The title of this post is a bit of a cheat; two of these albums actually came from Google Play. There are very few bands I’m willing to make a Google Play exception for.
Splendor & Misery - Clipping.
Clipping’s latest album is an afrofuturist rap concept album about an escaped slave adrift in space. It’s great. The subject matter should make this an accessible album for fans of genres outside of rap where nerdy concept albums are common, such as musicals or prog rock. The instrumentals, lyrics and volume levels are all a bit toned down from Clipping’s previous albums. Although concerned with very different subject matter, I’ve heard that there are references to their previous albums that have likely been documented on rap genius. I haven’t looked through the annotations yet, as finding new references after multiple listens is part of Clipping’s appeal and I don’t want spoilers.
Popestar - Ghost
Ghost are still on their post-Meliora tour, though they are already planning their next album and will be in the studio once their tour ends in 2017. In the meantime they released an EP with one new song and four covers, and I was one of the 21,000 people who bought it. The new song is great and seems the suited, out of most of any of the Ghost discography, to Papa Emeritus III’s vocal range. The covers are not great, though I am biased against covers. Ghost puts their own, different and talented version of all three songs, but become stale on second listen. The problem is the composition. A nameless ghoul called The Echo and the Bunnyman album Ocean Drive one of his favourite albums, so the Nocturnal Me cover is unsurprising. It’s clear that The Echo and the Bunnyman, though in a different genre, influenced the richness and dourness of Ghost’s sound. But unlike most Ghost songs, Nocturnal Me has no clear developement and ending. Two of the other covers, I Believe and Bible also suffer from lack of structure. Missionary Man doesn’t suffer from lack of structure, but like all Eurthymics songs, it uses cheap pop song tricks.
I’ll only be keeping Square Hammer, but I’m so eager for more Ghost material that I’ll take what I can get.
The Prelude Implicit - Kansas
Kansas has a new album 14 years and after arguably the two most important members, Livgren and Walsh, left the band. It’s okay. It’s better than their last album because Billy Greer, whose voice is past its prime, is no longer singing lead vocals. His replacement, Ronnie Platt is a bit nasal and has trouble enunciating.
Now that the band’s strongest songwriters have retired, the lyrics are really boring. Visibility Zero is a political protest song, which is a different subject to execute in this era, but they do it adequately. The Unsung Heroes sounds like something Bon Jovi could have released, and Refugee is an overly simplistic consciousness-raising song. I don’t disagree with the message, but I think that a little more art could be employed in the delivery.
On other songs seem to be trying to update the band’s sound. Camouflage uses a few baby diatonic rotations that Dream Theater pioneered. Rhythm in the Spirit uses the distorted but still poppy vocals that came out of nu-metal. However, both of these updates seem like too little, too late. If they’re not going to push the envelope, I would have preferred a return to organs and violins.
The two covers at the end are the worst things on the album. The Home on the Range cover is weird, and simultaneously too slow and too fast. The instrumental breaks are neat but out of place. The Oh Shenandoah cover is a bit more listenable because there are no lyrics, but it’s still boring - it sounds like a song that might play on an Aaron Sworkin movie.
Despite all of its flaws, the solos are as good as ever. If you’re a Kansas fan, it’s worth a listen, but I wouldn’t recommend it as an entry point to their discography.