“And I’m stronger for it,
Ain’t no more to it…”
From “Liberty For Our Friend”
“Ideas crumbling into confusion
Together in a state
Of limbo made better
With an essential friend”
It could be a cold, quiet morning
Or a sunny warmth.
Sometimes starry evenings
Exude this feeling.
The next word spoken,
Then the message itself,
Then, the startled look,
You gain understanding.”
To Ed Crawford, Mike Watt, George Hurley, and Kira Roessler, I salute you for making some simply perfect albums, including fROMOHIO.
Thank you all so much for reading, and I hope that you give these albums a listen for yourself. Disagree with me? Let me know in the comments below. Make sure you all check out the other articles on the site, and I’ll see you all next week.