1 = Skip it
5 = Try it
10 = Buy it
Katherine, the Filmmaker
A writer-director who got into post-punk the first time around and helmed videos for R.E.M. (“Shiny Happy People”) and others. Teaches screenwriting at Columbia; her film Diggers, starring Paul Rudd, will be released next year.
John, the Ph.D.
Writing a history of sixties underground newspapers called Tom Paine’s Children for Oxford Press. Favors bands like the Clash and Sleater-Kinney that combine unpretentious rocking with intelligent lyrics.
Sarah, the Schoolteacher
Helps her Park Slope students learn about sharing opinions with others by soliciting their thoughts on the latest tunes. Currently listening to Rhino’s girl-group anthology One Kiss Can Lead to Another on repeat.
American V: A Hundred Highways
The final entry in the Rick Rubin–produced series of elegantly orchestrated covers (plus Cash’s last two original songs).
John [Rating: 10]: The ruminations on mortality—and there aren’t ruminations on much else—are very, very raw. I’d say it’s the most authentic and moving album about death that I’ve ever heard.
Katherine [Rating: 9]: That Johnny had one foot in the grave makes up for the fact that this is the umpteenth Cash-Rubin set of overly familiar tunes. Like a late Rembrandt self-portrait—disturbingly honest about admitting that imminent death is exhausting and frightening. But still a little stubborn.
Sarah [Rating: 7]: If Johnny Cash made an album of his favorite recipes in song form, I’d probably buy it. It’s sentimental enough to be affecting without overdoing it into melodrama.
We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions
Pete Seeger tunes covered by a characteristically large Springsteen ensemble.
Katherine [Rating: 10]: Not that it will surprise anybody, but Springsteen does a fantastic job of capturing wild in-the-moment sing-along excitement on record.
John [Rating: 8]: I’m impressed with the way he reinterprets these old songs in different styles—swinging New Orleans jazz, bluegrass, gospel, Celtic, etc.—and by the disc’s loose and freewheeling feel compared with some of his slick and overproduced recent work.
Sarah [Rating: 8]: The kids haven’t heard of Pete Seeger, but they know some of the songs and we all like them. “They make me feel like I’m in my parents’ bed when there’s a thunderstorm,” one of them says.
Slightly mellower-than-normal tuneage from the indefatigable classic rocker.
Sarah [Rating: 8]: When I was 13, I liked Tom Petty because he scoffed in the face of authority and told people off, but he did it cheerfully. Tom’s sadder and quieter lately, but he still manages to be charming in a man-isn’t-life-just-crazy-sometimes kind of way.
John [Rating: 7]: Though Petty’s often unsurprising, all of his records have a couple of songs that pull at my heartstrings, and here the track “Square One” reminds me how things should have finally turned out with my last girlfriend but didn’t.
Katherine [Rating: 4]: What is it with these graying boomers and their obsession with the “open road”? Where exactly would it take them, and what would they do once they got there?
Songs and Other Things
Experimental new material from the rarely seen founder of Television.
Katherine [Rating: 8]: His hiccuping voice and prickly guitar have been an acquired taste since the high-CBGB days, and there’s a little misguided funkiness and draining free-form experimentation. But the deeper you get, the more irrefutably great it becomes.
Sarah [Rating: 6]: Verlaine’s mumbling, groaning manner had me scowling, my ear pressed to the speakers, trying to figure out the lyrics. When I finally did understand what he was saying, it wasn’t really that interesting.
John [Rating: 3]: I’m usually one of the first to rejoice when Verlaine decides to leave his bedroom, but this disc sounds like the soundtrack to a bad Tim Burton movie. And there aren’t enough of the guitar pyrotechnics one remembers from old Television vinyl.
The New York band’s 21st album in 25 years of pioneering downtown indiedom.
Katherine [Rating: 10]: More gossamer and shimmery than dissonant and screechy, and maybe my favorite Sonic Youth album ever. “Reena” is their catchiest song since “Kool Thing”—it’s no coincidence that the agelessly groovescent Kim Gordon is on lead vocal.
Sarah [Rating: 9]: Everyone perks up when I put this on. The kids are overjoyed, especially having been subjected earlier to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. One of them performs what might be the first-ever Sonic Youth-inspired break-dancing moves.
John [Rating: 6]: Thurston Moore and Gordon continue to moan their way through most of their songs instead of singing. Lyrics like “What a waste / You’re so chaste / I can’t wait / To taste your face” don’t help.
An out-of-nowhere comeback from a soul singer who rose to fame in the disco era.
Sarah [Rating: 9]: The kids hear Candi Staton’s near-tears voice and feel bad. Too young to understand that men are the cause of Candi’s heartache, they’re convinced that a boyfriend, perhaps the unmarried school janitor, would cheer her up.
John [Rating: 7]: Smokin’ soul in the finest tradition! Staton sounds as young as Joss Stone and, of course, a lot better.
Katherine [Rating: 6]: I am abashed to confide that I had never heard her, or even heard of her, till this record, but it struck me as the kind of thing that would be perfect for nursing breakup sorrows, especially the opening track, “You Don’t Have Far to Go,” which kills.
Living With War
The case against Bush, with guitars.
Sarah [Rating: 8]: “Can George Bush arrest us for listening to this?” one boy asks. The lyrics are the focus, but it’s a solid rock album too.
John [Rating: 7]: Lands with all the subtlety and nuance of a Paul Krugman column. Not even protest music should be this heavily didactic, and Young’s reedy voice sometimes seems unsuited for making such orotund pronouncements. Still, the sentiment that fuels them is spot on. Listen, and seethe in righteous indignation!
Katherine [Rating: 5]: You can just picture Young playing these songs with his wild eyes and swirling hair, as though he travels with his own private wind machine. But the titles alone tell the deadly literal tale: “Shock and Awe,” “Let’s Impeach the President” (“for lying,” the lyrics clarify—thanks).
Ringleader of the Tormentors
The onetime Smiths front man’s latest assembly of morose ballads.
Katherine [Rating: 8]: Love has apparently paid a visitation to Moz, and the clouds are a tad less gray, though couplets like “Pasolini is me / Accattone you’ll be” still provide the damp but pleasurable jolt we’ve come to expect from him.
Sarah [Rating: 5]: I think it would be unethical to play songs like “I’ll Never Be Anybody’s Hero” for 9-year-olds. And the melodies and guitars are flat to me (I can’t get over Johnny Marr’s absence, no matter how long it’s been).
John [Rating: 3]: Oh, good grief! Tracks on this disc include “Dear God Please Help Me,” “You Have Killed Me,” “The Father Who Must Be Killed,” and “Life Is a Pigsty”—that last of which features ostentatiously weepy lyrics actually set to a backdrop of drizzling rain.
Red Hot Chili Peppers
It’s a stadium arcadium, people. What else do you need to know?
John [Rating: 6]: Almost all of the songs on this album come in the band’s signature funk-punk style, which no longer seems particularly novel. Incidentally, last summer I briefly dated a woman who said she used to make out with Anthony Kiedis. Disgusting.
Sarah [Rating: 5]: By the middle of the second CD, the kids are frustrated and unhappy, claiming that the album is preventing them from remembering how to do division. “Is this ever going to end?” one child pleads.
Katherine [Rating: 4]: A double album (one side “Jupiter,” the other “Mars” … cosmic). The best compliment I can pay these now-middle-aged former sock-wearers is that apparently teenagers still want to have sex to their music.
My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (2006 version)
Brian Eno & David Byrne
A remastered version of the spacey 1981 collaboration between the two post-punkers.
Katherine [Rating: 10]: Moby owes some serious royalties. Byrne and Eno created groovy experimental sound collages with audio snippets over a quarter-century ago, but their lingering influence is everywhere.
Sarah [Rating: 4]: I put this album on figuring it will be innocuous background music, but the kids start snickering. When I ask what they find funny, they are unanimous: There’s nothing interesting to them about this music. “I could be better than this,” says one. And despite this record’s oft-referred-to influence, I agree. I like the samples better on their own than the new songs they help form.
John [Rating: 1]: Shit sandwich.