New Music Through Old Ears: Robbie Gambino, Nickel Magnet

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This week entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out new albums from Monster Magnet, Robbie Williams, Nickelback and Childish Gambino. Wait, who?

New Album by an Old Artist

Monster Magnet: Last Patrol  

Monster Magnet are one of those hard rock bands who have been around forever and could have been as big as Metallica, but somehow never got there. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like they’re in the same category as Anvil, but for as many great songs that Magnet have, most people have never heard of them.

Named after a favourite childhood toy of singer Dave Wyndorf, Monster Magnet got together in 1989 in Red Bank, New Jersey. Early albums could be fairly classified as stoner rock, with early demo Forget About Life, I’m High on Dope leading inevitably to second album Dopes to Infinity.

In 1998, the bad had their biggest hit with the epic Space Lord — still a crucial track on every stoner’s late night mix tape.

Twenty five years and six record labels since getting together, Monster Magnet have released their ninth album Last Patrol. Opening track I Live Behind the Clouds sets the mood, with brooding, rumbling tones, while title track Last Patrol is a nine and a half minute space-rock epic.

First single Mindless Ones gives you a good taste of the rest of the album – if you like heavy rock with overtones of space and psychedelia, this might be the album for you. 

On the other hand, if you’re more into James Blunt and Justin Bieber, then good luck to you Madam. I respectfully suggest that you listen to something else – perhaps even the album below…

Best tracks: Last Patrol, Mindless Ones, One Dead Moon

Sample lyric: ‘I’ve got a ten foot blonde, she’s waiting on the moon.’ (Last Patrol)

Verdict: 8/10 — good old fashioned Psychedelic Garage Space Metal. And who doesn’t love that?

New Album by an Old-Timey Artist

Robbie Williams: Swings Both Ways

Once known as the naughty one from Take That, Robbie Williams would be the most successful ex-member of a boy band if it wasn’t for Justin Timberlake (or Michael Jackson, I suppose).

After getting kicked out of Take That for admitting to liking drugs (or quitting because he was ‘too real’, depending on who you believe) Robbie proceeded to take a lot of drugs, have some hits, get sober, get fat, get back on drugs, go into rehab, record a song with Kylie and become incredibly famous along the way.

Now, verging on forty and getting familiar with middle-age-spread, Robbie Williams has reinvented himself as a lounge singer in the spirit of Frank Sinatra, without the mob connections, or Dean Martin, but without the charm.

I may not be the biggest fan of Swing music, but as a human being with ears I feel qualified to say that Robbie Williams isn’t particularly good at it. Where he should be cool, he’s a douche; when he’s meant to be smooth, he’s smarmy. Despite this, the album has gone to number one in the UK, which goes to show that if people like you then you can get away with just about anything.

Swings Both Ways features collaborations with Lily Allen (about as melodic as usual), Michael Buble (who might even know something about this Swing business) and Rufus Wainwright, with whom Robbie trades single-entendres on the not-nearly-as-charming-as-it-thinks-it-is title track.

Best tracks: No One Likes a Fat Pop Star (just for the insight in the title)

Sample lyric: ‘Turn that smile upside down, happy people don’t have sex.’ (Swings Both Ways)

Verdict: 2/10 — I do not care for this album.

Album I Expect to Suck

Nickelback: The Best of Nickelback, Volume 1

Nickelback lead singer Chad Kroeger is easy to make fun of. He’s earnest, inoffensive and sports a perfectly sculpted rock goatee.

Needless to say, he’s Canadian. He’s also married to Canada’s sweetheart Avril Lavigne, which is her second perfect rock marriage following the first one to Sum 41 mini-punk Deryck Whibley.

There is almost no chance that you don’t know a Nickelback song. With mega smash hits like Photograph, How You Remind Me and Feelin’ Way Too Damn Good, Nickelback have carved out a solid career in making middle-of-the-road music that you wouldn’t admit to liking but probably don’t totally hate.

Nickelback make music to be played at BBQs and at beach parties by drunk people with increasingly low standards, and if that means that they have to release the same song over and over again, then gosh-darn it that’s what they’ll do. Lyrics are simple to the point of being comical, with frequent references to Canada’s favourite pastimes — makin’ love and feelin’ good.

In the 19 years since Nickelback somehow became popular, Kroeger has undergone a weird Benjamin Buttonesque reverse aging. Admittedly he’s very smooth now, but you have to credit him for staying youngish-looking while credible artists like Neil Young and Alice Cooper just give in to the ravages of time.

Somewhat amusingly, Wikipedia place Nickelback in the Post-grunge genre, which also includes bands like Matchbox Twenty, Creed and Foo Fighters

Wait, Foo Fighters? 

One of these things is not like the others…

One last thing: subtitling this album ‘Volume 1’ is wildly optimistic. Even if Nickelback continue their path of moderately-hard-rocking success for another nineteen years, their time in the sun is fading. (Not that I suggest Chad Kroeger spend much time in the sun, lest he melt…)

Best tracks: Animals, Feelin’ Way Too Damn Good, Burn It To The Ground

Sample lyric: ‘We gotta make love just one more time in the shower.’ (Feelin’ Way Too Damn Good)

Verdict: 6/10 — just because it’s stupid and popular doesn’t mean it’s bad, right?

Ch-check it out…

Childish Gambino: Because the Internet

To be honest, up until I picked up this album I had never heard of Childish Gambino. The only reason I checked it out is because I thought that Childish looked a bit like Troy from Community.

It turns out that’s because Childish Gambino is the rap name of actor Donald Glover, standup comedian, writer for 30 Rock and longtime Community cast member. The name Childish Gambino came from one of those online name generators — this one brought to you by the friendly members of the Wu Tang Clan

As a rapper, Childish Gambino is smooth yet not spectacular. His strength lies in his lyrical content, which is intelligent, literate and thought provoking.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, he doesn’t rely on guest stars to boost the commercial appeal of every second track, a choice which speaks volumes for his credibility but probably limits the breakout potential of this album.

Fans of Community (all three of you) will already know that Donald Glover can rhyme, as demonstrated by his character Troy’s stream of consciousness raps with classmate Abed. After four seasons of the comedy, the actor asked to be released from his contract to pursue his musical ambitions — but with Chevy Chase departing from the show after years of infighting, Glover might be getting out at the right time.

In terms of the entirely arbitrary crossover success ranking that I’ve just invented, Childish Gambino (Actor / Rapper) is better than LL Cool J (Rapper / Actor) or Bruce Willis (Actor / Singer?) but not as good as Ice T (Rapper / Actor) or Henry Rollins (Shouter / Actor).

Hipsters and rap purists would probably tell you that Because the Internet lacks honestly, because Gambino didn’t grow up on the streets and hasn’t ‘paid his dues’, but if you take any stock in what hipsters say, then you’re as bad as they are.

Best tracks: WORLDSTAR, Life: The Biggest Troll

Sample lyric: ‘I could have stayed where I was and had a life you’d be proud of.’ (Life: The Biggest Troll)

Verdict: 5/10 — In case you’re interested, my Wu Tang name is X-cessive Knight. Word.

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