three 1/2 stars
Pearl Jam's summer European tour, marred by the death of nine concertgoers at a festival in Denmark, also served as the recording studio for 25 official double-disc live albums.
The two sets reviewed here - Dublin 6-1 and Berlin 6-22 - have decent sound quality, featuring crisp, vivid chords and vocals, and just a smattering of feedback. Unfortunately, the two dates don't rise above standard concert fare.
Pearl Jam plays a mix of old and new songs, tossing in fan favorites (thankfully omitting last summer's top 40 hit "Last Kiss"), but the amount of improvisation is regrettably miniscule.
The first disc of the Berlin recording alternates between manic levels of energy and quiet offerings such as "Nothing as It Seems" and "In Hiding."
Such an arrangement brings out the mellower selections that allow the acoustics and Eddie Vedder's voice to resonate.
Things really get going in the second disc of the set, the best of the bunch, which flows from rocking versions of "Alive" and "Do the Evolution" to a cute cover of Black Sabbath's "Soon Forget," accompanied by a ukulele.
The variety of the Berlin offering is great for the casual fan, but the diehards out there might appreciate the Dublin concert a little bit more.
The set list is basically the same as Berlin's, but runs a good half-hour shorter. The first disc is highly energetic and lacks the slow melodies of the Berlin set.
What the Dublin show lacks in variety and length, it makes up with musical gems. The versions of "Daughter" and "Better Man" on the second disc are great, and "Black" and "Garden," from the debut Ten, make a reappearance.
Vedder is also much chattier on the Dublin album, telling stories about his Seattle cronies and even remarking after a version of "rearview mirror," "I think tonight is one of the nights where we shouldn't have played that song."
Quips like these and the band's personality make the collection worthwhile. Casual and diehard fans alike will dig these selections, though I'd recommend buying just one of the 25.
Vedder sings in "Wishlist": "I wish I was a radio song/the one that you turned up." These discs ensure Pearl Jam fans will be turning up their radios for some time to come.
By Allison Rost
Cam'ron's S.D.E. is the sort of music parents and politicians think of when they discuss media influence on violence. As much as I'd like to defend it out of First Amendment principle, Cam'ron hardly merits the trouble.
Aside from a few good beats on a couple of the tracks, the album is mostly the same dumb, hollow, rap-star bravado that we all should be weary of by now.
From the opening track, one realizes that whatever Cam'ron lacks in talent, he makes up for in anger. The track is titled "F--- You," which is appropriate since literally every third word is "f---." Cam'ron's lyrical technique, it seems, is to rely on profanity when rhyming becomes too difficult.
After this not-very-subtle intro, Cam'ron proceeds to explain himself in "That's Me." From this song, the listener can draw a nice portrait of Cam'ron: where he's from (Harlem), what he likes (bloodshed), how many weapons he carries (three), and what he likes to do to his prostitutes (shove certain parts of his anatomy into their tonsils).
Maybe I haven't been sufficiently desensitized to violent misogyny, but it seems reasonable to me that if one is going to make a song that describes raping and burying women, the song might at least have some sort of musical merit.
Interestingly, like many of his rapping brethren, Cam'ron fuses two unlikely ideas - a seeming disregard for human life and a sort of gold-chain, diamond-ring version of religious faith.
When the lyrics get too hard-core, just look at the album cover and be reassured: there is Cam'ron with a look of badass contempt on his face, but he does have a big gold cross around his neck.
The content of most of Cam'ron's songs adheres pretty strictly to the title, "S.D.E.," which stands for "Sports, Drugs & Entertainment."
Judging from Cam'ron's bio, these are topics he knows well. As a high school basketball star, he was recruited by major universities, including UNC. Because his grades were not good enough, however, he ended up at a small Texas school until he dropped out and returned to hustling and rapping.
As proof of his status in the fraternal order of money-swaggering rap stars, Cam'ron features on his album Ol' Dirty Bastard, Prodigy, Noreaga and Freaky Zeeky, among others. These songs featuring other artists usually surpass the few songs Cam'ron attempts alone, testifying to his mediocre talent. On most tracks, Cam'ron puts angry talk over a tired, variation-less backbeat.
If you're looking for dark accounts of urban life - violence, misogyny, and the rest - there is better rap out there, and my advice would be to buy it instead.
By Joanna Pearson
J Mascis and the Fog
three 1/2 stars
If anyone could figure out how to be ambiguously unambiguous, it would be J Mascis. Mascis, the force behind the influential post-punk "alternative" band Dinosaur Jr., has made an album that so subtly obscures its intent (if it does), that it confuses me more every time I listen to it. Aptly, I'll begin at the end.
The last and title song, "More Light," literally sounds like a tornado, drowning out its mostly indecipherable lyrics and heavily distorted guitar solo with a hard-core rhythm section. It sounds like a parody of the most anti-accessible early '90s bands of the grunge movement that Dinosaur Jr. so profoundly influenced.
Indeed, parts of the album, when one forgets who made it, remind one of the tamer, dime-a-dozen bands like Sleeper or the Figgs, for which the grunge eruption temporarily paved the way. But a closer inspection makes it obvious that these bands could never have made it.
Unambiguously, this is a well-crafted rock album, unpretentious and not particularly ground-breaking, with more emphasis on melody and a little less distortion than Dinosaur Jr. "More Light" and the sarcastically titled rant "I'm Not Fine," with intense drumming and metal-esque mini guitar solo, are the only fierce songs, and they leave one wondering if and at whom Mascis is thumbing his nose (Lou Barlow?).
Straightforward but unique rock tunes fit together fluidly through the rest of the album, sometimes inexplicably so. "All the Girls," for instance, which could be a quirky Counting Crows song, is followed by "I'm Not Fine" and "Can't I Take This On," an interesting piece with a Latin rhythm and banjo.
Country elements pop up in several places, most notably in the weak "Wastin'," an irritating moan in which Mascis' voice crumbles. Repetitive, predictable song structures often sound a bit corny but also leave one wondering if there are ulterior motives at play.
In "Where'd You Go?" lyrics like "Why's tomorrow feel/like a whole new day?" could be as uninventive as the chord progression, or an ironic answer to Joe Walsh's nostalgic "Bookends," to which it sounds eerily similar.
Other lines, including "Squeezed my mind/to squeeze out the last drop," could be interpreted as an elegy to Dinosaur Jr. and Mascis' own odd point in his musical career.
That sounds like criticism, but Mascis drops too many hints to leave things to chance. The obvious irony of The Fog creating more light persists at every level. In his official departure from the origins of Dinosaur Jr., Mascis remains as shadowy as ever.
By Warren Wilson
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