Some albums made it to the charts while others brought joy to their fans, even without being on top of playlists. Here are a few of them
MUSIC REVIEW: THE HANSON BROTHERS, WHO GAVE US ‘MMMBOP,’ TURN TO ORCHESTRAS TO GET THEIR MUSIC OUT
The Hanson boys have done everything in their power to get you to listen beyond “MMMBop.” They’ve put out solid new music, live CDs, Christmas albums - OK, lots of Christmas albums - greatest hits collections, and even covers of songs by U2 and Radiohead. Now they’ve gone uptown - they’ve gone orchestral.
The 23-track double album, “String Theory,” inds Isaac, Taylor and Zac Hanson reworking past songs and unreleased ones for swaths of strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion. One new song, “Siren Call,” uses a full 46-piece orchestra.
Snark if you must, but anything that gets Hanson’s music a fresh listen is welcomed. Why this talented trio has never matched the success of “MMMBop” is one of those mysteries that go unsolved in the modern music business.
Many of the songs, thankfully, aren’t overwhelmed by the Prague-based orchestra or often see its inluence melt away, like on “Where’s the Love” or “This Time Around.” Sometimes it’s all a tad forced, like on “Something Going Round.” And sometimes, truth be told, the original is just better, like “Yearbook.”
“String Theory” is not another greatest hits collection. Some Hanson songs that have appeared on such previous compilations - like “Get the Girl Back” and “Penny & Me” - have not been picked to be orchestra-tracked. New or unreleased songs include “Reaching for the Sky,” ‘’Battle Cry,” ‘’Breaktown,” and the really nice “No Rest for the Weary.”
But you really want to know about what happened to “MMMBop,” don’t you? The new version is slower, more complex and yet still fun and catchy, even though it’s been given a lushness rarely offered on other pop songs. We hope you listen. Maybe consider staying awhile?
THE SMASHING PUMPKINS’ NEW ALBUM, FEATURING THREE OF ITS FOUR FOUNDING MEMBERS, IS SHINY AND OH SO BRIGHT
It’s no question The Smashing Pumpkins has had a tumultuous past. Multiple iterations, breakups and solo careers later, three founding members of the 90’s Chicago-rooted rockers - Billy Corgan, James Iha and Jimmy Chamberlin - are back to release their irst collaborative album in 18 years, “SHINY AND OH SO BRIGHT, VOL. 1 / LP: NO PAST. NO FUTURE. NO SUN.”
The title of the LP is fitting, considering there’s a past the band likely wants to leave behind.
The Smashing Pumpkins has teetered between dissolution and reconciliation since 1996, after the overdose death of touring keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin and the iring of Chamberlin. Members have been in lux ever since, with the current roster featuring Corgan, Iha and Chamberlin with guitarist Jeff Schroeder.
Ahead of their latest tour, one founding member, bassist D’arcy Wretzky, was left in the dark. The circumstances surrounding her exclusion from the band’s reunion started a feud between Wretzky and Corgan, complete with publicized text message screenshots and namecalling.
Peel away the dramatics and dysfunction that marked the launch of “SHINY AND OH SO BRIGHT” - and the Pumpkins’ past, for that matter - and you’re left with an album that stays true to the band’s classic sound with the help of legendary producer Rick Rubin. Triumphant strings and distorted vocals open the album, as “Knights of Malta” crescendos to a choir singing with the guttural Corgan singing, “We’re gonna make this happen/I’m gonna ly forever.”
While the album captures the nonconforming spirit of eccentric frontman Corgan - swinging between manic, obsessive and edgy tracks like “Solara” and delicate, trance-like songs such as “With Sympathy” - overall, “SHINY AND OH SO BRIGHT” is no masterpiece. Songs build then izzle, like “Silvery Sometimes (Ghosts),” a catchy tune lacking the chorus to be considered vintage Smashing, despite its nostalgic and distinctive Pumpkins feel.
Highlights on the 8-track album include “Travels” and “With Sympathy.”Theoptimistic“Travels” afirms the album’s commitment to “No Past. No Future.” in a luid realitywhereCorgansings,“Seelove, see time/see death, see life” before unfoldingintoachorusof,“It’swhere I belong/but far from here or else I’m gone.” There’s an element of opacity, common to Pumpkins lyrics, but one that manages to feel pleasantly unresolved by the anthemic track. “With Sympathy” pleads, “Please stay confused/disunion has its use,” but wraps itself in a comforting, steady melody.
“SHINYAND OH SO BRIGHT” bringshopethattheband’sdarkdays are distant. Millions of Pumpkins fans certainly hope so.
THE REVIVALISTS STUMBLE BADLY ON MESSY 4TH ALBUM, “TAKE GOOD CARE”
The New Orleans-based The Revivalists are back and bigger than ever - literally - with their fourth full-length album. They’ve recruited a new member - they’re up to eight now, if you’re counting - and offer a bumper crop of 14 new songs.
The first half of “Take Good Care” is mostly promising stuff, featuring the band’s exciting mix of jazz-funk grooves, blues rock and warm melodies. The second half falls off a cliff. They should have quit when they were ahead.
For anyone not a die-hard RevHead, the jam-band octet made a name for themselves with the sweet and funky tune “Wish I Knew You,” which found major success on the alternative charts in 2016 and last year. Rolling Stone magazine named them one of “10 Bands You Need to Know.”
And for seven or so tracks on “Take Good Care,” the Revivalists prove they might be the real deal, especially with the slow-burning opener “Otherside of Paradise,” the euphoric “All My Friends” and the clever rocker “Change,” all showing variety and expert musicianship. But by the time you get to the end, their sound has gotten lattened-out, generic and boring.
“Future” sounds like a lazy Strokes rip-off and “Some People Say” is a warmed-over Chris Stapleton song. “Celebration” and “When I’m With You” are sagging, needy songs that ape the E Street Band. There’s inconsistency and tediousness all over the 14-track album. How did this happen?
One reason may be because, for the irst time, the band handed over producing duties to three men: Andrew Dawson, Dave Bassett and Dave Cobb. At best, their ingerprints are all over the album. At worst, their ingers are all over the throat of the band.
Things get so bad that the inal song is an utter embarrassment. “Shoot You Down,” a soft, labby plea against handguns (“I won’t shoot you down/Can we for once just live with no guns?”) that seems both cynical, passive and out of step with an album that has twice gleefully celebrated guns (“You can put them bullets in that gun” on “Oh No” and “Faster from a bullet from a gun” on “Change.”)
It looks like this time the Revivalists didn’t take the advice of their own title - “Take Good Care.”
MARIANNE FAITHFULL’S 21ST ALBUM, “NEGATIVE CAPABILITY,” IS A MOVING, QUIETLY MAJESTIC COLLECTION OF SONGS DWELLING ON AGING, PAIN, LOSS AND LONELINESS
Marianne Faithfull is a great musical survivor. She went from pure-voiced chanteuse of “As Tears Go By” to emblem of 1960s drug excess before re-emerging in 1979 with “Broken English,” a soulbaring blast of an album that still packs a punch.
Since then, Faithfull has matured into a diva of melancholy, her expressive voice roughened and deepened by time and life. “Negative Capability,” the 71-yearold singer ’s 21st album, is a moving, quietly majestic collection of songs dwelling on aging, pain, loss and loneliness - hardly the usual rock ‘n’ roll fare.
Faithfull is chief lyricist, working with musical collaborators including Mark Lanegan, Ed Harcourt and Nick Cave, who co-wrote, plays piano and sings on the single “The Gypsy Faerie Queen,” a midsummer night’s meditation inspired by Shakespearean mysticism.
Faithfull and her producers, Rob Ellis and Warren Ellis (one of Cave’s Bad Seeds), have crafted a suite of tuneful, autumnal, tentatively hopeful songs, with simple, effective arrangements driven by acoustic guitar, meditative piano and somber strings.
Collectively, they work a mournful magic. Faithfull brings an ominous touch to Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” and revisits two of her own songs: the Rolling Stones-penned “As Tears Go By,” which grows more poignant with age, and the mesmeric “Witches’ Song” from “Broken English.”
“Born to Live,” written for the late Anita Pallenberg, wishes for “a good death,” while “Don’t Go” mourns another departed friend, Martin Stone.
“They Come at Night” is a bleak response to the 2015 attacks in Faithfull’s adopted home city of Paris, while “No Moon in Paris” inds loneliness, rather than love, in the City of Light.
But it’s not all darkness. Faithfull’s indomitable spirit seeks more - more life, more hope, more love.
“In My Own Particular Way” offers a wry self-appraisal: “I know I’m not young and I’m damaged/ But I’m still pretty, kind and funny.” And, declares Faithfull: “I’m ready to love.”