The Redeeming Qualities of a song

“Robert” really likes the Gwen Stefani song, Hollaback Girl. I think that the song sucks. It got me thinking to myself (and aloud), “What are the redeeming qualities of a song?”

First, there must be music involved in the song somewhere. And I’m not talking ambient noise or arpeggios. Hollaback Girl has the arpeggios, played by guitar in the background and later played in unison by some atrocious synth brass. And that’s it! Other than the drum beat and a rare half-sung line, there is nothing else to the song.

Next, there should be some coherent thought within in the song. Saying Shi* 37 times in a 3:19 song doesn’t quite do it for me. “The Shi* is Bananas – B-A-N-A-N-A-S” – WTF is that?

Originality – granted the song doesn’t have to be completely original. I believe that this song was better… when it was called “We will rock you” by Queen. Repeating the same lines over and over and over (and over) is not very original or creative. Why would I want to listen to 99 bottles of beer on the wall? I wouldn’t.

Standing the test of time: Not time in the eternal sense, but do you get sick of the song after 10 listens? How about just one? I was sick of this song after the first listen. I did force myself to listen to it 3 more times before and during the writing of this post so that I could get some facts straight, but no more Hollaback Girl for me.

A song should be a song. I don’t listen to much rap music (I have a hard time actually calling it music), because my definition of a song is that it should have a musical structure, actual singing, and flowing lyrical ideas. Most rap has the flowing lyrics, but this song doesn’t even have that (not to mention the lack of musical structure and actual singing).

So, to paraphrase the structure of this song, we have:

[Chorus – 2x];
Oooh, this my Shi*, this my Shi* [4x];
[A spoken word verse];
[Chorus – 2x];
Oooh, this my Shi*, this my Shi* [4x];
[A spoken word verse];
[Chorus – 2x];
Oooh, this my Shi*, this my Shi* [4x];
The shi* is Bananas – B-A-N-A-N-A-S [4x];
[Chorus – 2x];
Oooh, this my Shi*, this my Shi* [4x] 

Wow – this song is deep. What was I thinking??? Wait, I know what I was thinking

99 bottles of beer on the wall
99 bottles of beer
Take one down, pass it around,
98 bottles of beer on the wall.
98 bottles of beer on the wall
98 bottles of beer… 

Hollaback Girl Report Card
     Music involved: FAIL
     Coherent thought: FAIL
     Originality: FAIL
     Test of time: FAIL
     Is it a song: FAIL

Final Verdict: FAIL

Here – try this quality song on for size (right-click, save target as…), and tell me that Hollaback Girl is better than it. Of course, doing so automatically disqualifies you from being my friend anymore 😉

Full length review of Dream Theater’s “Octavarium”

In a previous post, I had given a brief review of the new Dream Theater album, Octavarium. The reason I kept it brief was because the album had not yet been released and I did not want to give any spoilers away to the Dream Theater fans who may come across it. So now I want to write a full review of my thoughts, especially since I have listened to the album 8-10 times through and have a different overall verdict of the album than I did previously.

Dream Theater – Octavarium

This latest album seem to be quite a departure from the traditional Dream Theater style. Sure, they have had changing styles all throughout their career, especially the differences between their last album, Train of Thought, and their other previous ventures. Where ToT went the metal direction (\m/), this new album, for the most part, goes backwards – not to the styles of Scenes from a Memory, Awake, or Falling Into Infinity – but backwards to the classic prog rock styles of Pink Floyd, Genesis (Peter Gabriel, not Phil Collins), Rush, and even Yes. Of course, not all of the tracks take this route, but the title track most definitely does.

The Root of All Evil: This is part 3 of Mike Portnoy’s homage to Alcoholics Anonymous, with the previous 2 being The Glass Prison and This Dying Soul (from Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence and Train of Thought, respectively). This song brings some familiar elements into the new album, due to the subject matter that we have heard 2 times before, and the musical similarities between the 3 songs.

The Answer Lies Within: The first of 2 ballads on the album, although it seems like 70% of the album is slower-themed. Very pretty musically; nice use of live strings (not played by keyboard) with piano and bass. And LaBrie’s vocals are fitting for the mood of the song – very calm and soothing.

These Walls: This song starts out with a grungy, distorted, electric guitar riff and then really takes off. But it then calms down for a bit in the verses, where once again Labrie’s vocals take over. The choruses bring it back to full steam again. The bridge in this song adds a new element to this album – a guitar solo. However, this is a very concentrated effort from Petrucci – nothing fancy or over the top, just right for the music.

I Walk Beside You: This is a very mainstream ballad/uptempo song, in that you could probably see this track on a U2 album. The song starts out with a tick-tock of a clock, which to huge Dream Theater fans will say this is an addition to “Scenes From a Memory”. Although the subject matter doesn’t seem to match the genius of Metropolis pt. 1 and pt. 2, you could definitely feel that this song is a reference to Nicholas and Victoria.

Panic Attack: The first heavy song on the album, at least the first to go start to finish in a metal style – yet not as heavy as the heaviest moments in ToT. It starts with a great bass riff, and then guitars, keys, and drums join in on the fun with the same riff. There is a little Rudess interlude before the choruses, which calms down the song, if for even 5 seconds, but then it is right back at it in the chorus. The bridge section of this song gets some fun instrumental work, with a featured solo from Jordan Rudess, followed by John Petrucci really kicking some ass. And then there is the unison Keys and Guitar work before the prechorus comes back in, which is solid as ever. I believe this is the song that the record label is shipping for radio. You can download a sample (edited) version of Panic Attack here (MP3).

Never Enough: This is probably my favorite song on the album. The subject matter is directed at the 1% of fans who no matter what DT does, they complain (as stated by Mike Portnoy). The choruses in this song really make an impact on me, not because of the lyrics, but the music – Just really strong song writing here.

What would you say, if I walked away
Would you appreciate, but then it’d be too late
‘Cause I can only take so much of your ungrateful ways
Everything is never enough. 

I have read in several other online reviews that this song sounds very similar to Muse‘s song, Stockholm Syndrome. Not ever hearing that song, I cannot confirm or deny this, but if Never Enough is like Muse, then I will want to listen to their album because there is a good chance that I would like it.

Sacrificed Sons: This is a song about the 9/11 attacks. It is quite an emotional piece in the begining, but picks up steam after the first chorus with a bass interlude, followed by some nice instrumental work. I have the sense that this song is part 2 of “In the Name of God” from Train of Thought, mostly because of a musical section in the choruses of the song, not to mention the subject matter. Where “In the Name of God” was about cults and taking lives and beliefs in general, Sacrificed Sons goes very specific about terrorist activity and that these terrorists believe they do it for the good of their god.

Who would wish this on our people, and proclaim that His will be done
Scriptures they heed have misled them
All praise their Sacrificed sons. 

Octavarium: The title track, a 24 minute masterpiece. I don’t want to go into too much detail because it is such a long song, so here are some generalizations. The song starts out with a very cool Pink Floyd “Shine On” vibe, with Jordan Rudess playing a new toy – the Continuum (I don’t even know what this thing is…). Petrucci joins in and adds some nice guitar work which really adds to the Crazy Diamond feel. We also get some flute thrown in which adds to the thinking that this is a classic prog rock influenced piece.

Soothing vocals come in finally around the 5 minute mark. The song is broken into 5 different vocal sections. The 2nd section is called “Medicate (Awakening)”, and is based on the movie Awakenings. A nice touch.

In comes a Rudess feature – Jordan really shines in his keyboard playing here. In fact, his playing on this album is the most extensive and cohesive yet in any DT album he has been involved with. This is a great sign because his keyboard voices can at times sometimes be obtrusive to the sound of a song, but not on this album.

The next vocal section is one of my favorites on the entire album. This section takes several references to songs, bands, movies, etc, and melds them into quite an interesting vocal line

Sailing on the seven seize the day tripper diem’s ready
Jack the ripper owens wilson phillips and my supper’s ready
Lucy in the sky with diamond dave’s not here I come to save the
Day for nightmare cinema show me the way to get back home again 

There is also a theme here – going full circle. The start is the same as the finish. Not being able to break free from an enclosed “Octavarium.”

The next section, entitled “Intervals,” has some wicked work – each phrase (there are 8 of them) begins by somebody saying a word in the background, such as “Root” for the first phrase, “Second” before the 2nd phrase, etc. and the lyrics of the phrase are describing a song from the album, in order:

[Root] Our deadly sins feel his mortal wrath, Remove all obstacles from our path — The Root of All Evil
[Second] Asking questions, searching for clues, The answer’s been right in front of you — The Answer Lies Within
[Third] We try to break through, Long to connect, Fall on deaf ears with failed muted breath — These Walls
[Fourth] Loyalty, trust, faith, and desire, Carries love through each darkest fire — I Walk Beside You
[Fifth] Tortured insanity, A smothering hell, Try to excape but to no avail — Panic Attack
[Sixth] The calls of admirers, Who claim they adore, Drain all your lifeblood while begging for more — Never Enough
[Seventh] Innocent victims for merciless crimes, Fall prey to some madman’s impulsive designs — Sacrificed Sons
[Octave]Step by step, We try controlling our fate, When we finally start living it’s become too late — Octavarium

Note that the song titles are not said or sung (they are just in the above quote section as reference. Another really interesting tidbit to this section of the music is that WAY in the background of each phrase is a faint line or melody from the corresponding song – for instance during the sixth phrase, you can hear “What would you say” faintly in the background (the chorus of “Never Enough”). Just amazing… I wonder if I will ever stop finding small tidbits like this on the album 🙂

The song ends with a wrap-up of the begining vocal section – bringing everything full circle. And as if this was not enough, while the song fades out, the intro to the entire album comes back in. Quite a cool addition to the theme.

Final Thoughts: This album has everything that I look for in good music – from Metal to classical, Prog to alternative, it has it all. Each time I listen to the album, it gets better. Of course there is a point that it can no longer go beyond (which is 10 out of 10), and Octavarium is almost there. I really love some of the slower sections of the songs because they have a real Neal Morse vibe to them – almost to the point that I half expected to see his name in the writing credits.

If Scenes from a Memory is the best album by Dream Theater (at least to me) and I give SFAM 10 out of 10, then Octavarium is only slightly behind – 9.5 out of 10. Get this album 🙂

Wanted… Dead or Alive

I, along with John, went to the birthday party on Saturday night. I certainly didn’t add my 2 cents to the musical stylings while the party was hopping. I had to go see a friend’s band play, so I left the party early. But I did return. And also sang a very poor rendition of “Wanted Dead or Alive” by Jon Bon Jovi. I couldn’t find anything that I would normally be willing to sing (such as “Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd or “I’m Just a Girl” by No Doubt), so I gave it a shot and realized that I just couldn’t hack it. Thanks to the B-day boy, we made it through it. And by that point there were maybe 7 people left there.

It figures – I may be incredibly musically talented, but I just cannot hack the lead vocals – especially the higher stuff. My voice just cracks and then my throat is sore and I talk funny for the rest of the night. But if you come to the Phoenix Down show in 3 weeks, you will see a different side of me 🙂

Really, though, the most interesting part of my weekend took place on Friday night. The guys and I went to see an old friend, who was in town to visit her sick dad (my prayers are with you and your family, Stephanie). And I expected to see Courtney for the first time in over 2 years. Which I did. There she was, sitting a bit away from the main table, conveniently on the opposite side of where we were sitting. After a beer and a smoke, I made the move to talk to her. I went up, tapped her on the shoulder and gave her a big hug. We talked for a few minutes, but like is usual in a bar, you can barely understand what one or the other is saying. Then that was pretty much it for the rest of the night. There were a few minutes of friendly banter, including a nice slap on the shoulder from her for me still smoking. I just smiled and laughed.

I think I came out as the better of the two of us. First, I approached her; I don’t think she had the guts to approach me. Second, while the group was talking for most of the night, she took several phone calls and was writing text messages. Most likely to the new person in her life about what she was thinking while I was there. Not that I am judging her, but hey – I was comfortable talking with her, why was she so worried about talking to me?

Either way, it was good to see her again and to get some demons out of my head. Also, it was great to see Steph. I always cherish her company, even if some others don’t. I think I may take a vacation this summer and go to Chicago to visit her. And see a Cubs game.

I am a bad person

Yes I have, from time to time, downloaded an album that has not yet been released – via bitTorrent. I have also downloaded released albums, if only to see if I like it (but I do end up buying them if I like it). Take NIN‘s new “With Teeth” album – I thought it sucked, so I deleted it from my computer. Or take Ra‘s new album “Duality” – it is not as good as “From One“, but is a definite keeper. Given the fact that it doesn’t come out until next month, I will continue to listen to my leaked copy, but once it is available I will buy it and rip good quality versions to my iPod.

Now for the reason I am writing this post: Last night, I was able to download the new Dream Theater album, “Octavarium“. For those who don’t know my musical tastes and such, this is my favorite band. It is the band that my band looks to for inspiration (particularly due to their amazing musicianship). And even though the new album comes out in just about 10 days, I found it impossible to pass up the advanced screening.

I want to give a semi-review and attempt to not give anything away in terms of what a song could mean to a fellow DT fan. After 2 listens to the album, I can definitely say that this is not their finest work. Of course, with each listen, the songs start to grow on me more. I thought on my first listen that the album was good, but not great. And that’s to be expected when you have an album like “Scenes from a Memory” to compare everything to (it’s my personal holy grail of DT albums).

There are 3 songs in particular that got a “Holy Shit!” from me, 1 more notably than the others, but I will let you find them once listening to the album. There are a few songs on this album that I got a very strong Neal Morse vibe from. I think that Neal’s amazing writing skills are rubbing off on Mike Portnoy (considering that MP has played drums on every solo album that NM has released). And I think it’s a good thing – It really adds another depth to DT’s music.

Also, It really seems to me that they are trying to close a major chapter in their history book with this album. The titular song “Octavarium,” has some themes that make it sound like they are ready to move into the next realm of music – most likely by moving to a new record label (God, I hope they don’t break up).

Right now, I am going to give the album a 3 out of 5 stars. That is not my final verdict though. I will update you all on what I think after I have listened to the actual CD.

UPDATE: I have now listened to the album for a 3rd time, and it has raised to a 4 out of 5 stars.

BTW – I got this site HTML 4.01 Transitional compliant, so there should be no issues in either Internet Explorer or Firefox browsers. You can see the validation image in the bottom left corner of the website.