Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Sonic 4: First Impression

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

To say that I’ve been looking forward to this game has been an understatement. I’ve never taken to the 3D Sonic titles, and although I’ve flirted with trying the handheld games, they never quite clicked for me. So after all the talk about how this game is supposed to be the spiritual successor to Sonic 3 or Sonic & Knuckles, I was quite excited. I counted down the days, I got up bright and early today, and I waited until the afternoon to download it. I’m not sure when it finally was available, but I finally got it a little while ago. I had to sign up for a full PlayStation Network account just to buy the game, but that’s a tale for another day.

The graphics are amazing, eye-popping, and just what I’d expect. Part of the reason why I waited until today (and waited most of today as well, as it turned out) was to get the PlayStation 3 version. The sound interestingly is more of a throwback to the older games’ soundtracks. I like it. The Genesis Sonic the Hedgehog music is some of my video game music; probably because I would hear it for hours on end back when I was in grade school.

Unfortunately, the best graphics and sound can’t save a bad game. I’m not ready to declare Sonic 4 a bad game just yet, as I’ve only played through the first zone. But so far I haven’t liked what I’ve seen.

First, the play control is bad. This game is supposed to be a direct throwback to the older Genesis games. Too bad they didn’t spend enough time replicating the controls. I noticed this almost immediately as my mind and motor controls went into a ‘retro Sonic’ mode. But the behaviors of Sonic after each button press, which are ingrained into my gray matter, didn’t work as expected. The most jarring example is Sonic’s momentum. In earlier Genesis games, Sonic had momentum in the air if you run and jump off the right side of a cliff, then let go of the right D-pad button, the blue hedgehog would still continue to go to the right. Not so in this game. In fact, it’s quite unrealistic no matter what type of game it is. When you jump into the air and let go of the D-Pad, Sonic immediately stops moving horizontally. In previous games, you had to jump at a small platform, then press the D-pad in the opposite direction, to compensate for over-shooting. Not so in this game: just jump until you’re over the small platform, release the D-pad, and you fall onto. Whether or not this is better is irrelevent. It’s different. That’s what counts. From the very beginning, I had to re-train my brain. For a game that’s supposed to pick up right where the last Genesis title started, how could this have gotten by all the quality control?

The other major fault I’ve noticed with the game is a problem I’ve noticed with the other recent Sonic 2-D platformers. In Sonic the Hedgehog games, you’re supposed to go fast, right? That’s kind of the point of the whole thing. Unfortunately, in this game if you go fast the developers punish you. There are enemies and obstacles in the way that hurt you. Unless you know the layout of a level beforehand, you don’t dare go fast (unless you want to lose all your rings). A video game should not be about rote memorization. You should get fair warning before getting hurt; a clever player should be able to go pretty far before losing his rings. This has been true for the last few Sonic 2-D games (Sonic Rush comes to mind). Who is behind this? Why are they still allowed to make Sonic levels?

It could be that this is a fluke, since I’ve only played the first levels. There’s one more infuriating thing about the first zone, and that’s the little chameleons that pop out of the walls and shoot you. The problem is that you’re given zero time to react after one pops out. Every single one I came across zapped me. So maybe the first level was designed by a sadistic jerk, and they kicked him off the project before he could ruin any more levels.

I’ll play through the whole game before passing judgement, because I still hold a hope that this game will be just as good as the classic Sonic games. Please fulfill my hope, Sonic Team.

Nightmare Before Christmas Special Edition – Danny Elfman et al

Tuesday, October 24th, 2006

Nightmare Before Christmas – Four and a Half Stars
Bonus Material – One and a Half Stars

I was eagerly awaiting this record, because The Nightmare Before Christmas is my favorite animated movie, and its soundtrack is one of my favorites, too. I’m a big fan of both Danny Elfman and Tim Burton. Plus its release date seemed perfect: a week before Halloween, a week to get me psyched.

What a letdown. Now don’t get me wrong — I absolutely love the first disc, which is just the soundtrack from the original movie (which I already own). I’m talking about the special material. Another reason I was anticipating this album so fervently was that it had rock bands doing covers of some of its songs, as well as demo versions of songs sung by Danny Elfman. The demos are illuminating and entertaining. Most of the songs from the rock bands, however, are not. With the exception of Marilyn Manson’s and Fiona Apple’s contributions, those are the worst songs on the disc. Since there are so few of them, I’ll go over them one-by-one.

Marilyn Manson – “This is Halloween”
Manson’s cover of “Blitzkrieg Bop” on the We’re a Happy Family Ramones compilation totally mangled the song. He doesn’t do that here, although I think his touch would have been more appropriate on this song, as opposed to the Ramones classic. Basically, manson took his horrortronica and wrapped it around the movie’s opening song. It works, although Manson’s attempts to ‘do the voices’ kind of sucks.

Fiona Apple – “Sally’s Song”
This is definately the song for Fiona Apple to cover, and not because it’s the only female lead vocal in the musical. The reason she’s perfect for it is that it fits her stage personality — brooding, lonely, and longing. It’s a simple piano, drums, bass, and vocals numbers, and it works. I think I even like this version better than Catherine O’Hara’s. Definately the best of the covers.

Fall Out Boy – “What’s This”
Fall Out Boy deserves credit for trying. This version is probably the most altered of all the covers. There are actual electric guitars here, and they do fit into Fall Out Boy’s usual style of music. But it’s not altered enough. I foresaw this version of the song to be, well, a romp, with more energy than the film’s. It comes close. I think I hear a synthesizer in the background — whatsamatter, Fall Out Boy, jealous of Panic! At the Disco?

She Wants Revenge – “Kidnap the Sandy Claws”
What a piece of shit. Elfman’s boistrous melody and tempo are transformed into this steaming, staggering electronic afterbirth of a song. I’m fairly certain the singer hits the same note throughout the whole song. And it goes on for five minutes. I think they may have been trying to convey the ominous danger that Lock, Shock, and Barrel will present to Santa, but that’s not the point of the song. It’s funny because they’re singing so merrily about beating Santa Claus to death. When it’s performed as a psycho techno death jam, it just sucks. This is either the fault of the composer or the interpreter, and I’m pretty certain I know which one it is. Way to ruin my favorite song from the movie, assholes.

Panic! At the Disco – “This is Halloween”
This version is too much like the film’s, down to the voices and instrumentation. These songs are supposed to be covers from rock bands, right? I’d love to hear either a synthesizer, ‘phat beat’, or electric guitar, guys.

The demos, on the other hand, are some of the best material on the bonus disc. They’re not simple voice-and-piano demos (like on the Little Shop of Horrors revival soundtrack), they’re fully fleshed out. There are alternate verses and extra bits that didn’t make it to the film. Some of the songs (like “Making Christmas”) go on a bit too long, but the point of a demo is to find out what works and what doesn’t, and to cut where appropriate.

To add insult to injury, I had to buy the entire record off of iTunes; I couldn’t get just the new material. I wouldn’t feel so slighted if I had only paid for the new stuff. So I can’t even recommend just getting the demos and the covers from Apple and Manson. I guess you can always rip or BitTorrent, however…

Battlestar Galactica – “Exodus, Part 2”

Friday, October 20th, 2006

Holy cow. Part of me expected the Vichy France-like state of affairs of BSG to continue the entire third season. I had a sneaking suspicion that it would end with this episode — after all, it is called “Exodus.” And it’s not really over, either: there are collaborators to deal with, flashbacks to see, and Cylon acts of retribution to withstand.

I wish I had put it up last week (so you’d know I’m not lying), but I totally called the destruction of the Pegasus. There’s no such thing as a free lunch, they say, so I figured that the ship would go. It was either that or the Galactica, but that would require renaming the series, wouldn’t it? The destruction of the two Cylon Basestars was another added bonus, and made me almost as happy as the destruction of the Ori and Wraith ships in the Stargate SG-1 episode “The Pegasus Project.” Adama’s tactic of jumping into the atmosphere, launching vipers, and jumping away was neat, but it was fairly reckless. The best ‘sci fi’ shot of the episode was definately the Basestars pounding the holy hell out of Galactica. I expected a commercial before we got to see Pegasus give the Cylons what for. And Lee totally went all Worf on ’em when he gave the order for ramming speed.

Speaking of changes, Ellen Tigh’s death (at the hands of Saul, no less) opens up a world of dramatic possibilities. I think her poisoning/death scene with Saul was one of the best moments of the show. But what happens now? Will he shave the beard in remorse (I hope not; I like Pirate Tigh)? Will Colonel Tigh descend deeper into his alcoholism? Will we see Ellen again, confirming the wide rumor that she is a Cylon? I personally doubt she is, because why would theBrother Cavill model have traded sex with another Cylon for Saul’s freedom? The drive of the skinjobs on the show is to frak humans, not each other. This is also why I believe that Baltar is not a Cylon — that theory’s just crazy.

I (as I’m sure almost everyone else did) also called it that Kacey wasn’t really a Cylon-human hybrid. Why the hell would Hera have been so important to them if Kacey was allowed to fall down the stairs (or more likely was pushed down the stairs by Leoben)? But wouldn’t it have been more interesting if we hadn’t found out that Kacey was someone else’s daughter? Imagine the overwhelming tension Starbuck would feel on each Viper run, with her daughter waiting for her to retrn? That would have been good storytelling.

Tom Zarek is apparently a Laura Roslin fanboi now. Will she become President again? Will there be a few episodes about some sort of Interstellar Constitutional Convention? Will Zarek become the new Vice President? If RDM and company can get the politics into the show without being preachy and boring, I think they should go for it. It’s dangerous ground, however — remember the Next Generation episodes about the Klingon High Council? I found those shows to be awful.

Finally, I wish more had happened with Baltar. I read in Entertainment Weekly that a regular on the show stabs him in the neck with a pencil. I’m so disappointed that didn’t happen! Clearly, he’s stuck with the Cylons. That element of the story, the cowardly traitor dreading being discovered, is gone. Unless Baltar becomes a super-scientist double agent! It looked like the preview for next week’s episode showed Gaeta as one of the colonials on trial for collaboration. I bet he is cleared of charges when it is revealed that he was the informant for the Resistence.

Predictions for next week:

  1. Jammer is put to death.
  2. Gaeta is put on trial, sentenced to death, and awaiting execution when he receives a repreive because it can be proved that he gave the Resistence their intelligence.
  3. We’ll learn something ominous about Hera.
  4. Baltar is taken captive by the Cylons, who bring him to their homeworld (this might be a few episodes in the future).

First Impression of Front Row

Wednesday, May 3rd, 2006

I had some doubts about Front Row on my new iMac, especially its requirement that it only play files that QuickTime recognizes. I have a whole bunch of videos ripped from my DVDs in DivX or XviD format. How to play them?

I tried the official plug-in and an open-source version, but Front Row still wouldn’t play any of my Lost or Battlestar Galactica episodes. After some digging around on the web, however, I found a beta of the Macintel version of DivX, and installed that. Lo and behold, the episodes appeared! Not only that, but I made aliases from my file server and put them in my Movies folder, and Front Row saw them and used them!

Unfortunately, some of the videos crash Front Row — it just quits when it gets to certain spots in the episode. I have VLC, which plays them fine, but I’m still a bit upset. It would be nice to sit down and watch a few episodes without having to screw around with different programs for bickering codecs.

One downside is that I’m running a lot of beta software. The DiVX codec I found is a beta release. The version of VLC for Macintel is also beta. Also, Apple’s software sometimes seems like beta stuff — how hard is it to give me an error when Front Row hiccups playing a video file?

Of course, now that my iMac is the hub of my ‘media center’, I need to get a Dolby Receiver with digital inputs so I can get my 5.1 setup working with DVDs. The purchasing never ends…

But aside from that, Front Row is impressive. I like the iPod-like interface for music. I like that it recongized aliases that point to files on a Windows server. Except for the few bugs (which should be blamed on beta software), it’s a solid program.

Review: Star Wars – Revenge of the Sith

Thursday, May 19th, 2005

George Lucas had quite a lot to do in Revenge of the Sith, his final installment in the Star Wars saga. This film, sitting as it does between the other prequels and A New Hope, had to be the bridge between them. As I entered the theater I wondered, with some trepidation, whether good ol’ George could pull it off. Could he make this movie as entertaining, action-packed, and enlightening as Episodes IV-VI, or would it fall flat like its two predecessors, awash in woody acting, bad dialog, and waaaaaaay too many scenes about “tort reform” or whatever it is that the Galactic Senate is squabbling about?

The answer is — thankfully, resoundingly — yes! Revenge of the Sith is the best of the Star Wars prequels. Alone, this is not saying alone, but I shall be so bold as to say that it might be the best Star Wars movie of them all. This may sound like blasphemy to some, but I assure that my assertion is grounded in reason and not the thrill of popcorn and droids and explosions and soda.

This film succeeds so wildly because it is about a man. It might as well have been named Star Wars: Anakin’s Fall. The other films had character moments, especially Return of the Jedi, but none of them captures a story as powerful as the drama and tragedy of the rise of Darth Vader. The movie chronicles, in sometimes excruciating detail, what drives Anakin Skywalker to the dark side of the Force. Anakin’s fall is natural; it doesn’t feel rushed or unexplained. We can even be thankful for the awful scene in Attack of the Clones when he tells Padme of how he killed all the Sand people, because it showed his darker and more vulnerable side. Anakin’s tears flow from the knowledge of what he is becoming, and more strikingly they flow because he knows he is powerless to stop his transformation.

It is all, to quote Peter Parker, all for the girl. And this time, believe it or not, there are even moments of chemistry between Padme and Anakin. I really felt, for the first time, that Anakin was doing everything for her.

But drama does not a Star Wars flick make. There was action — tons of it. Exploding, riveting, bodies and spaceships careening everywhere! This film had more action than either of the first two. The pacing felt right, and not spread out and thin like in the other prequels. Sometimes, Lucas even manages to meld the drama and the action. For example, when Palpatine orders the Jedi exterminated, we get to see the very real repercussions of his mandate.

In viewing this film, you have to cut your losses. You know how it’s going to turn out; you know that the Jedi can’t win. But even small victories feel rewarding as the order and ideals of the Old Republic crumble into the foundations of the Galactic Empire. Anakin loses his battle with evil and succumbs to it, scarring his mind and body, but Obi-Wan escapes. Palpatine faces Yoda, power is tested, and Yoda lives to fight another day. These are the only comforts in a galaxy that is slowly consuming itself with fear and cowardice. It is a dark, dark movie, but even in its darkest moments, there is a germ of hope: just look at the title of Episode IV.

Review – With the Lights Out

Wednesday, December 1st, 2004

For The Obsessed:

For Others:

I have to admit to having been obsessed with Nirvana. When other class of ’02 kids were saving money for Nintendo 64’s in eighth grade, I was saving money for the Nirvana singles box set from CDNow. I was also saving money to order an import (the Japanese Hormoaning CD) from someone via e-mail, of all things! I was the kid sending two blank Maxell’s to some guy for a tape of rare Nirvana stuff. I even had a Nirvana lyrics website that got quite a few hits in its heyday, but has since been supplanted by superiour successors. In short, you could say I was a fan.

As a Nirvana fan, I love this stuff. Questions we’ve had for years (What’s the real name of “In His Hands”? What to call what we called “Verse Chorus Verse”?) have been answered (“In His Hands” was actually “Verse Chorus Verse.” “Verse Chorus Verse” was actually “Sappy.”). In addition to stuff we couldn’t get ahold of and high-quality versions of what we could, there are also demos — tons of them. From a boombox recording of “Teen Spirit” to acoustic demos of stuff from In Utero, this disc has a little of everything.

A little of everything — that’s the problem. See, on the 60-page booklet, there are lists of recording sessions. Songs included in the box set are listed in bold, the rest, in roman. And there are so many roman-face songs in those lists. So many interesting things that die-hard fans like me would love to hear, but can’t, yet. The die-hard, money-wastin’ freak in me is waiting for Nirvana — The Complete Studio Sessions. That would have been an interesting way to organized this set — I’d like to see a full CD of ‘rare’ tracks recorded in the studio. And one of acoustic demos. How about all the In Utero demos on one disc, all the Nevermind demos on another, all the stuff from the sessions at Reciprocal Studios on one or two more? I’m a content completist (just look at my Bad Religion collection or newly-purchased Bloom County/Outland books), meaning that I want all that’s available to absorb from my obsessions. I want to have every Nirvana song. I’m close, and this set brings me closer, but I want it all.

There’s a lot of poor-quality stuff. Hence, the rating for the obsessed (me) and others. Personally, it gives me goosebumps, partially because I like to record similar stuff myself and because of how haunting it can be. Aside from “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, which inexplicably is included in a version that does not differ from that on Nevermind (Devalued Teen Sense Purchase Incentive Track, anybody?), With the Lights Out will turn off the Teen Spirit- and Heart-Shaped Box-fans. But Nirvana’s always had a thick coat of sludge — in cryptic coats of mumbled lyric, screaming feedback, and Drop-C# bass riffs. See past the sludge, however, and there’s the beauty: haunting, burning, ephemeral.

PS — I came across an recommendation list called “Where isn’t there a Nirvana US? Cultural Imperialism” or something. Basically, its author was complaining about bands from Britain with (U.K.) appended to their names. I’ll tell you what, we here in the US sure are oppressing the British, what with distinguishing between U.S. bands (bands here, one might say), and bands in the U.K! On behalf of America, I aplogize and offer a compromise — you got 200 years imperializing, and we’re almost done with ours. Any consolation?

The Flogging Molly Show

Monday, October 18th, 2004

It’s gonna be a good show when your glasses are destroyed. That’s what happened to me about ten minutes into the set. Some fellow concertgoer accidentally knocked ’em from my nogging, and though Carrie, some really nice guy, and I tried parting the sea of bodies and looking for about five seconds, they were gone for good.

Creepily, the glasses managed to get back to me. Toward the end of the set we were standing around the concession stand, where things were less crazy, and Carrie found them on the floor, sans lenses and beat to crap.

I liked the opening acts, especially the Briggs. I wanted to get their CD, but didn’t notice that their merch table was separate from the Flogging Molly / Street Dogs table. So I got Savin Hill by the Street Dogs. It’s okay, but some of the songs sound the same.

On the way back, we got three dozen Krispy Kreme donuts. Sugary Heaven.

Review: Spider-Man 2

Saturday, July 3rd, 2004

Current Listening: REM – “Drive” (Automatic For the People)

Smack, crack, bushwhacked. / Tie another one to the racks, baby. / Hey kids, rock and roll. / Nobody tells you where to go, baby. / What if I ride? What if you walk? / What if you rock around the clock?

The Good: More humor, more conflict, and Aunt May has a bigger role, too.

The Bad: Do you love me? Waaah. Sob. Sob. Kiss. Waaah.

The Ugly: Stan Lee’s cameo was barely recognizable — “Watch out!”

I’ve got a soft place in my heart for Spidey. While not professing to be an extreme fan, I have about sixty comic books, a few of them bought at comic book stores and maybe worth a little bit. So I couldn’t understand when some of my friends, including my girlfriend, said they didn’t really like the first movie. I chalked it up to naïvety — how could they know the greatest superhero in the world?

Then it occured to me that they didn’t have the comic books. They didn’t know about Spidey’s inner struggle. They couldn’t see that his world was as much the world of jobs, homework, and trouble with friends as it was the world of web-slinging.

Well now they can. Call me brash, but Spider-Man 2 makes the original Spider-Man flick look like Batman Forever. It’s bigger, swetter, more dramatic, and the villain is cooler.

That villain would be Otto Octavius, also known as Doctor Octopus. For those who say that a superhero is defined by his villains, Doc Ock is the perfect example. Alfred Molina does a great job playing the altruistic scientist-turned-raging-madman. In this Spider-Man universe (as opposed to the comic books), the arms take over the scientist, turning him into a bystander-killing, Spidey-hating machine. You can still see the struggle in his eyes, though, and at the end we see that Octopus is just as tortured as our favorite webslinger.

Spidey, by the way, has plenty to fret about. He’s losing jobs, his grades are slipping, and Mary Jane, though still interested, is moving on the bigger and better things — namely, J. Jonah Jameson’s astronaut son. A temporary loss of his power — and subsequent tumble from twenty stories up — convinces the webslinger to retire the webs. And thus we are exposed to the internal conflict of the movie — how much should a hero give up for the good of mankind?

But no hero can call it quits for good, can he?

This installment was much truer to the comic books than its predecessor. It even managed to capture the teenage angst of the early Spidey books. My only problem with this angst is that some of it was unnecessary. For example, Peter Parker has a money-hungry landlord with a teenage daughter who obviously has a thing for Pete. One scene, in which he eats chocolate cake with her after hanging up his webs, was extraneous baggage.

Sam Raimi did a great job directing, and even managed to throw in some of his trademarks — namely, Bruce Campbell and a scene with Doc Ock’s living metallic arms that could have been straight out of Evil Dead. Raimi always manages to make humor and action work well together, and this film was no exception. Laughs came during the height of the action and were intersperced with the drama, lightening what otherwise might have been a heavy-handed movie. I wish Spidey had some acidic one-liners for Doc Ock and the other criminals he battles (a comic book trademark), though.

My only other quibble with the film was its ending. I don’t want to give it away, so let’s just say that it had some closure (yet we all know there will be at least two more sequels), but also left us hanging and me worried that the next villain would be Harry Osbourne as the Green Goblin. Sure, the comic book fans might like that, but moviegoers would have to sit through another movie of the Green Goblin’s crappy costume.

And I’d like to see Spidey fly off the handle at some villain and really wail on him. You know? He got some punches thrown at Doc Ock, but I wanna see Spidey kick the crap outta somebody. The villains get to do it to him, but turnabout is fair play, right?

Review: Bad Religion – The Empire Strikes First

Sunday, June 27th, 2004

The Good: Everything Bad Religion is known for: catchy, thoughful, fast songs, plus a little bit of musical experimentation.

The Bad: Too many tom-tom breaks in the bridges.

The Ugly: Ewww — black, white and red for the cover? Since when did Bad Religion have to knock off the White Stripes for a color scheme?

Bad Religion’s got a strike against them.That strike, of course, is the fact that they’ve been around for over two decades. With this longevity comes a stigma: of course, the old stuff is better. Ask any crusty punk who was at a show in ’88, and he’ll tell you that How Could Hell Be Any Worse was better than anything Bad Religion is putting out now.

But I say screw that. Why give a band demerits for having longevity. AC/DC’s been around forever, as well as the Rolling Stones… well, maybe they deserve a few. Anyway, Bad Religion should not be docked because they’ve been on this earth longer than I have. If a band gets docked, it should be for writing shitty songs or not showing the least bit of change.

Thankfully, Bad Religion has evolved artistically. The Empire Strikes First has its share of warp-speed songs under two minutes, but it also has a few slower number that give you a pensive respite from the breakneck tempos. The first song — if we really can call it a song — is a slow, vaugely regggae (the extra ‘g’ is for great!)-ish intro to the album’s first song proper, “Sinister Rouge.” This track demonstrates what BR does best — soaring vocal harmonies (there’s even an opera singer adding heft to them), high-octance but tasteful guitar solos, and pissed-off-but-still-melodic vocals that actually have something to say — in this case, a rant against the Catholic church, “Comin’ back for more / To even the score.”

The record maintains its pace until thingsd slow down a bit with the first single, “Los Angeles is Burning.” The single must be making some sort of impact, because my friend Patrick, who only listens to the radio, mentioned it to me. It’s catchy and in a major key, which is a rare occurance for Bad Religion. It’s also pretty straightforward for a song written by Brett. I think it’s actually about fires in Los Angeles. Anyway, I can’t help but singing along.

Next up on the list of artistic changes is rap. Yes, rap, thanks to Sage Francis, another Epitaph artist. I’m sure some punx (notice kewl ‘x’ in spelling) screamed ‘Sellouts!’ upon first hearing this, but I like it. I’m not a fan of rap, but it fits the song somehow. There’s some nice interplay between Graffin and Francis, and it shows BR branching out. Hmmm… maybe next time, an album of polka music? Anyway, the rap comes on top of a little tom-tom riff courtesy of Brooks Wackerman, which would be okay but the next song, “God’s Love,” has the same damn thing in its bridge. C’mon, guys, couldn’t you put one song in between these two?

The First really slow song is “To Another Abyss.” This song’s got some great vocal harmonies — when Greg and Brett (maybe?) sing “purity” together it gives me goosebumps. The song’s 4 minutes long, but doesn’t really drag. The only problem I have with it is that the little lead guitar line (it sounds vaugely like a slide guitar, but it’s just a ghost bend) that comes in at the end of the chorus and ends the song sounds just like the lead guitar line from “Superheroes” from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Every time I hear it, I think “I’ve done a lot / God knows I’ve tried / To find the truth / I’ve even lied.” I love the way this song ends — just the fading chord with feedback rising, a little groove on the ride cymbal, and then the guitar hook — God bless it — again.

The title track is another slow one, but what a damn-catchy chorus. Like Aretha Franklin, Bad Religion knows that when you spell something out in a song (in this case, E-M-P-I-R-E), people will sing along. This song, like “Let Them Eat War,” is an attack on America’s policy in Iraq. Bad Religion rarely is so blatant in its politics, so this is a nice change. Unfortunately, this song also has a tom-tom break in its bridge. Gettin’ a little old, guys. The album ends strongly, with a slow, introspective song that has some neat poetic devices (one rhyme sound, “said”), some poetry that I’m guessing was written by Gurewitz (“Beyond Electric Dreams”), which dissolves into feedback and overlapping-vocal madness, and the last song — “Live Again (The Fall of Man)”, which is a great way to end the record — Fast, bouncy, catchy, and with a serious message — if you could give it all up for heaven, would you?

Except for my stupid little quibbles, this is a great album. I think it’s better than pretty much anything they’ve put out. True, it’s not montonously fast and there are some artistic experiments, but they lean in the right direction. This is one of Bad Religion’s top two or three records ever.

Review: The Rocky Horror Punk Rock Show

Tuesday, March 16th, 2004

Review: The Rocky Horror Punk Show

The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a tad bit tame these days. After all, with women kissing on awards shows and other ‘lewd’ acts on network television, nothing seems shocking anymore, and Rocky Horror, even with its blatantly hedonistic overtones, suffers as a result. The same might be said of the film’s music — and rock ‘n roll in general. In its heyday rock ‘n roll was shocking enough to prompt several cities to attempt to ban it. Now, a rock song plays in almost every television commercial and supermarket; rock’s backbone, its backbeat, is as natural to us as a microwave or a ride in a car.

How interesting this album should be. Punk rock reinvigorated rock ‘n roll in an age when it was dying, when guitar players took no shame in indulging in twelve-minute solos. Punk was based around three chords and the truth. The music from Rocky Horror is itself similar to punk — from listening to the original soundtrack, one got the impression that the instrumentalists were bashing the hell out of their instruments in much the same way as Dr. Frankenfurter was bashing the hell out of his new playthings in the sack. This album should be just the thing to reinvigorate the 35-year old movie, giving it new energy and purpose.

Sadly, it does not. Some of the highest-energy tracks from the original soundtrack are some of the dullest here, and the vocals are to blame. Granted, most punk singers probably have not had experience in the theater or acting, but you’d think their performances would carry a little bit more emotion. Rocky Horror’s best-known track, “The Time Warp”, is given a particularly lackluster performance here. The Groovie Ghoulies’ vocalist doesn’t give any heart to the words he’s singing, he sounds nasally monotone throughout. In the context of the play, the Transylvanians are ga-ga over this dance: it is the center of their world. The Time Warp should make listeners want to get up and dance, but all I wanted to do was hit the next track button on my CD player. “Hot Patootie” is another one, changing Meatloaf’s impassioned ode to Saturday night makeout sessions to an almost militarliy-barked chant does not work. It drags, and the synthesizer in the background doesn’t help much. “Dammit Janet” suffers particularly in the vocal department.

The tracks that work best here are the lesser-known ones. Luckie Strike’s version of “Rose Tint My World”, clocking in at over just a minute, gallops along, with sincere performances from all its vocalists. “Wild and Untamed Thing”, one of my favorites, is given an interesting instrumental make-over, but once against the vocals drag the performance down. Perhaps the best all-around treatment comes from Ruth’s Hat, who soups up “Superheroes” enough to give it punk weight, but keep the track’s trepidated feel, merging the two perfectly. “Over at the Frankenstein Place”, “Sword of Damocles”, “Sweet Transvestite”, both versions of “I Can Make you a Man”, “Toucha-Toucha-Touch Me”, and “Science Fiction Double Feature” (understandably, since the Me First and the Gimmie Gimmies did an entire album of show tunes, this among them) are other standout tracks.

The rest of the tracks sit somewhere in the middle, not dragging but not kicking me out of my chair, either. Middle-of-the-road, just like most rock today. Bottom line: the album needs more passionate singing. Perhaps if the bands had approached this as scenes from a play, instead of individual songs to cover, the album would have come off a lot better. As it stands, it’s a good concept implemented poorly.