Five-Minute Record Reviews: Neon Trees, Iggy Azalea, Sebastian Bach, and Eels!


Neon Trees - Pop Psychology

On the surface, this Provo, Utah new wave act may sound like the day-glo lovechild of Maroon 5 and No Doubt, but dig a little deeper beneath the surface and you can hear shades of The Strokes ("Text Me In The Morning") and Justins Timberlake and Beiber ("Sleeping With A Friend").  It is at this point that you realize, no matter how far down you dig, it's all surface.

And that's the sad thing about the whole affair.  For all the effort, the desire to present the most potent 80's-inspired commercial package in the year 2014, going so far as to "borrow" a song title from a 1980 Cheap Trick album ("I Love You (But I Hate Your Friends)"), there is absolutely nothing memorable about any of it.

Sure, the performance is pitch perfect, the lyrics full of modern-day buzzwords the kids can identify with, but there is no attempt to inject anything remotely resembling heart or soul into the proceedings.  Those wondering what cotton candy would sound like if it could get a record deal need wonder no more.


Iggy Azalea - The New Classic

From the "Miami Vice"-inspired cover art, one might be led to believe that Iggy Azalea is yet another new artist appropriating the '80s as something entirely new in hopes that kids too young to know any better might not notice.  Ah, but you'd be wrong.

In actuality, Iggy's influences seem to begin and end at female rap trio TLC (she grew up idolizing "Left Eye" Lopez), which makes it all the more perplexing when you hear this Australian model spend the album coming at you hard like a rapper straight out of Compton.

Since she had nothing to do with the music, which is completely superfluous anyway, let us stick to Iggy's rap skills, which are completely devoid of anything resembling nuance or subtlety.  Listening to this whole album is like being struck repeatedly by a five-year-old kid with one of those annoying noise-making toy hammers.

Did we mention that this is the follow-up to her debut mixtape Ignorant Art?  Need we say more?


Sebastian Bach - Give Em Hell

In January of 1989, a band by the name of Skid Row released their debut self-titled album for Atlantic Records and singlehandedly changed the face of hair metal.  Top 10 hits "18 To Life" and "I Remember You" continue to garner classic rock airplay, fueling continual speculation and hope that Bach will one day rejoin his bandmates, who apparently want no part of such a reunion, no matter how much money is in it for them.

Yet every new Sebastian Bach solo album, despite being extremely well executed and listenable, sounds like the work of a guy just killing time until the phone rings and Skid Row welcomes him back into their loving arms to relive that fateful summer of '89.

More interesting than this album could ever be is how that singular blast of success 25 years ago continues to fuel the dwindling careers of all involved.


Eels - The Cautionary Tales Of Mark Oliver Everett

Speaking of dwindling careers... on their eleventh studio album, eels (aka Mark Everett and current collaborators Koool G Murder, The Chet, P-Boo and Knuckles) continue to mine the very same dark and brooding musical and thematic territory Everett has explored since the group's 1996 debut album, Beautiful Freak.

As genius as that album may have been 18 years ago, juxtaposing tormented lyrics against upbeat alt rock soundscapes, the resulting ten albums of music that have followed have revealed that initial album to be a bit of a trojan horse, for nothing he or the band have done since has come close to capturing that same magic.

Sure, there have been flashes of brilliance, but the formula of shockingly direct lyrics set against a minimal piano part is in need of a serious overhaul.

That's not to say Cautionary Tales is a bad album, which it most certainly is not, but it's not as good as it could have been.  Taking a page from the Jeff Tweedy Guide to Career Longevity, E initially recorded the album a couple years ago, put it on the shelf, and then yanked all the songs off of it that sounded like potential singles before releasing it.

That's all fine and good, but as enjoyable as this trip may have been on 1998's Electroshock Blues, even the deluxe 2-CD edition of this album yields any surprises.  It's not so much depressing to find that Everett himself is still depressed, or morose, or world-weary, or whatever term you wish to use, but that he has gotten predictable.

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