Monday, March 30, 2009

Ten Years After

Note: This collection of reviews was originally posted on a message board forum. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

I currently have Ten Years After on my playlist, so I decided to write up a "brief" review of their discography. This will cover all of their original albums (not including the recently released Fillmore concert from 1970), and nothing else (such as the 1980 comeback, or the new albums released by the reformed band minus Alvin Lee).

Ten Years After (1967)

There are some bands whose debut album features material that is as good as the band will ever release. There are other bands who have a chance to evolve and mature in the public eye. Ten Years After is the latter. Their self-titled debut is rough and spotty, and notable mostly in that the best tracks are light years behind their later live versions. Eric Clapton's influence is more and less obvious in the tracks Love Until I Die (which recycles the riff from Crossroads) and I Want To Know, as well as Spoonful (though I'm not sure how early Clapton/Cream was playing Spoonful, and it's possible the inspiration comes from The Paul Butterfield Blues Band's recording). The standout track is I Can't Keep From Crying Sometimes, an old blues newly arranged by Al Kooper (the version Ten Years After is covering here), which, here, is a paltry little thing, but like Dazed and Confused from Led Zeppelin's debut album, would eventually grow into a monster in their live set.

Highlights: I Can't Keep From Crying Sometimes, Help Me

Undead [Live] (1968)

It's rare for a band's sophomore release to be a live album, but Ten Years After were a special kind of band. They were one of (if not) the hardest touring bands of their time, and many say that they were at their best in the live arena. Still, on this album, the band is relatively young and inexperienced. You can tell that they are a group of incredibly talented musicians, but they haven't quite crafted their 'presence' yet. The live cut of I Can't Keep From Crying Sometimes is a vast improvement over the earlier studio version, but it hasn't quite reached critical mass yet; and neither has the guitar workout, I'm Going Home, featured here for the first time (interestingly, there's no studio version - but I doubt this particular track could be improved upon in the studio). Woodchopper's Ball is mandatory listening, as it and I May Be Wrong But I Won't Be Wrong Always feature a jazzier side of the band that took a backseat to the blues/rock concentration in later live shows.

Highlights: Spider In My Web, Woodchopper's Ball

Stonedhenge (1969)

My brother thinks very highly of this album, but I can't help seeing it as flawed. This was Ten Years After's "experimental" album, and is, structurally, similar to Yes' Fragile (though preceding it) in that the individual bandmembers take turns experimenting with their instruments, coming together on a handful of tracks. Unfortunately, though, in my opinion, the result is less successful than Fragile would be. However, there's still much to be heard on the album, including Hear Me Calling, which became a bit of a hit, and the excitingly unconventional No Title; and the album overall is a step forward from the debut.

Highlights: Hear Me Calling, No Title

Ssssh (1969)

This was Ten Years After's breakout album. On this album, you can begin to hear the band crafting that 'presence' I mentioned earlier. They're sounding increasingly comfortable and confident, and in the case of the standout tracks, they're beginning to be able to record cuts in the studio that aren't immediately overshadowed by the songs' live counterparts (not to say that they're necessarily better, though).

Highlights: Good Morning Little Schoolgirl, I Woke Up This Morning

Cricklewood Green (1970)

This is Ten Years After's early masterpiece, and my second favorite of their studio albums. There isn't a track on this album that I don't love (well, okay, Year 3,000 Blues is kind of iffy), and the highlights are both songs that I myself have performed live - so that should tell you something.

Highlights: 50,000 Miles Beneath My Brain, Love Like A Man

Watt (1970)

Watt is sort of the lull between two standout albums, and while not as good as its chronological neighbors, it's still a polished and consistent album, with maybe a bit more of a focus on whimsy and jazz than the straight up rock/blues that, in my opinion, lifts their other albums up. The band's Chuck Berry influence comes to the fore in the album's closing track, a live cut of Sweet Little Sixteen from the Isle of Wight concert.

Highlights: I'm Coming On, Think About The Times

A Space In Time (1971)

This is the album that everybody remembers (provided they remember Ten Years After at all), thanks to the radio hit I'd Love To Change The World (the band's only lasting hit, with the one possible exception of the immortalized live version of I'm Going Home from Woodstock, which, due to its length, is somewhat less radio-friendly), which is actually far from the band's greatest recording (go figure). The rest of the album is very good, too, but contrary to its popularity, I've never liked it quite as much as the superior Cricklewood Green. Overall I think it's a bit more mellow, which might appeal to some, but leaves me wanting something a bit heavier. It's got my favorite album art out of the band's discography, though.

Highlights: One Of These Days, I'd Love To Change The World

Alvin Lee & Company (1972)

By this point, we're approaching the tail end of the band's remarkable run, and yet, two of their greatest albums are still to come. This is not one of them. Alvin Lee & Company is a retrospective compilation of singles and rarities from the band's catalog. A number of live tracks from the Undead album are presented in single form (a.k.a. chopped to pieces), including the bizarre single version of I'm Going Home, which runs for three and a half minutes and completely ruins the spirit of the song. Some of the singles are interesting, especially The Sounds, and the jammy Boogie On is also worth hearing. If you're lucky, you might be able to collect everything on this album that's worth owning as bonus tracks on remastered versions of the previous albums.

Highlights: The Sounds, Boogie On

Rock & Roll Music To The World (1972)

This album is Ten Years After's mature masterpiece, and my favorite of their studio albums. The standouts are slightly less straightforward than those on Cricklewood Green, my other favorite album, but are instead deeper and more complex. I could have easily listed at least half the album as highlights. The title track itself is a fairly simple rocker, but is an impressively compact musical statement of just what rocks about rock n roll, while also being a nod to the rock of the fifties, as is also Choo Choo Mama. Standing At The Station and Religion are both developed and interesting pieces worth hearing. I highly recommend this album.

Highlights: You Give Me Loving, Turned Off T.V. Blues

Recorded Live (1973)

If you want to know what Ten Years After was, this is the album to listen to. Blowing the premature Undead out of the water, this is Ten Years After live, at their finest. I Can't Keep From Crying Sometimes has matured into an otherworldly 16 minute space jam; I'm Going Home, which reached maturity by the time the band performed at Woodstock, is still as fast and ferocious as ever; and Help Me replaces the tentativeness of the studio version with a fevered intensity. Slow Blues In 'C' is another good blues (not represented in any other form in the band's catalog), and the jam/rockers (One Of These Days, You Give Me Loving, and Good Morning Little Schoolgirl) sound fantastic, with Alvin Lee going at it with all the skill that earned him the nickname of "Fastest Fingers In The West" (or some variation).

Highlights: Help Me, I Can't Keep From Crying Sometimes, I'm Going Home

Positive Vibrations (1974)

And, after cementing their live legacy, the band goes out with one last album, before dissipating. Alvin Lee wasn't finished with music however, as he continued to perform and record over the decades with various outfits. Ten Years After's final album, like Watt, is not on par with their greatest, but is consistent and offers some interesting tracks worth hearing, like the opener, Nowhere To Run, the mellow feel-good title track, and the rocking Going Back To Birmingham. The rest of the album contains a number of funky/jazzy grooves.

Highlights: Nowhere To Run

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Watchmen (2009)

Note: This review was originally posted on a message board forum. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

Watchmen: The Movie

Was it good? Yes, it was great. Was it as good as the graphic novel? Unsurprisingly no, but that's a compliment to the graphic novel, and not a complaint about the movie. In fact, considering the quality of the source material, the complexity and subtlety of its brilliance, and the differences between the media, creating a satisfactory movie adaptation of a story like Watchmen is quite an accomplishment. And I do consider it accomplished.

Casting was effective. I think the characters were portrayed quite well, Rorschach being no exception (totally bad-ass - he's got to be my favorite character). I think Patrick Wilson was a good match for the second Nite Owl - even though I couldn't shake off my interpretation of him as "the guy" from Hard Candy. Which is sort of an odd juxtaposition. But that's my problem, not the movie's problem.

Special effects were spared no expense, and though some of them seemed a little gratuitous, you have to admit this is the sort of thing a lot of people like to see. Besides, the action was great.

I think the one thing about the movie that I liked the most is that it was a hard R. Heavy violence, sexual themes, even some nudity. And considering the maturity of the source material, I wouldn't have been satisfied otherwise. I was pleased at the approach they took.

Some specific things:


The Comedian's death early on was drawn out into quite a battle. It was impressive, though I'm not entirely sure what it added to the story overall. Aside from another good action scene, of course.

When Doc Manhattan goes to Mars, and has his little soliloquy, explaining his past, while exposing us to his unique perception of time (or what humans experience as time), I thought it wasn't nearly as effective as it was in the graphic novel. It's a complex scene, though, so I'm not holding any grudges.

The ending was slightly different from the graphic novel, though not as much as one might have you believe. It's just that instead of an interdimensional alien invasion, it was a bunch of experimental reactors exploding, with the blame being placed on Doc Manhattan. Some people seem to say the movie ending makes more sense, but the alien invasion ending is so much cooler (plus, it makes for a better practical "joke"). Still, it didn't ruin the movie for me that there was no interdimensional alien at the end.

None of the female roles in this story really stand out for me, but I have to say, when the Silk Spectre (young generation) got back into her uniform and started kicking ass, she was pretty sweet. And the steamy scene in the "owl chopper", while she still had her boots on (but nothing else)...


When the movie opened, and went into the opening montage of history clips, I was a little concerned, because I was thinking about how complex the story is, seeing all the events flashing by, and I was wondering if the movie would be able to successfully get the depth of the story across. And, considering the limitations of the medium, I think they did a fine job.

Anyway, great movie, and I highly recommend it. As a superhero movie, and as a comic book movie, it's not anything like a superhero movie or a comic book movie, and that's one of its greatest strengths. It stands out from the pack. And in a good way. Considering all the hype around this project, and the acclaim the original story has gotten, I could see how this could easily have been a disaster, but I must say, I think it turned out well. So don't miss your chance to see it!

Some notes on the two Watchmen-related specials:

Under The Hood

In the graphic novel, we are treated to excerpts from Hollis Mason's (the original Nite Owl) autobiography, Under The Hood, which offers us insight into the earlier generation of Masked Heroes - the Minutemen - that preceded the current Watchmen in the story. This addendum to the movie plays out in the form of a television interview (complete with commercials, including one for Veidt's "Nostalgia") with Hollis Mason, as he discusses much of the stuff covered in the autobiography. Much of the earlier generation stuff seems to have been glossed over in the Watchmen movie, and this featurette makes up for it, adding that perspective back in. Some side characters get a little extra screen time, as well, including the newsstand owner, who gets to say his catch phrase, "in the final analysis". Under The Hood hardly stands on its own, but it's an amusing and informative addition to the Watchmen experience.

Tales of the Black Freighter

Tales of the Black Freighter, on the other hand, not only stands on its own, but in my opinion, is at least as good as Watchmen itself, if not even better (and it only clocks in at 25 minutes). In the graphic novel, there's a series of scenes around the street corner newsstand, where a hanger-on kid reads a pirate comic, that we get to experience in pieces here and there. The story is incredibly dark and poetic, and honestly, it was my favorite part of the whole Watchmen experience. It's kind of separate from the rest of Watchmen, though, so it's no surprise it wasn't included in the movie - yet, I'm really really happy that they decided to animate it as an extra. And I won't say much, since there's no point in describing the story when you can just read (well, watch) it for yourself, except this - the animated version is unquestionably a success. Four thumbs up (the other two borrowed from a dead shipmate).