Keen on Keane, Harrison
Owls Head — Keane: Strange land (Island CD, 60:50). Four years after “Perfect Symmetry,” the album that actually diverged from Keane’s well-known, popular, keyboard-based pop sound, the band presents us with 12 new songs on its fourth full-length studio album (16 tracks on the deluxe version, which is what is reviewed here). The band, headed by vocalist Tom Chaplin and songwriter/keyboardist Tim Rice-Oxley, along with drummer Richard Hughes, Chaplin’s boyhood friend, have a new bassist in Jesse Quin, who collaborated on Rice-Oxley’s Mt. Desolation project in 2010.
The lead single, “Silenced By the Night,” is a Keane classic; it almost instantly etches itself into your brain.. It opens with drum and guitar and Chaplin’s vocal is echoed. The chorus is very strong. It follows the opening “You Are Young,” another favorite here. The lyrics touch on friendship and loyalty (“Disconnected”), and for the most part, the production is big and dense. An exception is “Watch How You Go,” which slows things down with a simple piano melody dominating. “Sovereign Light Café” is a bit of nostalgia, looking backward as does William Boyd’s same-titled story, which is presented in the hardcover, slim-book deluxe edition, along with old-time photos. (The middle of the book has the album’s lyrics and continues the beach-side photo theme, while the book closes with photos of the band.)
“Neon River” has a nice vocal melody and “Day Will Come” is another dense production that literally soars. The main album closes with the nice “Sea Fog.” However, the deluxe version adds four more songs and a DVD. Interestingly, the title track is one of the bonus songs. It is mid-tempo and arguably the second-strongest song on the album. The second half of “Run With Me” is more soaring melodies, while “The Boys” discusses summer nights and has a bit of a guitar solo during the break. The final track, “It’s Not True,” is the most different sounding of all. The DVD includes wonderful in-studio, acoustic versions of “Silenced By the Night,” “The Starting Line,” “Sovereign Light Café,” “Disconnected” and “Watch How You Go,” plus two five-minute promotional trailers for the album that include interview bits. Grade: B+
George Harrison: Living in the Material World (UMe, limited edition deluxe, 1 Blu-ray, 2 DVDs, 1 CD). The centerpiece of this box set, and available individually, as is the CD, is director Martin Scorsese’s wonderful, four-hour documentary on Harrison’s life, which starts off with lots of early pictures and even an interview with his two brothers. Harrison and fellow future Beatle Paul McCartney went to the same school, and in an archival interview, Harrison recalls those days and meeting John Lennon for the first time. Bassist and Beatles cover illustrator Klaus Voorman and wife Astrid recall the early days of the Beatles in Hamburg, including the fate of Pete Best and the addition of Ringo Starr. Producer George Martin, who garnered his own fame working with the Beatles, recalls the early sound struggles in the studio.
I found it most unusual, the candor with which Eric Clapton, a great friend of Harrison’s, talks about how he took away Harrison’s first wife, Patty (she was the subject of Clapton’s classic “Layla” song). Clapton’s refers to himself as the “Lancelot” of the situation. In fact, Clapton is interviewed quite a bit in the documentary. Also covered in the first part of the documentary is Harrison’s work with Ravi Shankar, and even how Yoko Ono helped create “Number 9” on the Beatles’ “White Album.” Part two takes us to the great fundraisers, such as the Concert for Bangladesh; Harrison’s work with Monty Python members in a film production company that gave us “Life of Brian” and “Time Bandits,” among others; and his work with Traveling Wilburys. Harrison’s son Dhani talks about his father’s love of gardening and arranging things on the grounds of his estate. Then, of course, there is Harrison’s death due to cancer. Starr actually cries as he recalls the last time he saw him.
The deluxe addition has 11 extra features, six more than the regular DVD or Blu-ray releases. They include Harrison playing the ukulele, “Deep Blue” from a sound check for the Concert for Bangladesh, a guitar solo never used in “Here Comes the Sun” and the Indian instrumental “Dispute and Violence.” There also are seven brief interviews, including Harrison recalling growing up in Liverpool. The audio CD contains 10 unreleased, alternate versions. They include solo demos of “My Sweet Lord” and “Run of the Mill,” an early take of “I’d Have You Any Time,” and a nice demo covers of Bob Dylan’s “Mama You’ve Been on My Mind” and the Everly Brothers’ “Let It Be Me,” plus an early take of “Awaiting on You All.” The deluxe version also has a 96-page soft cover photo album, adapted from the Abrams book, “George Harrison: Living in the Material World” by Olivia Harrison; and two presentation photos and integrated easel back for photo display. Grade” A+
Paul and Linda McCartney: Ram (1971, Concord, 2 CDs, 76:21 ). If nothing else, “Ram” proves that Paul McCartney’s extraordinary way with melody came make even the most in sequential songs memorable. If not quite a lark, the only album attributed to Paul and Linda as a team (later efforts would be listed under the band Wings) celebrates moving to a life in the country, without cares and where grooming the horses seems the top priority. And while “3 Legs,” about a dog with same, is just fun, melody rules the day in the wonderful “Too Many People.” “Dear Boy” is old-timey, with nicely layered vocals, while “Smile Away” is uptempo and jaunty. “Heart of the Country is gentle, while there is piano pounding in the often nonsensical “Moonberry Moon Delight.” However, my favorite on the album has always been “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey,” with its rainstorm sounds, orchestration and shifts in tempo and mood. By the way, McCartney turned 70 Monday, June 18.
This re-release comes in three different configurations, two of which have a bonus audio CD and one a bonus DVD. The bonus audio disc has eight tracks, including “Another Day,” “Oh Woman, Oh Why” and “Hey Diddle,” as well as four special mixes of other songs. The DVD (27:56) includes 11:14 of McCartney’s recollections of making the album. He says “Too Many People” was a message to John Lennon, after Lennon’s “How Do You Sleep at Night” broadside against McCartney (the answer would be very well, by the way). “Dear Boy,” he says, was about Linda’s ex-husband missing what McCartney saw in her. There also are four videos, with much horse riding in both “Heart of the Country” and “3 Legs,” as well as beach walking in the former. “Hey Diddle” has Paul on guitar and Linda singing out in the yard, while “Eat at Home” features home video footage of Wings on tour in Germany. Grade: A-
The Beatles: Yellow Submarine Songtrack (1969, Apple/Capitol CD, 45:38). This is the almost soundtrack to the Beatles’ animated film of the same name; however, it does not contain all the songs heard in the film (also re-released, see next item). The soundtrack reached number three on the charts for two weeks, with the Beatles’ “White Album” remained at number one. This version deletes the six John Martin-written instrumental tracks and serves more as a hits collection. It opens with the Beatles’ song that inspired the film, “Yellow Submarine,” and follows with “Hey Bulldog,” “Eleanor Rigby,” “All Together Now,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “With a Little Help from My Friends,” “Only a Northern Song,” “All You Need is Love” and others. Grade: A+
The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine (1968, Apple/Capitol Blu-ray disc, 90 min.). The animated film, based on the Beatles’ song of the same name, has been out of print, but it now has been digitally restored and is available on both standard DVD and Blu-ray. It is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1:66-1. As the press release points out, due to the delicate nature of the hand-drawn original artwork, no automated software was used for the digital clean-up. Every frame was done by hand. The Beatles supplied the songs, but other than a brief cameo near the film’s end, they had nothing to do with the film. In fact, their characters are voiced by actors. The basic plot is the Fab Four have to save Pepperland from the Blue Meanies. Of course, the film is filled with puns, non-sequiturs and just packed with overall fun.
Bonus features include a 1968 documentary, “The Beatles: Mod Odyssey” (7:40), which connects the film to “Gulliver’s Travels,” “The Odyssey” and other quest classics. There is audio commentary by producer John Coates and art director Heinz Edelmann, several brief interview clips with others involved in the film, three storyboarded sequences (two of which were not used in the final film), 29 original pencil drawings and 30 behind-the-scenes photos. Also housed in the Digipak are four reproductions of animation cels from the film (one of each Beatle), collectible stickers and a 16-page booklet with a new essay by John Lasseter, chief creative officer of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios. Grade: A+
Todd Rundgren’s Utopia: Live at Hammersmith Odeon 1975 (Shout! Factory CD, 54:30). This disc was recorded at Utopia’s first London concert and opens with “Freedom Fighters,” which Rundgren describes as their first, never-released single. The lineup here is Rundgren on guitar and vocals, Willy Wilcox on drums, Roger Powell on keyboards and John Siegler on bass. There’s lots of guitar storm to open the instrumental “Mister Triscuits,” before things turn very melodic and soft for “The Last Ride,” one of the dozens of perfect ballads Rundgren was capable of churning out. Note that one of the backing singers is future soul star Luther Vandross. (In addition to his success with early band Runt and solo stuff that culminated in “The Wizard, a True Star” double album, he was in demand as a producer for Badfinger, New York Dolls, Meat Loaf and Grand Funk Railroad at the time.) I love the always fun medley of “When the S*** Hits the Fan/Sunset Boulevard/Le Feel Internacionale,” followed here by the rocking “Heavy Metal Kids” and the acoustic “The Wheel.” Often the music is just noisy chaos, like in “Open My Eyes,” but it is still fun. The encore is their traditional cover of The Move’s “Do Ya” and “Couldn’t I Just Tell You.” Grade: B+
The Beach Boys: That’s Why God Made the Radio (Brother/Capitol CD, 38:52). The Beach Boys are celebrating their 50th anniversary with his new album and a tour. The good news is the vocal harmonies sound as they did back in the glorious Sixties, despite Dennis and Carl Wilson no longer being with us. Remaining members Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine and Bruce Johnston brought back David Marks, who last sung on a Beach Boys album in1963, to flesh out the harmonies. The bad news is the new songs are mostly pleasant and instantly forgettable. Best are the title track, which goes back to the Sixties, and “Pacific Coast Highway,” with its richer sound. The album closes with the wistful “Summer’s Gone” that talks about “old friends have gone their separate ways … it’s finally sinking in.” That does not sound too encouraging for future collaborations, but maybe Brian Wilson will really enjoy the tour. Of the other songs, “Isn’t It Time” references the Summer of Love (1967) and “Good Vibrations” is mentioned in “Spring Vacation” ( it has the cynical sounding line “We‘re back together/Easy money, ain’t life funny,” as well as “Harmony boys is what we believe in/Some said it wouldn’t last/All we can say is we’re having a blast”). Grade: B-
Danny Elfman: MIB3 (Sony Classical CD, 53:50). Elfman, who also scored the original “Men in Black” film, has a lot of fun with this active, busy score, starting with the rocking main theme, which also has softer moments with electronics and spacey synths at the end. “Time Jump” is ultra-dramatic, while “A Close One” has a soft, melodic start. “Griffin Steps Up” is lush, and there is even a bit of Theramin on “Forget Me Not.” All in all, a solid, fun effort. Grade: B+
Various: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World original motion picture soundtrack (Lakeshore CD, 45:16). The film is about the impending end of Earth, as an asteroid is about to hit the planet. It stars Steve Carell and Keira Knightley. This album is a fun collection of previously-released songs, including “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” by the Beach Boys, “Devil Inside” by INXS, “Set Adrift on the Memory Bliss” by P.M. Dawn, “The Air That I Breathe” by The Hollies, “Dance Hall Days” by Wang Chung and “This Guy’s in Love With You” by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass. Lesser known, but still good are “Sex Tourists” by French Kicks and Frank Black’s “In the Time of My Ruin.” Plus there are two outstanding oldies by the Walker Brothers in “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore)” and “Stay With Me.” Only the last track is film score. Grade: A-
A.R. Rahman: People Like Us original motion picture score (Lakeshore CD, 50:04). Rahman won two Oscars for his work on “Slum Dog Millionaire,” and this new soundtrack opens with the brilliant, melodic title track. There is some vocalizing on “New York to LA,” and warm violin on “Tacos.” “Beat the Living” features breezy whistling. The disc also is notable because it contains a new song by Liz Phair, co-written with Rahman. It is the closing “Dotted Line.” The other song is “Airport Adventures,” sung by Michael “Nomad” Ripoll. It features nice guitar and turns a bit Beatlesque as it rocks out. The film stars Chris Pine as a man who has to deliver $150,000 of his deceased father’s fortune to a sister he has never met (Elizabeth Banks), who is an alcoholic with a 12-year-old son. Grade: A-
Elia Cmiral: Piranha 3DD original motion picture score (Lakeshore CD, 44:17). Cmiral, who scored “Battlefield Earth” among other films, uses a bit of choral work on the opening theme and female vocalizing on “Trident Aria,” the best track here. This is a more traditional score, and you get an underwater feel in “Searching for the Cow.” Staccato strings fill up “School of Piranhas.” The film’s name is because it is the third in a series and in 3-D. Grade: B
Various: Piranha 3DD original motion picture soundtrack (Lakeshore CD, 57:33). This is a collection of mostly indie rock songs by bands you probably have not heard of. One exception might be The Limousines, whose hit of “Internet Killed the Video Star” is here, along with their fine “Very Busy People” (it references “Donnie Darko”) and “Flaskaboozendancingshoes” (yes, all one word). The style is distronica and the core duo is Giovanni Giustri and singer/songwriter Eric Victorino. Also good are the throbbing instrumental “C’mon I Can Wait” by Automatic Music Explosion, the softer “The Impatient, the Imperfect, the Impossible” by All the Right Moves (from Minneapolis/St. Paul) and Jason Scheff’s piano rocker “I’m Always Here.” Grade: B
Classical update: There are a batch of new specially-priced box sets issued by Sony Classical Masters and RCA Red Seal Masters. From RCA, come two collections of romantic masterpieces by conductor Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The eight-CD “Charles Munch Conducts Romantic Masterworks" includes two discs of Felix Mendelssohn, including Symphonies Nos. 3, 4 and 5; two discs of Johannes Brahms, including Symphonies Nos. 1, 2 and 4; two discs of Franz Schubert, including Symphonies Nos. 2, 8 and 9; and two discs of Robert Schumann, including Symphony No. 1, “Manfred” and “Genoveva” Overtures and Piano Concerto No. 2. The seven-CD “Charles Munch: Late Romantic Masterpieces” includes one disc of music from Richard Wagner’s operas; three discs of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, including Symphonies 4 and 6 and Concerto for Violin & Orchestra in D major; and one disc each of Antonin Dvorak (Symphony No. 8), Gustav Mahler (Lieder) and Richard Strauss (Don Quixote and Till Eulenspiegels).
Another RCA set, “Arthur Rubenstein Plays Brahms,” is nine discs of glorious playing, including three piano concertos; sonatas for piano, for piano and violin and for piano and cello; three piano trios; and a piano quartet. Sony offers the eight-CD “The Budapest String Quartet Plays Beethoven," covering all 16 string quartets. Also from Sony is a seven-CD collection of “Bernstein Conducts Bernstein,” featuring Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic on music from “Candide,” “West Side Story,” “On the Waterfront,” “On the Town” and “Trouble in Tahiti.” There also is one disc devoted to his “Dybbuk,” and another to his “Mass.” All but one of the collections run at least eight hours and most are longer.