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Out of Exile is surprisingly good, so much so that I think this new-fangled supergroup may have some sort of future. Not so much mind, that I like the album any more than the new offering by Coldplay, so I won't get carried away here and proclaim Audioslave the new kings of modern rock.

Whereas Audioslave's material typically sounds like sub-par Rage Against the Machine (with Chris Cornell singing), Out of Exile sounds in many places more like a Soundgarden record. It seems the band have decided on a direction with this record, and that direction is in the softer material that Chris Cornell obviously wrote, that sounds just like late-period gentle Soundgarden tracks.

The rockers are actually competent this time too! Well, some of them. For instance, the opening one-two punch of “Your Time Has Come” and the title track provide more interesting riff power, groove, and compact driven crunch than any of the rockers from the last album (especially “Cochise” which is still terrible), and while the later rockers, such as “Drown Me Slowly”, “The Worm”, “Man or Animal”, and “#1 Zero” may not be that great, they’re certainly tolerable.

The production is better this time as well, and the loud guitars actually burst through the speakers and sound alive, doing away with the over-compression that hurt the last album. Heck, some of the solos in “The Worm” are Tom’s best work since Rage, and that's not an isolated incident (his box o’ guitar effects is everywhere on this album), so when mediocre riffs and dull grooves pop up, they’re at least saved by some cool other stuff.

But it's the melodic material where this album, like its predecessor, makes sweet, sweet cash ... “Be Yourself” is essentially a carbon copy of the winning balladic singles from the last album (no surprise it was the first single), but it’s nice and fine and pretty an' all, so no complaints.

The real winners though - shockingly - occasionally do things altogether different from “Like a Stone” or “I Am the Highway”. “Doesn’t Remind Me” for instance, is something reviewers have gotten to calling 'Southern-tinged'. It’s not, but it's real good - the intro and verses are very gentle, with subtly melodic slide guitars underpinned by very tasteful rhythm work, before busting out into the inevitable hand-waving chorus, then the unexpected light-as-air bridge leads into the even more inevitable guitar solo.

“Heaven’s Dead” is a lovely gentle power ballad, with excellent crooning from Cornell, and the vaguely psychedelic power/pop “Dandelion” is the song from this album that immediately jumps out as being 'cool' and 'different from previous Audioslave tracks', although if you stuck it in the middle of Down on the Upside I’m not sure many people would notice. But as I like that album a lot, I also like that song.

The closing ballad “The Curse” is my pick of the litter however. It’s slow and plodding and uses two chords, but Cornell’s singing is absolutely transcendent, the melody is ace, and I feel that for what it is, it's extremely well-done. It’s big and powerful and makes me think Audioslave are actually capable of making a great album one day, even though they’re really just a grunge version of Asia.

And finally, for the sake of completism, I don’t remember a damn thing about “Yesterday to Tomorrow”.

Pretty solid album then ... the playing is better, the songs are better and more diverse (there are more than two distinct types), the singing is vastly better, and overall everyone just stepped up their game a notch. They need a few more notches before I start thinking of Audioslave as anything more than an altogether strange alliance of two superior, albeit dead, entities, but at least they’ve made that important step up from mediocre to decently enjoyable.

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Posted: Wednesday 24th Apr 2019 10:15 AM

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album review
The Beasties tended to take w-a-y too long between records, but Hey Nasty definitely sounds like it took all of the four years since Ill Communication to make - it’s a fascinatingly diverse hip-hop album that tosses aside the funk/soul and alt.rock of Check Your Head and Ill Communication in favor of the most diverse rap material I’ve ever heard ...

It’s got crazy weaving synth lines, weird electronic shit, samples, a bunch of excellent random guests, some slow melancholy prettiness (“I Don’t Know” is so meditatively / relaxingly cool!), a reggae track for some reason, a token instrumental-ish track or two, and the best, funniest, cleverest rapping these guys had laid down since Paul’s Boutique (which admittedly isn’t saying much, considering what the previous two albums were like).

Yup, the Beasties are rapping again, 'busting phat rhymes' and dropping random hilarious references all over the place (including possibly my favorite Beasties couplet ever: Ad-Rock’s Well I’m the king of Boggle, there is none higher! I gets eleven points off the word ‘quagmire!’ from “Putting Shame in Your Game”).

But the album isn't just a showcase for the band's MC skills, with little else to back it up ... they’re 'dropping the science' over some of the neatest, oddest backgrounds you’re likely to hear on a rap record - old-school sci-fi 80’s synths and drum machines - combined with some of the best DJ turntable work this side of a Public Enemy record, to provide much of the background for the rap.

Yet despite all that old-school shit, the band is somehow able to make the album sound very modern and in-the-moment. I’d say “Three MC’s and One DJ” is the only track that sounds old-school, and it’s probably my least-favorite track on the album (is there anything else going on besides one scratching sound in the background? Anything?).

These tunes are just so cool and layered, but in a different way from Paul’s Boutique - there are crazy synths and drum machines instead of layers of ten or more totally spot-on 70's soul samples, and there definitely aren't any Zeppelin or Beatles samples this time. “Unite”, the scratchy “The Move”, and the excellent opener “Super Disco Breakin’” are some of the best examples, but there are excellent numbers in a similar vein throughout the album's twenty-two tracks.

And that’s not all! The diversity of this album is what makes it really stand out, and rival Paul’s Boutique as my favorite Beastie Boys release. “Song for the Man” is built on an odd background of what sounds like some kind of warped lounge music, with a rollicking piano sample and trombones. And “Intergalactic” is probably the strangest single released by a band of this stature for a long time.

I don’t even know what “And Me” is supposed to be, but it’s fascinating nonetheless (there are so many interweaving video-game synths in that track I could never describe it accurately). And “Picture This” is like some kind of science fiction New Age music with lovely female vocals on top. Then there's “Song for Junior”, that sounds like it could be a 4-minute sample from a Santana album. And I already mentioned “I Don’t Know” (Who knew MCA had such a pretty voice?).

Sure, not everything works (the reggae track for instance - “Dr. Lee, PhD” - just bores the crap out of me), but otherwise the album is actually more interesting than Check Your Head or Paul’s Boutique, just because of its sheer oddness and incredible diversity.

Still, as good as just about everything is here, there’s really not anything that jumps out at me and yells 'classic song!', not like “Sabotage” or “Shake Your Rump” or “Fight for Your Right” or what have you (something Check Your Head didn’t really have either).

Secondly, a few tracks - “Three MC’s and One DJ”, the reggae thing, “Electrify” - just totally blow out loud. Plus, I’m pretty sure I like Paul’s Boutique better, and I gave that one 5½ stars - both albums would probably get higher ratings if I liked rap as a genre. But I don’t, so they don’t. Really damn good record though, and so unique!

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Posted: Friday 24th May 2019 10:38 AM

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