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Profile for J. Houzet > Reviews

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Reviews Written by
J. Houzet "wozamoya" (Chicago, IL)

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Human Wheels
Human Wheels
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Price: CDN$ 5.99
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4.0 out of 5 stars Mellencamp returned to form with this one, March 3 2004
This review is from: Human Wheels (Audio CD)
After the disappointment of Whenever We Wanted I was concerned Mellencamp was all burned out, but I saw this follow-up album going cheap on cassette in '94 so I bought it. Hooray! The good tunes were back, along with meaningful lyrics. JM had threatened back then that this was to be his last album, but he's threatened that several times since then. And thankfully, he stills puts out albums.
The title track is the standout song for me, a sad but beautifully worded poem on the state of the nation. JM also uses vox effects in the last verse. "Beige to Beige" is also a good song, the melody reminding me of earlier Mellencamp. "Case 795 (The Family)" is another sad song, on family abuse and murder. On side two, "Suzanne and the Jewels" stands out. The closing song, "To the River" has an interesting Eastern sound in its intro and the song is a blend of blues and rock.
Mellencamp has written about serious topics before but this whole album seems darker than his other work. Still, it's a good album. It's unfortunate that Human Wheels was not really appreciated by radio and was quickly forgotten when the next big single ("Wild Night") was released from its follow-up, Dance Naked.

Whenever We Wanted
Whenever We Wanted
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2.0 out of 5 stars Mellencamp's disappointment, March 3 2004
This review is from: Whenever We Wanted (Audio CD)
After his best album ever (Big Daddy), Mellencamp followed it up with this waste of time. Apparently he tried to regain the hard rocking sound he had with earlier efforts (Uh Huh and American Fool), but whereas those albums had great tunes, Whenever We Wanted is just a mangle of hard guitar sounds.
The opening track, "Love and Happiness" is probably memorable with its political commentary, and "Get a Leg Up" got some radio play, but the album as a whole is quite forgettable. This one and Mr. Happy Go Lucky are two Mellencamp albums I wish he hadn't made.

Big Daddy
Big Daddy
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5.0 out of 5 stars Mellencamp's finest album, March 3 2004
This review is from: Big Daddy (Audio CD)
Personally, Big Daddy is my favorite JM album. It is a little on the lean side in terms of recording minutes (each song is quite short), but it is strong on tunes and lyrics. It is much more laid-back than JM's earlier work and he has retained the folk instruments of The Lonesome Jubilee. People may say that lyrically he is being clichéd and rehashing his previous work, but I really like this album. Apparently (and obviously from the cover photo and title) JM was feeling reflective as a father, and it helps.
The title track is a catchy little song. The next two tracks are listed as singles on my cassette copy of the album, but they aren't my favorites. The two story-songs, "Theo and Weird Henry" and "Jackie Brown" are what hooked me. "Jackie Brown" especially got a lot of airplay in South Africa. It's a sad song about growing up poor and dying alone and almost forgotten.
Side two is actually the stronger part of the album. "Pop Singer" was the first single, JM's ironic look at himself. I just love the tracks "Void in My Heart" and "Mansions in Heaven." Those are tunes I never get tired of hearing. When I have come across this album in a jukebox, those are the two songs I put money in to hear first. Mellencamp also has his political commentary here. "Country Gentleman" and "J.M.'s Question" lament the greed and the poverty of the late '80s. The CD also has a bonus track I have not heard in its entirety.

Lonesome Jubilee
Lonesome Jubilee
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5.0 out of 5 stars JM's brand of folk rock describes America, March 3 2004
This review is from: Lonesome Jubilee (Audio CD)
"Paper in Fire" was the first (and biggest) single off this album, but it is not one of my favorites. It is however a strong rocker with John Mellencamp borrowing heavily from the Bible for his lyrics. "Cherry Bomb" and "Rooty Toot Toot" were also singles, and much more melodic than "Paper in Fire." The Lonesome Jubilee is loaded with well-composed tunes, thanks partly to Mellencamp's songwriting collaborator George Green.
"Cherry Bomb" is one of my favorite tracks, another JM reflection on his small town youth. I also like "Check it Out," and "Hot Dogs and Hamburgers." The latter is a story-song in first-person narrative about meeting an Indian girl on the road and giving her a lift. He tries to take advantage but she brushes him off, then he gets a conscience. The song is a strong statement about white America's role in destroying the Native Americans' way of life, and The Lonesome Jubilee is on the whole a very political album. Other songs lament poverty and broken dreams in working-class America.
The backing vocals are stronger and more soulful on this album than previous JM efforts, and the addition of folk and bluegrass instruments like the fiddle and the mandolin are very welcome. I highly recommend this album.

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5.0 out of 5 stars Gutsy heartland rock, March 3 2004
This review is from: Scarecrow (Audio CD)
Scarecrow was the first Mellencamp album I owned, though I was familiar with his music thanks to the ever-present radio-constant "Jack and Diane" as well as "Pink Houses," the song Reagan co-opted for his '84 re-election campaign. What a great investment this album was. Like others have said, there is a thematic integrity to this album that is hard to find. Mellencamp sowed all his songs with images of Middle America that appealed to me even as a foreigner listening in another country.
"Lonely Old Night" and "R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A." were the two big hits off this album, but the rest of the songs are strong and memorable as well. "Rain on the Scarecrow" is a great start to the album, a lament about small farmers losing out to big corporations. "Grandma's Theme" is an ingenious little insert of an old lady singing a folk song. Joan Osborne later stole this idea. Mellencamp revisits his roots in "Small Town," providing brief glimpses into life in Middle America. "Minutes to Memories" is a lovely slow rocker. Side two (LP speaking) is also strong, with bittersweet songs like "Between a Laugh and a Tear." The only song I don't really like is the closing song, "The Kind of Fella I Am."
Mellencamp already had the folk twist to his rock music, but it was on his next album, "The Lonesome Jubilee," that he introduced instruments like the mandolin and fiddle to enhance this flavor. He really is better than Bruce Springsteen.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dreamy soundscapes, Feb. 27 2004
This review is from: Starfish (Audio CD)
Nineteen Eighty-Eight was a huge year for Aussie rock. There was this album by The Church, Midnight Oil's Diesel and Dust, and INXS' Kick. I was already familiar with INXS, but not Midnight Oil or The Church. Actually, Starfish was a much quieter discovery than the other two. I had read a little review of the album and decided to pick it up on reputation alone. What a great investment. I have since given my cassette copy to my sister and upgraded to CD.
"Destination" is a wonderfully dreamy intro song. It has a lovely bridge where Steve Kilbey is almost speaking rather than singing. "Under the Milky Way" is an obvious single, although I had never heard it before. There is a great frantic bagpipes sound in the middle of the song. "Blood Money" is another fine song. I started noticing there was something similar here to Midnight Oil's sound - maybe the backing vocals in the choruses.
Man I could go on about all these songs! Side two (LP speaking) is also strong, with the upbeat "Spark" and "Reptile." But The Church are best known for their laid-back guitar rock. Like the Amazon reviewer said, they pre-dated what was to become the English rock sound of the '90s. The mega-successful Coldplay especially sounds influenced by The Church. I also notice similarities with The Verve (psychedelia) and R.E.M. (jangly guitars). They all owe something to the Byrds.

Diesel & Dust
Diesel & Dust
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5.0 out of 5 stars Aussie songs of outrage, Feb. 26 2004
This review is from: Diesel & Dust (Audio CD)
Nineteen Eighty-Eight was a huge year for Aussie rock. There was this album by Midnight Oil, INXS' Kick, and The Church's Starfish. I was already familiar with INXS but not Midnight Oil or The Church. After being intrigued by the smash hit "Beds are Burning" I had to try this album. I was blown away by its musical and lyrical power. Peter Garrett's accent is broad and he's in your face! I am in no way a left-winger, but I sang heartily along about aboriginal land rights, nuclear weapons proliferation and corrupt politicians. Hey, the concerns were very Aussie-centric!
Midnight Oil never reached the heights of similar socially conscious bands like U2 and R.E.M., but they were consistent. They weren't about image as much as they were about getting their message across. And they were talented musicians to boot. All the songs here are well-crafted. Just as Garrett is drowning you in his thick-accented outrage, the wonderful choruses come in with their backing harmonies. "Beds" was overplayed on radio but I still like it. "Put Down that Weapon" is a great song that starts quiet then builds in intensity. "Warakurna" became my favorite song with its catchy hook and stark images of aboriginal ghettos. "The Dead Heart" was the other big single, also a powerful song. "Bullroarer" has a terrific lead-in. I still don't know what was making that sound!
I loved being able to see the Oils live (for free!) at the Taste of Chicago in 2002. That was a treat. Peter Garrett was larger than life and a real crowd-pleaser. He did do a bit of eco-preaching in between the songs but thank goodness it didn't get too over the top. The Oils' quality of music made their politics palatable at least.

Kick (Expanded & Remastered)
Kick (Expanded & Remastered)
Price: CDN$ 11.95
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5.0 out of 5 stars Foot-stompin' Aussie rock!, Feb. 26 2004
Nineteen Eighty-Eight was a huge year for Aussie rock. There was this album by INXS, Midnight Oil's Diesel and Dust, and The Church's Starfish. But seeing as I was already familiar with INXS and not the other two bands, this was the recording that was first on my "must buy" list, and it came out right at the beginning of '88.
"Guns in the Sky" is a powerful kick-start to the album, INXS' foray into socially conscious music. But thankfully they left most of that to bands like Midnight Oil. INXS was a party band first and foremost. Side one is top heavy with their hit singles, "New Sensation," "Devil Inside" and "Need You Tonight." The latter song is obviously the song the band is best remembered for, but the former two tracks are great guitar rock songs. "Devil Inside" especially has a great hook and also has some social insight. These six guys were great songwriters and musicians, and Michael Hutchence had a perfect pop voice.
"Mediate" is a captivating play on rhyme. Somehow the words all fit, managing to be a commentary on politics, society and your personal worldview. To me it matches R.E.M.'s "It's the End of the World as We Know It" and Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire." The next single from Kick was on side two, "Never Tear Us Apart," a smart ballad. INXS even tried their hand at early rap-rock on "Calling All Nations." All in all a superb album.

Sunshine On Leith
Sunshine On Leith
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5.0 out of 5 stars Scottish songs of love and outrage, Feb. 26 2004
This review is from: Sunshine On Leith (Audio CD)
The first time I heard the song "I'm Gonna Be" on the radio back in '89 I was hooked. Then I got Sunshine on Leith on tape and was mightily impressed. The Reid brothers could not only rock, but also write thoughtful songs and lovely ballads. And they're a hoot to watch in their music videos if you ever get a chance.
The standout song is "I'm Gonna Be," which was released twice as a single ('88 and '92), but there is plenty of meat on this album. "Cap in Hand" is a lament over most Scots' timid attitude toward English rule. Its sister song is "What Do You Do" on side two (LP version). Great lyrics: "What do you do when democracy's all through/What do you do when minority means you?"
"I'm On My Way" was used to great effect on the Shrek soundtrack. And I love the ballad "Sunshine on Leith." The only track that's a trifle annoying is "Oh Jean," with its never-ending refrain. It's not easy to categorize The Proclaimers' music, but I guess it comes as close to Scottish folk-rock as you can get.
Listening to this album and watching Braveheart will make you sympathize for Scotland and loathe the English. Actually, I couldn't really understand The Proclaimers' nationalistic outrage until I put into a centuries-old perspective. But really, would modern Scotland be better off being independent?

Fisherman's Blues
Fisherman's Blues
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5.0 out of 5 stars An Irish folk-rock success, Feb. 22 2004
This review is from: Fisherman's Blues (Audio CD)
The Waterboys are best known for the song "The Whole of the Moon," which although overplayed thanks to being released as a single both in 1985 and 1990, is still their best song. But Fisherman's Blues is their best album. It's one of the most cohesive albums I've ever listened to, integrating a range of musical influences: Irish folk, some rock and some soul. As well as a cover of Van Morrison's "Sweet Thing," they use part of a Beatles song and close their album with Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land."
The title track and "A Bang on the Ear" are my favorite songs on this album, also being the most radio-friendly. But I also enjoy the Irish instrumental, "Jimmy Hickey's Waltz," the aforementioned "Sweet Thing" and "When Will We Be Married." "We Will Not Be Lovers" and "World Party" are more reminiscent of their previous album, This is the Sea. While not my favorites, they display the uninhibited fiddle playing that became The Waterboys' signature alternative rock sound.

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