It’s been a busy week at the mailbox and on the doorstep. With a clear day off, I decided to listen to all the new music I’ve received since Monday. Capsule reviews follow the jump; albums are reviewed in their descending order on my freshly made up Personal Proggyness Perception (PPP) scale, scored from 0 to 10.
Yes (featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin, Rick Wakeman), Live at the Apollo: Available on BluRay, DVD or double-disc CD. The tempos plod a bit at the start of this Birmingham UK show, but by “Heart of the Sunrise” this version of Yes finds its groove, and gains strength as they go on. Rabin & Wakeman are obviously having tons of fun together, bassist Lee Pomeroy (Wakeman, Steve Hackett, ELO) pays skillful tribute to Chris Squire, and Anderson’s singing is impressively strong. Still, with the big exception of a fresh, powerful “Awaken,” this show feels more like a nostalgia tour than a reinvention of Yes; the setlist isn’t that different from when I saw the 90125 band way back in 1985, and overall ARW is more fluid on the 1980s material than the 1970s classics. A mixed bag, though ultimately enjoyable.
PPP Scale: 10/10 (because, c’mon; plus, Wakeman’s cape). First Listen Rating: 6.5/10. Hear it here:
The Pineapple Thief, Dissolution: Further fruits of Bruce Soord and company’s blossoming collaboration with master drummer Gavin Sullivan, who shares writing credits throughout. Brooding lyrical sketches of fear and loathing in the social media age; lean, insinuating riffs that set up elegantly feral choruses and gutsy instrumental climaxes. A memorable album of mostly short, sharp salvos — stylish and creepily compelling, well worth multiple listens. (The bonus acoustic tracks included with the deluxe edition are enjoyable, but not essential.)
PPP Scale: 8/10 (for echoes of Pink Floyd and Porcupine Tree, extended tracks, killer Gavin Harrison drum fills). First Listen Rating: 7.5/10. Hear it here:
Paul McCartney, Egypt Station: Not quite prime Macca; still vintage Macca. Solid songwriting in Paul’s classic style (with a fair share of twists), going back and forth between ballads and rockers — plus an off-the-wall genre exercise (“Back in Brazil”), two on-the-nose message songs (“People Want Peace,” “Despite Repeated Warnings”) and a closing suite (“Hunt You Down/Naked/C-Link”). The voice is raspier, but still charming and powerful, still capable of tossing off a Little Richard whoop on cue. A tighter, shorter album would hit harder, but Egypt Station has plenty of appeal; at 76, McCartney is still chasing his muse and exploring his craft to fine effect.
PPP Scale: 4/10 (for conceptual cover art, loose album concept, extended tracks). First Listen Rating: 6.5/10. Hear it here:
Renee Fleming, Broadway: After an impressive operatic career, lyric soprano Fleming has seamlessly transitioned to the Broadway stage, recently finishing a run in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel. This collection shows off Fleming’s versatility — belting out chestnuts like “The Sound of Music” and (following in Paul McCartney’s footsteps) “Till There Was You”, cooing on jazzier fare like the gorgeous “All the Things You Are”, and exploring knottier corners of the repertoire from Stephen Sondheim and even Sting (“August Winds” from The Last Ship). It doesn’t rock, but frequently it swings, and there’s much pleasure to be had.
PPP Scale: 2/10 (the Sting track. Plus, Fleming’s 2003 crossover album Dark Hope includes a prog triptych from Peter Gabriel, Tears for Fears and The Mars Volta. And she sang on Howard Shore’s soundtrack to The Return of the King). First Listen Rating: 6.5/10. Hear it here:
Bob Seger and the Last Heard, Heavy Music (The Complete Cameo Recordings 1966-67): If you think “nostalgic mid-tempo ballads” when you hear Seger’s name, check out his ferocious early singles for Allen Klein’s New York label. One B-side ballad excepted, you get hard-charging garage rock, with generous R&B seasoning (debut single “East Side Story,” “Vagrant Winter” and the title track) and smirking satirical pastiches (“Chain Smokin’,” Dylanesque hipster takedown “Persecution Smith,” “Florida Time”). The cherry on top is “Sock It to Me, Santa” — a hilarious Christmas song that, in a parallel universe, James Brown rode to the top of the charts. “Come on Dancer, come on Prancer/A brand new Santa’s gotta be the answer/Come on Comet, come on Cupid/Don’t just stand there looking stupid/AHHHHHH!” Catnip for Detroit natives of a certain era — or for anybody who likes their rock primitive but smart, down and dirty.
PPP Scale: 0/10 (I got nothin’). First Listen Rating: 7/10. Hear it here:
— Rick Krueger