It’s time for some new music, as entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out recent releases from emo-rapper Lil Peep, stadium rockers Muse, Sydney singer-songwriter Karen Craigie and the soundtrack from A Star is Born.
Posthumous release or Shameless Cash-in?
Lil Peep: Come Over When You’re Sober (Part 2)
There are a lot of similarities between Lil Peep and Post Malone, who was recently named favourite male pop/rock artist of 2018 at the American Music Awards. Both artists could be fairly classified as emo rap, both frequently reference drug use and rap in a blurry, stoned drawl, and both have ill-considered facial tattoos. The only real difference is that Post Malone is alive (as of the time of writing) and Lil Peep is not.
Lil Peep died of a Fentanyl overdose (the same drug that killed Prince, Tom Petty and Mac Miller) on 15 November 2017, which makes this a posthumous release. Fortunately, it seems he recorded most of the songs on Come Over When You’re Sober pt 2 before he died, so this isn’t a Jimi Hendrix style cash-in of an album. In fact, it’s a worthy companion to COWYS part 1, in that it continues the themes of drug abuse, alienation and self-loathing, with almost every track foreshadowing Peep’s untimely passing.
Much like Part 1, it takes a few spins to really appreciate Part 2. On first pass, some of the tracks are almost unlistenable in their sloppiness, but after a couple more plays they start to reveal hidden depths. Peep liked to start his tracks with half a minute or so of seemingly random noise, slowly coalescing into something resembling a fever dream. I would imagine that these songs would have even more resonance to those who regularly partake in mind-altering substances.
To be fair, there is a good chance that most readers will find COWYS Part 2 either baffling or offensively awful, but for those open to experimenting with new things, you might find something to like.
Standout tracks: Broken Smile, Cry Alone, Life is Beautiful
Sample lyric: “I was trying to die last night, survived suicide last night.” (Leanin’)
Verdict: 7/10 — still a great loss to music, as well as an object lesson for those who think they’re indestructible.
Soundtrack of the Week
A Star is Born: Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga
A few weeks ago I reviewed A Star is Born and I called it ‘a superb movie, capturing the heart of rock ‘n roll’. After watching the movie, I immediately started streaming the soundtrack and have probably listened to it a dozen times or more over the ensuing period. Or, should I say, I have listened to some parts of the soundtrack. Let me explain…
Spoken word interludes have long been a pet peeve of mine. Sure, they provide context to the musical tracks around them, but unless you’ve got the memory of that bloke from Memento, then you won’t have any problem remembering the context of the song. So I deleted those, satisfied that I wouldn’t be losing much skipping the parking lot conversation, emotional as it is in context.
Without the talking, this album starts out with a literal bang, with the Bradley Cooper track Black Eyes tearing out through the speakers and setting the room on fire. This is not just one of the best rock songs from a musical, this is one of the best rock songs of the past five years, period. Cooper has an amazing voice, and a performance style that recalls Eddie Vedder — perhaps unsurprising considering the actor spent almost a week with the Pearl Jam singer, only to receive the advice “Bro, don’t do that” when Cooper told him he was remaking A Star is Born.
There is no doubt that Lady Gaga is a supremely talented performer and singer, but a couple of the tracks on this album suffer from the character she is playing – an artist who is still finding her voice. This is particularly true of Music to My Eyes, a particularly twee little number that started to grate on my ears after the third listen. Still, it’s bookended by two great songs, the Cooper stomp Diggin’ My Grave and the stunning duet Shallow, the centerpiece of the movie.
It’s amusing that even the tracks that are meant to be bad are pretty damn listenable, notably Gaga tracks Is That Alright? and Why Did You Do That. She may be playing a pop star on the rise, but Lady Gaga can do in her sleep what some artists work for a lifetime to achieve.
Standout tracks: Black Eyes, Shallow, Maybe It’s Time, Always Remember Us this Way
Sample lyric: “I’m off the deep end, watch as I dive in, I’ll never meet the ground.” (Shallow)
Verdict: 8/10 — even better once you cut out the filler.
New Album from an Old Artist
Muse – Simulation Theory
I have something of a love/hate relationship with Muse. On the love side, they’ve made some great rock songs over the years, particularly the awesome Knights of Cydonia, but they’re also prone to the worst excesses of the genre. Clearly inspired by the music of Queen and the stage presence of Freddie Mercury, Muse shoot for rock grandeur, but often end up in the realm of self-indulgence and near-parody.
With a neon-drenched cover reminiscent of Stranger Things (designed by artist Kyle Lambert), Simulation Theory kicks off with the synth-soaked Algorithm and it briefly seems that Muse are going to make an entire album dedicated to the decade that fashion forgot. To be honest, I would be interested to hear that album, or at least more interested than I am in ever listening to Simulation Theory again.
Something of a concept album, Simulation Theory posits that reality is just a simulation, which would have been an original idea 20 or so years ago, but now sounds like the band just watched The Matrix while high. Fortunately, a couple of tracks diverge from this theme, including Dig Down — a pretty decent song written following the chaos of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. It’s interesting to note that the album title is based on a quote by evolutionary biologist and old white man Richard Dawkins — a man so out of touch that he’s been decried by most of the atheist community for his outdated views and rampant sexism.
The best thing about this album is the music videos made to accompany it. Riffing on '80s genre classics including Teen Wolf and Thriller, the videos show far more humour and creativity than appears on the album. I have no doubt that true Muse fans will find something to like, but for a casual listener, Simulation Theory leaves me cold.
Standout tracks: Pressure, Dig Down
Sample lyric: “You ate my soul just like a Death Eater.” (Propaganda, apparently sung by Cookie Monster)
Verdict: 3/10 — pretentious and overblown.
Ch-check it Out
Karen Craigie: Mountains of Gold
Sydney-based singer-songwriter Karen Craigie started writing and performing her own songs when she was a child, but started out in the music business on the other side of the fence. After working for street press paper Drum Media, Craigie got a job at Laughing Outlaw Records, rapidly rising to label manager and working with iconic Australian bands like the New Christs. But she wanted more.
Mountains of Gold is Cragie’s third album, but the first that she has released under her own name. Recorded at Love Hz Studio with producer Matt Fell, the album covers a lot of ground musically, built on a base of country, but including folk, rock and blues influences. This transition from behind the scenes songwriter to front-woman seems to have come at the perfect time, as Karen Craigie definitely has a voice that needs to be heard.
Disarmingly honest, Mountains of Gold covers all of the usual alt-country bases, including broken relationships (Little Heartbreaker), the outlaw lifestyle (Lonely Town) and never giving up (Till It Gets Done). On the other hand, the importance of family shines through, notably on the track Bottom Line, co-written with her son.
In addition to performing, Karen Craigie is the founder of Australian charity Prosper, established to support disadvantaged children and their families. She has also worked extensively with child abuse protection services and international charities, such as Welcome to my Yard, helping out at-risk young people in Nepal. Suffice to say, Karen Craigie is an awesome human being and an impressive singer-songwriter — well worth checking out for fans of country music.
Standout tracks: Lonely Town, Till It Gets Done
Sample lyric: “And it’s been so long that every tear feels wrong.” (Lonely Town)
Verdict: 7/10 — perfect for a long drive in the country.
Books by John Turnbull are available on Amazon and Kindle, including 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 paperback in the IA store HERE (free postage).
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