April 24, 2017

Iced Earth - Horror Show (2001)

*Standard release. 11 tracks total.
Country: U.S.A
Genre: Heavy Metal
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© 2001 Century Media
AllMusic Review by Eduardo Rivadavia
By the time they recorded their eponymous debut, heavy metal traditionalists Iced Earth were seasoned veterans, having gradually climbed their way to the surface of a Florida club scene swimming with hundreds of death metal bands. And it shows, for despite a few production kinks, their sound (combining a tremendous Iron Maiden influence with a few thrash metal tricks, namely double kick drums) was almost fully developed. Led by rhythm guitarist Jon Schaffer, the group storm their way through a series of galloping anthems filled with guitar harmonies, complex time changes, and admirable musical chops, especially from lead guitarist Randall Shawver. "Written on the Walls," "Colors," "The Funeral," and "When the Night Falls" are only a few of the highlights -- most of which were later re-recorded with new players for 1997's Days of Purgatory compilation. Purists may prefer the raw original versions.

Black Sabbath - Tyr (1990)

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Heavy Metal
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© 1990 I.R.S. Metal
AllMusic Review by James Chrispell
Gothic in approach, but crushing guitar riffs galore, Tyr followed Black Sabbath's previous return to the spotlight by less than a year. Again leaning heavily on the darker side of life, or perhaps, death, Tyr is a set of tunes loosely based around the Norse tales of Odin and the gods of war. "Valhalla" is unlike anything the old Sabbath tried, yet still sounds familiar. "The Sabbath Stones" mix myth with metal in a crushing display of musical synthesis. With Tyr, Black Sabbath sound as serious as can be.

tags: black sabbath, tyr, 1990,

Black Sabbath - Black Sabbath (1970)

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Hard Rock, Heavy Metal, Blues Rock
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© 1970-1988 Warner Bros. Records
Review by Steve Huey for Allmusic.com
Black Sabbath's debut album is the birth of heavy metal as we now know it. Compatriots like Blue Cheer, Led Zeppelin, and Deep Purple were already setting new standards for volume and heaviness in the realms of psychedelia, blues-rock, and prog rock. Yet of these metal pioneers, Sabbath are the only one whose sound today remains instantly recognizable as heavy metal, even after decades of evolution in the genre. Circumstance certainly played some role in the birth of this musical revolution -- the sonic ugliness reflecting the bleak industrial nightmare of Birmingham; guitarist Tony Iommi's loss of two fingertips, which required him to play slower and to slacken the strings by tuning his guitar down, thus creating Sabbath's signature style. These qualities set the band apart, but they weren't wholly why this debut album transcends its clear roots in blues-rock and psychedelia to become something more. Sabbath's genius was finding the hidden malevolence in the blues, and then bludgeoning the listener over the head with it. Take the legendary album-opening title cut. The standard pentatonic blues scale always added the tritone, or flatted fifth, as the so-called "blues note"; Sabbath simply extracted it and came up with one of the simplest yet most definitive heavy metal riffs of all time. Thematically, most of heavy metal's great lyrical obsessions are not only here, they're all crammed onto side one. "Black Sabbath," "The Wizard," "Behind the Wall of Sleep," and "N.I.B." evoke visions of evil, paganism, and the occult as filtered through horror films and the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien, H.P. Lovecraft, and Dennis Wheatley. Even if the album ended here, it would still be essential listening. Unfortunately, much of side two is given over to loose blues-rock jamming learned through Cream, which plays squarely into the band's limitations. For all his stylistic innovations and strengths as a composer, Iommi isn't a hugely accomplished soloist. By the end of the murky, meandering, ten-minute cover of the Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation's "Warning," you can already hear him recycling some of the same simple blues licks he used on side one (plus, the word "warn" never even appears in the song, because Ozzy Osbourne misheard the original lyrics). (The British release included another cover, a version of Crow's "Evil Woman" that doesn't quite pack the muscle of the band's originals; the American version substituted "Wicked World," which is much preferred by fans.) But even if the seams are still showing on this quickly recorded document, Black Sabbath is nonetheless a revolutionary debut whose distinctive ideas merely await a bit more focus and development. Henceforth Black Sabbath would forge ahead with a vision that was wholly theirs.

tags: black sabbath, 1970,

Black Sabbath - Dehumanizer (1992)

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Heavy Metal
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© 1992 Reprise/BMG Direct Marketing, Inc.
AllMusic Review by Bradley Torreano
Sabbath and Dio were dealing with a dwindling fan base, unsuccessful albums, and a longstanding creative rut when they decided to reunite the Mob Rules lineup. In a perfect world, they would have created a monster of an album and shot back into the limelight with a vengeance. But with ten-year-old internal tensions still gnawing away at the band, they hastily created Dehumanizer, a weird side note in their long history. Ronnie James Dio delivers his strongest performance since the early '80s, and hearing Geezer Butler and Tony Iommi play together after nine years is inspiring. But they cannot seem to overcome the challenge of crafting classic Sabbath material, and it is this issue that haunts the recording from moment one. "Sins of the Father" is a good example; they attempt a "Children of the Sea"-type slow jam with the same ringing guitar and up-tempo vocals, but the hook is just not there and the band sounds like its creative wheels are spinning in place. The bandmembers do craft enough good riffs to make songs like "Time Machine" and "After All (The Dead)" at least sound interesting, but they don't deliver a "Heaven and Hell" or "E5150" like they could have. And instead of Butler's classic doom-laden lyrics making their triumphant return, Dio takes on the writing duties and manages to pen some true stinkers. "Computer God," "TV Crimes," and "Master of Insanity" are all decent songs that are tanked by his cheesy "contempt for humanity" lyrics. At least he doesn't sing about dragons, but it wouldn't be that much worse than what is here. Dehumanizer isn't terrible, but it should have been the sign for the band to call it a career. Instead, Dio split when he refused to open shows for Ozzy Osbourne's retirement tour; they used Judas Priest singer Rob Halford for a few shows, and then everyone left but Iommi and Butler, who stayed on to paste a new lineup back together for the marginally better Cross Purposes.

tags: black sabbath, dehumanizer, 1992,

Black Sabbath - Paranoid (1970) ☠

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Heavy Metal, Doom Metal
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☠: Selected by Sentinel
© 1970-1988 Warner Bros. Records
Review by Steve Huey for Allmusic.com
Paranoid was not only Black Sabbath's most popular record (it was a number one smash in the U.K., and "Paranoid" and "Iron Man" both scraped the U.S. charts despite virtually nonexistent radio play), it also stands as one of the greatest and most influential heavy metal albums of all time. Paranoid refined Black Sabbath's signature sound -- crushingly loud, minor-key dirges loosely based on heavy blues-rock -- and applied it to a newly consistent set of songs with utterly memorable riffs, most of which now rank as all-time metal classics. Where the extended, multi-sectioned songs on the debut sometimes felt like aimless jams, their counterparts on Paranoid have been given focus and direction, lending an epic drama to now-standards like "War Pigs" and "Iron Man" (which sports one of the most immediately identifiable riffs in metal history). The subject matter is unrelentingly, obsessively dark, covering both supernatural/sci-fi horrors and the real-life traumas of death, war, nuclear annihilation, mental illness, drug hallucinations, and narcotic abuse. Yet Sabbath makes it totally convincing, thanks to the crawling, muddled bleakness and bad-trip depression evoked so frighteningly well by their music. Even the qualities that made critics deplore the album (and the group) for years increase the overall effect -- the technical simplicity of Ozzy Osbourne's vocals and Tony Iommi's lead guitar vocabulary; the spots when the lyrics sink into melodrama or awkwardness; the lack of subtlety and the infrequent dynamic contrast. Everything adds up to more than the sum of its parts, as though the anxieties behind the music simply demanded that the band achieve catharsis by steamrolling everything in its path, including its own limitations. Monolithic and primally powerful, Paranoid defined the sound and style of heavy metal more than any other record in rock history.

tags: black sabbath, paranoid, 1970,

April 23, 2017

Masta Ace - Disposable Arts (2001)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Hip-Hop
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© 2001 JCOR Records
AllMusic Review by M.F. DiBella
After a six-year period of disillusionment with the rap game, one-time Juice Crew member Masta Ace returned with this supposed sayonara album that reads like a bittersweet memoir. Though Ace had been active in the underground scene since the release of 1995's Sittin' on Chrome, appearing on a number of singles and contributing memorable verses to various collaborations, the artist's disdain for the industry and disgust with his contemporaries kept him out of the studio for lengthy recording sessions. Feeling that rap's heyday had passed with the deaths of rappers like 2Pac and Biggie, and seeing a media- and market-influenced, watered-down product, Disposable Arts broods with anger, cynicism, and satire for the modern rapper bent purely on trend capitalizing. The paradox here is that Ace himself seems to seek and feels worthy of the same multimillion that he accuses his contemporaries of securing through less-than-artistic means. The burden of underground respect that nets only underground sales seems to be the primary source of Ace's frustration. While smacking of classic player-hate, Ace's response for the Cash Money Millionaires and Roc-A-Fellas of hip-hop is: "the rap game's a book and I read mad chapters/and if you ask me, it ain't enough Madd Rappers." Ace enlists a healthy balance of true schoolers (King T and Greg Nice) and eccentric up-and-comers (Punch, Words, and the delightfully weird MC Paul Barman) for the project. Musically, the album offers anything but the disposable; highlights include the eerie narrative "Take a Walk," the fierce dis record "Acknowledge," and the ingenious "Alphabet Soup," where Ace runs through the alphabet with some witty old-school rhymes. More four-alarm flames light up "Something's Wrong," the psychedelic "Dear Diary," and the thumping homage to the West Coast, "P.T.A.." A knockout punchliner with an airtight flow and delivery, Ace, in the face of everything he hates about hip-hop, turns in his most expansively satisfying work. With 24 strong tracks and only faint signs of misstep, Disposable Arts is tightly wrought thematically, musically, and lyrically, not to mention one heck of a parting shot. Most hip-hop albums of the modern era are lucky to cover even one of these areas.

Masta Ace & Edo G. - Arts & Entertainment (2009)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Hip-Hop
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© 2009 M3 Macmil Music
AllMusic Review by Matt Rinaldi
With his acclaimed 2001 release Disposable Arts, veteran MC Masta Ace proved himself a master -- no pun intended -- of the concept LP, stringing the story of a recently released convict back in the world over 24 engrossing tracks. Ever since, Ace's full-length efforts (2004's A Long Hot Summer as well as 2008's The Show with his group eMC), have followed suit, with each individual track acting as an extension of a central narrative. Seen in this light, Arts and Entertainment -- a 50/50 collabo LP with Edo G -- is a bit of a step back. The A & E ("Ace & Ed") shtick proves extremely malleable and finds new life in each song, while the album itself is framed by the concept of a TV-addicted couple glued to the tube. From start to finish, the two old-timers show that the passing years haven't done anything to dull their mike skills. The opening track, "Hands High," is a lively, party-oriented banger. From there, the duo gets a tad righteous alongside the Large Professor on "Fans," a DJ Supreme One-produced love letter to hip-hop fanatics. On "A's & E's," Ace and Ed let loose an impressive barrage of alliteration-fueled verses, while the snarky "Little Young" sees the two seasoned vets running down a thorough list of all the hip-hop artists who utilize "Little" and "Young" in their stage names. Elsewhere, they indulge in memory lane reminiscing on the soulful "Reminds Me," the heartfelt "Here I Go," and the true-school revivalist "Over There." Ace and Ed even try their hand at hipster-hop alongside Chester French and Pav Bundy on the over-the-top album closer "Dancin' Like a White Girl." Consistently above-bar production from the likes of M-Phazes, Frank Dukes, Rain, and Double O of Kidz in the Hall combined with intelligent lyricism from a pair of MC legends make Arts and Entertainment a must for hip-hop purists.

Masta Ace - MA Doom: Son of Yvonne (2012)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Hip-Hop
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© 2012 M3/Fat Beat Records
AllMusic Review by David Jeffries
The idea of a collaborative album from Masta Ace and MF Doom is exciting, interesting, and surprising all at once, and while MA_Doom: Son of Yvonne is all of three of those adjectives, it isn't really a collaboration. Doom is here for a verse, delivering the great "Think I Am" next to Masta and hip-hop royalty Big Daddy Kane, but the rest of the album is built mostly from Doom's old Special Herbs albums, the instrumental series he released between 2000 and 2005 under the name Metal Fingers (or Metal Fingaz). To top it off, MA_Doom is also a concept album dedicated to the Masta's late mother, and most of it focuses on the rapper's early life with tracks like "Me and My Gang" and "Home Sweet Home" delivering all the nostalgia and warmth their titles imply. Confusingly, the key track "Da'pro" grabs its beat from a Nas song and not Doom's, but like everything on the album, it works. Well worth a Masta, Doom, or underground hip-hop head's attention; just don't get hung up on the collaboration bit.

Masta Ace Incorporated - SlaughtaHouse (1993)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Hip-Hop
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© 1993 Delicious Vinyl
AllMusic Review by Stanton Swihart
Five years after making his name as a member in Marley Marl's legendary Juice Crew (he was one of the featured MCs on the classic 1988 posse cut "The Symphony" from Marl's In Control, Vol. 1) and three years after recording his buoyant, artistically on-point (though commercially stillborn) debut album, Take a Look Around, with its memorable hit "Me and the Biz," battle-scarred Brooklyn underground star Masta Ace returned for his second album with a newly tweaked name and his own supporting crew (Masta Ace Inc.), a new sound and sharply honed style, and a cynical new outlook on the entire rap game. In fact, a disgusted new outlook might be a more appropriate characterization, as a controlled abhorrence oozes from every pore of SlaughtaHouse, lashing out not only at easy outside targets (bigoted police, for instance) but also at those shady characters inside the "SlaughtaHouse" whose violence is enacted physically (Ace himself places the part of a mugger on "Who U Jackin?") rather than lyrically, bringing the entire community down in the process. A loose concept album, it is at once an intense exposé and a roughneck paean to the hip-hop lifestyle that broke new ground by merging the grimy lyrical sensibility, scalpel-precise technique, and kitchen-sink beats of East Coast rap with the funk-dripping, anchor-thick low end of West Coast producers. The classic "Jeep Ass Niguh" was one of the quintessential cruising singles of the summer of 1993. Its unlisted remix, "Born to Roll," with its subsonic gangsta bass, is an equally thumping highlight and (with its sample borrowed from N.W.A's "Real Niggas Don't Die") can be seen as the most explicit bridge between East and West. But other hectic, relentless tracks like "The Big East," "Rollin' wit UmDada," and "Saturday Nite Live" are just as excellent, and Ace's crew -- particularly Bluez Brothers Lord Digga and Witchdoc -- really shines.

tags: masta ace inc, masta ace inc., masta ace incorporated, slaughtahouse, slaughta house, slaughter,

Masta Ace Incorporated - Sittin' On Chrome (1995) ☠

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Hip-Hop
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☠: Selected by Sentinel
© 1995 Delicious Vinyl/Capitol Records, Inc.
AllMusic Review by Marisa Brown
In the five years that passed between his debut, Take a Look Around, and his third full-length, Sittin' on Chrome, Brooklyn rapper Masta Ace's sound changed a lot. Angrier lyrics were already starting to show up on his sophomore release, SlaughtaHouse, but it was nothing in comparison to Sittin' on Chrome. Not that the themes are fueled by testosterone and rage here (and not that they were on SlaughtaHouse, either, though there was a great deal more vitriol), but the overall feel of the album -- which has by now moved past the boom bap old-school beats into fuller, gloomier production that more aptly represents the mid-'90s East Coast sound -- is much darker, with slower, heavier songs that ponder life in the ghetto. But the record's not an attack on the system that has caused the poor conditions of inner-city existence; rather, it's more of a collection of sketches that show it in its entirety, both the good and the bad. The whole Masta Ace Incorporated crew (Lord Digga, Leschea, and Paula Perry) is present here and does a good job -- along with Ace, of course, whose flow and lyrics combine to show him off at his best -- at adding depth and realism to the album's 16 cuts, interludes and all. It's a formula that clearly works well: Sittin' on Chrome boasted the MC's most popular songs, "Born to Roll" (which was also included as a bonus track on SlaughtaHouse), "The I.N.C. Ride," and the title track itself, but the other material -- "Eastbound," "People in My Hood" -- is equally as interesting, and makes the record a very worthwhile addition to a rap collection.

 tags: masta ace inc, masta ace inc., masta ace incorporated, sittin on chrome,

The Rolling Stones - Between The Buttons (2002 Remastered Edition)

* U.S. version. Released on a SACD  (Super Audio C.D.)
Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Rock
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© 1967-2002 ABKCO Records
AllMusic Review by Richie Unterberger
The Rolling Stones' 1967 recordings are a matter of some controversy; many critics felt that they were compromising their raw, rootsy power with trendy emulations of the Beatles, Kinks, Dylan, and psychedelic music. Approach this album with an open mind, though, and you'll find it to be one of their strongest, most eclectic LPs, with many fine songs that remain unknown to all but Stones devotees. The lyrics are getting better (if more savage), and the arrangements more creative, on brooding near-classics like "All Sold Out," "My Obsession," and "Yesterday's Papers." "She Smiled Sweetly" shows their hidden romantic side at its best, while "Connection" is one of the record's few slabs of conventionally driving rock. The best tracks on the American edition were the two songs that gave the group a double-sided number one in early 1967: the lustful "Let's Spend the Night Together" and the beautiful, melancholy "Ruby Tuesday," which is as melodic as anything Mick Jagger and Keith Richards would ever write.

The Rolling Stones - Their Satanic Majesties Request (2002 Remastered Edition)

* U.S. version. Released on a SACD  (Super Audio C.D.)
Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Rock
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© 1967-2002 ABKCO Records
AllMusic Review by Richie Unterberger
Without a doubt, no Rolling Stones album -- and, indeed, very few rock albums from any era -- split critical opinion as much as the Rolling Stones' psychedelic outing. Many dismiss the record as sub-Sgt. Pepper posturing; others confess, if only in private, to a fascination with the album's inventive arrangements, which incorporated some African rhythms, Mellotrons, and full orchestration. What's clear is that never before or after did the Stones take so many chances in the studio. (Some critics and fans feel that the record has been unfairly undervalued, partly because purists expect the Stones to constantly champion a blues 'n' raunch worldview.) About half the material is very strong, particularly the glorious "She's a Rainbow," with its beautiful harmonies, piano, and strings; the riff-driven "Citadel"; the hazy, dream-like "In Another Land," Bill Wyman's debut writing (and singing) credit on a Stones release; and the majestically dark and doomy cosmic rocker "2000 Light Years from Home," with some of the creepiest synthesizer effects (devised by Brian Jones) ever to grace a rock record. The downfall of the album was caused by some weak songwriting on the lesser tracks, particularly the interminable psychedelic jam "Sing This All Together (See What Happens)." It's a much better record than most people give it credit for being, though, with a strong current of creeping uneasiness that undercuts the gaudy psychedelic flourishes. In 1968, the Stones would go back to the basics, and never wander down these paths again, making this all the more of a fascinating anomaly in the group's discography.

April 22, 2017

Busta Rhymes - The Coming (1996)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Hip-Hop
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© 1996 Elektra Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Busta Rhymes delivered his debut album, The Coming, three years after the Leaders of the New School unofficially disbanded, and it reflects the change in hip-hop between 1993 and 1996. The Coming is indebted to the slow, spare, and quietly menacing funk and soundscapes of the Wu-Tang Clan -- in fact, Ol' Dirty Bastard appears on one of the album's most infectious tracks, the single "Woo Ha!! Got You All in Check." Busta Rhymes, like Ol' Dirty, is a surreal, inspired rapper, but his skills are on a whole different level. Though his talents were evident on the Leaders of the New School records, Busta Rhymes has never had such an impressive showcase for his rhymes as he does on The Coming. Busta doesn't have a deep message in his raps, but he twists words and phrases around with an insane, invigorating flair. Like many hip-hop albums of the mid-'90s, The Coming is padded with too much material, but Busta Rhymes' brilliant raps keep the record from sinking during its monotonous passages.

Busta Rhymes - The Big Bang (2006)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Hip-Hop
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© 2006 Aftermath, Interscope Records
AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman
The hard-working Busta Rhymes feels he wasn't handled properly by the J label. He might have a case: 2002's It Ain't Safe No More was the first album he released that failed to reach the Top Ten of the Billboard album chart, and it didn't come close -- it didn't even see the Top 40. Now on Dr. Dre's Aftermath, which is sort of a story, he also chopped his hair (as evidenced on the cover of an XXL issue and throughout the booklet of this album), and has had to deal with the death of his bodyguard, Israel Ramirez, who was shot on the scene of his video for the "Touch It" remix. It's not a good sign for your career when people are apparently supposed to talk about your hair or your new label, and it's even worse when people are instead talking about a tragedy not directly involving yourself. Lead single "Touch It," released months ahead of the album, did well despite being a very polarizing -- i.e., either bangin' or, for example, piercingly aggravating -- club record. For the most part, Busta's acting like everyone's idea of Busta ("This is what I'm supposed to do, right?"), retracing old steps and not doing a very convincing job at that. A handful of hot beats are wasted here, including a couple from the boss of his label and one from the late J Dilla, and "New York Shit" is a blown opportunity if there ever was one, a mindless and empty quasi-anthem instead of a true rallying call to reclaim the spotlight stolen by the South. There's also Stevie Wonder, who drops in to sound like Wyclef Jean impersonating Bob Marley, as well as the late Rick James, who is sampled so heavily that he's given a feature credit. In fact, there's an average of just over one guest spot per track, and Busta does happen to remain the dominant voice. Though he's as loud as ever, he has never sounded more tired. The title of the album's last track? "Legend of the Fall Offs."

Alice Cooper - Dirty Diamonds (2005)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Hard Rock
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© 2005 New West Records
AllMusic Review by David Jeffries
When the big fat advances from big fat record companies dried up, Alice Cooper pared down his sound and came to terms with his inner garage on the nearly overdubless The Eyes of Alice Cooper. The album was worthy redemption from the big-money blandness of his mid-'80s recordings and a nice return to form after flirting with the industrial-flavored metal that defined his late-'90s material. Dirty Diamonds stays the course, and while it's not Killer or Love It to Death, it at least sounds like it's from the guy who was responsible for those classics. Fortunately, Alice is well aware of his age, and without teen angst as his focus, he turns to hedonism, sexy women, and sly, sicko humor played bar band style by one of the tightest crews he's ever fronted. Delivered in an exaggerated Johnny Cash style, "I'm in jail in a Texas town/In my sister's wedding gown" opens the bizarre "The Saga of Jesse Jane," a tale of a trucker who drives his rig all night listening to Judy Garland. It's inspired, as is the cover of the Left Banke's "Pretty Ballerina" (harpsichord, flute, and all), the reckless party tune "Steal That Car," and the slinking "Six Hours," which smells a lot like Cooper during his Bob Ezrin heyday until the dramatic bridge comes along and makes the likeness uncanny. The album is filled with surprises, but recalling his Flush the Fashion era with the robotic snarl on "Your Own Worst Enemy" takes the cake for Cooper fanatics. The catchy "Perfect" is a worthy single and the filler is clearly marked "bonus track." Ending the album with the Southern-fried, horror show "Zombie Dance" would have made more sense, since "Stand" with rapper Xzibit -- lifted from Unity: The Official Athens 2004 Olympic Games Album -- is silly and forced. Those are traits the rest of this fine album avoids like they were poison, or for that matter, "Poison."

Various Artists - Street Fighter (All New Songs From The Motion Picture) (1994)

*European release. Contains 14 tracks total.
Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop, Rock
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© 1994 Priority Records
*No professional reviews available for this release.

Radiohead - The Bends (1995) ☠

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Alternative Rock
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☠: Selected by Lass.
© 1995 Capitol Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Pablo Honey in no way was adequate preparation for its epic, sprawling follow-up, The Bends. Building from the sweeping, three-guitar attack that punctuated the best moments of Pablo Honey, Radiohead create a grand and forceful sound that nevertheless resonates with anguish and despair -- it's cerebral anthemic rock. Occasionally, the album displays its influences, whether it's U2, Pink Floyd, R.E.M., or the Pixies, but Radiohead turn clichés inside out, making each song sound bracingly fresh. Thom Yorke's tortured lyrics give the album a melancholy undercurrent, as does the surging, textured music. But what makes The Bends so remarkable is that it marries such ambitious, and often challenging, instrumental soundscapes to songs that are at their cores hauntingly melodic and accessible. It makes the record compelling upon first listen, but it reveals new details with each listen, and soon it becomes apparent that with The Bends, Radiohead have reinvented anthemic rock.

Pink Floyd - Animals (1977)

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Progressive Rock, Psychedelic Rock
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© 1977-1986 Harvest Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Of all of the classic-era Pink Floyd albums, Animals is the strangest and darkest, a record that's hard to initially embrace yet winds up yielding as many rewards as its equally nihilistic successor, The Wall. It isn't that Roger Waters dismisses the human race as either pigs, dogs, or sheep, it's that he's constructed an album whose music is as bleak and bitter as that world view. Arriving after the warm-spirited (albeit melancholy) Wish You Were Here, the shift in tone comes as a bit of a surprise, and there are even less proper songs here than on either Wish or Dark Side. Animals is all extended pieces, yet it never drifts -- it slowly, ominously works its way toward its destination. For an album that so clearly is Waters', David Gilmour's guitar dominates thoroughly, with Richard Wright's keyboards rarely rising above a mood-setting background (such as on the intro to "Sheep"). This gives the music, on occasion, immediacy and actually heightens the dark mood by giving it muscle. It also makes Animals as accessible as it possibly could be, since it surges with bold blues-rock guitar lines and hypnotic space rock textures. Through it all, though, the utter blackness of Waters' spirit holds true, and since there are no vocal hooks or melodies, everything rests on the mood, the near-nihilistic lyrics, and Gilmour's guitar. These are the kinds of things that satisfy cultists, and it will reward their attention -- there's just no way in for casual listeners.

Pink Floyd - The Final Cut (1983)

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Progressive Rock
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© 1983-1985 CBS Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
The Final Cut extends the autobiography of The Wall, concentrating on Roger Waters' pain when his father died in World War II. Waters spins this off into a treatise on the futility of war, concentrating on the Falkland Islands, setting his blistering condemnations and scathing anger to impossibly subdued music that demands full attention. This is more like a novel than a record, requiring total concentration since shifts in dynamics, orchestration, and instrumentation are used as effect. This means that while this has the texture of classic Pink Floyd, somewhere between the brooding sections of The Wall and the monolithic menace of Animals, there are no songs or hooks to make these radio favorites. The even bent of the arrangements, where the music is used as texture, not music, means that The Final Cut purposely alienates all but the dedicated listener. Several of those listeners maintain that this is among Pink Floyd's finest efforts, and it certainly is an achievement of some kind -- there's not only no other Floyd album quite like it, it has no close comparisons to anybody else's work (apart from Waters' own The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking, yet that had a stronger musical core). That doesn't make this easier to embrace, of course, and it's damn near impenetrable in many respects, but with its anger, emphasis on lyrics, and sonic textures, it's clear that it's the album that Waters intended it to be. And it's equally clear that Pink Floyd couldn't have continued in this direction -- Waters had no interest in a group setting anymore, as this record, which is hardly a Floyd album in many respects, illustrates. Distinctive, to be sure, but not easy to love and, depending on your view, not even that easy to admire.

Queen - A Day At The Races (1976)

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Rock
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© 1976-1986 EMI Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
In every sense, A Day at the Races is an unapologetic sequel to A Night at the Opera, the 1975 breakthrough that established Queen as rock & roll royalty. The band never attempts to hide that the record is a sequel -- the two albums boast the same variation on the same cover art, the titles are both taken from old Marx Brothers films and serve as counterpoints to each other. But even though the two albums look the same, they don't quite sound the same, A Day at the Races is a bit tighter than its predecessor, yet tighter doesn't necessarily mean better for a band as extravagant as Queen. One of the great things about A Night at the Opera is that the lingering elements of early Queen -- the pastoral folk of "39," the metallic menace of "Death on Two Legs" -- dovetailed with an indulgence of camp and a truly, well, operatic scale. Here, the eccentricities are trimmed back somewhat -- they still bubble up on "The Millionaire Waltz," an example of the music hall pop that dominated Night, the pro-Native American saga "White Man" is undercut somewhat by the cowboys 'n' indians rhythms -- in favor of a driving, purposeful hard rock that still could have some slyly hidden perversities (or in the case of the opening "Tie Your Mother Down," some not-so-hidden perversity) but this is exquisitely detailed hard rock, dense with minutiae but never lush or fussy. In a sense, it could even function as the bridge between Sheer Heart Attack and Night at the Opera -- it's every bit as hard as the former and nearly as florid as the latter -- but its sleek, streamlined finish is the biggest indication that Queen has entered a new phase, where they're globe-conquering titans instead of underdogs on the make.