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Recent album review #1
Bic Runga - Birds (2005)

For her third studio album Runga has once again changed direction completely, reinventing herself almost as a Jazz singer. For after the bright and effervescent hooky pop of Beautiful Collision, Birds is hushed and sombre. It's a eulogy to her father, whose passing provided the stimulus and emotional backdrop to these songs.

Runga's backing band is a remarkable collective of New Zealand musicians - the album's principal musical contributor is Neil Finn, in an unfamiliar role as pianist, whose playing is surprisingly subtle and nuanced. Trinity Roots' Rikki Gooch demonstrates that he's one of the most gifted drummers in the country, while Shayne Carter and Anika Moa guest on backing vocals.

While Birds certainly works on an emotional level, and its ambitious nature and new direction helps to confirm Runga's status as a major musical force in New Zealand, it's also slightly light on musical ideas, and simply isn't as engaging as Beautiful Collision. Whilst such a comparison may seem unfair, since it's to be expected that a straight-out pop album like Beautiful Collision would be more accessible than the darker Birds, this record could nevertheless certainly use more hooks in a few places.

That observation doesn't apply to the opening single though, the excellent "Winning Arrow", whose bright country sheen feels at odds with the rest of the album, like it's a warranted concession to commerciality. Elsewhere, Runga is able to produce some great songs in her new found jazz/pop vein, where she's covering ground more akin to the piano-and-vocal jazz of Nina Simone more than say, Joni Mitchell's more pop-oriented jazziness on Court and Spark.

The surging and dramatic "If I Had You" is a great example of the potential this project has, with a memorable call-and-response chorus, while the dramatic sighs of the closing "It's Over" also demonstrate dynamics that the rest of the album sometimes lacks.

Elsewhere, Birds is eloquent and elegant, but because it's hard to get a grasp on the individual songs, they do tend to meld together more than they should. So - although an ambitious album, and a successful attempt at what is an entirely new genre for Runga - it's not the tour-de-force it could've been. It serves more as beautiful background music, mainly because it doesn't command the listener's full attention in the way it should.

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by Reviewer: Fyfeopedia

Posted: Wednesday 1st Jul 2015 1:32 PM

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Recent album review #2
Kiss - Love Gun (1977)

Love Gun sounds as if Kiss had taken a hard look at their discography and realized that their biggest hit so far had been “Rock and Roll All Nite”. Then armed with that knowledge, they decided to craft an entire album filled with crap like that.

Yet - in my review of Dressed to Kill - I said I liked that song. It was catchy party-time pop-trash. And didn't I just say in my review of Rock and Roll Over that the band's talent was ROCKING? Didn't Kiss even bother to read that review? (OK, I wrote the review 35 years after its release, but I like to think that my reviews transcend time and space). So what gives?

I'm not moaning by the way, because I happen to think that Love Gun is pretty good as far as trashy pop albums go. I can't say I'm too thrilled about it however, because Kiss would stick with this sort of cheez-pop nonsense for pretty much the remainder of their career. Especially by the time the 80's rolled round.

“Tomorrow and Tonight!” is an excellent “Rock and Roll All Nite” clone! I know that's not usually considered the best song on Love Gun by fans of the album, but I have a crapload of fun with it. It has one of the dumbest melodies I've ever heard, with a sort of drunken singalong chorus, so it's clear Kiss were completely unconcerned about how corny their music sounded - I mean, that's a song for Saturday morning cartoons if there ever was one. But for some reason when I listen to it, it's like I don't want to fold my arms and scowl in dark corners at Kiss anymore - it's so silly and energetic I sort of want to join in with everyone else.

The title track is probably the song Kiss fans love the most. According to Wikipedia, Kiss has played that song on every tour they've made ever since it was written. Now I don't find that song as memorable as say “Cold Gin” or “Detroit Rock City”, but it's still a lot of fun. Kiss really perfected their showman style here - the guitars are vicious and snarling, and Paul Stanley is singing his heart out in the flashiest way imaginable. I mean, if I read that the lead singer from Survivor fashioned his career on Paul Stanley's vocal performance here, I'd believe it.

“Got Love for Sale” is a fun chug-rocker with some playful Muppet-vocals from Gene Simmons, though I wish they hadn't replaced the heavy guitars of their previous two albums with the bubbly pop guitars on display on this one, but at least they're fast-paced! And “Almost Human” is easily one of the best songs, with its menacing rhythm and teeth-scraping electric guitar solo from Ace Frehley in the final third.

Speaking of Frehley, he's probably the most musically-talented member of the bunch, except - evidently - when it came to singing. For the first time in Kiss' history, he takes lead vocals for “Shock Me”, and he's really underwhelming - he makes Peter Criss and his bad Rod Stewart impersonation sound like music. And to be frank, his song isn't too great either.

I'm also not a huge fan of “Plaster Caster”, though I believe it's a fan favorite. Truth be told, it's a decent rocker as far as Kiss rockers go, but it's kind of boring - a bit more adrenaline would've gone a long way there! Easily the worst song of the bunch though is “Christine Sixteen”, which has one of the cheesiest uses of a piano I've ever heard. The actual cheesiest use of piano I've ever heard was in the Muppet Babies segment in The Muppets Take Manhattan - that song wasn't even fit for a Knack album.

But anyway, Love Gun might be a terrible album, but I still enjoy listening to it. For sure, I don't like it as much as Rock and Roll Over or Destroyer, because it doesn't rock as much. But why did Kiss decide to favor pop-rock over Hard Rock? As much as I like pop music, at the end of the day I'd rather hear Kiss do a bunch of “Detroit Rock City” clones over “Rock and Roll All Nite” clones.

[Footnote: Don Ignacio's Blog supplements this Review with a bonus track-by-track commentary]

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by Reviewer: Don Ignacio

Posted: Wednesday 1st Jul 2015 1:45 PM

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