Am I reviewing music again?
With the old essays up, it leaves a good opportunity to fill you all in on what will be happening with the blog over the next while. While I will try to - for the time being - still try to get a new post up most days, there may be a few fewer updates, simply for the fact that it is a helluva lot easier to copy and paste an old essay than it is to come up with something from scratch. Please note also that university holidays (which I'm on at the moment) have freed up some time to work on the blog, which is why I have been, and will be able to, put up more posts on the blog. However, I do have a life outside the blog, which means that some days I may only be able to manage a "quick update" via my mobile, or no update at all - especially once I start back at uni. That said, when I get a chance I will try to post either a "Personal update" (about what I've been doing with myself of late), a site update - like this one, or some news analysis (usually in a format I've used a number of times already on this blog - news story, some background info from Wikipedia or elsewhere, and personal opinion).
Unfortunately, I haven't had a chance to look into any of the things I've hinted at doing with this blog in some of my earlier Site Updates. Don't take the lack of - for example - an Podcast as a sign of my unwillingness to experiment with different mediums; more it's a sign that I haven't had the opportunity to put one together (for example getting webhosting for it, or putting the right people together for it). A related idea to some of these site updates is putting together a static AmishThrasher site (with content that won't change often) linked to this blog (filled with dynamic content).
On a different, thanks to Charlie I've had a chance to listen to a few new albums, and I'll share my first impressions of a couple of them:
The first of these is "Mesmerize" by System of a Down, which is an awesome album. Before going any further, a little annecdote - when I first heard Metallica's Saint Anger, my first impression of it was that it sounded like a bad System of a Down demo, with James Hetfeld filling in for Serj Tankian. One of the problems with trying to sound like someone else - as Metallica were obviously doing - is the question of why bother listening to a cheap imitation when I can listen to the real thing. Cutting between hard / fast and soft / slow riffs and next to no guitar solos works for System, but not Metallica (in the end, St Anger was blown away by Megadeth's The World Needs A Hero, which sounded like a Megadeth album).
Mesmerize is an example of artistic progression done right. The wierd experimental stuff the 'crazy Armenians' in System often do clicks well with the more serious, political undertones of the album. Like Metallica's St Anger, this also sounds like a SOAD album - done right. The first single (BYOB) is on a plane with - if not better than - Sugar and Chop Suey; and unlike Eminem's Encore, is favorably comparable to the band's earlier work.
The second album I'll look at is Encore by Eminem. And while this isn't a terrible album, it seems also to be lacking. Look, there's probably nothing I could say here about Eminem that hasn't been said already elsewhere ad nauseum - over the past 5 or 6 years he has been one of the most commerically successful artists, and one of the most controversial; Mathers is undeniably skillful at what he does. That said, you can't help but notice that this album isn't half as strong as his pervious albums. For starters, one of the big appeals of Mather's earlier albums - particularly the Mashall Mathers LP - was the politically incorrect guilty pleasure aspect of his work (made more appealing by those who weren't 'in on the joke' and thus got offended). That aspect is gone from this album - the whole world is in on the joke. His old material no longer shocks, and he seems either unwilling or unable to find a new angle upon which to create controversy with. In a way, it's the old Madonna syndrome (has anyone been 'shicked' by anthing Madonna has done over the past decade?) - except at least Madonna made a comeback in the late '90s as a 'soccer mom'.
The lack of shock value - while the icing on the cake of Eminem's earlier albums - is not the only thing which both made his earlier albums worthwhile to listen to, and yet is completely missing here. During his previous albums, Eminem was able to cash in on the zeitgeist - an anti-'boy band' pop music backlash. And Eminem, while still attacking fellow popstars and ridiculing various celebrities - has not been able to tap the same zeitgest (which is unsuprising, given that part of that backlash currently brewing will be against the dominance of rap music in the charts). Where in the past Eminem attacked individual 'pretty boy popstars', he also attacked pop music (in general) on tracks like Criminal, yet while Eminem attacks reality TV stars like Jessica Simpson, there is no track attacking the whole reality TV genre. Other old stand-by gimmicks are also feeling tired here. I really wonder if there is much more he can say about his family - particularly about hwo he hates (yet somehow loves) Kim and how much he loves his daughter Hailie - that he hasn't said already. He's worn out the earnestness that made The Eminem Show and 8 Mile so compelling.
One of Eminem's great skills is as a storyteller - particularly in the style of tracks like Kim and Stan - or even Drips. While there are a couple of tracks on here along those lines, like One Shot 2 Shot, they seems to have vanished beyond a few running narratives in the background. Similarly, his political tracks here (like Mosh) lack the anger and emotion of - say - White America (or System's more political tracks). Finally, this album seems to be lacking is some of the production values of hsi previous releases - Em seems to have regressed back cheesy, 80s style to synth-pop.
Why am I being so harsh on an album that, while not that great, is not the most terrible album ever either? Because we have seen Eminem do so much better, and (even within the mainstream) there is much better new music out there. Note also that these are just my first, and inconsequential, thoughts. And ultimately, time is the only marker of a great album.