by TOM HALLETT
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “If you don’t believe drugs have done good things for us, then go home and burn all your records, all your tapes, and all your CDs because every one of those artists who have made brilliant music and enhanced your lives? Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrreal fucking high on drugs. The Beatles were so fucking high they let Ringo sing a few songs.” – Bill Hicks
SONG OF THE WEEK: “Torn and Frayed” – The Rolling Stones
Hey, hey, ’Dial-heads! Not gonna spew, spout or sputter this time out—got way too many discs cloggin’ up the ol’ ’Dial desk to even go into who sucked the most last week, did the best job of trying to weasel out of it and probably got the fuck away with it.
In the meantime, I been promising reviews, more reviews and nothin’ but reviews for several installments now, so I guess it’s time to quit hoggin’ all these good tunes to myself an’ send ‘em out your way. Without further ado, then, here’s this week’s long-awaited ‘Round The Dial Record Review-Land for your perusal. I’m startin’ with Soul Asylum, ’cause I feel bad I’ve been putting this one off for so long. No worries, though—I’ll be throwing tons more local stuff as well as some great national releases your way ASAP. More to come next week...
The Silver Lining
Long-running Twin Cities party band Soul
Asylum return with The Silver Lining, their umpteenth album since
nearly the dawn of the Eighties. It’s easy to forget, in a world full
of media-shucked artists like the Harvey Dangers, Goo Goo Dolls and Jack Johnsons
of the music biz that there are still actually a few bands out there who have
stuck by their pop/rock guns (guitars, in this case) over the years and never
really given in to the pressures of corporate/genre change, hometown sellout
and radio whimsy. And while I’m not exactly known for giving A-1 reviews
of albums—particularly ones that really don’t need press from small
town hacks like me—I’ve felt a burning need for awhile to let people
know how I feel about this one and why. It’s no secret—I love loud
guitar/pop, think the guys in the band are decent folks, and believe casual
fans or new listeners deserve to know why they’ve gotten as far as they
Me, I’ve always had a deep respect for Soul Asylum (what’s left
of it these days, anyway—it’s no secret that SA’s been without
a sure-thing drummer for quite some time now, and that talented and beloved
bassist Karl Mueller passed on this year), and frankly haven’t heard them
release an album yet that hasn’t had at least some redeeming qualities.
It doesn’t hurt that I’ve pounded a few pints and seen them gleefully
(and musically) kick the shit out of a room full of people, as well—be
it the squishy, smoky confines of the 400, or the wall-to-wall sweatfest that
can be First Avenue’s Main Room—knowing their live strengths only
heightens the thrill of hearing new material from some hard workin’ local
Their personal and professional qualities aside, however, the question remains:
Have Soul Asylum managed to overcome both their longevity (read: Boredom and
apathy from snooty local press wankers and the challenge of maintaining a fresh
and ever-growing fan base along with their legions of already loyal fans, some
of whom probably prefer sitting home nowadays with a six pack and “Law
And Order” on the box to struggling through a veritable cattle herd of
younger music aficionados who are probably out and about to catch Low or Bright
Eyes or Cat Power that night) and their personal setbacks to create an album
both longtime fans and younger lovers of catchy, well-crafted, hook-heavy pop
music can equally appreciate?
think, based on the individual strengths of the songs populating The Silver
Lining and the band’s obvious determination (both in the letters section
of certain other music rags around town—or at least one—as well
as on stages from late-night television to their favorite local dives) to continue
to proudly crank them amps up to eleven and lyrically/figuratively spit in the
face of their rather uppity detractors proves that they have and I’m willing
to go on record and say this album is the most relevant, in-the-moment, hard-hitting,
plain old DAMN GOOD effort Soul Asylum has released since their commercial heyday.
Special guests abound, as well—though as far as I know Karl didn’t
hear the final product, I’m willin’ to bet contributions from Tommy
Stinson, Kraig Johnson (Run Westy Run, Golden Smog, etc.), Jeff Victor (Honeydogs)
and John Fields (producer / musician / huge scene supporter) woulda made him
Awright, all sappy hometown hoo-ra aside, another glaring question remains:
Are the songs on this album any good? The short answer is YES—as a matter
of fact, there’s not really a stinker among the batch, depending on your
mood, the emotional level you’re willing to invest in the tunes and, frankly,
how loud ya play it. There are some real torch-carryin’, barn-burnin’,
you-just-fucking-know-they’d-rock-live nuggets here, as well as some of
the most heart-on-yer-sleeve, damn-the-torpedoes ballads and brutally romantic
anthems I’ve heard on an SA album since “Runaway Train” was
in heavy rotation on MTV. Back when that station actually played music videos,
I’ll also go into this with the caveat that The Silver Lining isn’t
perfect—there were a few moments (and a few lines, in particular) that
I thought could’ve been done differently, or maybe made a bit more effective
or powerful had they been approached differently. Hey, nobody (or hardly anybody,
anymore especially) makes an album that I love every single bit of—it’s
partly that recording processes are different, albums are released at a much
more hurried pace than they used to be and let’s be honest—I’m
gettin’ older and pay more attention to detail and lyrical depth.
Sometimes a line that wouldn’t even register with me 10 years ago now
has the ability to make me cringe in embarrassment, or I’ll hear a guitar
riff or a bass lick or a keyboard run or a drum binge and I’ll go, “Oh
fuck, that kinda blew”—but hey, that’s life. The good news
is, I didn’t have a lot of those moments here. Bottom line: The Silver
Lining has a few kinks, raw spots and blips that didn’t exactly rock
my world—but the album on the whole is a more-than-decent effort, and
I think it deserves a dollop of ink so fans get a couple different takes on
the album. Hence, my current rant. ‘Nuff said.
Album opener “Stand Up And Be Strong” might be a bit too “yay-team,
go!” for wordy, stick-up-their-ass rock-dork scribes to be able to admit
liking in print; me, I like to think those types of writers secretly don their
high-school cheerleading outfits or Madonna gloves and wigs, paint their faces
(yes, the male writers too) and prance around full-length mirrors shimmying
to lines like, “Stand up an’ be strong / It won’t take long,
you won’t go wrong ... you might have to fight / You might have to cry
... You live in the hills, you take too many pills / If you’ve lost the
thrill, against your own will, stand up an’ be strong ...” They
just have a hard time admitting it. Me, I just played some low-key air guitar
to this track and made rock faces at myself. Oh come on—you do it too,
you’re just self-conscious, little buddy.
haven’t played this song—hell, this whole album—to one music-lovin’
pal of mine who hasn’t thought it rocked—and Tommy Stinson sounds
more at home playing bass here than I’ve heard him on record in ages.
Basically, this song proves Soul Asylum as a unit has a lot of life left in
it, and that Pirner and Murphy are two of the TC’s most talented pop/rockers—
no matter who thinks it’s cool to say they’re not. Guess sometimes
the people really do speak, eh?
But hey, that’s just me, and my experience with it. I think this song
kicks ass, call me a sucker for liking a killer hook, a sing-a-long chorus,
an absolutely driving rhythm section and ringing, fuck-you-if-ya-don’t-like-volume
axe work, but I’ll take this over Daniel Powter’s “Bad Day”
or some cutesy “Oh-he’s SO attractive cuz he’s depressed”
fucking alternative tune for the gazillionth time on the radio if I have to
listen to it.
“Lately” is an in-the-moment rock ballad that viscerally describes
the angst, loneliness, underlying lust and inherent loyalty involved in the
lives of a young couple, one of whom is stationed in Iraq, and their confused,
yet stubbornly concerned, male friend who’s hanging around back home balancing
his relationship with both. A subject sort of broached—albeit with a completely
different outcome—in the SA classic “We Three” from And
The Horse They Rode In On, this track is a great example of how Pirner’s
knack for writing engaging, timely, heartfelt lyrics has only gotten less self-conscious
and more universal as time’s gone by.
“Crazy Mixed Up World” is a mid-tempo rocker that touches on the
above-mentioned subjects to a degree, set to a chiming, layered and catchy rhythm
and smart, memorable lines like “... it leaves you wishin’ for change,
a fast car to take you away / It’s a crazy mixed up world out there /
Someone’s always got a gun and it’s all about money / You live with
loneliness or you live with somebody who’s crazy / It’s just a crazy
mixed up world ...” It’s an SA classic-to-be, one that should make
that mythical box set when the time comes—and another one that would fit
in great on both radio and those maddening movie soundtracks that seem to be
taking over the world. Oh well, guess I’d rather have these guys get a
spot on one of them than some dillweed who won American Idol last season. Ack.
“All Is Well” is another hook-a-riffic hard rocker, Pirner in fine
voice, stand-in bassist John Fields right at home on the bam-a-lam with longtime
SA pal/drummer Michael Bland crackin’ an’ snappin’ in all
the right places. If you heard this song on a jukebox in a truckstop in Yuma,
Arizona, you’d probably amble over just to check to see for sure who it
is and who’s slammin’ out this radio-friendly, pop-perfect ditty
with lines like, “All is well here in hell / I wish you were here / I’m
wishin’ you well / All is well here in hell / I wish you were here ...
all in all, all is well ...”
standouts include the melancholy, soul-heavy “Oxygen,” which thrums,
pounds and loudly whispers a muted shout of loneliness, sorrow and deep-seated
wanting so palpable it’s almost breathable—a shattered, almost hopeless
indictment of emotion that glaringly bares it all: “A couple more volts
of shock treatment for you,” moans Pirner, “they say you’re
crazy / But it don’t even phase me / Cuz you’re the sanest one I
know / Just a couple more breaths of oxygen will do / They may say you’re
crazy, it makes you so amazing ... just a couple more pills, a couple more pills
for you ...” I really like that you mention pills a lot on this album,
Dave—I have a bad back and pills and Soul Asylum have helped me through
more than a few damp, painful evenings here of late. Compassionate rock. Good
And finally, my favorite—“Bus Named Desire.” I think this
howling, wild, heart-caught-in-your-throat anthem takes a big snarling bite
out of the sorry-ass, shoe-gazing, whining, boo-hoo-my-girlfriend-left-me jive
bullshit that seems to ooze out of every iPod, radio dial and record shop sound
system from here to, well, Hell these days. Hey—I love Nick Drake and
yeah, Elliot Smith has some decent shit, but sometimes it’s nice to just
hear the guitars cranked up, the singer pissed/hyped-up/excited enough to make
me FEEL a song like this one does—in my hips AND in my heart. And it’s
not a political rant, or a psuedo-serious rave about the state of the world,
a harangue on the lousy ecology or a diatribe on class discrimination.
It’s just a furious, no-holds-barred, ringing blast of fuck-yeah that
makes me wanna hit “10” on the stereo and kick it out. “Out
of the blue and into the fire / I got no use for bein’ tired ... I’ve
payed my dues under your tires ...” yelps Pirner—and I gotta say,
I think this is one band who HAS paid their dues, made another great album and
deserves not only the respect to have this album heard and celebrated by their
fans, but also to enjoy decent airplay and to be cranked out for a whole new
generation of pop/rock aficionados.
They definitely don’t deserve to end up under the literary tires of some
small-minded, small-market “rock writers” who wouldn’t know
good rock if it jumped up and bit them on the ass of their brand-name jeans.
Fuck ‘em—The Silver Lining is a good album, and the silver
lining for them is that their music will long outlast the self-involved, trend-sucking
miasma of poo their detractors extrude on a weekly basis. I for one will stand
up and thank them for a couple decades of kick-ass gigs, decent treatment out
at shows when they probably had better things to do than shoot the shit with
half-drunk music writers like me and more than a few albums worth of great rock
an’ roll I can proudly say comes outta my home town.
think this record will also stand as a sweet and honest testament to Karl, to
the band’s fans, and to the end/beginning of an era for an outfit who,
despite what certain elements might say, did a hell of a lot to help other bands,
local artists and endeavors, and people in general, and has a lot more to offer.
Pirner, Murphy, Bland, Stinson, Fields and the whole crew should be damn proud
of this album and proud of themselves for NOT TAKING SHIT and standing out as
great examples of what real, tried-and-true Minnesota musicians are all about.
“Heroes will never let you down / Just as long as they’re dead /
Sometimes you gotta pick an’ choose ...” croons Pirner on album
closer/political-social rant “Slowly Rising/Fearless Leader,” and
that priceless bit of back-porch wisdom goes for rock and roll bands as well
as cultural icons—maybe we should spend a little more time appreciating
our heroes while they’re still around, and less time searching aimlessly
for new ones to make ourselves look/feel more important, eh? Great stuff, guys.
Check it out at soulasylum.com
Sorry, gang—outta room for this week, back next time with tons more! Make
sure and get out to hear the angelic pipes of EDIE CAREY at Gingko Coffeehouse
on October 18. She’s touring on her latest, killer album, the Crit Hammon-produced
Another Kind Of Fire, and it’s definitely worth a listen. Check
it out, and check her out online at ediecarey.com.
I gotta run—until we meet again, make yer own damn news.
If you have local CD/news/gig/events you’d like to see listed here,
send replies to: Tmygunn77764@yahoo.com.