More than twenty-five years after Bruce Springsteen released his first album comes Tracks, a four disc, 66-song, boxed set comprised of primarily unreleased recordings. From the beginning, Springsteen's audiences were treated to an experience that boasted a mixture of influences and transcended what they thought rock and roll was supposed to be. Tracks is no different.
Springsteen's raw talent and boundless energy comes shining through with unrelenting luster. Rare demo recordings offer new takes on old favorites, but the new songs allow Bruce's passion and ambition to come to life with merciless power and infinite beauty. Stories of every type come to life in a non-stop rock tour de force that mirrors the grand recklessness of his raucous live shows while at the same time retaining the emotion of a man seeking solace and understanding.
There are outstanding tracks throughout the first three discs with rarely any need to skip to the next song. Cuts like "Roulette," "Pink Cadillac," and "Seaside Bar Song" remind you just how hard Springsteen can rock while others like "Man at the Top," "Rockaway the Days," and "Two for the Road" show definite country influence.
The fourth disc is almost strictly for hard-core fans, containing very little that stands out other than "Sad Eyes." But it seems easy to let that fourth disc slide, especially when almost every song on the other discs changes your idea of what a great rock and roll song can accomplish. -Chris Webb
Big Head Todd & the Monsters
Over a decade-long career, Big Head Todd and the Monsters have been known first and foremost as a touring band. So it seems logical that the trio, fronted by guitarist/singer Todd Park Mohr, would get around to doing a live CD.
On a musical level, though, the need for a live record from this Colorado trio, is a bit less convincing. It's not that Big Head Todd are not a good live act.
But Mohr and his bandmates, drummer Brian Nevin and bassist Rob Squires, have never been a band to reinvent their songs live. Unlike artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Midnight Oil, the Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers or Phish-artists whose live performances are so energized or whose songs take substantially different forms on the concert stage-Big Head Todd have played things fairly close to the vest in concert.
That's why live music from the Springsteens, Deads and Allmans of the world has been essential to having a complete picture of their artistry. For a band like Big Head Todd, a live record is basically a luxury for the listener.
That's not to say, though, that the new Big Head Todd concert CD, Live Monsters, isn't enjoyable. The 16-song single CD set includes most of the band's best songs, drawn largely from shows in October 1997-although three songs, "Poor Miss," "Vincent Of Jersey" and "The Leaving Song," date back to a December 1995 Denver show.
By and large, the band is in fine form on these tracks, delivering tight, potent performances of such crowd favorites as "Broken Hearted Savior," "Resignation Superman," "Turn The Light Out" and "Circle."
Only on a few tracks, though, does the band truly take their music to a new level. An extended version of "Bittersweet," featuring some fine guitar work from Mohr, is one such highlight. A couple of tracks that make good use of singer Hazel Miller -"It's Alright" and "Sister Sweetly" -are also standouts.
But mostly, what Live Monsters suggests is that Big Head Todd have done a fine job nailing their songs in the studio. Die-hard fans of the band will surely enjoy this CD, but these live versions don't offer enough new wrinkles to make "Live Monsters" a priority for those who have yet to discover the band's studio albums. -Alan Sculley
Meat beat Manifesto
Actual Sounds + Voices
Dance music sucks and that is why the new CD by Meat Beat Manifesto is so compelling. Electronic veteran and music collage pioneer Jack Dangers, the face behind MBM, has always been very far forward of what can be generically called dance music. He is a true modern rhythmatist, with the ability to build intricately layered songs by adding rhythm on top of rhythm, strange sample on top of sample, sound on top of sound until it all seems about to break . Whether it is obscure clips from his legendary record collection or studio jam sessions featuring Bennie Maupin and Pat Gleeson (past members of Herbie Hancock's group the Headhunters), Jack Dangers assembles his materials, cuts them up, fuses them together and pastes them into a dense new context. With MBM songs it is impossible to tell what is sampled and what is live. It gets all woven together into an audio soup that has a more organic progression than what we expect from electronica.
Actual Sounds + Voices is a world of ideas that pushes digital well beyond the repetitive thumping House mix. Big beat sounds (Prime Audio Soup, Acid again), layered industrial mixes (Where are You/Enuff?? ), smooth jazz/hop jams (The Thumb), questioning ambient soundscape (Wildlife) are all contained in this broad ranging record.
When the Beastie Boys jam in their studio, cut it up, add samples to it, and remix it, it gets called revolutionary, when Jack Dangers does it, it gets called Dance music. Well, we know better. -Jim Shambhu