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Melissa Auf der Maur – Auf der Maur

October 1, 2012 Leave a comment

Capitol Records, 2004

I am going to admit something that may or may not be a piece of information you hear from too many people:  I am a Hole fan.  I used to spin “Pretty On the Inside” and “Live Through This” quite often back in the day and was thrilled to see the band on their “Celebrity Skin” tour.  Even though I got mostly raised eyebrows from my friends, I thought Hole had a lot of good power despite some band member antics (ahem, Courtney) and a sudden shift to softiness after “Live Through This”.   I wasn’t surprised when the band broke up after too much middling pop, but I was surprised when Melissa Auf der Maur put out a solo album.  How often do bassists not named Paul McCartney put out solo albums these days?  Though I’m late on the pick up, hearing Auf der Maur ‘s debut record was an automatic must for a dollar.

Unfortunately, it is quickly apparent that Auf der Maur isn’t much of a singer. On songs for “Celebrity Skin”, Auf der Maur blends in fine because she doesn’t have to be front and center and can keep a pretty enough tune to help back up the vocals.  Unfortunately, Auf der Maur’s acceptable vocals are on display throughout this record, where she sounds like anyone who might be passable on a karaoke mic.

Songs like “Lightning Is My Girl” is a straightforward rocker that could use a powerful vocalist to carry it to a higher plane, but Auf der Maur mostly speaks her vocals and doesn’t do a whole lot to improve them during the droning chorus.  The same goes for the obviously sexual “Taste You”, even though Auf der Maur’s voice does nothing to add to the content.  On tunes like “I’ll Be Anything You Want”, Auf der Maur’s voice sounds limp during the blazing, high volume chorus.  As much as she likes to bring the rock ‘n roll, Auf der Maur has trouble carrying it vocally.

The music itself is decent enough, but nothing one wouldn’t expect from a usual rock band.  There are some catchy moments here and there, like the fast-paced chorus of “Real a Lie” (which does well to layer Auf der Maur’s vocals) and the snappy opening riff to “My Foggy Notion”.  The “Barracuda”-like riff to “Skin Receiver” sets up the seat-gripping chorus quite well, though by this point in the album (the second to last track) the adrenaline comes quite late.  Honestly, this tune should have been placed earlier in the album to spark some momentum, for most of the strong energy coming out of “Skin Receiver” gets wasted in the utterly dull and droning “I Need I Want I Will” conclusion tune.  As for the rest of the tracks in between, many of them give off a drudgy, mid-to-late nineties vibe.  One gets the impression that one will experience plenty of noisy energy at a live gig featuring all of these songs, but on a record their bombast has trouble translating.  Again, Auf der Maur’s vocals don’t help much.

There are plenty of guest stars on this record, which look great on paper but ultimately might explain some of the sound issues.  Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age) writes and takes on the guitar for some tunes.  James Iha (Smashing Pumpkins) and Eric Erlandson (Hole) also show up for guitar work, while Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees) even shows up for some backing vocals.  Do those four names have something in common?  Yeah, that late nineties rock sound.  Like I said, they look good on paper.

See and hear what Melissa Auf der Maur is up to at her website, or you can simply go to MySpace as well.

Well, I really wanted to like this.  I figured there would be quite a few tracks, especially with the hired help, that would be strong enough for a repeat listen.  However, aside from perhaps “Real a Lie” and some aspects of “Skin Receiver”, the record is mostly forgettable.  Auf der Maur continues to be involved in music, film, and photography and already released a follow up record in 2010.  I know that six years is a lengthy amount of time to reinvent, revise, or whatever, so maybe that’s worth a spin since Auf der Maur is still a cool, redheaded rock ‘n roller from Canada.  Unlike this record, I will likely spend time instead of money hearing a few online tracks to find out what Auf der Maur has evolved to.

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Starsailor – Love is Here

February 28, 2011 Leave a comment

Capitol Records, 2002

Picking up an album that has songs like “Lullaby” and “Love is Here” usually induces my gag reflex, but sometimes the price dictates the irresponsibility.  Starsailor’s debut album didn’t cost me a full buck, which really helps to stoke the free-wheelin’ fires that tend to keep my wallet warm.  I could say that I went off the deep end that day, but that’s another story for another time.  I will say that regardless of the price the album cover has a bright, yet desolate, vibe.  Include the color scheme as well as the cliched line of ‘where is my life’s train track going?’ and the cover made me feel that Starsailor was going to try and beautify and enrich my listening experience.   Well, either that or this is the view of the listener tied and bound to a train track while Starsailor cackles from afar.  Someone save me?

The album begins solemnly enough with “Tie Up My Hands” and … hey, wait, tie up my hands?!  I AM on the train track!  Someone get me out of here I’m with Starsailor and they are rubbing their hands evilly and (slap, slap) okay … okay … to continue.  The lead singer, James Walsh, pops in and curiously sounds like the guy from Swell Season.  It’s got a high pitch that quivers at its peak and contains the yearning necessary for the given song content.  Considering that the voice never wavers from this approach, it could get a little stale and ineffective as one is swept along from song to song.

Though “Hands” is a quieter track, Starsailor tends to aim for mid-level.  The band builds and maintains a comfortable tempo on tracks like “Poor Misguided Fool” and “Lullaby”, accentuated with a consistent inclusion of piano.  Most tracks are introduced with said piano as a quiet beginning, only to inevitably build up to a swirling pop concoction as evidenced in the popular British single “Fever”.  Really, if you listen to that track on itself you’ll know whether or not you’ll be into Starsailor at all, for it has got all of Starsailor’s musical tricks and choices wrapped into four minutes.

Other songs, like “Way to Fall”, pick up really nicely more than halfway through, but it’s a long three and a half minutes before getting there.  “Talk Her Down” is a great song until the nasally quivering exit. Oof, bad aftertaste.  Finally, given that this is an album that was released in the early 2000’s and certain gimmicks were still around, there’s a hidden track.  But Starsailor blows it.  The hidden track shows up after more than ten minutes of waiting and, surprise, you wait all that time to hear the guys get together and hum for less than a minute. I roll my eyes at you and your decision making, Starsailor.

Given their longevity, Starsailor is all over the place on the internet.  Check out their website, MySpace or Last.fm site if you want to experience some modern British pop.

I guess these guys were noted as a big upcoming band in England during the time that this record was released, and despite what one may think of the vocals and quality of their music they are still releasing albums with modest success.  One could say that Starsailor is wonderful for some people but a little overdone for others, so that means that Starsailor will always find an audience as long as they keep doing what they’re doing.  However, it seems that the group is on haitus so Walsh can pursue a solo career.  Doesn’t that always seem to happen?

Whether it’s the band or the solo artist, Starsailor is still around in some form after a decade.  Therefore, if you end up following Starsailor’s train track into the distance rest assured it’ll probably be a long ride.  Unless, of course, they’ve tied you to that train track.  Then you don’t have long, my pretty.