- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 27, 2002

RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS

By the Way

(Warner Bros.)

It doesn't feel like three years have passed since the Red Hot Chili Peppers released their last album, "Californication." Blame alternative radio. Stations nationwide pulled singles from the album with such enthusiasm that they kept it current well past its shelf date.

History may repeat itself with "By the Way," the band's latest and most gasp mature album to date.

Maturity isn't the first adjective that jumps to mind when considering this L.A. quartet, with its curious onstage attire and well-documented struggles with substance abuse.

Yet while other alternative acts either refused to grow up or simply faded away, the Chili Peppers have slowly let their sound evolve without leaving their furious melodies behind.

The back of the album is the first tip-off that something deeper than "Suck My Kiss" is going on. The snapshot captures the band as if gathered for a funeral. Perhaps they mourn the passage of time, the cruelest blow that any rock act could suffer. Yet their music, if not always jubilant, strikes nary a conciliatory note to the aging process.

The title track fuses the band's earlier, rambunctious sound with its precious way with a ballad. An irresistible mix, and its constantly mutating song structure is a sign of the complexity to come.

"Universally Speaking" is an instant delight, and Anthony Kiedis' vocals are steeped in returning guitarist John Frusciante's assured playing.

"The Zephyr Song" may boast the band's most gorgeous refrain in years, while "Cabron's" Latin leanings prove that the Peppers can blend genres with surprising grace.

"Dosed" features bassist Michael "Flea" Balzary chipping in on the harmonies, giving the somber musings an ache that Mr. Kiedis' smooth voice wouldn't engender.

The miscues take some looking to find. "Don't Forget Me" trudges on too long, its bluesy refrains wilting under the pretentious prose. "Throw Away Your Television" is as uninvolving as one might think, although Flea's bass lines give it some spark.

However, even a generic, midtempo rocker such as "This Is the Place" sneaks in a gorgeous chorus late in the game.

The Peppers' trippy hippie lyrics may not be aging as gracefully. For every poignant moment, another comes stumbling toward the listener like a drunk feigning sobriety at last call.

"By the Way" marks a band in transition, yet rarely have growing pains yielded such soothing cries.

Christian Toto


GREEN DAY

Shenanigans

(Reprise Records)

While Nirvana may be the most talked about alternative rock act of the 1990s, Green Day has quietly amassed more hits than the seminal Seattle group, all without tinkering with its basic punk-pop sound. That's both a positive and negative trait, as fans are kept happy by Green Day's snotty attitude and singalong melodies, even as the band sometimes gets caught in a musical rut.

"Shenanigans" is full of ruts, a collection of B-sides, rarities, cover tunes and one new track, that shows why these songs were kept under wraps in the first place. The album is not entirely bad, as evidenced by opener "Suffocate," an uptempo tune that has all the ingredients of a good Green Day song: frenetic drumming, fuzzy power guitars and singer/guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong's nasally delivery, that puts emphasis on words at the chord changes in the chorus.

The quality of songs after that dips considerably, with such filler material as "Desensitized," "You Lied" and "I Want to Be on TV." The true gems here are the cover songs, including a version of the Ramones' "Outsider" that manages to sound like something Mr. Armstrong penned for Green Day's last studio album "Warning." It shows just how easily the band wears its influences on its sleeve.

A more surprising song is a straightforward rendition of "Tired of Waiting" by the Kinks that puts away the grunge pedal and finds Mr. Armstrong tenderly singing over a clean guitar sound. Another shock is "Espionage," a clever bit of vintage '60s surf/spy guitar music (think the original Bond theme) that was used in the second Austin Powers movie. These tracks prove that the band can expand its range when it wants to, but most of the songs that made the collection fail to live up to this promise.

Even new song "Ha Ha You're Dead" is a bland number, with a chorus that is hardly noticeable, given the fun the band could have had with the title. Green Day devotees will likely still want these tracks, but for casual fans, last year's "International Superhits" is a far better album, collecting the songs the band actually put on its albums rather than these sorry castoffs.

Derek Simmonsen


FATBOY SLIM

Live on Brighton Beach

(Ministry of Sound/MCA)

Grammy-winner Fatboy Slim took club music out of the clubs and relocated it to the beach at Brighton in southern England for a full-on performance in front of 40,000 people last July. This recording of the concert does what every great "live" disc should it gives you a sense of the occasion and the atmosphere.

For more than 70 minutes, Fatboy Slim (aka Norman Cook) puts on what amounts to a master class on how to create a set that has momentum and an internal dynamic, ebbing and flowing, changing. Featuring his own tracks and others by such artists as Underworld, Santos, and Basement Jaxx, Fatboy Slim also shows consummate skills on the mix as he blends Underworld's "Born Slippy" with his own "Right Here Right Now" as the rhythm edges into slinky house.

Throughout, he keeps the beats pumping, adding flashes of disco, vocals, hints of grunge/industrial from Basement Jaxx, and breakbeat.

Not all the cuts will readily appeal to those who have not yet succumbed to dance fever, but any listener can tell that "Live on Brighton Beach" is the sound of a DJ on the top of his game.

Scripps Howard News Service


VARIOUS ARTISTS

The Silk Road: A Musical Caravan

(Smithsonian Folkways)

Capturing the rich diversity of the Silk Road on two compact discs is a nearly impossible task, but this Smithsonian Folkways collection manages the job quite nicely, with a mix of traditional, classic and religious material. The Silk Road is a bit of a misnomer, as the "road" was actually many different land and sea trade routes, stretching through Asia, Africa and Europe, that sprang up between roughly 200 B.C. and A.D. 1500.

It's not necessary to know the history to appreciate the music, though. The first half is divided into "Masters and Traditions," 24 tracks that cover a wide range of regions and instruments. It opens with "Mahur," an Iranian song played on santur (a hammered dulcimer), which is matched by deep percussive beats from a zarb, or goblet-shaped drum.

Other highlights include "Balbyraun," played on dombra (a two-stringed instrument that resembles a lute) that uses the rapid picking style to tell a story entirely through sound; "Dance of Tamir Agha," which features an elegant, Armenian melody on duduk (a type of clarinet) with one musician playing the melody while another plays a steady drone underneath; and "Ker-Tolgoo," played on the komuz (a three-string instrument that can be tuned in many different ways), that mimics the sound of a trotting horse.

Most of the songs on the first collection are easier on Western ears, as many of the instruments have equivalents in our own classical and folk traditions and use pitches corresponding to traditional Western scales. This isn't a reason to skip over the second disc ("Minstrels and Lovers"), though, as it contains an equal number of exotic, beautiful and sometimes just plain strange musical selections.

Probably most impressive is the fact that many of these recordings are taken from improvised performances, some which sound as if they could be a thousand years old, even if they are mostly captured in the last two decades.

The "Jew's Harp Melody," which kicks off 10 nomadic songs, turns the rather simple instrument into an improvisational force, giving it a greater range than might seem possible. It is matched by khai, a type of deep, guttural throat singing that occurs in many of these tunes. The sometimes abrasive sound becomes sweeter when a female musician sings "Beyish Namasi (Melody of Paradise)," part of a larger musical epic.

The final section is devoted to "spiritual music," a genre that varies from culture to culture. The final track remains one of the collection's finest, "Sufi Hymn," which captures a spontaneous, festive performance taken from a Turkish communal prayer session. It's exotic, uplifting and has an intense beauty a description that could just as easily be used to describe the album as a whole.

D.S.


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