Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Holiday Buyer's Guide (Mainstream Rock)

Other Sections:

-Symphonic/Power/Folk Metal
-Accessible Metal
-Classic Metal
-Mainstream Rock
-Extreme Metal

Mainstream Rock

Although bad music is slowly killing it off, listening to the radio is a great way to get into music. If you or someone you know is into radio rock, then there’s both good and bad news for you. The bad news is that very few of the bands that topped the rock charts this year released recommendable albums. The good news is that 2007 was filled with solid rock albums that deserved more radio play than they likely received. This holiday season is a perfect time for radio rock fans to expand upon their taste, and the crop of quality accessible rock albums from 2007 is a great place to start.

Bad Religion
New Maps of Hell

If you’re looking for a revolutionary album that bends genres and experiments with new musical territory, you can safely pass on New Maps of Hell. Unless you’re a longtime Bad Religion fan, this isn’t an essential album, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worthy of a recommendation. Bad Religion knows how to play punk music, and a consistent punk album by a hard working genre vet is just what 2007 needed. New Maps of Hell is solid throughout, and the songs have a quality old-school punk sound that is rarely found these days. In a time where great punk albums are hard to come by, this is certainly a breath of fresh air, and fans of punk should take note that Bad Religion is still here and still putting out good albums.

From Beale Street to Oblivion

From Beale Street to Oblivion belongs in the collection of every rock fan. It’s an album that’s accessible to fans of mainstream rock, heavy enough for metalheads, creative enough for alternative fans, and just plain great enough for any rock fan. Clutch is the hardest working band in music, and they’ve created a sound that’s the epitome of both uniqueness and rock ‘n roll. This is one of the best albums Clutch has ever released, and it’s also one of the most accessible. If you’re a fan of any type of rock, it’s highly recommended, as well as their entire discography. Although not every song is a gem, the list of things Clutch does well is endless. The superb energy, intelligent and sometimes humorous lyrics, outstanding instrumentals, and an overall unique sound are just a few of the things that make this band and album great. Any fan of rock music should consider picking up From Beale Street to Oblivion during the holidays.

Dropkick Murphys
The Meanest of Times

Although an album by a Celtic punk band from Boston may seem like an odd recommendation for mainstream rock fans, Dropkick Murphys’ The Meanest of Times is exactly what a rock album should be. The band is as energized as ever, as well as more consistent than they’ve been in the past. More than anything, however, it’s just a good time. If you’re looking for simply a good fun rock album, look no farther. The Meanest of Times is one of the most fun albums released in 2007, and it’s a great punk album as well. It’s an essential album for the fans of the band, and punk fans looking for something new should give this a look as well.

Fair to Midland
Fables from a Midfly

It’s hard to tell what’s more surprising: the fact that Fair to Midland broke through with a radio hit in 2007 or that Fables from Midfly turned out to be a great album. Combining aspects of hard rock, alternative, heavy metal, progressive rock, and metalcore, Fair to Midland can best be described as a calmer and more accessible System of a Down. Fans of System of a Down would do well to pick this one up, and anyone who enjoyed the surprise radio hit “Dance of the Manatee” would also most likely enjoy Fables from a Midfly, as the full album takes everything that works from that song and creates a unique sound that remains unpredictable throughout. Even for more open-minded progressive fans, this may be worth considering. Not everything they try works, but there’s no doubt that Fair to Midland has created a unique album, as well as musical weirdness that is oddly accessible.

Vol. II

Hurt is one of the few modern radio rock bands worth supporting. Just like their first album, Vol. II is more ambitious than the typical modern hard rock album, and although it doesn’t succeed at everything it tries, it makes more for an interesting listen. Anyone who purchased Vol. I should add Vol. II to their collection without hesitation, as the band as shown a good amount of improvement and evolution in the last year. Anyone who has heard and liked the single “Ten Ton Brick” should also consider Vol. II, and even those just looking for something unique and ambitious in a genre that has become tired and generic would probably enjoy what Hurt has done on this record. Hurt hasn’t put it all together yet, but Vol. II still has enough going for it to warrant a high recommendation for modern and/or mainstream rock fans. Whether or not you decided to pick this one up over the holidays, this is a band with a very promising career ahead of them.

Mondo Generator
Dead Planet

Ignore that Nick Oliveri has tried to pass his newest band off as a metal band, and ignore that this band played this summer’s Ozzfest tour. Mondo Generator is a rock band through and through, and it’s likely that metalheads that aren’t into punk or modern rock are going to hate this album. Dead Planet is a punk rock album that has more energy than maybe any other rock album released this year. Although the album stands on it’s own as an outstanding record for modern rock fans, it’s worth noting that the band’s frontman, Nick Oliveri, was a founding member and former bassist of Queens of the Stone Age. As good as Era Vulgaris is, this is the album to get if you’re a Queens of the Stone Age fan that can only buy one record this holiday season. The energy and pure rock ‘n roll that’s been missing from the last few Queens of the Stone Age albums is found in bulk here, and anyone who longs for the return of Kyuss (the band Oliveri and Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme were in prior to Queens) should strongly consider adding this one to your holiday list. Oliveri's vocals take a bit of getting used to, but the album’s pure energy and emotion is fantastic to say the least.

Nine Inch Nails
Year Zero

At this point, Nine Inch Nails deserves a category of their own. Unless you really aren’t into modern music or you’ve been living under a rock for the last ten years, chances are you or the person you’re buying for have already formed an opinion of Nine Inch Nails. If you’re a fan, this is a great album that’s certainly worth getting. If you’re not, then this isn’t going to change your mind. If you’re in between, then your enjoyment of the album will likely depend on what you like about the band. Since Year Zero is a more alternative and industrial album that their early work, fans of that side of Nine Inch Nails will likely enjoy it. However, those looking for a return to Nine Inch Nails’ heavy metal days likely won’t find much to like here. Those who still aren’t sure are advised to get it and give it a try, as Year Zero is a quality album at the very least, and it’s hard not to appreciate a musician as dedicated as Trent Reznor.

Serj Tankian
Elect the Dead

Although it’s unlikely that Elect the Dead will appeal to anyone that isn’t already a fan of System of a Down, Serj Tankian’s debut solo album is a good enough album to warrant a recommendation to mainstream rock fans. Thankfully, it’s an improvement over the last few System of a Down albums, and it’s likely that fans of the band that have yet to purchase this will find a lot to like in the songs that use the same style Serj established with the band. The lack of Darren Malkian’s backing vocals, as well as a return to more intelligent political lyrics, are what makes Elect the Dead an album for both System of a Down’s current fan base and any fans that lost interest in the band over time. It’s not perfect, and the experimental songs that stray from System of a Down’s formula don’t work well at all, but there's certainly enough here to recommend.

So Long

So Long is album that fans of any type of rock music should enjoy. It’s a perfect blend of old and new, and it’s far better than any modern rock played on the radio this year. It’s rare that a modern hard rock album does something truly unique, and it takes an album like So Long to remind one that rock doesn’t need to be boring and generic to sound mainstream and accessible. So Long may not have gotten the mainstream recognition that it deserved (in fact, it may be difficult to find the album in the first place), but any fan of mainstream rock needs to own this album. So Long is as good of a post-grunge album as the genre has seen, and it’s a good time from start to finish. It’s worth repeating again that fans of modern rock need to take notice, and fans of classic rock or grunge that lost interest in what’s on the radio these days should also give So Long a strong consideration.

Queens of the Stone Age
Era Vulgaris

Era Vulgaris is a perfect mix of pure rock ‘n roll, alternative, experimental, and the just plain weird. Although Queens of the Stone Age has always been a band best judged by listening to their albums in their entirety, they’ve previously managed to craft some truly great tracks that work on their own as standout singles. One of the biggest flaws of Era Vulgaris is that this album doesn’t have a ton of true gems that work on their own, but instead smaller pieces of work that make an album that's better than the sum of its parts. The other flaw is that Queens of the Stone Age still lacks the energy that they lost when bassist Nick Oliveri left the band, and it’s that lack of energy that makes Era Vulgaris a weaker album than its predecessors. Even with its flaws, however, this is some of the most creative rock you’ll hear on the radio these days, and it’s certainly worthy of a recommendation.

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