Do you have a pretty good sense of humor? I mean, the kind of humor that sees the hilarity in somebody completely failing and making a total ass of themselves in a thoroughly predictable and planned way? Then “Well I Should Have,” a jazz album by comedian and voice over artist H. Jon Benjamin is likely right up your alley.
However, if you’re a jazz fan, you best stay away because Benjamin quite literally attacks the genre with his Monkian bursts of staccato piano noise, flurries of uncertain melodies, and bad, bad humor in what has to be the weirdest jazz released in quite some time.
What is so weird about this album? A few things. One: Benjamin is primarily a comedian and not really well known for his musical ability. Two: he actually doesn’t know how to play the piano. So he spent about three hours learning what you have to assume were the absolute PRIMITIVE BASICS of jazz piano and sat in with a bass, sax, and drum trio.
Hilarity ensures…mostly. Maybe he’s funnier than this album makes him out to be, but his sketches are mostly absolutely free of any humor. The first track starts with Benjamin trying to sell his soul to the devil to learn how to play piano…so that he can record the album the next day.
The sketch starts out okay: the idea that he is desperately trying to learn piano is cute. Also, the idea that he can literally just call the devil and meet him is clever. But he shoots himself in the foot with some bad puns (he meets the devil at the “Crossroads Female Boutique,” ugh) and lame sex jokes (the devil ask him to “suck my dick”) that fall flat.
Thankfully, things take an upswing when the band starts playing on the next tune, “I Can’t Play Piano, Pt 1.” Here an accomplished, it not particularly adventurous, jazz ensemble sets down a pretty reasonable groove…around which Benjamin weaves his…
It’s time to describe what Benjamin actually does on this album. At times, he tries to follow along to the melodies by playing rhythmically similar flurries of notes. But his cluelessness regarding the basics of music of music mean that it’s essentially dissonant with the backing band. It’s hard to even describe what he’s doing because it just goes against the grain of all concepts of jazz music.
Does it work? Musically, of course not. But comically, yes, it does. The funniest parts are when he almost (and assuredly by accident) coincides with the band and simply sounds like a weird, but adventurous, jazz pianist. The fact that any of it sounds even remotely similar to jazz makes his satirical point (if, indeed, he is trying to make one) well: jazz often sounds clueless and directionless to the average listener.
This type of playing can be classified his “ensemble” work. Here, he is simply playing a support role to the band behind him. Occasionally, he drops down to playing simple “vamps” of one or two chords. Other times, he slams the piano with 10-finger chords that overwhelm the rest of the band in a shocking manner.
His solos are even funnier. Without backing band members to play off (or against}, he punishes the piano by abusing it in multiple ways, including:
- Playing the same couple of notes over and over
- Running his fingers randomly up the keyboard
- Bashing out lumps of notes in unlistenable chord clusters
- Softly playing off rhythm
It’s not all just bad piano work, though. There are more sketches, such as “Soft Jazzercise” and these don’t work for me. More dick jokes and improvised nonsense like “let gravity take over…like the movie Gravity” just make it seem like he’s not trying very hard. Maybe his fans will find these moments hilarious, but I doubt it.
And I was especially disappointed by the last song, a rap/funk/metal parody song that mostly talks about gross ways of having anal sex. Not only is this stupid, but it ruins the whole concept of the album! The first time I heard it, I thought I accidentally bought a particularly bad Limp Bizkit song by mistake.
Which is a shame, because the guy obviously has a sense of humor and his approach to playing piano is often bafflingly funny: there’s one point where he just bashes on one note for about 15 seconds.
The best parts though might come from the backing members. The saxophone player sometimes actually tries to mimic Benjamin’s chaos. And occasionally Benjamin exhorts the band, like “you can do better!” The best of these moments comes after a particularly awful series of chords. He rewards himself by shouting “can’t do that!”
Rather, you SHOULDN’T do that.
So was this album worth the $8 I spent on it? Oh sure. I laughed pretty regularly and was reminded of my early days of playing keyboard. I imagine I would have played in exactly the same way, but somehow thought I was doing a great job.
But, in the end, it’s really hard to see much of a point to the album. The sketches are hit-or-miss and the one-note joke of his terrible piano playing is forced to carry most of the humor. And while I was busting a gut every time he played (especially when he actually tried to mimic the rest of the band), it is a one-play kind of thing.
Recommended to: people with a good sense of humor or those who hate jazz
Should be avoided by: anyone who loves jazz or music in general, people who don’t like doodie jokes
That was fun! I hope to start making posts more frequently…it’s been way too long.
It’s amazing to me that it’s been two years since I’ve updated this site. Two years! Oh, how much things have changed in that time. And how much they’ve stayed the same. For a long time, I considered the site essentially abandoned, like a boat out in the rain. I figured rust would set in and that it would stop getting hits or interest.
Much to my surprise, I found it actually got pretty steady traffic. Oh, nothing mind boggling: maybe 20-30 hits a day. But, it was clear that people were coming and reading. There have even been a handful of non-bot commentators.
As a result, I’ve been trying to get back into the habit of regular updates. There’s no way I could manage the mad daily update schedule I created in the beginning. I not only work too much at my full time job, I also have two busy freelance jobs, have a great girlfriend and am experiencing a fiction writing renaissance.
So, life has been pretty good for me, but things haven’t been perfect. I’ve moved at least three times since the last update. I’m probably moving again soon. A beloved family member died. Another beloved friend died not long after. I’ve gained weight. My dad is sick. And my finances have been a wild roller coaster of uncertainty that forced me to stay active as a writer primarily for profit.
But all that is going to change soon. My reemergence as a fiction writer has gotten my literary juices flowing. My confidence level is growing exponentially daily: not just in myself as a writer, but in myself as a human being. I’m attempting to find some source of peace and comfort in Eastern schools of thought and it does seem to be working.
2014 was basically one big great self-improvement experiment and I’m happy to say that it was very successful. Not perfectly successful. It wasn’t flawless. There’s still things I need to do, parts of me that need updating and changing. But I now believe I can do it. And that’s huge.
However, I’ve always wanted to come back here and start posting again. Just something here and there. Now and then. Maybe a post every week. Maybe two. Something I spent more than an hour on, something I didn’t just blaze through as quickly as possible and leave it as is, with annoying errors, word repetition and wildly inaccurate opinions left intact.
Start expecting weekly posts here again. Reviews of albums, mostly. I’ve been constantly listening to music, as always. And, as always, I have something to say about it.
Too busy to review today. Sorry guys. Here’s a hilarious article from the excellent Biblioklept blog to keep you busy. Check out this blog for excellent artwork, quotes and literary discussion.
[Ed. note: The following citations come from one-star Amazon reviews of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby. While I think that Gatsby is probably the most overrated book in the American canon, I do think it’s an important book (overrated ≠ bad). I’ve read it many, many times and used it in the classroom. Some of the selections here are silly, some actually make valid points, all intrigued me. I’ve preserved the reviewers’ unique styles of punctuation and spelling. (More one-star samplers: Orwell’s 1984, Melville’s Moby-Dick, Joyce’s Ulysses and Markson’s Wittgenstein’s Mistress)].
Gatsby was obviously drunk, or smoking marijuana when he was writing this book, and must have thougth that this book was pretty clever.
Hey everyone! Lookit me! I’m a rich little snot and I can throw a big party in my mansion!
O.K. the first red flag was that this…
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Today at Culture Fusion we are featuring a guest reviewer, Metal-Alholic and all around musical omnivore Sean M. Hebner. Sean presents a unique and highly enthusiastic approach to writing that exactly mirrors talking to him (he talks just like this in person, at a mile a minute and with endless hand gestures and peals of laughter) and which results in a rather personable, informal writing style which is a lot of fun to read.
He chose to review “Shazam!” by The Move on his own impetus after reading a few of my Move reviews. He has been a fan of this album for some years and has a lot to say about how it fits in with the history of Metal and Hard Rock. I hope you enjoy!
SHAZAM! By THE MOVE
A Review by Sean M. Hebner
Rating: 5/5 whozawhatsis
Unlike the leader of this blog (who is older than me by a smattering of years), I was not exposed to a plethora of Progressive Rock growing up. I discovered Heavy Metal at the age of 12 or 13 and was a ‘purest’ for a good many years after that. But my long time obsession with metal and some well placed covers of ‘’Uriah Heep” and “Mike Oldfield” songs got curious about metals roots.
Over the past several years, I have been growing my psychedelic and Progressive knowledge and in the process started a job where my boss, *Redacted*, was a music fanatic. He is as obsessed with “great” music as I am with Metal. He hadn’t really steered me wrong yet, turning me on to such artists as Nick Lowe and Richard Thompson.
So when *Redacted* told me that SHAZAM! By The Move was his favorite album of all time I decided it needed a listen. So I sampled it on Amazon.com, when WHOLY SHIT WHY HAVE I NEVER HEARD OF THIS BEFORE and bought the download. It felt so…ahead of its time. Cause it was clever…without being wanky. It was toned and paced well while being Mellow and Crushingly Heavy all at the same time. More people need to hear this album; in fact, if you haven’t heard this album yet, DO IT NOW!
Now we’ll go track by track:
ALBUM OPENER: Hello Susie – Hot DAMN! That’s almost a metal intro! Oh man I’m in love already the grand “circus” like delivery of the lyrics. This approach becomes common place in the future of heavy epic music and I’m glad to see it has such strong roots.
I’m reminded of “Grand Illusion” by Styx and the role that they played influencing heavy pop rock as well as anything by Queen. But it’s NOWHERE NEAR as pretentious! I’m not one that really pays close attention to lyrics and lyrical content doesn’t make or break a song for me.
SECOND TRACK – Beautiful Daughter. OMG they turned to the Beatles!! Because I’m easily distracted: the wiki article discussing this album uses the word Heavy Metal a lot. This is WRONG: its Proto Metal. Heavy Metal won’t exist till Iron Maiden gets Bruce and Black Sabbath gets DIO.
THIRD TRACK – Cherry Blossom Clinic Revisited this one is my personal Favorites on the album as it’s all over the place. Musical Perfection. Lock the door and throw the keys away! I love the references to Alice in wonderland and the firkin BASS. I LOVE the bass playing on this album. Entwistle can shove it!!
Then the song ‘ends’ and CLASSICAL MUSIC!! Wait. WAIT.. FANTASIA!!! AWW YEAH! I get this. This album was written for people with my sense of humor and sense of musicianship. I am not a musician but if I were this is what I’d try to do. Singing the guitar part is my favorite part!!!!!
Track Four – Fields of People. Ok now this is a cover as is the rest of the second half of the album and not having heard the original I can say that this song rocks if only in this context. Its by and large a product of the seventies and its at the same time moving in the direction of the future of heavy music.
Track five – Don’t Make my baby blue A Proto-Metal cover song……………………… If that doesn’t get you sexually aroused then The Move and/or Heavy Music isn’t for you.
Track Six – Last thing on my mind. When most people make the family tree of heavy metal you don’t see The Move on any lists per-say I’m ADDING them to the list. Even This last ballad, so depressing and soul crushing. Melancholy. So good, Roy Wood is the Crazy Uncle to Heavy Metal. And SATAN bless (curse?) him!
Overall this is a Must own for anyone who loves Heavy Metal and wants to understand the roots of metal more fully. Especially those of us who Like Mr. Bungle and its derivatives. I’m thinking that The Move has a lot to do with making these sub-genres of jazzy metal.
Also this is my first written review and its 6 hours before I have to be up for work in the morning. I like to ramble.
After reviewing an album or two (I lost count) by both Roy Wood and Jeff Lynne, I feel like it’s time I did a review of their rather…historically important first album as Electric Light Orchestra (self titled everywhere in the world except America, where it’s “No Answer”). I mean, why the hell not? What else do I have better to do? Get fatter older and die alone?
I DIGRESS much too heavily there. Ignore the morbidity (always a hard thing to do with me) and move on to the next paragraph which flows much more logically from the sentiments of the previous paragraph (the stuff about music) than this one (which flows from a digression and which has become a lengthy digression of its own).
“Electric Light Orchestra” is an important album for a number of reasons. One: it was the last collaboration between Wood and Lynne, two musical geniuses with very similar yet vastly different (weird how that works) goals that briefly combined for musical excellence on the last two “The Move” albums and which simultaneously plateaued, peaked and ended with this peculiar album.
Basically, the goal of the album (considered a “project” by the two as well as drummer Bev Bevan, imported from “The Move”) is to combine rock and roll and classical music as seamlessly as possible. And not in a sprawling symphonic, progressive style: more in a “chamber” music style with small string quartets, minimal horn arrangements and short running times (relatively speaking).
To that end, Roy grabs every string and horn instrument in sight and proceeds to arrange driving classical arrangements that are relatively complex for a rock and roll musician but nothing that Beethoven would find boggling.
But that’s okay because it’s not TRUE classical: it’s classical rock in perhaps the rawest sense of the term (as illustrated by the hilarious back cover image of the three main musicians on the album dressed in period piece and holding string instruments).
And “raw” is the exact word to use for this album: it’s not exactly intricately arranged or immaculately produced. There’s a very…empty feel to parts of the album but not in a bad way: there’s simply room to breathe and holes in the arrangements in a way that’s both good and bad.
The holes are “good” in the sense that they help you differentiate the songs more fully. At their best (the album “Eldorado”) Electric Light Orchestra sometimes felt too lush for their own good, with songs bleeding into the next. Of course, that’s sort of the point of those albums (they’re not labeled “symphonies” for nothing) but the more “in your face” feel of this album is a bit more…interesting than later ELO albums.
That isn’t to say it’s “better.” After all, Roy is a solid multi-instrumentalist but he’s no super pro and when he goes ape overdubbing endless sawing strings on “Battle of Marston Moor” the effect is numbing: yes, the song goes through multiple sections but they don’t really “progress” in a logical way or create any type of emotion. I feels like Wood is just changing up sections to change them up.
However, this “purer” classical feel is unique to this album and is mainly the influence of Wood. His other highly classical piece, “1st Movement” is more solid, with nimble classical guitar parts (that sound a bit TOO “Classical Gas” for their own good) show off chops I always forget Roy has on guitar.
Wood does a better job on numbers like “Look at Me Now” and “Whisper in the Night” as he simply combines classical arrangements with regular pop tunes and ballads in a unique way.
This is especially true of the endlessly catchy “Look at Me Now” with the unforgettable refrain “Ahhh! Look at me now! Displaying emoootion!”
Lynne takes a much less “pure” approach to his synthesis of rock and classical and as a result probably creates a more “instantly enjoyable” set of songs.
The lead off tune, Lynne’s classic “10538 Overture” sounds almost exactly like later period ELO with a rawer production edge. The instantly catchy instrumental parts and vocal melodies progress in a logical fashion and climax easily.
Other Lynne tunes such as “Nellie Takes Her Bow” are a bit more unique to this album as it seems to display a jazz influence we rarely get from Lynne. “Manhatten Rumble” is also strangely jazz oriented with a piano heavy classical sound that may not be as complex as Wood’s classical work on the album but which probably makes more sense to the average listener.
Wood and Lynne share songwriting and production duties nearly equally on the album which helps to explain its somewhat raw, confused and diverse approach. There is an obvious clash to their approaches on the album that gives it a strange edge as the two desperately try to “take off where ‘I Am The Walrus’ ended” which was their stated goal.
However, Lynne has since stated that he and Roy had “no real idea what to do or real plan” when they started the recording sessions which also helps to explain the contrast between their two styles. Clearly, Lynne brought in a few tunes that Roy added strings to while Roy perhaps made up (bad) pure classical pieces on the spot, improvising to try to make them work.
Whatever the reason, you simply won’t hear another ELO album like this or any album like this in the world of pop and rock. Although Lynne would perfect his “classical pop” style over several different albums while Wood would go on to snatch hits with Wizzard and disappear into the ether on his manic solo albums, neither would really ever produce something so…confused, raw, far reaching, ambitious and intriguing.
And for that, one can forgive Lynne “Xanadu.” Almost, anyways.
Noise is noise and music is music but sometimes noise is music and music is noise. Nothing but grinding sounds crashing against each other in discordance. Scrapes. Moans. Bashing out a stupid rhythm on a snare drum. Plucking out a few notes on a sitar (which you’ve never played). Feedback. Rumbles. Looping everything or playing it live. Pretension. A guy reading religious texts. Expressing something with nothing and nothing with everything in the room.
No light. No melody. No style but that which comes naturally with no effort at all.
Kluster may or may not have been three wild eyed Germans who created noise from 1970 to 1971. They may not or probably didn’t (or did) release an album called “Klopfzeichen” in 1970.
But the truth is something named “Klopfzeichen” exists in the world: it’s an album two record sides of the future of music (circa 1970) according to three unschooled, wild eyed Germans: a complete amateurish abandonment of all conventions, musicality and thought processes influenced by philosophers, composers and philosophies far above their heads.
A brooding German voice reading a disjointed, confusing text which often contradicts itself and which wasn’t really in the original plan. Nobody minded the man, standing nervously in the room, reading a strange speech while Conrad Schnitzler, Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius ran around a room randomly working up an extensive and noisy drone on instruments, trash, sheet metal, ball bearings and various other incidental items that they had gathered up for the purpose of…creation.
The Man Reading the Text no doubt had ear plugs in as the microphone rolled, captured on track as it occurred with little to no editing interrupting the style, the sound and the feel of an endlessly rolling boulder crushing all offenders that stand in the way.
Nobody could convince the three (even if they’d wanted to try) to stop playing and another endless track was made out of metaphoric cardboard boxes and string. The German Text Reader ran away before this track even started, never to be heard from again.
“Let’s do it again!” somebody must have said as the band once again gathered up a reader (a woman this time) and made her read some type of strange, religious texts forced upon them by their label.
The three unskilled (but skilled) impatient (but patient) crazy (but focused) Germans shook obelisks at the sun (metaphorically of course) for another 40 or so minutes (the text reader fleeing after the first 20) and said “hey we should stop now.” And they never did it again.
The second 40 minutes of noise is “Zwei-Osterei.” It has two pieces (songs doesn’t work) and they sound in no discernible way different from “Klopfzeichen.” Aesthetic or limitation?
The band never recorded in a studio again but they released a live performance called “Eruption” which is 60 minutes instead of 40 and has no singer.
This time, our three German anti-heroes glided around a stage instead of a studio and really “let their hair down” to “rock and roll” in a way unheard of on the first two albums. Which is to say it sounded exactly the same but with no singer ruining the flow.
Play any of the tracks by this group and stop it at a random point. Edit a small portion out, save it and then do the same with another track. Edit these two together: you have a hit single.
Kluster ditched Conrad Schnitzer (and the K) to become “Cluster” and found a home blipping out random disturbances on synthesizers until they finally became skilled enough to be ambient, where all the music sounds the same on purpose.
The box set of Kluster music is the way to go because a) you can’t find them any other way and b) you can play all three albums in a row without stopping and spend over two hours listening intently.
Because even if it all sounds the same and seemingly never ends, each groove is like the Genome Project in that there are endless variations and permutations in each track that give it identity, life and a personality.
One moment its ball bearings rolled in a bowl of jelly. The next it’s the endless grunt of synthesizer feedback and a German grunting monosyllabic odes to joy.
Is it good? It isn’t good or bad. It simply Is. I wouldn’t listen to it if I were you but you probably should listen to it anyway.
1) Synchronicity I; 2) Walking In Your Footsteps; 3) O My God; 4) Mother; 5) Miss Gradenko; 6) Synchronicity II; 7) Every Breath You Take; 8) King Of Pain; 9) Wrapped Around Your Finger; 10) Tea In The Sahara; [BONUS TRACK:] 11) Murder By Numbers
8+ out of 10
“The Police” went out in a bang with their biggest selling album, laced with the heaviest amounts of hits-to-songs ratio they ever released. Five of the songs off this album were hits in most territories with most of them being major, major hits that defined the radio of the early 80’s and still live on as some of the most memorable, nuanced and cleverly written songs of the decade.
However, listening to the album now it’s not hard to understand why some writers (such as Mark Prindle) find the album to be the band’s “most boring album.” It also shows a complete domination of the band’s songwriting and sound by the Stingster. Yes, he was always the primary songwriter and ideas guy but the rest of the band seems to bend to his will like never before, especially poor Stewart Copeland who seemingly turns into little more than a session drummer at certain points.
That being said, there is still a lot to like about this first album. Many people consider the first side to be a complete throwaway but I can’t quite agree with that assessment. After all, how can an album that begins with “Synchronicity I” being a complete waste? Yes, the song is dominated by synthesizers in a way that had never been approached before.
The song is not just a complete wash of synthesized wimpiness: they actually create a solid atmosphere while Sting plays a capable bass line, Copeland bashes like he rarely does on the rest of the album and Summers plays an excellent supporting role.
Summers role on the album is one of the most interesting aspects of the album. In many ways, he takes a back seat like never before. Pianos, synthesizers and other keyboards tend to fill out the majority of the songs rhythmically, melodically and atmospherically. However, Summers goes nutty with effects and background noise guitar.
In essence, it is some of his most experimental playing and some of the weirdest guitar playing I’ve heard on a mainstream pop album. It’s a testament to Summers strengths and intelligence as a guitarist that he colors the proceedings so thoroughly while still remaining a background, supplementary element to the album at times.
That said, Summers does contribute the worst song to the album, “Mother.” It’s not a bad song musically and lyrically but Summers takes on an exaggerated singing voice that doesn’t really work that well. It’s a shame because if he’d taken it a bit easier on our ears, it might have been a highlight of the album.
Andy does show off his chops quite well on “Synchronicity II” the most guitar dominated song and the hardest rocker on the song. The lyrics are completely and utterly unintelligible (something Sting later admitted) but it’s a nice piece of hard rocking energy that helps end the first side.
Of course, the first side also had a handful of other songs that many people tend to dismiss. Copeland’s one contribution “Miss Gradenko” is one of his better tunes with an incredibly catchy chorus melody and rather strange lyrics. Probably one of his best songs and although I used to kind of hate it it’s really grown on me in the last few years.
“Walking In Your Footsteps” is highlighted by great electronic drum playing by Copeland (all those “bloop bloop” noises) droning guitar by Summers and a pompous lyrical importance matched with an elegant vocal melody. “O My God” it’s Sting’s worst song on the album: pretty dull in all honesty and probably my second least favorite song on the album. The lyrically flow is rather unengaging and Sting really starts showing off how he was going to suck in a few short years.
And now to talk about the four huge hits of the album (“Synchronicity II” was a relatively decent sized hit as was “Tea in the Sahara”). These were such big songs I feel silly even talking about them. What else can you say about “Every Breath You Take”? The song flows as smoothly as the best song written by the Beatles and features one of the most clever lyrical twists ever. I lament Copeland playing like a drum machine but the song is still very well composed.
“King of Pain” is a bit much Sting agony (“there’s a little black spot on the sun today/that’s my soul up there” is a tad melodramatic) but I love the way the song builds from a simple piano, percussion jam into a Summers lead guitar groove and into an excellent chorus build up. One of the best songs on the album musically.
“Wrapped Around Your Finger” is a bit mushy (those guitar/synth chords at the beginning are a tad fey for my taste) and the lyrics can be awful (“I came here seeking only knowledge/things they would not teach me of in college” is one of Sting’s worst) but it ends up being soothing and romantic. Much like “Tea in the Sahara” the most generic “New Age” song on the album that still comes through based on Sting’s vocal charisma and the solid lyrics
The CD edition ends with the hilarious “Murder by Numbers” with a jazzy background contributed by Summers and hilarious, out of place lyrics about planning a perfect murder by Sting. Later covered well by Frank Zappa with Sting chanting along.
I hate to give such short shrift to the second side of the album while concentrating more on the first side but most reviewers take the opposite tact: concentrating on the over heard, over played and well known hits while avoiding the potential “filler” of the first side.
And it’s understandable. Although I think the first half of the album is very solid, it definitely has moments that seem more filler-ish than the Police allowed in the past (“Mother” and “O My God” are a pretty rough patch for me) and the more atmospheric arrangements can make the album float through your mind at times.
The big hits on the albums were rightfully hits because they were the best composed songs on the album. Even though the first side is solid and I love listening to it (it’s very weird and seemingly non-commercial) it’s definitely not as well written as the song side. The experimental streak of the first side is less pronounced on the second side but is still there, making it the stronger of the two sides
And this was the last Police album ever after a pretty acrimonious split that made it clear Sting was going to have a huge solo career. It was the last great album he worked on (“Dreams of the Blue Turtles” has its defenders) as he went completely jazz/new age and went completely schlocky. Summers had two solid albums with Robert Fripp while Copeland drifted off into photography. All in all, a solid swan song from a great band.