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Little Known A+ Albums: #2 Black Sheep Boy by Okkervil River

William Schaff has done most of Okkervil River's album covers. You should check him out, too.

When I first listened to Okkervil River ’s “Black Sheep Boy” I had to take a step back.  It was like nothing I’d ever heard.  The closest thing to the album is Neutral Milk Hotel’s “In an Aeroplane Over the Sea.”  The lyrics create vivid imagery both surreal and seemingly personal, the music builds and overflows with emotion, all the while telling the story of some tragic hero or villain.

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The album was recorded in 2005 and started out with a cover.  Will Sheff, lead singer and guitarist for Okkervil River , wrote a cover version of the song “Black Sheep Boy”  by Tim Harden.  The lyrics sound like they might be about someone misunderstood and under appreciated:

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But when it was written in the 1960’s, the song was actually about drug addiction and pleas to be left alone.  It was a cry for no more help.  “If you love me, let me live in peace.”

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Will Sheff knew this about the song.  The character of the “Black Sheep Boy” inspired many songs that were sequels to the original, and soon Sheff ended up with a concept album in which the Black Sheep Boy was woven in and out.  The songs revolve around a few other characters and in truth some of them are hard to tell apart.  This isn’t as straight forward as…well, I don’t know…Ziggy Stardust, I guess.  It’s very surreal and is very hard to figure out at times.  What is easy to tell is when a song is through the perspective of the Black Sheep Boy himself.  The song “For Real” for example:

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The whole album isn’t from this psychotic perspective.  The album actually holds two of the best love songs I’ve ever heard: “A King and Queen” and “Song of Our So-Called Friend.”

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There are two characters, a man and a woman, and I think the woman is in love with the Black Sheep Boy, and the man is trying to win her over for himself.  In “Song of Our So-Called Friend” the man makes his last attempt.  It’s a sad song, but it’s beautifully written.

The album is very vivid.  Because of the singing style of Will Sheff the raw emotion of the characters and the disappointment of the love songs really sting you.  On the talent of the band to build with the action of these images and feelings, the listener is forced to experience the album from beginning to end.  I know people who have cried listening to this album.  It feels more like a musical or opera at times.

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I want to go into greater detail about each song, because every one is just phenomenal.  I’ll end by talking about just one more.  “Black” is a song in which one character is being told about how she was molested as a child.  Will Sheff’s lyrics revolve around the male’s perspective; He wants to go kill the guy who did this to her, but she wants to put it all behind her.  One of my favorite lyrics are in this song:

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“And I can still see the cigarette’s heat.  I can’t believe all that you’re telling me, what is cutting like the smoke through your teeth as you’re telling me “Forget it.”  But if I could tear his throat and spill his blood between my jaws, and erase his name for good, don’t you know that I would?  Don’t you realize that I wouldn’t pause?  That I would cut him down with my claws if I could have somehow never let that happen?  Or I’d call, some black midnight, fuck up his new life where they don’t know what he did.  Tell his brand new wife and second kid.  Though I tell, you like before, you should wreak his life the way that he wreaked yours, you want no part of his life anymore.”

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Okkervil River ’s “Black Sheep Boy” is available in two versions.  There is the original version which you can get on Amazon.com used for $9.99.  Then there is a two disk extended version which features the unreleased recordings from the album which were labeled “Black Sheep Boy Appendix.”  This double set will cost you $8.97 used on Amazon.com.

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You do the math.  Thursday’s review will be the final in the set of ten.  Thanks for reading!

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Little Known A+ Albums: #6: Bring ‘Em In by Mando Diao

 

This is what you're looking for. Its all right here.

 

Let’s talk for a second about the Swedish.  Meatballs and prefab furniture aside, the Swedish are possibly the best source for rock music today.  When the Hives made the jump from Sweden to America an MTV reporter asked them why they would leave thousands of fans and all their fame to come to the USA.  They responded by saying that we (America) has forgotten how to rock.

How can you argue against that point today when our best-selling rock artists are Kings of Leon and men in girls pants?  Since grunge died, rock has struggled.  The rock/rap thing went way overboard and now we’re in shambles with all this hardcore nonsense.  But this isn’t a review of our nation’s inability to think for itself and actually seek out great artists.  No, this is about me seeking it out for you.

May I then present the revival rock band Mando Diao and their 2002 debut album “Bring ‘Em In.”  First of all, what an awesome title for a debut.  The cover is a photo of the band and it looks like they’re trying to get into a club or show or something.  It’s a subtle awesome, very understated in black and white.

In truth, that is almost what this band is. We’re talking about the roots of rock and roll explored by a capable and talented band.  The first track, “Sheepdog” actually sounds just like the Arctic Monkeys.  It doesn’t sound like a particular song by them, but it sounds JUST LIKE them.

The second song, “Sweet Ride” is worth the whole album by itself.  I don’t understand half the words in this song, but that doesn’t stop me from singing along with it every single time I play it.  You know how sometimes when you’re driving or you’re about to play a game of football or something like that, and you just need to get pumped up?  You shuffle through your iPod and you look through your CD case, and by the time you find what you think you want it doesn’t deliver.  It never does.  Well, “Sweet Ride” is that song you’re REALLY looking for, and it goes like this:


The rest of the album is great, but I promise that you will not get past track 4 before you want to go back and listen to that marvel of modern music again and again and again.

Once you get over it, maybe a year later, you’ll hear other great songs like Mr. Moon and The Band.  Speaking of “The Band,” check out this awesome tid bit of info about where the song came from, coming to you via Wikipedia:

“The Band” is a song from the Swedish rock band Mando Diao. It is about a fight between the band’s two singers. It was written when singer/songwriter Gustaf Norén wanted to leave the band and move away from their hometown of Borlänge, Sweden. Björn Dixgård, the band’s other singer/songwriter, wrote the chorus of the song to Norén after their fight to reveal his side of the argument. Norén returned to the band after hearing Dixgård’s song. The band reconciled, and Norén wrote the verses to the song.

Mando Diao shows a lot of range on this CD, especially for a band in their genre.  They go from garage band styles to blues and back again over and over.  It’s an interesting contrast and it works really well.  For this reason, it earns an A+

The album is available for about $2.50 on amazon.com.  Buy it.

Little Known A+ Albums: #8: 13 by blur

Blur is a well known band for one reason:
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Song 2 is not on the album 13.
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After the success of their self titled album and their first single, Song 2, Blur sunk out of the spotlight.  Their British counterpart, Oasis, took to a mainstream approach and kept coming back after little intermissions with hits.  Blur, however, maintained a more experimental approach to their music.
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Before their lead singer, David Albarn, left the band to follow other musical pursuits, namely Gorillaz, the band released a number of awesome albums.  One that stands out, however, is13, released in 1999.
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Yes, while Prince was partying and the world began to gather supplies and build bomb shelters, Blur was actually back on MTV with a hit single!  Well…MTV at like 2 in the morning….and it wasn’t much of a hit.  The video I first saw from this album was for the song “Tender” which was actually a #2 best seller on UK charts.  It’s a great song, but it’s kind of long.  Check it out below.
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The other video, and the one most popular, I think, was “Coffee and TV.”  It’s a pretty awesome video.  Check it out:
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The album didn’t sell that well and ended up being packaged with another Blur album later.  It deserved better.  13 starts off a little slow with “Tender” but picks up quickly with the next song, “Bugman.”  It doesn’t slow down again for a long time.  I think people may have actually got the wrong impression with “Tender” if that was the single they heard.  Even “Coffee and TV” was a little misleading.  The band gets really experimental in this album, and while those songs showcase two entirely different styles of music that the band isn’t known for, it only hints at the fact that this album by Blur doesn’t sound like what you might expect from their prior albums or their original hit “Song 2.”
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This is what you're looking for. (the cover...)

The songs often open or end with long intros or long outros.  The lyrics are often nonsensical, and some of the distorted sounds are totally unidentifiable. The album took about 2 listens to grow on me and by the time it did I couldn’t decide what my favorite track was.  The whole album flows together very well as a kind of fingerprinting that you’d want to hang on your wall, each color something new you can’t figure out.

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The songs “Battle” and “Bugman” and two prime examples of my points.  “Bugman” is fast, loud, and ends with a long and interesting arangement.  “Battle” is a spacey, slow song that seems just about the polar opposite of “Bugman.”  By the end of the album, you’ve experienced so much in sound that you feel like you’ve just learned something.
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This A+ album deserves to be higher on the list, but it’s not as little known as some of the other’s I’m going to write about, and also I don’t think it’s such a tough sell to you, the reader.  The songs on 13 are fun, interesting, and at times, insightful.  I really hope you’ll all check it out.  You can get it on Amazon.com for only 50 cents!

Old Games, Big Savings

Games like Silent Hill and Final Fantasy VII are still SUPER expensive. If you're going to buy a game like that, you might as well go with something in the current generation of consoles.

Feeling extra cheap this holiday season?  It’s not too late to go el cheapo on some of your gamer friends and family members.  The truth is, most of the best games ever made weren’t made during this generation of consoles (Wii, PS3, and Xbox360) and you can find the biggest hits of yesteryear for extra cheap on Amazon.com used!  Of course, the best of the best are still really expensive (like Silent Hill, which is still well above $30 used, or Final Fantasy VII, which should still hit your pocket book pretty hard).  So, what follows is a guide to the best games from the past that have gone down significantly in price.

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Let’s go look at the last generation of games and see what we can find.  These games are especially great because most can be played on today’s consoles since they’re backwards compatible, meaning that Xbox360 can play most regular Xbox games, and the Wii can play Gamecube games.

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The PS3 is kind of tricky, and only some models can play PS2 games, but all models, from what I’ve gathered, can play PSone games (the original PlayPlayStationtem).

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For the PS2 and Xbox catalocatalogmes, there are a few that stick out.  For owners of either system and for fans of Spider-Man, the Spider-Man 2 video game (about $2 used) is a pretty awesome buy.  No other Spider-Man game really captured what it might be like to swing through New York like this one did.  The game takes you though the story of the movie, but it also introduces other villains like The Rhino and Mysterio.  The game plays very well and is full of side missions and upgrades to keep people interested for a long time.

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Another great title that you can’t go wrong with is Tony Hawk’s Underground (less than a dollar online). True, there were sequels, but none really matched this game’s greatness.  You get to rise through the ranks as a pro skater in this video game epic.  The greatness of this game, however, comes from the multiplayer experience and in building your own parks.

Making your own parks and goals makes Underground a game that you can literally play forever.

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Sadly, the park editor has been cut from later games in the series, which is one of the biggest crimes in the history of electronic entertainment. Find someone who has this game, break out your memory cards and start building parks and goals within them, and watch the fun start.  Never has so much creative freedom been placed into a game (with possibly the exception of Little Big Planet).  It is a gift that will keep on giving, especially if you can hand copies of this game out to multiple members of your family.

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For all your GameCube playing, Nintendo loving persons on your list, there’s only one way to go.  Nintendo puts so much energy and so much polish into games that bear the franchise’s most prized characters that you really can’t go wrong with any Mario, Zelda, or Metroid game.  Check out this price list:

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One of the best games on the GameCube was this cartoony look into the Zelda universe.

Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door: $12

Metroid Prime: $5

Legend of Zelda: The Windwaker: $20

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Stay away from Super Mario Sunshine.  It’s was a mess.

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Going even farther back, you can run into some issues.  You don’t want to buy games for older consoles unless you’re sure your friend or family member has the older console or that it still works.  A Sega Genesis might cost about $25 on Amazon used, but you never know if it’s going to work or not.  So be careful.

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What is nice though, is the thought that you might inspire someone to break out their old NES or Super Nintendo and encourage them to revisit some of their most beloved games from 10 or 20 years ago.

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Here’s a quick list of prices for old used consoles and some great deals for some of their best games.  I’ve also included some pretty awesome ads for each respective system.  Enjoy!

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Sega Genesis: $25 used

Comic Zone: $4

Sonic the Hedgehog 2: a penny!

Streets of Rage 2: $6

Golden Axe: $6

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PSone: $20

Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped: $10

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2: $1.50

Gran Tourismo: $2

(A lot of these games are still over $20…which is interesting to me…)

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PS2: $50

Twisted Metal: Black: $3

God of War: $5

Sly Cooper: $2

Red Dead Revolver: $4

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Xbox: $35

Brute Force: a penny!

Halo: $7

Burnout: Revenge: $5

Spinter Cell: 75 cents!

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Nintendo Entertainment System: $30

Legend of Zelda: $8

Super Mario 3: $10

Metroid: $8

Dr. Mario: $5

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Super Nintendo:  $40

Super Mario World: $10

Donkey Kong Country: $15

Street Fighter 2: $2.50

Mega Man X: $10

F Zero: $1

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Nintendo64: $30

Golden Eye 007: $9

Mario 64: $20

Diddy Kong Racing: $8

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Also, if you’re stupid, you can get a Virtual Boy for $50.

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Thanks for reading!  Happy Holidays!

Police: Protectors or Collectors?

So, I got a ticket. Normally, I’d put up with it and I’d pay it and it wouldn’t be a big deal. I did it before. This was my fault, I’ll admit it, whatever, I’m not mad that I got caught or anything. I should have done what I did. But it was the method with which I was caught that aggravates me.

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I got caught on camera. Now, I know, do the crime, pay the fine, but this is a little much.

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I think everyone would agree, the only reason these cameras exist is because the city needs more money. But why am I the one who has to get stuck with the bill? Because police officers weren’t able to do their jobs properly, and because this city has failed to reduce its crime rate, we are all subjected to these traffic photos.

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I’m not saying I don’t deserve the fine, I’m not saying I’m not going to pay, I’m just saying that it’s wrong for the city to target all its citizens driving down a particular street because of other problems in the city. I’m not in a gang, I’m not out at all hours of the night blaring my stereo or walking around with an open container, but I’ve seen those people, and I’ve seen them often. So, why don’t police? Why am I forced to pay this ticket that didn’t affect anyone, while all those other assholes don’t? Because the cops in this city aren’t doing their jobs correctly, and now I’m paying for it.

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I’ve never been in a situation before where the police saved the day. I don’t think I’ve ever thought, “Thank god the police were there.” Because they’re never there. They used to show up and tell me and my friends not to play football in the parking lot of the park, but they weren’t there when I was assaulted outside a movie theater two months ago. They showed up to tell me my alarm malfunctioned and threatened to charge me $400 if it ever did it again, but they weren’t there when some jerks were throwing stuff at my car. In fact, when I called them to tell them about the incident, I was forwarded to so many different departments that by the time I got to the right person, she told me it was pretty slim that they would be able to find the people.

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So, yeah, the police are pretty much a part of our community just to take our money. All they’ve done with these cameras is just found a way to collect more money from more people who are not the problem. Instead of pressing people who don’t work, do drugs, and walk around at all hours of the night drinking in the streets around here, they’ve perfected new ways to dig into the pockets of people like me who pay taxes and obey the law 99% of the time.

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I’m not perfect. I’m going to pay the ticket. There isn’t really anything to fight here except for the ethics of the situation.   But I wanted to let everyone know my feelings on the police, these cameras, and shitty system I have to live with for now.

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The police: F-

Peggle MANIA!

I know this might look lame, but TRUST ME! You can thank me later.

Peggle…if there was ever a game more perfect, it would have “Mario” or “Tetris” in the title.

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Basically, in Peggle you shoot a ball down through a board covered in pegs. The ball bounces off these pegs, hitting other pegs on the way to the bottom of the board. Your goal is to clear the screen of all the red pegs while racking up points by hitting purple and blue pegs. Every board has a different layout of pegs, each placed over a different picture. For example, there is a board with pegs outlining the image of a bat, and some have moving parts, like windmills and wheels on a car.

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The most addictive thing about Peggle is that it’s about 50% skill and 50% luck. You can sit around perfecting your skills for hours, days even, and still you will never have two games that are exactly the same, nor will you ever be as good as you know you can be. There is a lot to be said about a game that makes you struggle through its levels, challenging you and also allowing you to have this much fun

It's not as easy as it looks, but victory is always one lucky bounce away.

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Online play is great. On Xbox, I’ve met so many cool people who just want to casually play a light-hearted game of Peggle between zombie killing or pinata raising. I even met a 56 year old woman from some place near London who plays every day. EVERYONE LOVES PEGGLE!

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A few other things that set Peggle apart from other puzzle/strategy games: The game comes with built in challenges. I played it on Xbox360, and while there are achievements, there are also challenges to beat built into the game. Do things like clear boards of all its pegs, get a crazy score on single board, or just pass a board starting with only one ball to clear these challenges. It’s enough to keep you coming back for more and more.

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Another thing Peggle does that no other puzzle game that I’ve ever seen does is cater to the color deficient. I have a color deficiency, so I appreciate this more than most, but you can click a button and suddenly the game doesn’t rely on just colored pegs to let you know where things are, it places shapes and symbols in the pegs to allow people like me to play and have just as good of a shot as anyone else to come out on top.

In Peggle Nights you get to see what every character dreams of being in the real world. Some of them can be pretty entertaining, and they all make for great game boards.

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Just released last week was Peggle Nights, and add-on to the original Peggle game. While the original game had about 55 boards, this new expansion has 60 AND a new character AND new challenges! Seeing as how I haven’t even finished all the original challenges, I’ve got a lot of Peggle in my future. And believe me, I’m fine with that.

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Peggle: A (about $20)

Peggle Nights: A+ (only about $5)

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To get a free demo of Peggle, go here: http://www.popcap.com/games/peggle

Raditude Faditude

You can't judge this album by its awesome cover.

So, I just got the new Weezer CD, Raditude. I expect to be taking it back tomorrow morning. My roommate wouldn’t let me borrow his, so…lame.

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Anyway, I was disappointed to see it’s a two CD set. At least the second CD only has 4 tracks.

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On the back there’s a nice picture of them riding bikes. BMX bikes. I guess they’re too cool for beach cruisers. I will say this, I like the album cover. The dog jumping in the air thing is pretty wicked.

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I’m about to start listening to the CD and I’ll write down my thoughts as I go along. I’m reviewing this album because this is a band I want to still like, but I refuse to lie to myself. If you didn’t read my review of the band, you may want to in order to get a better understanding of what I mean. Their last singles have been so bad that it pains me to even admit I once liked this band. The new single, from what I heard, isn’t so nauseating, so maybe this is the beginning of a reversion to their roots as an alternative band of geeks that are awesome.

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Track one: (If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To:

This is the only song I’ve heard from this album. It starts off pretty solid. It’s actually a good song to start an album off with. Very upbeat, kinda catchy. I don’t really like the bridge but the chorus makes up for it. It reminds me of the Green album a bit. The lyrics aren’t as great as the Blue album, but the melody is still catchy.

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    Track two: I’m Your DaddyIt reminds me of the Marvelous Three, and that’s not good. I’m looking at some of these lyrics…the chorus is a joke. Or at least I feel like it is. The chorus could seriously be a Weird Al song…if Weird Al gave up.

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    Track three: The Girl Got Hot

    Ok, let’s see whats up with this one. I like the chanting back up vocals from the start. The lyrics aren’t so bad. Honestly, of the three, this is the best song so far. I like it. It sounds like they’re having fun, like they’re not trying to be anything they’re not. It’s pop rock and it’s catchy, and damn it, I like it.

    Sadly, I think I just remembered what the next song was…

    .Track Four:: Can’t Stop Partying

    Yeah…ok, so this song starts off sounding like a scremo number. Suddenly it turns into a song that is…well…the lamest thing ever. It reminds me, honestly, of They Might Be Giant’s album, Mink Car. They have a song called “Man It’s So Loud in Here.” That song is also kind of a club song, something you could dance to, but it’s about things that are true to the band. It’s about a store being turned into a nightclub and an airport being turned into a nightclub. It’s fun and it’s cool and it’s catchy. They tried a new style but remained as zany and lovable as ever because you knew it was still a TMBG song.

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    Bands have fun with music all the time (look at Ween), and they try different styles, but some bands don’t get that you can’t elect to try something new and throw everything you’ve ever done out the window. When you do that, you begin to isolate your fan base and you start losing people, like me, who now cannot find anything to identify with in your music.

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    Track Five: Put Me Back TogetherYeah, ok, this starts pretty good. Mellower, better lyrics, sounds like an alternative song. Gets a little sappy. I like, however, that it reminds me of the heartache/outcast themes of the Blue album, but it almost feels a little too mellow dramatic at times. I feel like Rivers’ vocals are the weakest part of this song, I’m not into the melody and the lyrics lose me at times, I do really enjoy the music. Still, this might be my new favorite song on the CD. Good show, men.

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    Track Six: Trippin’ Down The FreewayThe title had me worried, but this isn’t so bad. If the band was to have grown into a one that makes the kind of pop rock music in this song, the song before, and on track 3, things would be all good.

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    Track Seven: Love Is The Answer

    Is love the answer? I’m digging the intro. Very psychedelic. I’m not sure what to think of it. It sounds good. I like it I guess. I wasn’t really ready for it, to be honest. Lots of Indian sounding instruments and singers. It’s not a bad thing. I like it when bands try new things. I wish they would experiment with more interesting sounds like these and not so much the hip hop stuff.

    As I listen to this, I can’t help but laugh to myself as I realize that a lot of their fans might think just the opposite and “not get” or dismiss this song like I did to track 4.

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    Track Eight: Let It All Hang Out

    Good song. Catchy. Still, Rivers is the weakest part of this song. I don’t really like his lyrics and I don’t really like the melody.

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    Track Nine: In The MallWhat happens in the mall stays in the mall. I didn’t expect the grungy guitar. Or the lyrics to be totally about hanging out in the mall and what the mall looks like…I guess this is kinda cool. New favorite song. I like the chorus. A lot.

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    Track Ten: I Don’t Want To Let You GoHow fitting that an album ends with a track about not letting go…I feel like I’ve seen this before. Jesus Christ. Would someone please tell Rivers that he can’t rap. It’s SO LAME. I don’t know, honestly, if I’ve heard anything lamer, and I know all about Har Mar Superstar. I’m skipping this track. It’s nearly unbearable. The chorus isn’t making up for anything.

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Bonus Disk

  1. Get Me SomeAlright! WOO! EVERYTHING SUCKS! It’s true, Rivers. Everything you do sucks. This is a bad song. I don’t buy it..
  2. Run Over By A Truck …                                                                      Next..
  3. The Prettiest Girl In The Whole Wide WorldOne chord over and over for twenty seconds…then…it gets a little better. Question: What the hell is a turtle dove, anyway?.

    This song is a lot better than anything else on this CD. The second one, anyway. It’s ok. It gets a little dull, you know, since the rhythm guitar is one chord over and over for most of the song.

  4. The Underdogs.I’ve never seen a more aptly named track. There is very little chance that this song will be able to make up for all the crappy songs I just listened to.

    It’s like an R&B song, I guess. But Rivers isn’t letting it all hang out. He’s keeping in his range and not pushing it. I respect that, but I feel like this isn’t a Weezer song. I feel like this isn’t even a Weezer-trying-to-do-something-different song. It’s like a Fountains of Wayne song. It reminds me of “All Kinds of Time.”

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Ok, so after listening to this album and the bonus disk, I’m not as disappointed as I thought I’d be. There are actually some good songs on here. I’m still taking this CD back, but I might get those 4 songs I like on iTunes. I don’t recommend this CD at all. If you are a fan boy and you will love everything Weezer will ever do, you’re love this and you probably already have it. So, if you don’t have it, you probably won’t like it unless you have very low standards.

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Let’s save this album for people who watch reality TV and read Perez Hilton.

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I want to end by saying this: I feel like I wasn’t a big enough Weezer fan to follow them through these weird changes they’ve gone through. I’m not a Super fan. Those are the ones who bought Make Believe and the Red Album despite the singles or the ones who lied to themselves and said they actually liked Pork and Beans. What they got was probably something similar to what I just got: a 50/50 mix of songs that are good and songs that are bad. If you’re ok with that, go for it, but I’m not buying for a minute that a lot of these songs about partying and hanging with his posse are from his heart, and that was one of the biggest draws to Weezer, for me at least. Every great song means something to the person who wrote it. These aren’t great songs. They’re the tired ramblings of someone who wishes he was something he’s not.

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Buy the Return of the Rentals instead.

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Hey, Justin, what do Weezer and the San Diego Chargers have in common?

They both have Rivers that suck!

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That’s two burns in one burn for my buddy, Justin. He’s the one who got me into the Rentals, though, so tell him thanks when you start digging on that album.

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Grade: D