Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band in Toronto [concert review]

August 24th, 2012, Toronto, Rogers Centre
I didn't think it was possible, but Bruce Springsteen took another step or two up the metaphorical ladder of his "legend" status in my eyes last Friday night. The man I consider my favourite music artist (although believe me, I'd have no problem posting a negative review where he's concerned if it was warranted) made the Toronto stop of his Wrecking Ball Tour at the Rogers Centre and gave about 40,000 delirious fans their money's worth and then some. The sole musical performer whose audience would feel cheated if they only received a two and a half hour performance played for a jaw-dropping three hours and forty minutes, seemingly daring the crowd to try and outlast his almost endless energy level. On his official website, a posting says that as Springsteen left the stage at the show's conclusion he remarked to his band, "That was the greatest audience we have ever had in Toronto". The Boss is well known for his epic concerts, of course, but the 62-year-old recently seems to have tapped into the Fountain of Youth, if his recent concert running times are any indication. On July 31st in Helsinki, the final date on the European leg of this tour, Springsteen and his E Street Band played their longest set ever at four hours and six minutes. Even more amazing? He came out and played a five song acoustic set for some audience early birds before that performance. The Toronto show length, according to a poster from Scotland on the Greasy Lake Springsteen fan forum, puts it at the fifth longest of the tour and his seventh longest show ever. Two nights later in Moncton, New Brunswick, his performance clocked in at a "mere" three hours and ten minutes.
A 29 song set touched on a healthy chunk of his 40 year career, with the core E Street Band consisting of drummer Max Weinberg, guitarists Steve Van Zandt and Nils Lofgren, bassist Garry Tallent, and pianist Roy Bittan augmented by regular Springsteen supporting players Soozie Tyrell (guitar/violin/backing vocals), Charlie Giordano (organ/accordion), plus an additional horn section and backup singers. That adds up to 17 people on stage, including the bandleader (his wife, E Street Band member Patti Scialfa, was absent to tend to the couple's kids). The stage setup, as always, was minimalistic and the light show nothing more than serviceable - the Springsteen concert experience may offer many things, but fancy frills are simply not one of them. A large HD video screen across the stage backdrop and a couple of smaller screens higher up at stage front, plus some lights across the facade of the main stage riser is about as razzle dazzle as his production gets.
In acknowledgement of the home of the Toronto Blue Jays, Giordano kicked off the show with a rendition of "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" on his accordion, before the entire band kicked into the rockabilly stomp of Born In The U.S.A.'s "Working On The Highway", followed by an audience singalong-assisted "Hungry Heart". Just a couple of songs in, Springsteen goes broken arrow from the setlist and rounds up a number of signs being held up by fans with song requests, considering the merits and difficulty factor of each ("That's tricky, very tricky" he says of one) before deciding on "Sherry Darling". A trio of songs from his latest album Wrecking Ball follow - "We Take Care Of Our Own", the title track, and "Death To My Hometown". The half dozen Wrecking Ball songs played (excluding "Land Of Hope And Dreams", which has been around in shows since 2000, but only just appeared on a studio album) are met with the customary pleasant-but-noticeably-less-enthusiastic reception from the crowd and seemed to be about the proper amount to share time in the setlist with Springsteen's staples and other unpredictable choices from his sizable back catalog. Said staples included back-to-back never-dull performances of "Thunder Road" and "Born To Run", "Dancing In The Dark" (Springsteen brought a girl who he'd shared the mic with earlier up onstage to assume the Courtney Cox dance partner role), "Badlands", and a more modern Springsteen classic, the always stirring "The Rising".
The beautifully soulful "My City Of Ruins", also from The Rising album, received an extended workout with a noticeably different arrangement that nicely incorporated the extra onstage personnel. A number of other songs also got expansive airing outs that were heavy on the guitar jams - "Prove It All Night" (Lofgren lit up his fretboard and finished off his moment in the spotlight with his signature multiple circle'd never know the guy had a double hip replacement just a few years ago), a slightly reworked "Sprit In The Night" (during which Springsteen downed a full beer from an audience member), a muscular "Murder Incorporated", and the rarity "Thundercrack". The latter was a request from a sign that featured a crudely drawn bare ass with a thunder bolt coming out of it, which Springsteen commented "must be the Canadian sense of humour". A lengthy "Waitin' On A Sunny Day", a song that can inspire some major invective amongst some of the Springsteen hardcore, encouraged and received the audience's singing participation and featured the vocal talents of a 10-year-old girl that Springsteen brought up onstage whose performance the crowd apparently ate up. I missed that, however, as I stepped out for a washroom break and a beer (personally, I like the song just fine).
Along with other set highlights that included "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)", "Candy's Room", and the Bo Diddley-inspired "She's The One" (with an intro of Diddley's "Mona"), one of the high points of the show was a spectacular version of "Incident On 57th Street", with just Springsteen on stage accompanying himself on piano. The song is a bit of a live rarity (the ridiculously exhaustive Brucebase online resource shows it's only been played four times this tour) and the piano-only "solo Incident", as the hardcore fans refer to it, is even rarer and considered a major treat. The isolated stillness and expansive narrative of the song seemed to be a momentum killer for some (I heard a little more talking during the song than I would have cared to), but for the most part the audience was highly receptive.
For the Springsteen concert veteran, a palpable feeling of loss hung over the proceedings due to this being the first tour involving the E Street Band without Clarence Clemons, who died last year. Numerous references to the departed were sprinkled throughout the show - "Are you missing anybody?" and "Are we missing anybody?", Springsteen asked during one song, while the poignant and uplifting "We Are Alive" lyrically celebrated the lives of those no longer with us (E Street keyboardist Danny Federici also passed away in 2008). Clemons' void was most directly addressed during a show-stopping (literally) "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out", where Springsteen, now out in the crowd on a mini stage riser, stopped the song following the Clemons-referencing line "and The Big Man joined the band". As The Boss and his band stood still and silent, a brief Clemons video tribute then played on the video screens, leading to sustained cheers and applause from the audience - it was quite a powerful and heart-tugging moment. Clemons' nephew, Jake, assumed most of his uncle's saxophone duties and did an admirable job under what must be extraordinary pressure.
I must admit that at around the three-and-a-half hour mark, about halfway through a long and repetitive cover of The Isley Brothers' "Twist And Shout", I was thinking that maybe it was time to wrap things up (some of you who have read this far might be thinking the same thing about this review). That probably had more to do with the fact I've never cared much for the song, plus the fact my back and feet were killing me. My brother and I both made the rookie concert mistake - and especially for a Springsteen concert - of failing to wear comfortable shoes. That I'm complaining about my body aches feels ridiculous, as Springsteen has twenty years on me and kept up his energy level for as long as he did. He's toned down the displays of enthusiasm previously exhibited somewhat, but the man is still awe-inspiring to watch work a stage and is clearly still having a blast while doing it. And the fact he's onstage for virtually the entire show cannot be overlooked - there's no five or ten minute breaks while a guitar or drum solo gives him a breather. An amusing late-in-the-show moment came when Springsteen mock collapsed and laid still while Van Zandt brought him back to life with water wrung from a sponge onto his face. Despite my reservations to "Twist And Shout", he won me back with "Glory Days" to finish off the show and that's not a song of his that I'm even terribly fond of. That he wanted to play it seemed to surprise the band - even they were probably wondering just how much juice could have been left in their boss' batteries.
The notoriously dodgy Rogers Centre sound was decent, although it was occasionally a little difficult to make out what Springsteen was saying between songs. A beautiful late summer evening meant the dome roof was open and combined with the light show from the CN Tower next door, I actually found myself rather enjoying the setting, which has to be a first for a concert I've seen at the venue. One of the nicest offstage sights was the female usher, probably in her mid 40s, who was working the area in what would be the baseball left field section of the floor. I noticed the woman when the house lights came up and stayed on during the encore with about seven songs left in the show, dancing away with a smile on her face the whole time, even though her job duties required her to have her back turned to the stage. Oddest sight? The two guys down on the floor in the same area who seemed to be by themselves and spent much of the approximately hour-long encore with their backs to the stage, filming themselves dancing on their phone cameras.
Even though this was my seventh Bruce Springsteen concert and I'm well-versed in his history and own over 300 of his bootlegs, I still found myself amazed at the spectacle I'd just witnessed. The only thing holding this show back from an A+ rating would be the fact my seats (row 13 and left of the stage in the stadium's lower bowl) were by far the furthest I've been from the stage for one of his shows. When you've been in the general admission pit four times and had a front row spot on a couple of those occasions, anything else pales in comparison. That being said, I'm still hugely grateful to Kathie from Newfoundland, who hooked me up with my tickets. Missing this incredible show probably would have haunted me for the rest of my days.
Working On The Highway/Hungry Heart/Sherry Darling/We Take Care Of Our Own/Wrecking Ball/Death To My Hometown/My City Of Ruins/Spirit In The Night/Thundercrack/Jack Of All Trades/Murder Incorporated/Prove It All Night/Candy's Room/Mona-She's The One/Darlington County/Shackled And Drawn/Waitin' On A Sunny Day/Incident On 57th Street/The Rising/Badlands/Land Of Hope And Dreams
We Are Alive/Thunder Road/Born To Run/Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)/Dancing In The Dark/Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out/Twist And Shout/Glory Days
Rating: A

Monday, August 27, 2012

Political Animals [television review]

Premiered in July on the USA Network in America and Bravo in Canada
Farewell, Political Animals, we barely knew ye. The USA Network production was billed as a "limited series event" - a fancy term for "miniseries" - and ended too soon last Sunday night, after six episodes totalling a little under five hours (excluding commercials). To call the series a "soaped up West Wing" would do it a disservice, but that description does point you in the right direction of Political Animals' general theme, which focusses on the central character of U.S. Secretary of State Elaine Barrish (played by Sigourney Weaver) and the damaging effects of high profile politics on her family.
Weaver's character isn't exactly a thinly veiled version of Hillary Rodham Clinton - there's no veil in place here. Elaine Barrish is a brazenly rendered Clinton facsimile, with her hard-assed Secretary of State also working for a President she lost to in the Democratic primaries. Like Clinton, she's also a former Governor and First Lady who put a promising law career on hold to have a family and support the political career of her brilliant and highly charismatic husband, a scandal-prone philanderer who hails from the South (ex-president Bud Holt, played by Ciarán Hinds). That she stayed with her cheating hubby for so long has also made Barrish a villain to feminists. Any of this sounding familiar? The writers do offer up at least one notable difference - Barrish finally reaches the end of her rope with Bud's infidelities and ends up divorcing him at the beginning of the series.
The rest of Barrish's family includes Douglas, her son (played by James Wolk), who works as her Chief of Staff, Elaine Burstyn popping in from time to time in a throwaway role as Barrish's boozy mother never reluctant to impart her wise sage advice, and T.J., Douglas' twin brother (played by Sebastian Stan). Even considering Bud's very public embarrassments, T.J. is the black sheep screwup of the family, mostly due to his drug addiction. Rounding out the rest of the characters of note are Carla Gugino as a reporter who makes the unlikely turn from staunch Barrish critic to an intimate ally, Adrian Pasdar as a solidly portrayed Commander in Chief, Dylan Baker as his Vice President, and Brittany Ishibashi as Douglas' fiancée, who is saddled with a minor sub-plot involving bulimia that's a complete head-scratcher as to why it wasn't purged in the editing room.
T.J.'s storylines are by far the show's weakest link, with separate sub-plots about his suicide attempts, involvement in a nightclub, and a gay affair with a prominent politician only serving to dilute Political Animals' overall quality level and weigh it down with a much less interesting soap opera-ish tone. Numerous significant story elements strain credulity - a son working for a mother in such a high position of power seems fairly improbable, as is the alliance between Gugino's and Weaver's characters, although their uneasy pairing makes for a highly engaging dynamic. Other overly-dramatic occurrences, such as some farfetched fisticuffs between a couple of hugely powerful men and a drastic, too-convenient plot twist halfway through the last episode also undermine the show's virtues.
Political Animals may have plenty of flaws and unlikable aspects (including a weird blue lens flare effect they use during flashback sequences that's pretty annoying), but when it's focussed and steering clear of the melodrama, it's quite outstanding. Weaver is magnificent as a woman balancing the demands of a punishingly difficult job with her future career aspirations and the needs of her family, portraying her character with a captivating blend of politically battle tested rigidity and vulnerable maternalism. Gugino is excellent in a meaty role that always keeps you guessing and Hinds is a revelation as the Bill Clinton-like character, delivering a flawless Southern accent (he's actually Irish) and providing some fantastic fireworks with Weaver as their characters' love/hate relationship shows off the series' consistently sharp dialogue. Ratings for the series were apparently softer than expected, but there appears to be an outside possibility that the USA Network would further extend the Barrish family saga. I'm decidedly in the camp of viewers asking for more, please.
I tried to incorporate it somewhere into the above paragraphs and couldn't, but I just had to mention the great name of one of the show's producers - "Speed Weed".
Rating: B

My TIFF 2012 lineup...

The Toronto International Film Festival begins on September 6th and the world's biggest public film fest will screen over 300 films this year from more than 60 countries. The 37th edition of the festival finally stepped into the 21st century and went to an online system for advance ticket sales, dropping the previous method that was extremely inconvenient for those of us living outside of Toronto. That outdated system had customers with ticket packages having to submit their film picks in person at the festival box office, sweat it out as a lottery drawing was then used to determine how high you were in the pecking order in terms of getting the films you picked, and then having to endure long lineups at the box office to choose alternates if any of your original screening picks were sold out. The online method appears to be working smoothly, despite worries that the new system would have glitches and be unable to handle the high demand (my brother was convinced it would crap out).
Here's what's on my festival lineup (descriptions taken from TIFF's site):
The Place Beyond The Pines - Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper and Eva Mendes star in this multi-generational crime drama from director Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine), about a motorcycle stunt rider whose moonlighting a bank robber brings him into conflict with an ambitious young cop.
Everybody Has A Plan - In this dazzling thriller from first-time feature filmmaker Ana Piterbarg, Viggo Mortensen (in his third Spanish-language film) is twice the badass as twin brothers whose deadly pact plunges them into the sordid depths of the Argentinean underworld.

Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out - Marina Zenovich dives into the mysterious details of Roman Polanski's arrest in Switzerland in 2009, which came suspiciously soon after the release of her ground-breaking 2008 documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired. In this follow-up investigation, Zenovich raises fresh questions about legal manipulation, media distortion and power politics.
Cloud Atlas - Tom Hanks, Halle Berry and Hugo Weaving head a stellar international cast in this visionary, time-tripping science-fiction epic from directors Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) and Lana and Andy Wachowski (The Matrix).
Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence In The House Of God - Academy Award–winning documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney (Taxi To the Dark Side) explores the charged issue of pedophilia in the Catholic Church, following a trail from the first known protest against clerical sexual abuse in the United States and all way to the Vatican.
The Impossible - Juan Antonio Bayona (The Orphanage) recreates the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami in terrifyingly vivid detail in this grueling survival story about a married couple (Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor) searching for their missing children in the aftermath of the disaster.

The Iceman - Academy Award nominee Michael Shannon stars alongside a stellar supporting cast — including Winona Ryder, Ray Liotta and Chris Evans — in the story of real-life mob hit-man Richard "The Iceman" Kuklinski, who was reportedly responsible for over 200 murders.

The Sessions - Academy Award nominee John Hawkes (Winter's Bone) stars in this funny and touching comedy-drama about a childhood polio survivor — now in his thirties and permanently confined to an iron lung — who hires a professional sex surrogate (Academy Award winner Helen Hunt) to help him lose his virginity.
Artifact - Telling harsh truths about the modern music business, Artifact gives intimate access to singer/actor Jared Leto and his band Thirty Seconds to Mars as they battle their label in a brutal lawsuit and record their album This Is War. The film is a true artifact of our times, as its subjects struggle with big questions over art, money and integrity.
9.79* - Filmmaker Daniel Gordon investigates the 1988 Olympic race that resulted in disgrace for Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson, a gold medal for the USA’s Carl Lewis, and major controversy over drug testing.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Ozzy Osbourne - Speak Of The Devil [DVD review]

Released in North America last month on DVD
Speak Of The Devil was recorded for MTV back in June 1982 and had only been available as a Japanese VHS release until now. The North American DVD-only release has been budget priced (about $10-12) and is extras-free, offering up 78 minutes of Ozzy Osbourne's performance at the Irvine Meadows Ampitheatre in Irvine Meadows, California. Ozzy fans finally get a good quality DVD release of the musician at arguably the peak of his post-Black Sabbath solo career, touring in support of his second solo album, Diary Of A Madman. Metal historians will also recognize that the date of this show is just three months after the untimely death of Randy Rhoads, Ozzy's gifted guitarist who died in a tour plane accident along with two others (this show was rescheduled after the accident).
This era of the musician's career has a certain sentimental value to me, as his 1982 Speak Of The Devil album (a double live album of nothing but Black Sabbath songs and not to be confused with this DVD release) was the first Ozzy album I purchased as a 12-year-old after being introduced to him through my brother's cassette tapes of his Blizzard Of Ozz and Diary Of A Madman albums. As much as the greatness of those two albums turned me into a fan, I admit that the deciding factor in my purchase of the Speak Of The Devil album was probably its notoriety-exploiting cover that featured a deranged-looking Ozzy sporting fangs and spewing flesh out of his gob. Remember when a record cover's visual impact had that kind of influence on impressionable kids browsing the record racks with paper route money burning a hole in their pocket? I'm guessing that seeing an album cover's 1" x 1" graphic while browsing the iTunes store has a slightly less powerful effect on today's youth. One more personal recollection about that album: I still remember the worried look on my religious mother's face when I asked her "Who's Lucifer?", after hearing the name mentioned in the song "N.I.B.". You'd better believe I kept my copy of Mötley Crüe's Shout At The Devil album, which I purchased the following year and whose cover featured a pentagram, well hidden.
Despite the turbulent time Ozzy and his band must have been going through, the Irvine Meadows show finds the musicians sounding remarkably cohesive and musically spot-on...perhaps too spot on (more on that shortly). The backing band is made up of bassist Rudy Sarzo (best known for Quiet Riot and Whitesnake), drummer Tommy Aldridge (a phenomenal percussionist with Sideshow Bob hair who, even back in 1982 at the age of 32, looked about 30 years older and is best known for playing with, well, nearly everybody), keyboardist Don Airey, and Brad Gillis on guitar. Due to his short stint in Osbourne's band, Gillis, who would go on to major success with Night Ranger, is an often overlooked guitarist in Ozzy's career, a career that features a who's who of influential metal and hard rock players in Tony Iommi, Rhoads, Zakk Wylde, and to a slightly lesser extent, Jake E. Lee. Here, though, Gillis emerges as the band MVP, flawlessly firing off riff after riff, replicating Rhoads' complicated neoclassical-influenced guitar solos, and throwing in some solid showmanship to boot. Sarzo's over-the-top showmanship, however, wears thin quite quickly, but at least he refrains from pulling out that creepy "lick the bass" move of his. The mid-show guitar and drum solos are mercifully brief.
Playing on a cathedral-themed stage set (with some Spial Tap-ian imagery, such as the "Stonehenge"-ish hooded robe worn by Airey), Ozzy's vocals sound virtually perfect, a most curious fact considering the legendary chemical excesses he was subjecting himself to at the time (a situation that one assumes would only have been exacerbated as he dealt with the recent loss of his musical partner and friend). As the DVD continues to play, there are more and more examples of inconsistent vocal tracks where singing can be heard even as Ozzy has noticeably moved his mouth away from the microphone (a "yeah!" he sings at the end of a verse of "Children Of The Grave" is hilariously out of synch). So clearly, there has been a healthy amount of overdubbing done here to cover up some substandard lead vocals - that does manage to take a little of the shine off the overall viewing and listening experience. A little digging around online reveals that original and undoctored bootlegs of this show have fan feedback on Osbourne's vocal performance that uses descriptors such as "awful", "atrocious", and "embarrassingly bad". While one can fault Ozzy for the degree to which he might have fixed a poor night on the mic, the practice of fixing weak recorded performances is nothing new, especially in the 70s and 80s. In fact, in a 2007 interview with Max Norman, the producer of the album version of Speak Of The Devil, he admits that multiple songs from that recording (which is credited with being recorded at The Ritz in New York City) were actually recorded during soundcheck with crowd noise later added. Another example is KISS' 1975 Alive! album, which lost much of its legendary status (at least for me) when it came to light that a substantial amount of it had also been created at soundchecks and in a studio, facts that the band strangely doesn't seem embarrassed by.
Despite his vocal shortcomings, Ozzy is definitely on his game as far being a great visual presence. His manic energy finds him doing those odd frog leaps and that amusing old man shuffle, while regularly clapping his hands and engaging the audience with shouts of "let me see your hands!" and "go crazy!", repetitive Ozzy staples that I must admit are my least favourite part of his live show. The setlist may be short, but the choice of songs is pretty difficult to argue with, serving up 13 tracks and not a dud in the bunch:
Over The Mountain/Mr. Crowley/Crazy Train/Revelation (Mother Earth)/Steal Away (The Night)/Suicide Solution/Goodbye To Romance/I Don't Know/Believer/Flying High Again/Iron Man/Children Of The Grave/Paranoid
The DVD's video quality is quite good for an early 80s recording and the sound has been remastered in DTS and Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound. The show's presentation does seem to have a bit of a detachment from the audience, with virtually no shots of them (aside from their silhouettes from the back) until the end of the show when the camera finally captures some faces in the Heavy Metal Parking Lot crowd when the houselights go up. Actually, it probably just feels like detachment because so many modern-day video releases feature an excess of crowd reaction shots that rarely add anything to the presentation. The old-school approach here turns out to be rather refreshing, as is the lack of hyper editing that also afflicts far too many of today's long-form music video programs.
Weirdest moments of the show: during "Goodbye To Romance", the prettiest ballad Ozzy has ever recorded, a little person dressed in a hooded robe and ghoulish makeup is "hanged" behind the drum riser. Then the guy just hangs there for the rest of the song with a couple of spotlights on him as the song continues - it's one of the more bizarre stage production choices I've ever seen. And before "Paranoid", Ozzy emerges from underneath the drum riser and shoots off a firework from a super-cheesy glove/gun contraption that he's wearing.
Rating: B-

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Garbage - Not Your Kind Of People [album review]

Released in May
Whilst touring in support of 2005's Bleed Like Me release, Garbage was coming apart at the seams due to road burnout and an increasing unhappiness with the unrealistic expectations and direction from their record label. The once-tight unit (comprised of lead singer Shirley Manson, guitarists/keyboardists Duke Erikson and Steve Marker, and drummer/mega-producer Butch Vig) turned their frustrations in on each other, which eventually led to a lengthy hiatus before returning in May with the independently released Not Your Kind Of People. Whether or not the lengthy time off has had a significant positive impact on the quality level of studio album number five via the oft acknowledged "recharged batteries effect" is hard to measure, since Garbage has yet to release a bad album. Certainly, they haven't lost a step since the muscular Bleed Like Me, an album unjustly criticized for its supposed lack of edge.
Edge definitely isn't in short supply on Not Your Kind Of People, sidling up with the unabashed pop melodies which distill into Garbage's unique electro-rock sound. Heavier and darker tracks like "Automatic Systematic Habit" (featuring a "White Room"-ish intro), "Battle In Me", "Control", "I Hate Love", "Man On A Wire", and bonus tracks "Show Me" and the frenetic "The One" (the latter featuring a self-referencing "terminator" mention from Manson, who dabbled in acting on TV's Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles during her hiatus) sound brawny and inspired. "Control" stands out as one of the album's best songs, deploying a gentle, fake-out intro before settling into its dirty groove, anchored by the Garbage signature fat bass sound that populates most of the album's tracks, along with a great harmonica riff that lends the song a swampy blues sound reminiscent of Led Zeppelin's "When The Levee Breaks". Not Your Kind Of People's poppier fare consists of (no pun intended) first single "Blood For Poppies" (whose interesting lyrical narrative comes from the perspective of a drug operative stranded in Afghanistan), "Big Bright World", and "Felt", but even the band's more melodic material is usually informed by a darker undercurrent, as demonstrated on the verse sections of "Blood For Poppies" - they sound positively grim when compared to the track's sunny choruses. Three tracks get the moody ballad treatment, something Garbage usually excels at; two of them are great ("Sugar" and "Beloved Freak"), while the awful title track lacks spark and gets lost in its psychedelic leanings, counting as the album's only misstep.
The most common complaints I've read from Not Your Kind Of People's mixed reviews (it has a 63/100 rating on Metacritic) is that the band has played it safe, along with the criticism that has dogged them since they debuted, that Garbage's trademark heavy reliance on studio/technological trickery robs their material of any soul or heart. I can't deny that the album isn't much of a departure from their past work - the cynical, defiant, and angst-heavy lyrics that also include celebrations of outsiders and freaks, studio production up the wazoo, and that dark/sunny dynamic to their songwriting all sound comfortably familiar. That well-worn "overproduction" knock isn't valid to my ears, however - the whirlwind of effects and studio manipulation, featuring heavily processed vocals and lines blurred between where real instruments and technology intersect, are as vital to Garbage's sound as Manson's vocals and don't come close to suffocating the material, acting as mere enhancers that make this strong collection of songs more interesting. Not Your Kind Of People and its production prowess (it was self-produced - along with Vig, Erikson and Marker are adept studio wizards) is a veritable headphone heaven listening experience and a technological polar opposite to the digital-free, back-to-the-garage-and-lay-it-down-on-old-school-tape approach undertaken on Vig's last project, as a producer on the Foo Fighters' superlative Wasting Light album.
Rating: B+
Mediaboy Musings related posts: Garbage Toronto concert review (from May), Foo Fighters' Wasting Light album review (from April 2011)