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Riffs, Rants & Rumors: 2011 in the Rearview Mirror

You didn’t think RR&R would torture you with anything as tedious as another year-end Best-of list, did you? Granted, we do have a piece in the works that will inform you of some excellent albums you might have missed along the way, but that’s as close as we’re willing to get. Instead, this time around we’ll simply take stock of both the magic moments and the missteps that the last twelve months have brought us—works that delivered delight and dismay in equal measure.

Old Punks Never Die


Wire – Red Barked Tree

As the original post-punk outfit, Wire has always lived or died by how well they balanced their arty side with their edgy side. Their discography isn’t without its share of miscalculations in that area, but thirty-four years down the line from their debut album, this one is right on the money.

Gang of Four – Content

The Gang were right on the heels of Wire in first-gen U.K. post-punk, and were just as groundbreaking, but their twenty-first century revitalization has been marred by some dodgy moves. First they re-recorded a batch of their classics on 2005′s Return the Gift, and then they made matters worse with this irksome outing, which is considerably more annoying than the output of the worst third-hand Go4 copyists.

Social Distortion  - Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes

True survivors, old-school SoCal punks Social Distortion have been through every rock & roll tribulation—death, drugs, you name it (How did VH1′s Behind the Music miss these guys?)—but not only are they still going strong, they added some extra bluesy swing and Stonesy swagger to their latest.
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Liam Gallagher And Odd Future: A Match Made In Blog Quote Heaven

Let it be known that this might be the only time one of the Gallaghers and Odd Future share headline space.

Liam Gallagher, to the surprise of no one,  has been in the news recently for propensity for making outlandish statements. Whether he’s blasting Radiohead, defying the Strokes, ripping on Jay-Z’s clothing line or dissing Twitter, the younger Gallagher is still railing on like he has been for years. In fact, it would be fair to say that what Twitter is to communication Liam Gallagher is to baseless verbal attacks. And while Noel was historically the more ranty of the brothers, it seems like Liam has been picking up the slack for him in the past few months.

However, there has been one recent development for Gallagher that sets his most recent clump of remarks apart from his more historic comments and that is that Liam Gallagher is losing his relevancy. That’s not to say that Beady Eye’s new record hasn’t been a moderate success in both commercial and critical terms but it’s no (What’s The Story) Morning Glory. He’s ranting at the same pace he has for years but his level of contemporary distinction has been shrinking, not growing. How is he still able to get away with this? More on that in a minute, but let’s take a look at a group which is also known for their controversial statements.

Kids, let’s rap about Odd Future for a minute.

In case you’re not familiar with shock rap wunderkinds Odd Future you can familiarize yourself with the group here, or here, or here, or here or if reading’s not your thing, watch their infamous Jimmy Fallon performance, their first real taste of the mainstream spotlight.

We still have you? Good. Group ringleader Tyler, the Creator has been the center of the spotlight during the group’s rise to prominence and the kid has a bit of a mouth on him. Like a young Eminem, his raps consist of clever wordplay and pop culture references mixed in with dashes of ultra violence, absurdity and the occasionally heartbreaking confessional.  His Twitter is comedic gold and probably the main source of the quotable Tyler outside of his incredibly explicit songs. Despite being so green as a rapper, Tyler has even played out his first feud!

In his lead single “Yonkers” off upcoming album Goblin Tyler states his intention to “crash that f***** airplane that that f***** n***** B.o.B is in and stab Bruno Mars in his g****** esophagus”. Two weeks later, B.o.B released diss track “No Future” aimed at the OF kids. At least we assume so because B.o.B never mentions Tyler or the group by name instead claiming that whoever the intended target of his rhyme is”They keep f***** with me, they ain’t gonna have no future”. Tyler’s response?

Let’s compare and contrast. An aging rock star writes his pop songs but uses his public persona as a pulpit to take pot shots at his chosen targets, of which there are many. A young rapper known for his confrontational and controversial lyrics in his songs but comes off as a fairly amicable human being. One has seen his glory days and is waning and the other is surging, just beginning an exciting career. Neither one of these guys is speaking very softly, but it should be clear who’s carrying the bigger stick.

Riffs, Rants & Rumors: Beady Eye Finds Life After Oasis

Fame is seldom more of a double-edged sword than when you’re trying to sneak your way around it. Such is the dilemma faced by Beady Eye, the band that was created when the chronically fractious relationship between Oasis’s battling siblings Liam and Noel Gallagher finally imploded for good in 2009. Beady Eye is basically Oasis minus frontman Liam, and try as they might, it seems highly unlikely that they’ll be viewed otherwise. On some level, that’s fair. Noel was, after all, the main songwriter in Oasis, and beyond coming up with a different name—which was probably a legal necessity—he hasn’t exactly gone out of his way to distance himself from that legacy, continuing on with the same musicians and remaining in the same general Britpop bag. He’s even abandoned the guitar so he can stand out front, bent over at the waist, with his hands behind his back a la Liam.

On the other hand— the one that’s held out in a futile attempt to stop the British press’s ludicrous comparisons between Beady Eye’s debut, Different Gear, Still Speeding, and early Oasis—this is not Oasis, anymore than, say, New Order was Joy Division after Ian Curtis departed this mortal vale. The one thing both Gallagher brothers might conceivably agree on is the fact that Oasis can’t exist without both of them. And while few new indie bands—Different Gear is out on the band’s own label in the UK and the small Dangerbird imprint stateside—without Beady Eye’s pedigree would get as much attention, even fewer would face as many lofty expectations and harsh comparisons.

Whichever side of the question you come down on, in the end there’s really only one salient question to be asked: What does the album sound like? Well, it should surprise no one on either side to learn that it’s no Definitely Maybe or (What’s the Story) Morning Glory, but it’s also considerably more fun than Oasis’s swan song, Dig Out Your Soul, and on its own merits it’s not half bad. Without the Oasis name hanging over his head—in theory, at least—it’s possible for Noel to leave some of the baggage behind. He no longer sounds like he’s trying to maintain the title of England’s Greatest Band; when he sings “I just wanna rock & roll” on “Beatles & Stones” (ironically one of the album’s least Beatlesque tracks), it’s easy to believe him. While there are plenty of undeniable Oasis touches here and there, Different Gear feels lighter, capable of achieving higher velocity with less fuel intake; in other words, the rockers have some roll to them for a change, and it seems like Noel and company are actually having fun.

The pop hooks that have always been a mainstay of Gallagher’s trickbag get more breathing room as well. Steve Lilywhite’s work here serves as a reminder that the super-producer was at the helm of The La’s legendary debut album, widely regarded as one of the greatest power-pop records of the ‘90s, not to mention later releases by similarly sparkling popsters such as Crowded House and Guster. “For Anyone” is a perfect, breezy, two-minute pop gem that would have been right at home on The La’s lone album, while “Kill For a Dream” could have found it’s own room in a Crowded House. That said, Different Gear is no slamdunk; the Beatles reference points that pop up throughout the album seem almost obligatory at this point, while the glam-rock side of Noel’s influences bears less fruit than his poppier inspirations. And while a fair amount of Oasis-esque fat has been trimmed away, the tendency to repeat the chorus ad infinitum at the end of a song remains an annoying habit.

All in all, though, there’s more to be said for the album than many are likely to admit. In terms of Different Gear’s eventual reception, the US never really got the Gallaghers to begin with, so it’s unlikely that they’ll start now, and the three singles released in advance of the album in the UK didn’t exactly set the charts aflame. If England’s uncertain response thus far is an honest reaction to the music itself, that’s one thing; if it’s born of an insistence upon Beady Eye living up to past glories that even Oasis itself could no longer manage, then Noel—for perhaps the first time in his high-flying career— is being shortchanged.

 


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