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Single Review: The Fray - Ready or Not (feat: Stacie Orrico)

“Ready or not/here I come/you can’t hide.” Isaac Slade effortlessly raps over a buzzing bassline and funky guitar riff. Wait, what? Given that The Fray are well known for being a piano based soft rock band, the above statement may sound ridiculous.  The song is of course a cover, from the 90’s Grammy award winning hip-hop trio, The Fugees, whose members Wyclef Jean and Lauryn Hill later became successful solo artists themselves. Whereas the original was significantly sparser in it’s production and raw, The Fray decide to give the tune a fresh modern spin incorporating subtle synth and several electric guitars, which take prominence just over a minute into the track while the hip hop beat keeps the rhythm flowing. Speaking of rhythm, you might ask whether Slade and Co. pull the cover off. The answer is a resounding, yes. Not only do they make the track their own but they pull it off with such swagger (in the best sense of the word), that you can’t help but sing along by the time Stacie Orrico joins in on the last chorus – and on her own verse, she shines, just as expected. The Fray prove their ability to experiment and succeed beyond their own genre without sounding gimmicky. 

Reviewed by David Esquen.

Listen out for “Ready or Not” on Juice - Tuesdays from 6pm on 2SSR-FM!

Album Review: Pearl Jam - Lightning Bolt (2013)

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Pearl Jam need no introduction, but I’ll give a short one anyway for the uninitiated. Formed at the turn of the 1990’s Pearl Jam are just as important as Nirvana for bringing grunge/alternative rock to the mainstream. To this day, they still remain a force to be reckoned with, having sold over 85 million albums worldwide and commonly referred to by many as one of America’s greatest rock & roll bands of all time. Lightning Bolt is their tenth studio album as a band, released just over four years since Backspacer.

From the moment ‘Getaway’ begins you can tell you’re in for a good time and things only get better from there as ‘Mind Your Manners’ pulsates with short, fast, loud riffs as punishing as any punk rocker from the Dead Kennedy’s. The hyped up single ‘Sirens’ is comparable to a late 80’s rock ballad and is somewhat of a disappointment, lyrically it is well rounded but musically something is lacking; it just doesn’t go anywhere. There are far better ballads on the back-end of the album, such as ‘Sleeping by Myself’, originally recorded for Eddie Vedder’s solo album ‘Ukelele Songs’ and juxtaposes an almost summer-like breezy composition against melancholy lyrics about love lost. The final track on the album, Future Days, is also a definite highlight and put simply, is everything a love song should be, complete with violins, and piano as Vedder croons “The hurricanes and cyclones rage/The winds turn dirt into dust/The floods they came and the tides they raised, ever closer became us”. A future staple at weddings?  Quite possibly.

However, the record is by no means a saccharine affair.  Perhaps the strongest cuts on the album are found in the middle as Pearl Jam explore different musical territory on the haunting and atmospheric ‘Pendulum’, deliver the sunny and optimistic ‘Swallowed Whole’ and give us a surprisingly decent pop/rock offering ‘Infallible’ – something more expected from the likes of Lifehouse.  Other highlights include the bluesy rocker ‘Let The Records Play’ and the propulsive title track.

Time will tell how well this stacks up against their other work, but Pearl Jam has certainly delivered a thoughtful and introspective set of songs that explore a variety of themes from relationships to faith and doubt to forgiveness and even life beyond death. In 2013 - the year of massive album release campaigns and hype surrounding Daft Punk, Lorde and Katy Perry, this is one that definitely delivers what’s expected from the seasoned rock band.

Reviewed by David Esquen. 

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"Lightning Bolt" is available now on iTunes through Universal Republic. Listen out for tracks from the album between October 15 and 22 EXCLUSIVELY on Juice! 

Young Guns “Towers” - Single Review

Sin. 

It’s something none of us can escape.  Yet it pervades our society and throughout our lives.  Some people build towers / I just dig holes / on my way back down again in the gutter / and I’ve seen this place before Gustav Wood sings in the chorus and second verse of Young Guns’ latest single “Towers” (from their critically-acclaimed album ‘Bones’), which explores this universal human struggle of wanting to escape from sin, despite being dragged back down again and again by it. In fact, the situation has become so familiar that he sarcastically addresses the addiction as a ‘dear old friend’. 

The punchy energetic punk-rock track recalls earlier Green Day material but also has the distinct Young Guns sound, which they have now become known for. Interestingly enough the singer seems to recognise the gift of continual grace that is being offered to him within the very first verse, and is thankful that he is still able to walk & crawl despite all the things he has done.

However, the song offers no real answers and is more a declaration, and confession to the fact that he is unable to help himself.  Perhaps there is someone else out there who can offer some Hope…

Check out the song lyrics here.

"Towers" goes for adds on Juice Radio from August 4. From the album ‘Bones’ - Out NOW on iTunes and in stores through Liberator/Universal Music.

The Dark Knight Rises - Movie Review

Courage. Love. Truth. Pain.  

These are all words that could be used to describe Christopher Nolan’s latest blockbuster, superhero epic, “The Dark Knight Rises”.

As English actor, Christian Bale, (who plays Batman/Bruce Wayne) recently said in an interview, he views all three Batman films as one story. I utterly agree with him.  On Wednesday evening I saw them back-to-back at the local cinema along with a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises and it really does help understand the trilogy as a whole.

This film picks up eight years after the events of the last chapter.  Batman has willingly taken the blame for various crimes, including the death of Harvey Dent, Gotham’s ‘White Knight’ believing that Gotham’s symbol of hope cannot be destroyed, even if it is a false one. As Batman says at the closing of the The Dark Knight (2008): “Because sometimes the truth isn’t good enough. Sometimes people deserve more.”  However a city cannot be rebuilt on a lie and once again Gotham is open for corruption. 

As the conclusion to the Batman trilogy, TDKR (The Dark Knight Rises) is satisfying, but as a standalone film it is not enough.  I say this because, just like the previous two films, this one also features a somewhat intricate plot and key parts of the story directly reference events that took place in Batman Begins (2005).  I’m not saying you won’t enjoy it, but you may end up being more easily confused and frustrated at some of the seemingly ‘random’ sub-plots that pop up rather than being able to connect the dots.  That however, is certainly one of the films strengths. Director, Christopher Nolan has worked hard along with screenwriters, Jonathan Nolan and David S. Goyer to tie up loose ends and bring the series to a satisfying conclusion and providing fans with closure.

Although some people would probably prefer an all-out action film with a mindless script, TDKR remains true to Nolan’s intelligent, artful film style and definitely does not disappoint in that respect.  The cinematography is appropriately bleak-ish for certain scenes, and the action set pieces are epic.  At one point, an ensemble of hundreds of extras are brought on board in a chaotic fight against the police and the people of Gotham city, who have decided to take control of the city along with Bane as their leader.

Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Gary Oldman all return to their roles and deliver them perfectly.  There is even a particularly affecting scene involving Michael Cain’s Alfred and Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne which may make more than a few a little teary. Personally however, I think one of the flaws with this movie is that it sometimes takes itself a little too seriously and lacks the offbeat humour that characterised the first two films.  Also, it seems to bite off more than it can chew in terms of introducing the new characters.  Bane (played by Tom Hardy), and Catwoman/Selina Kyle (played by Anne Hathaway) for me never felt fully developed and just a little bit rushed.  Don’t get me wrong.  They are clearly multidimensional characters, and the actors who play them did excellent portrayals (particularly Anne Hathaway) and even the character of Holly Robinson (Catwoman’s sidekick) makes a brief appearance or two, but I think they deserved a little more screentime.  That said the film runs for 165 minutes – that’s almost 3 hours.  Though personally, I think I could’ve sat the theatre probably for an extra hour or so. 

One of the standout characters for me however was Joseph Gordon Levitt’s John Blake, a young police officer who represents all that Commissioner Gordon and Bruce Wayne once stood for: honesty, justice and courage.  He is disgusted at the fact that the City of Gotham has been served a lie and false hope, as Batman has willingly taken the fall for crimes he never committed.  However a particular theme begins to emerge at this point: sacrifice. In one particular scene in response to Blake’s disapproval Officer Gordon responds with something powerful, “One day I hope you have a friend who will plunge his hands into the filth so that you can keep yours clean.”  That is so true.  Here, in the real world, someone almost 2000 years ago did do that for those closest to Him.

Throughout the film a clear picture of love from Batman for his people is expressed and the true hero behind the mask is revealed.  However, I should point out that this is not some soppy, trite kind of love that the world so generously juggles around.  No, this is the kind of rare sacrificial love that only a true hero would ever be able to show – Love in action.

The Dark Knight Rises is by no means a perfect film, but it is clearly a worthy sequel and satisfying conclusion to the Christopher Nolan, Dark Knight trilogy.  See it, enjoy it, and then think about the deeper meanings hidden behind the messages of the film.  Oh, and also keep an eye out for the final scene… the director has cleverly set up the possible future of Batman’s legacy should Warner Bros. ever consider setting up a reboot at some point, which they most certainly will.


4/5 StarsReviewed by David Esquen. Released by Warner Bros. on July 18 Australia-wide. Rated: M