New Music Through Old Ears: Madden Marooned with Adams & U2

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Entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out new music from troubled troubadour Ryan Adams, pop rockers Maroon 5, the new ‘free’ album from U2 and some absolute rubbish from the Madden Brothers.

New Album by an Old Artist

Ryan Adams: Ryan Adams

You might remember Ryan Adams from his solo albums, his time with Whiskeytown or the Cardinals, side projects under pseudonyms like The Finger or Werewolph, or most likely from tantrums like storming off stage when people request Summer of ’69

He’s a complex character with little time for record companies, often choosing instead to release new tracks as he records them via his website.  After forging a reputation as a somewhat difficult character with alt-country band Whiskeytown, Adams went solo and released the albums Heartbreaker and Gold, attracting significant critical acclaim and a worldwide fan base.

Heated disagreements about artistic direction and commercial appeal with distributor Lost Highway Records led to a series of good but not great albums including Demolition, Rock ‘n Roll and Love is Hell parts 1 and 2, containing what may be Adam’s most recognisable song, a cover of Oasis’ Wonderwall.

After threatening to implode under the pressure of being himself, Adams took a side step and recorded a handful of albums with The Cardinals, which included a duet with Norah Jones called Dear John.

After splitting with Adams, the Cardinals went on to record albums with Kiwi songstress Gin Wigmore and hemp enthusiast Willie Nelson, who were probably both a lot more fun than Ryan Adams.

Clearly not giving a crap about what people think of him, Adams spent the next few years tinkering with new music on his website and producing music for bands like Fall Out Boy. He got married to former pop starlet Mandy Moore (remember her?) and did the odd bit of charity work. So it was somewhat of a surprise when he announced that he was releasing a new album in 2014.

As could be expected, the album is filled with biting lyrics as Adams lashes out at the peccadillos of the modern world. Sonically, it’s more of the same alt-country rock with tinges of metal and blues.

Ryan Adams (the album, not the singer) reflects an artist who has become a little more comfortable in his own skin, but still isn’t ready to buy into the corporate version of himself that lurks beyond the mirror.

Best tracks: Gimme Something Good, Trouble, My Wrecking Ball

Sample lyric: ‘I wish I could call you, I wish you were still around.’ (My Wrecking Ball)

Verdict: 7/10 — former angry young man is no longer young, but still angry.

New Album by an Old Artist

Maroon 5: V

Like a modern-day Hanson or a less Canadian Nickelback, Maroon 5 are one of those bands that it’s cool to hate.

Formed out of the ashes of high school band Kara’s Flowers, Maroon 5 released debut album Songs About Jane in 2002. Single Harder to Breathe was put on high rotation on rock radio and has only recently been taken off.

A strategy of touring relentlessly paid off, as Songs About Jane continued to shift units and the band’s profile continued to grow. They won Best New Artist at the 2005 Grammy Awards, then released their second album It Won’t Be Soon Before Long in 2007.

While this release sold well, it was 2010’s Hands All Over that really broke big, led by the catchy single Moves Like Jagger.

This single alone sold over 14 million copies worldwide and the attention pushed Adam Levine onto the cover of gossip rags around the world. One week he’s dating Jessica Simpson, the next he’s going into rehab. It was all rather tiresome.

Musically, V sounds exactly like a Maroon 5 album. It’s well produced, vaguely catchy pop-rock that will probably sell millions off the back of a clever music video. There’s nothing surprising, off-putting or challenging here, but not every album needs to reinvent the wheel…

Best tracks: Maps, Unkiss Me

Sample lyric: ‘You can’t have a fire if the candle’s melted.’ (Unkiss Me)

Verdict: 5/10 — A Maroon 5 record made by a band quite good at making Maroon 5 records.

Album I Expect to Suck

The Madden Brothers: Greetings From California

What the hell was I thinking?

Standing in JB HiFi, looking at the new release rack, I saw my hand reach out and pick up the Madden Brothers debut album, Greetings from California. Rather than put it down like any sensible person would, I then proceeded to the cash register and actually bought the CD.

It was the moment that the first track started playing on my car stereo that I realised my enormous mistake — this was no album to be listened to once and dismissed with casual snark. No, this may well be one of the worst albums of all time.  

Backing up for a moment, if you are one of the people who are fortunate enough not to know who the Madden Brothers are, then you’re probably better off not knowing. The heavily tattooed siblings first rose to fame as leaders of the faux-punk band Good Charlotte. Hits like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous and The Anthem attracted the band a solid following of teenage girls, but most listeners dismissed the band as poseurs.

After releasing five studio albums and a couple of compilation discs, Good Charlotte went on hiatus and the Madden brothers concentrated on becoming celebrities.

Joel Madden married former reality trainwreck Nicole Richie and became a judge on The Voice Australia, while Benji challenged himself with celebrity boxing and dated Cameron Diaz. He also had a hand in writing that grating Amnesia song for Aussie boy band 5 Seconds of Summer.

Perhaps guided by Satan himself, the brothers chose to get back together and release an album of truly horrible middle-of-the-road pop music.

First single, We Are Done is by far the best song on the album, but that isn’t saying much. Follow-up, Dear Jane is comically bad, throwing in every relationship cliché in the book.

Almost inconceivably, the experience just gets worse from there. California Rain is a ham-fisted attempt to ape the Beach Boys, while Brixton starts out with some ill-advised multi-part harmonies before becoming some sort of 80’s bubblegum pop tribute…

Best tracks: Nope

Sample lyric: ‘We don’t got a lot to say.’ (Brixton)

Verdict: 0/10 — too offensive to even use as a drink coaster

Ch-check It Out…

U2: Songs of Innocence

You’ve all heard of U2, right?

Formed in Ireland way back in 1976, U2 have released 13 studio albums, raised millions of dollars for various charities and retained their original line-up longer than almost any other band in history.

Frontman Paul Hewson (who adopted the name Bono as a tribute to Cher’s late ex-husband) is somewhat of a polarising factor. For every person who sees him as a creative genius (hi Kelly) there are two others who think he’s a pretentious wanker who hasn’t made a decent album since the 1980s.

The decision to partner with Apple and release Songs of Innocence directly into everyone’s iTunes feed has been discussed extensively by people far more angry and opinionated than myself, so I’m going to focus on the music.

Despite what hipsters and most of the Internet would have you believe, it’s not the worst album ever released. It’s not even the worst U2 album ever released. It’s just… a bit generic.

For a band who produced songs like Sunday Bloody Sunday and Pride, tracks like The Miracle (of Joey Ramone) just sound like advertising jingles.

From an instrumental perspective, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr remain one of the tightest rhythm sections around, while David Evans AKA The Edge seems to have taken a leaf from Tom Morello’s book in trying to get interesting sounds out of his guitar.

After listening to Songs of Innocence, I certainly knew I had listened to a U2 album, but the only track that stuck in my mind was The Troubles, the final track on the album and the only one not sung exclusively by Bono. Swedish artist Lykke Li adds a layer of ethereal beauty that makes the track resonate long after the rest of the album fades into the shadows of memory.

Best tracks: The Troubles, Raised by Wolves   

Sample lyric: ‘There are some girls with a needle trying to spell my name.’ (Raised by Wolves)

Verdict: 6/10 — only for fans of U2 and people who can’t work out how to delete it from their iTunes playlists

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