New Music Through Old Ears: The Boss Against Stryper, Finn and Kelly

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This week entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out new music from Bruce Springsteen, Against Me!, a collaboration between Paul Kelly and Neil Finn and an album from Christian metal band Stryper. Wow… who would have thought Stryper were still together?

New Album by an Old Artist

Bruce Springsteen: High Hopes

Bruce Springsteen is one of those artists who you have to respect, even if you don’t care for his music. Starting out as an independent artist in the artistic backwater of New Jersey, Springsteen has sold millions of albums and become synonymous with honest, unpretentious rock ‘n roll.

High Hopes is something of an anomaly for Springsteen, in that it’s an album full of cover versions. Sort of.

Most tracks are covers of his own songs reimagined, like the title track and the blistering version of The Ghost of Tom Joad that seems like an answer to the Rage Against the Machine cover, proving that The Boss doesn’t have to scream to rock the hell out.

Non-Springsteen covers include Just Like Fire Would by The Saints and Dream Baby Dream by Suicide, two songs that Springsteen has played live occasionally over recent years to great fan reaction.

When talking about Springsteen, it would be remiss to ignore the contributions of The E Street Band.

Originally house band on the TV series Sesame Street (not really), The E Street Band includes such notable musicians as Max Weinberg (leader of The Tonight Show house band), Nils Lofgren and Sylvio from The Sopranos, better known as Little Stevie Van Zandt.

As ever, The E Street band laydown a solid foundation for Springsteen to work — now and again displaying flashes of genius like the sleazy guitar and bass crawl of Harry’s Place.

High Hopes is the eighteenth album from The Boss and, to be honest, not too much has changed. He’s still wearing a lot of denim and singing songs about America and the articulate rage that fuelled songs like Born in the USA still burns strong within his chest.

Best tracks: High Hopes, Heaven’s Wall, Just Like Fire Would, The Ghost of Tom Joad

Sample lyric: ‘Before the meek inherit they’ll learn to hate themselves.’ (High Hopes)

Verdict: 7/10 — like an energizer bunny in blue jeans, The Boss continues to rock. Like a boss.

New Album by a pair of National Treasures

Neil Finn & Paul Kelly: Goin’ Your Way

In some circles, it is considered un-Australian to say a bad word about Paul Kelly.

Similarly, former Crowded House frontman Neil Finn is held in such high esteem by many Australians they forget where he’s originally from.

Somewhat like High Hopes, Goin’ Your Way is an album of covers. Unlike the album above, Goin’ Your Way is a double album that plays like a soundtrack to growing up in Australia in the seventies, eighties and nineties. Classic Finn tracks like Don’t Dream It’s Over, Message to my Girl and Into Temptation are given a coat of grit by Paul Kelly, while songs like Dumb Things and Leaps & Bounds are supported by warm layers of harmony from Neil Finn.

The fact that it took a combined career duration of 75 years – Paul Kelly has been performing for 39 years, Neil Finn for 36 – for this collaboration to happen isn’t a bad thing, as it means the duo have amassed a lifetime of classic songs to reinterpret.

As you listen to the album, an interesting contrast in styles becomes apparent.

Paul Kelly tends to write about real people with real problems (To Her Door, How to Make Gravy), while Neil Finn tends towards a more poetic style infused with a deep sense of sadness (Better Be Home Soon, Private Universe).

Both men are exceptionally talented songwriters with an amazing ability to capture a mood or moment in time.

At worst, this album sounds like a bunch of cover versions performed by a very competent pub band. If you like Paul Kelly or Crowded House, however, this is a must-buy.

Best tracks: Into Temptation, Leaps & Bounds, Four Seasons in One Day, Before Too Long

Sample lyric: ‘I’m high on the hill, looking over the bridge, to the MCG.’ (Leaps & Bounds)

Verdict: 8/10 — essential for aficionados of antipodean singer-songwriters.

New Album by A Newish Artist

Against Me!: Transgender Dysphoria Blues

Formed in Gainesville, Florida in 1997, Against Me! started out as a solo project of Laura Jane Grace, who was then known as Tom Gabel.

After five years of making uncompromising punk rock with a revolving group of musicians, the band released first album Reinventing Axl Rose in 2002. This was followed shortly after by Against Me! as the Eternal Cowboy in 2003 and Searching for a Former Clarity in 2005.

Produced by Butch Vig, 2007’s break out album New Wave featured the tracks Thrash Unreal and White People For Peace and was named Spin Magazine’s album of the year.

Follow up White Crosses was released in 2010, after which the band went on hiatus while going through some fairly significant changes…

As the title suggests, Transgender Dysphoria Blues is inspired by Laura Jane Grace’s journey to find her true self. While she has never really been ‘in the closet’, Grace publically came out as transgender in 2012 and inadvertently became a role model for punk and hardcore kids facing gender confusion.

With song titles like FuckMyLife666, Drinking with the Jocks and Obama Bin Laden as the Crucified Christ, Transgender Dysphoria Blues is far from a casual listen, and grows on you with repeat plays.

Both thematically and sonically, this album probably isn’t for everyone.

On the other hand, punk rock fans with an open mind will be rewarded by an album full of hooky, catchy songs with intelligent lyrics and challenging themes.

Best tracks: FuckMyLife666, True Trans Soul Rebel, Two Coffins

Sample lyric: ‘I’m drinking with the jocks, I’m laughing at the faggots, just like one of the boys.’ (Drinking with the Jocks)

Verdict: 7/10 — well worth a listen.

Album I Expect to Suck

Stryper: No More Hell To Pay

If you enjoyed heavy music during the 1980’s there is a fair chance you will remember Stryper.

In the eternal rock ‘n roll battle between good and evil, Stryper were one of the few metal bands who proudly flew the flag of the man upstairs.

As a fan of bands who represented the other side (Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, KISS) I had always assumed that Stryper were rubbish, so I never really gave them the time of day.

As time has passed and it has become increasingly obvious that Metal really is the Devil’s music, you sort of have to admire the commitment of a Christian Metal band who just keeps on going…

Led by the rather smooth looking Michael Sweet (guitar & vocals), Stryper is rounded out by his big brother Robert Sweet on drums, chubby Kirk Hammett lookalike Oz Fox on guitar and bassist Tim Gaines, who looks a lot like one of the background Elves in those interminable Hobbit movies.

With song titles like Revelation, Water Into Wine and the hilarious Jesus is Just Alright, with No More Hell To Pay, Stryper are still pushing the good word, despite lack of public interest or radio play. The bands musicianship is competent but not inspired, and the lack of light and shade makes the whole experience rather predictable and dull. 

According to their official website, Stryper remains hard rock’s best kept secret, which is pretty funny for a band who have been around since 1983. If God really wanted people to know about Stryper, do you think that would still be the case?

Best tracks: Jesus is Just Alright (Think about it like Randy Jackson is saying it. That was just aiight for me, dawg.  You were a little pitchy.)

Sample lyric: ‘Jesus is just alright with me, Jesus is just alright.’ (Jesus is Just Alright)

Verdict: 1/10 — good for comedy value only.

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