Thursday, June 22, 2017

RECORD REVIEW: Cheap Trick "We're All Alright!"

Cheap Trick
We're All Alright!
(Big Machine Records)

Truth be told, as a lifelong
enthusiast, I'have bought
this record regardless. But
all the pre-release super-
buzz did pique my interest.

Cheap Trick created the pop-punk genre, plain and simple — years before Vans Warped Tour and Hot Topic began transforming complicated wannabes with silly-looking comb-overs into YouTube sensations with thriving T-shirt operations. Proof? Check out "Elo Kiddies"from the band's self-titled debut slab way back in 1977.

As for Cheap Trick's 18th studio offering, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers have reunited once again with go-to producer Julian Raymond (Fastball, Mutemath, Wallflowers) to create a record worthy of the band's pop-punk legacy.

Also produced by Julian Raymond
Kicking off the 10-song set nicely with a crunchy, double-whammy punch, "You Got it Going On" oozes a "Baby Loves to Rock"-style energy, while "Long Time Coming" boasts bona fide Kinks-inspired riffage. Of the record's many other noteworthy highlights, "Nowhere," "Radio Lover" and "Listen to Me" all point to Cheap Trick's signature old school punk roots, however, "Lolita" possesses a poppier swagger reminiscent of The Latest.

But, does Cheap Trick's latest really live up to all the pre-release hype? Does We're All Alright! really mark an all-time best for the iconic combo? No. But it IS a great little record — one that passes my personal "smell test" easily.

-Christopher Long
(June 2017)


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Saturday, June 17, 2017

RECORD REVIEW: Bad Cop / Bad Cop "Warriors"

Bad Cop / Bad Cop
(Fat Wreck Chords)

I believe only TWO things
in life  Jesus Christ is King
of Kings, and if thrown into a
bar fight, Bad Cop / Bad Cop
would totally shank a bitch
without even thinking twice.

Produced by Davey Warsop and legendary punk rock kingpin, Fat Mike, the full-length sophomore set from Bad Cop / Bad Cop delivers EVERYTHING fans have come to expect from So-Cal's fabulous "golden girls."

Residing stylistically somewhere between Sinner and Heavy Petting Zoo, the record kicks off with two crunchy punches to the privates — "Retrograde" and "I'm Done."

Simply put, Warriors literally oozes authentic, angst-filled anthems, including the glorious gunk-gunkin' of the lead off video / single "Amputations" and the irresistibly delicious, "Victoria." 

Truth be told, this record is so powerful, it's already being used in maternity wards worldwide to induce labor. And of its two mightiest highlights, the title track spells it all out perfectly — "We refuse to look away. We won't take shit anymore. We are warriors" — while the audio reality show earworm "Kids" is arguably the band's all-time best nugget.

In sum, as one of the "religious lunatics" labeled in the super-catchy track, "Womanarchist," it's also MY "right to choose" and I choose Warriors as the pissed-off, feel-good of the summer. (A+)

-Christopher Long
(June 2017)

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Friday, June 16, 2017

RECORD REVIEW: Jule Vera "Waiting on the Sun"

Jule Vera
Waiting on the Sun
(Weekday Records / Sony Music)

It was back in the late '80s
when I asked a (then) up-
and-coming indie artist to
classify his band's style. The
annoyed singer / songwriter
replied, "We aren't rock
band. We aren't a pop band.
We're a music band."

With the release of their 2017 sophomore set, Jule Vera have moved forward stylistically from the straight-ahead, guitar-driven rock sound of their 2015 debut. And in the process, the kids from Lee County now defy genre description — they've become a "music band." 

Capturing a charm factor reminiscent of a classic Fleetwood Mac record, Waiting on the Sun is a well-rounded collection of well-produced, well-crafted songs — one in which the "best" track is pretty much whichever one happens to be playing at the time. In other words, it boasts highlights galore.

Jule Vera frontchick Ansley Newman

Released last March, the infectious lead off single "Lifeline" was the first indication that record #2 would be, different. And while "Show Me" and "10,000 Hours" also point to the band's maturing style, the irresistible earworm "Bad Company," the engaging, ukulele-driven "Porch Swing" and the intoxicating, Beatles-flavored "Cruel Life" provide what's known in the porn biz as "money shots."

And the news for Jule Vera gets even better. The super-hooky, show tune-style "Something Good" and the piano-driven ballad "Waiting" not only are the record's two shiniest highlights, but they also are career bests — placing Jule Vera at a sweet VIP table in today's popular music "Champagne Room." (A+)

-Christopher Long
(June 2017)

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Sunday, June 11, 2017

"Bus Stop" by Bryce Willey (Guest Feature)

Bus Stop
by Bryce Willey
(Guest Feature)

My ol' pal Bryce Willey
has returned from his
extended MIA status to
deliver his latest feature.

When did someone decide to name happiness? When did someone decide to name sadness?

My happy place is grey, cold, dull, snowing. The air stings my lungs with every heavy release of working breath. I have a hefty jacket on — jeans, DC's and a beanie.

There are trees everywhere. I'm in a forest but there — a bench and a bus sign. It's still — quiet, except for the wilting whisper of snow drifts and snow flurries.

I have a coffee that never runs out. I have a book that never ends. And for some reason I'm sitting at a bus stop.

The bus arrives, but there isn't a driver or other passengers — no one. The bus' engine is roaring. The glass on the windows are frosted over.

I'm shivering, but I'm not really cold. The bus starts moving. I'm so fucked up, I don't care. I just want whatever life this is to stay for a while. Hours and hours pass while I close my eyes and sit in silence.

The bus stops, but I'm at the same place. Did we go in a circle? Whatever. I get off and sit down at the bench with my coffee and book. I read for a bit, but I could never make out what the book is about.

Another bus shows up. This time its filled with people — young people, loud as fuck with no care. No driver. I try to sit there silently listening to the cluster fuck of children screaming and chatting. I couldn't take it. I screamed. I fucking yalped! The children stop and stare at me and started laughing at me — it didn't stop. I fell down crying. I tried to stop the bus to get away from the noise. The door wouldn't open. I went to the wheel and I was flung to the back window of the bus. I was trapped — helpless, alone, but surrounded by people.

The bus finally stopped — no one left. No one moved. They kept yelling and talking. I got off, and of course I'm back at the bus stop. I sit down with my coffee and the really, really fucked up plot of a book.

I sleep there on the bench — I couldn't handle the bus ride again. I wake up to the bus, and the door fling open, but the driver is there — a fat man with a ski mask on. He doesn't talk — just stares at me. I had to get on. I asked him, "What is this place?" "Where is everyone?" He told me to "shut the fuck up and sit down and enjoy the ride."

I felt funny, like I knew this place. The bus stopped, but someone got on — another person "WHO ARE YOU?" I exclaimed. The person looked at me and said, "I am your happiness." The bus driver said, "I'm your sadness." Then, children appeared and screamed, "We're your depression! You don't get to leave."

My happiness sat next to me trying to hold my hand. Depression kicked his shin every attempt he made. Sadness just drove mindlessly, ignoring everyone. The bus stopped. The depression left —disappeared. The happiness gave me a hug and sadness told me to leave. I got off. Happiness waved to me. The back of the bus says, "See you soon" I sit down at my bench drinking my coffee and reading my book.until the next bus ride.

-Bryce Willey
(June 2017)

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Friday, June 9, 2017

MOVIE REVIEW: Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman
(DC Films / 141 Minutes / PG-13)

In only its first few days of
release, the film already is
a blockbuster. And across
the board, it'being hailed
by critics and smart people
as magnificent cinematic
achievement. But, as "they"
say, nothing is unanimous.

I'm not implying that director Patty Jenkins' newly-released superhero action film, Wonder Woman, is the dopiest or most numbing movie ever. I'm merely suggesting that The Green Lantern now seems a little less lame.

Perhaps if the two and half-hour running time had been hacked down to a buck and change, the silly storyline and the WB-caliber performances might have been easier to embrace — the near-45-minute backstory was gratuitous, and by the time Wonder Woman (Diana) and her army captain love interest (Steve) corned that German henchman in the alley (somewhere around the halfway point), I too was willing to choke down a dose of cyanide.

Elena Anaya as Doctor Poison
makes Wonder Woman (almost)
worth the price of admission.
Despite the spectacular, state-of-the-art special effects and the mouth-watering, airbrushed sex appeal of lead stars, Gal Gadot and Chris Pine, the Lasso of Truth compels me to confess that the plot was weak — to the point of feeling insulted. As a result, I found it rather difficult to muster much interest in, or concern for, any of the film's cardboard-like characters — except for one. Played superbly by Elena Anaya, the character Doctor Poison was easily the most intriguing aspect of the film. Plus, with that high and tight schoolmarm bun and freakshow mask concealing half of her face, "Ms. P" was considerably more alluring than the Amazon princess. Hmm — a movie based on Doctor Poison NOW that's a flick I could get excited about! And I'd be totally open to coming aboard as a project quality control consultant.

In sum, while Wonder Woman is kinda mundane, it's also fairly "safe." Sure, there is obviously a good bit of cartoonish violence, but the language is tamer than the rating might indicate. And despite a smidgen of innuendo, any actual nudity is minimal and in the background. Hence the PG-13 rating is pretty spot-on. But although it didn't resonate with me personally, I do "get" the film's mass appeal.

-Christopher Long
(June 2017)

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Sunday, June 4, 2017

RECORD REVIEW: Bush "Black and White Rainbows"

Black and White Rainbows
(Zuma Rock Records)

These '90s-era rock
poster boys never meant
jack to me. Until now.

In my mind, Bush merely was one of those dopey '90s bands with disposable songs that helped to exterminate the dopey '80s bands with disposable songs. And therein lies why Black and White Rainbows is such an exceptional record — it's brimming with exceptional songs. And anyone who says otherwise is a collie molester.

Produced by Bob Rock, along with the band's dashing frontman / guitarist Gavin Rossdale, the 15-song set is comprised of 14 newly-penned Rossdale compositions and one collaborative effort. Released on 3.10.17, the record is the third to feature the band's post golden grunge-era line-up of Rossdale, drummer Robin Goodridge, guitarist Chris Traynor, and bassist Corey Britz and it boasts highlights galore.

Orlando, FL (5.9.17)
Of the record's three singles, "Mad Love" and "Lost in You" (Rossdale / Dave Stewart) are two of the most engaging and well-crafted, AOR-friendly heartbreak songs to come down the line in a very long time — arguably a pair of the band's all-time best. Additionally, "Peace-S," "Nurse" and "The Beat of Your Heart" are all signature-style, arena-worthy nut-busters. But while "The Edge of Love" and "People at War" bring the album to a rather sleepy conclusion, the equally ambient, "Nothing but a Car Chase" is actually a hypnotic delight.

In sum, any rock record that gets panned by as many "smart" critics as Black and White Rainbows has GOTTA be a bona fide gem for us "regular" folk. (A+)

-Christopher Long
(June 2017)

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Monday, May 22, 2017

DEJA VU: New Bands Strike a Familiar Chord

New Bands Strike
a Familiar Chord

To quote world-renown 20th
century poet, Thomas Keifer,
"The more things change, the
more they stay the same."

Believe it or not, there are entrées on the current music menu other than standard auto-tuned pop, porn-inspired hip hop, synth-driven fake country, and the endless procession of "core"-type sub genres. Math-Core? Really? Oy vey — I sure miss The Little River Band!

Anyhoo, rock and roll IS still very much alive and well. In fact, some of the most exciting rock bands of the last decade or so have rolled onto the scene only recently — beautiful-looking, sweat-soaked young people boasting fabulous form-fitting fashions, amazing coifs, low-strung vintage guitars and super-snappy songs with Buick-sized hooks. And many of these fresh-faced ensembles are focusing on the future by creating new music that seemingly points to the past.

Possessing all the same authentic spirit
and hookiness as many of my old school
punk faves, this crunchy So-Cal combo will
drop their highly-anticipated sophomore
slab, Warriors, on 6.16.17. PSYCHED!

This gorgeous Michigan-based
troupe IS the new Led Zeppelin.
That is all.

Residing stylistically somewhere
between "Don't Stop Believin'" and
"Take My Breath Away," this pop /
rock powerhouse delivers record
#2, Waiting on the Sun — 6.16.17.

This dolled-up Canadian import
presses a Stones-style looseness
against a Kinks-style punkiness.

Ramones-inspired street punk meets
Cheap Trick-sized sing-alongs. This
Miami-based crew hit the scene with
their self-titled 2015 debut. The band
currently is entertaining label offers
for their latest set, Skull Crushërz.

Anytime a new all-girl rock band
comes down the pike, comparisons
to The Runaways are always made.
However, this Texas-based teenage
trio is worthy of that comparison.

Often compared stylistically to Queen, this
fab UK pop / rock sensation lives closer to
"Ballroom Blitz" than "Bohemian Rhapsody."

According to singer / songwriter / guitarist,
 Tyson Plastic, this synth-rock duo is based
currently in an alternate universe where
cars still have fins, but they fly and run on
good vibrations. Described best (by me) as
the sweetest addiction since ColecoVision.
Watch "Troublemaker"

Not since the original KISS craze of
the mid 1970s has there been such an
undeniably arena-ready rock seduction.
Displaying delicious, larger-than-life
personas, this Phoenix-based band
oozes irresistible, rib-cracking, riff-
driven anthems. Arriving 6.16.17,
their long-awaited sophomore record,
Manic Pixie Dream Girl WILL be the
mother-lovin' monster of the decade.
Best get on board while you can, 'cuz
the revolution has already begun!

In sum — new bands, new music. Long live rock and roll!

-Christopher Long
(May 2017)

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Saturday, May 20, 2017

I QUIT! (Why I've Given Up Politics - For Good)

Why I've Given Up
Politics - For Good

All I want is a hug?
How 'bout you?

As a kid growing up in the Midwest during the early '70s, I was a total dweeb. While the "normal" boys all were collecting sports trading cards, I was plunking down my hard-earned nickels and dimes on Presidential trading cards. I'd soon committed all the U.S. Presidents to memory — in order. I even collected trading cards of the 1972 Presidential candidates. Hey, Timmy — I'll trade ya a George McGovern for your Edmund Muskie! Yep, at age ten, I was absolutely enthralled by the D.C. scene and the political process I watched playing out nightly on T.V. — soaking it all up like a four-eyed sponge.

My personal experiences meeting George H.W. Bush and seeing Ronald Reagan in the flesh during the '80s only fueled my passion. And in recent years, I've further embraced politics for the entertainment factor — writing lighthearted related feature stories for different publications and hanging out under various circumstances with the likes of Governor Jeb Bush, Senator Marco Rubio, and renown businessman, Donald Trump.

With future President Marco Rubio in 2016
But I've discovered something interesting over the last year or so — there's no happy ending to this movie. IT'S-ALL-BULLSHIT! The entire game is based on greed-driven, power-hungry, WWE-caliber egomania and relentless cutthroat ambition. BOTH major parties are EQUALLY corrupt and ineffective. That's a fact. And NO politician on either side of the "aisle" has any interest in achieving any successful bi-partisan effort. The Left vilifies the Right and vice versa, while us "regular" folk are pitted against each other like pawns in a twisted ruse. NEWSFLASH: That effing elephant and the damn donkey it's the same beast! They're ALL rascals the whole bunch of 'em! C'mon now, certainly I'm not the only schlub who's scene House of Cards. BTW, mad props to creator, Beau Willimon for possessing the nards and the marksmanship to hit the darn bulls eye.

And sadly, NOBODY has any patience or tolerance for any lighthearted commentary. As Americans, we want to fight each other  tooth and nail, to the death. That's who we've become. We're now ALL so dadgum hyper-sensitive, so hateful, nasty, intolerant and so much smarter than those "stupid" people, we "delete" our "friends" without batting an eye. Ugh, all I want is a hug. How 'bout you? Heck, I'm embarrassed and frightened to now even be a spectator, watching such a pathetic, amateur blood sport — as if any of us Walmart working stiffs are even remotely qualified to comment on significant global or domestic issues. And for that over-inflated sense of expertise, we can thank the almighty talking heads, as they spew forth, stirring the pot — all for the sake of ratings. Q: What's the diff between Fox News and MSNBCA: Fox has hotter chicks. That's it.

As an old man, I've now come to embrace the fact that I don't actually know too much. Truth be told, I'm barely competent enough to dress myself — and there are those who would even argue that point. But I do know that the sun will come out tomorrow. And if it doesn't, I couldn't control it anyway. God has this under control — not Trump, not Clinton, not even Frank Underwood.

Life is fragile. Life is short. And at my age, I can see life flashing by — minute by precious minute. Hence, as I reflect on each fleeting day, all that matters is, did I... A) Jump up and down, ranting like a total jackass about something I actually know nothing about and can't control — alienating people in the process? Or, did I... B) Hug somebody and offer them love, kindness, forgiveness and encouragement? I'll take option B.

Kevin Spacey as President Francis J. Underwood.
(My latest binge addiction has been an eye-opener.)
Following the 2016 election cycle, I heard stories of married couples getting divorced over their differences regarding the Presidential candidates. In the words of Metallica, that's "sad but true." Even more heartbreaking is how endless other relationships between family, friends, neighbors and co-workers also are being torn apart, nationwide — as the last President challenged his flock to "get in people's faces" over their political positions.

Look, the system is jacked. It always has been, and it always will be — regardless of who's in the White House. And although I expect I'll be nursing a post-partisan hangover for sometime, I'm definitely moving forward. Simply put, I love people way too much to engage in such divisive dialog any longer. So, for me, the political conversation is over. However, I am still on the lookout for an Edmund Muskie trading card.

-Christopher Long
(May 2017)

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