Blog reviews and opinions: what’s the point?

December 1, 2009

I have just added my first blog music review, on the album Petit Fours by Grand Duchy. I even rated the album and gave it four-and-a-half stars out of five. The .gif images for the stars I shamelessly stole from Allmusic (most of the options were available from the front page. To get images for ratings below two stars I only needed to enter Limp Bizkit in the artist search engine).

Of course, I am hardly the only one who ever wrote a review. So why did I bother? For a number of reasons, really. On one hand, I feel some stuff is so good that everybody should know about it. On the other hand, I feel some stuff is so bad that everybody should know about it. But more importantly, when you read a review on this site, you’ll know who’s telling you. Review sections like those found on amazon or imdb are easily compromised, with publishers or others with an agenda adding rave or scathing reviews without honestly assessing the book / album / movie under review. You’re obviously free not to agree with or not to trust my reviews. If so, then just ignore them… Or even better, sit down and write your own reviews about stuff you’ve seen and read. The more people do so, the more it will stand out against the white noise from all those anonymous trolls and company stooges.

I’ve added a qualifier to my review(s), showing how often I’ve read / seen / listened to what I review at the moment of writing. This is either once, twice or often, and it should tell you how serious to take my review.


Music Review: Grand Duchy – Petit Fours

December 1, 2009

Release date: 2009 Genre: Indie Pop Label: Red Ink Records

Rating: listened to: often

Grand Duchy is not just Frank Black’s latest solo project. Instead, Frank Black merely is a band member of a two-person band headed by Violet Clark (who just happens to be his wife)… and Violet Clark, she is in a word spectacular! Part Madonna, part Kim Deal, part Kristin Hersh, but always Violet Clark, she channels various female alt-rock leaders and pop stars but never imitates them. She’s having a great time, and Frank Black and the listeners happily go along for the ride. If it weren’t for the fact that the album references a lot of indie music (in a good, self-assured way) instead of presenting something entirely new, I would have rated it five stars. But then again, maybe using that as a criterion would make it impossible to rate an album five stars nowadays. Petit Fours succeeds completely in what it sets out to achieve.

The album starts with Come over to my house and from this you might be lulled into expecting Frank Black to be in charge. He’s in fine form, and as usual I love the lyrics. Come on over to my house / I’ll make you buckets of tea. He may be ironic in his songs, but he’s always sincere and never pathetic. Violet Clark takes over next, continuing the theme and celebrating love in Lovesick: Don’t stop for breathing / leave it when you’re older / Listen to that devil on your shoulder / Don’t stop for reasons / be a little bolder / Everybody’s got their lovesick seasons.

Fort Wayne is apparently the oldest song on the set list. Pleasant, but not really remarkable in my opinion. It did however rightly raise expectations for the forthcoming album when it was played in concerts.

Their age obviously works for Frank Black and Violet Clark. They’re veterans of rock and of love and don’t mind showing it on this record. Black Suit, the highlight of the album, benefits from this perspective. And the song itself is just plain awesome, with perfect vocal deliveries from both Black and Clark and an insidious post-punk sound reminding me of Killing Joke and Echo and the Bunnymen (or Interpol, for a more recent obvious comparison). Soul slipping down the coal chute into the alien mine / The boy looks good in a black suit / we all know that he looks divine! I’ll probably never figure out exactly what the song is about, but the glimpse offered by the lyrics is tantalizing.

On the other songs Violet Clark is teasing, jubilant, or just sweet. The album fittingly closes the party with Volcano! Violet Clarks starts with Is this song starting? / I’m a little confused before morphing into Kristin Hersh, but by then we’re already in on the joke. Everybody on the dance floor, to celebrate love and three decades of alternative music.

I can highly recommend the album. Lately, I have been collecting albums that are good-natured in tone without being flat, boring or embarrassing (although I still like my gloom and doom… albums from bands like Tindersticks, Sisters of Mercy remain more than welcome). When it comes to this, Frank Black always delivers. I do not agree at all with the (otherwise positive) Allmusic review where they call the album a bit long – both Break the angels and Fort Wayne are fine songs.

track list
1. Come on over to my house
2. Lovesick
3. Fort Wayne
4. Seeing stars
5. Black suit
6. The long song
7. Break the angels
8. Ermesinde
9. Volcano!