It’s time for some new music, as entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out recent releases from pop queen Pink, Finnish prog-rockers Von Hertzen Brothers, schlock master Marilyn Manson and blues supergroup Supersonic Blues Machine.
New Album from an Old Artist
P!nk: Beautiful Trauma
Even if you don’t care for Pink’s music, you’d be hard pressed not to admire her.
After getting her start in a little-known R&B girl band called Choice back in 1995, Pink released her debut solo album Can’t Take Me Home in 2000 and hasn’t looked back since. She won Best New Pop Artist at the Billboard awards the same year, won a Grammy two years later for Lady Marmalade, won another Grammy in 2004 and was named Woman of the Year by Billboard in 2013. She also sold a crapload of albums along the way.
Outside the musical arena, Pink has fought for women’s rights, made an awesome speech to her daughter (and by extension all young girls) and supported a plethora of animal rights causes, including PETA, which led to a rare misstep of criticizing mulesing without really understanding the alternative. It’s probably safe to say that Pink cares.
On first listen, new release Beautiful Trauma is excellent. There is a huge amount of variety on the album, ranging from pop and gospel to blues and hard rock, yet it still sounds like one coherent narrative. Thematically, Beautiful Trauma moves from regret and melancholy through anger to joy and celebration, all wrapped up in an immaculately produced package. Oh, and it also has Eminem.
There are artists in every generation who are timeless. Elvis Presley. Aretha Franklin. The Beatles. Pink is one of those artists. In 50 years, when Justin Bieber is the answer to a trivia question, songs from Beautiful Trauma will still be playing on the radio, or whatever brain implant replaces radio between now and then.
Standout tracks: Revenge, Barbies, I Am Here, What About Us
Sample lyric: “And I lock every single door, and I look behind me even more.” (Barbies)
Verdict: 9/10 — damn near a masterpiece.
New Album from an Old Artist
Von Hertzen Brothers: War is Over
Formed in Nordic paradise Finland in 2000, Von Hertzen Brothers are made up of siblings Mikko (vocals and guitar), Kie (guitar and backing vocals) and Jonne (bass) along with non-relatives Sami Kuoppamäki (drums) and Juha Kuppala (keyboard).
The band released their independently produced debut album Experience in 2001, then spent the next few years touring and honing their sound.
Sophomore album Approach was released in 2006, attracting critical acclaim and winning the Finnish version of a Grammy with the Best Rock Album of the Year at the Emma-gaala. Driven by singles including Let Thy Will Be Done and Disciple of the Sun, the album established the band as a leader in new Scandinavian progressive rock.
For a hard rock band, Von Hertzen Brothers have a lot of depth to their lyrics, due in part to the seven years that songwriter Mikko spent in an Ashram in India. Studying under guru Amma, also known as "the Hugging Saint", Mikko developed a view of the world very different from many of his contemporaries, less concerned with girls and cars than finding his spiritual centre. This attitude resonates across War is Over, a sweeping album questioning what humanity are doing to ourselves and our planet.
After playing together for 17 years, War is Over finds Von Hertzen Brothers tight as a drum, a highly nimble yet destructive beast with lyrics about transcendentalism and war.
Standout tracks: The Arsonist, Jerusalem
Sample lyric: “You been hiding in a world of lies.” (The Arsonist)
Verdict: 7/10 — progressive rock without the 10 minute guitar solos.
Album I Expect to Suck
Marilyn Manson: Heaven Upside Down
For one reason or another, a lot of people don’t like Marilyn Manson. For some, it’s his stance on gun control, for others his objectification of women. For me, it was simply a matter of diminishing returns. The man born Brian Warner has released a handful of catchy songs in his 28 years performing, including Beautiful People and cover versions of Tainted Love and Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This), but has been spinning his wheels musically since he got rid of the fake breasts.
It’s that last comment that typifies Marilyn Manson — he’s better remembered for the various personas he has adopted than for his music.
There was the Antichrist Superstar phase, when Manson hung out with Anton LaVey, the androgynous Mechanical Animals bit with the fake boobs, and the time when he dated Dita Von Teese and became a sort of burlesque boyfriend accessory. While other artists such as David Bowie and Alice Cooper have embraced larger-than-life personas, this never felt forced and was secondary to the music; it doesn’t matter whether Alice is holding a giant snake or not, Welcome to my Nightmare is a great song either way.
As you may have picked up from the title, Heaven Upside Down is more of the same from Marilyn Manson. There are songs about murder, social alienation and the impending apocalypse, all wrapped up in a juvenile "look how edgy I am" package. The occasional track raises a smile due to the sheer cheesiness of the attacks on religion – Jesus Crisis comes to mind – but overall this is more sludgy industrial metal with a touch of electronica for the kids.
It is somewhat unfortunate that Manson chooses to shock rather than engage in debate, as he has proven to be a well-spoken and balanced commentator when he chooses, but I suppose there’s more money in pretending to sacrifice virgins than debating gun control with Republicans.
Standout tracks: Jesus Crisis, We Know Where You Fucking Live
Sample lyric: “Cash a poor man’s money.” (Say10)
Verdict: 3/10 — he’s not the messiah, he’s a very naughty boy.
Ch-check It Out…
Supersonic Blues Machine: Californisoul
If bands can be measured by the star power of their players, Supersonic Blues Machine is the equivalent of that U.S. Olympic Basketball team that had Michael Jordan in it. Featuring guitarists including Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top, Steve Lukather from Toto, Eric Gales, Robben Ford and Walter Trout, the band is led by singer/guitarist Lance Lopez and rounded out by bassist/producer Fabrizio Grossi and drummer Kenny Arnoff.
From opening track Am I Done Missing You, Lopez and his ever-shifting band of players put together a groove that carries through the subsequent dozen tracks. Even on tracks without big-name guest stars, the guitar licks on Californisoul are top class and should satisfy any fan of the Blues.
Californisoul sounds a little like an album out of its time and wouldn’t be out of place playing from the speakers of a combi van on the way to Woodstock. Most of the songs follow the same sort of laidback groove, and if you’re a fan of masterfully played Blues licks then you’ll probably find something here that you’ll like.
Standout tracks: Broken Heart, Somebody’s Fool
Sample lyric: “What’s wrong is all you, what’s wrong is my blues.” (What’s Wrong)
Verdict: 7/10 — groovy, man.
Books by John Turnbull are now available on Amazon and Kindle. There’s supernatural thriller, Damnation’s Flame; action/romance, Reaper; black comedy, City Boy; and travel guidebook, Bar Trek: Europe. Damnation's Flame by John Turnbull is also available in the IA store HERE. (Free postage!)
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