Review: Beatles Fans Should Listen to Studio Albums Instead of 'Live at the Hollywood Bowl'

Get a full review of the "long overdue reissue."

ByABC News
September 14, 2016, 6:08 AM
The Beatles perform, 1960.
The Beatles perform, 1960.
Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone/Getty Images

— -- intro: This is a really heavy release week. The Beatles’ “Live at the Hollywood Bowl” receives a long overdue reissue, M.I.A. releases what she says is her final album, U.K. rock trio Doe makes its proper, full-length debut, singer-songwriter KT Tunstall returns with a bright, new album, the members of Wilco quickly follow up last year’s “Star Wars,” indie rockers Local Natives up their crossover potential and synth-pop band Bastille releases its second album. We are now deep into September, and while it isn’t fall just yet, the fall release deluge has already begun.

quicklist: 1title: The Beatles’ “Live at the Hollywood Bowl” ***text: Released in conjunction with Ron Howard’s new Beatles’ documentary, “Eight Days a Week,” “Live at the Hollywood Bowl” captures the madness that was Beatlemania at its peak. This album was originally released in the sixties but somehow missed being reissued in the eighties when the Fab Four’s catalog arrived on CD.

This album has fine performances. John, Paul, George and Ringo were able to excellently mimic their records in the live setting. You’ll find yourself wishing they played their version of “Twist and Shout” a little longer, since it is one of John Lennon’s most punk-driven moments in their catalog, while the version here of “Ticket to Ride” really resonates, thanks to Paul’s nearly overpowering bass line.

Where the set goes wrong is not the fault of the band. The original album and its four bonus tracks have been cleaned up by George Martin’s son Giles, but still it is the cacophonous, never-ending, punishing squeals from the crowd that still make this a very difficult listen. It shows how intense (and possibly terrifying) these concerts actually must have been. No wonder the Beatles retired from doing live shows. If your fans didn’t bother actually listening to you play your songs, why play them at all? Surely it became a daunting, frustrating process for the band.

This captures the unforgiving chaos of the moment, making this still quite a worthy document. But if you love this music, go listen to the studio albums. These songs were meant to be heard without the screeching. I know their fans at this time loved them a great deal, but in retrospect, the screams come off as disrespectful to the music and, frankly, to the Beatles themselves. They were a great live band, and they deserved better.

Focus Tracks:

“Twist and Shout” This famous cover was perfect for this setting. Too bad it is reduced to one minute and 34 seconds.

“Ticket to Ride” Here you can tell that Martin is trying his best to mix down the crowd. It might be the set’s most clear moment.

“Help!” The band rips through “Help!” with all the harmonies intact.

media: 42063511

quicklist: 2title: M.I.A.’s “AIM” (Deluxe Version) ****text: M.I.A. claims that “AIM,” her fifth album, will be her last. If true, it is quite sad. No one else sounds like M.I.A. She has always been unafraid of controversy, but ever since she first appeared with “Arular” 11 years ago, her intoxicating mix of hip-hop, electronica, punk, dance-hall and Sri Lankan and Indian influence has been a unique sonic concoction.

On this album, “Borders” highlights the current refugee crisis and “Go Off” is a hypnotic, semirobotic workout. Both tracks showcase her voice in a digitally treated fashion. I’m usually against autotune and other such tools when they are used as crutches, but M.I.A. uses these devices as decorations.

The album contains two versions of “Bird Song,” one mixed by Blaqstarr, the other mixed by once frequent collaborator Diplo. M.I.A.’s reteaming with Diplo is a return to her roots. This album is in many ways meant to bring her full circle. “Visa” quotes and samples “Galang” momentarily while “Borders” and “Platforms” both deal with the sociopolitical issues she’s discussed throughout her career.

When Zayn shows up on “Freedun,” M.I.A. proves she can work with unexpected collaborators without missing a beat.

This album’s weirder moments are also some of its best. The digital knife fight on “Swords” and the word snippet play on “Fly Pirate” are both undeniably fresh. “Aim” isn’t as strong as her 2007 masterpiece, “Kala,” which featured the Clash-sampling career highlight “Paper Planes,” but if it is indeed her last offering, it leaves her in a really strong place. Here’s hoping she changes her mind. If major-label struggles have brought her to this point, I’m guessing she has enough juice and influence to continue independently if she wants. It’s a shame to see her go. Her voice is needed.

Focus Tracks:

“Bird Song” (Diplo Mix) This is an intoxicating groove as M.I.A. raps over a hypnotic melodic loop.

“Fly Pirate” This is one of the craziest tracks M.I.A. has ever recorded and her voice dances all over the track in all directions. One of the things I am going to miss most about her records is that they are as much about sonic collage as they are about hooks.

“Visa” This is an old-school M.I.A. classic, but partly because it is true to the legacy set up by her first two albums.

media: 42063756

quicklist: 3title: Doe’s “Some Things Last Longer Than You” ****1/2text: Odds are, you aren’t familiar with Doe. It is a trio from the U.K. that sounds as if it is straight out of the grunge era. Taking strong influence from the likes of the Breeders, Weezer, Pavement and Sleater-Kinney, it delivers sharp, heavy songs with undeniable hooks.

“Some Things Last Longer Than You” is billed as its debut album, although in 2014 it released “First Four,” a compilation that put together the group’s early EPs into a surprisingly cohesive album. (You are strongly urged to look up that album’s highlights, “Julia Survived” and “Late Bloomer.”)

This new set is a 34-minute gut punch of a record full of large riffs, strong melodies and abstract corners that gain momentum on repetition. The vocal interplay between lead singer/guitarist Nicola Leel and drummer Jake Popyura is one of the band’s greatest assets. The sweeping “Turn Around” and the pounding “Respite” both show this well. When Popyura takes the rare lead on “Before Her,” the band loses zero momentum.

Leel is a witty lyricist and a versatile and gifted vocalist. The simple but pun-tastic “No. 1” and the buoyant “Monopoly” set the album off immediately on the right foot, while the homage to Sleater-Kinney’s Corin Tucker, “Corin” shows Leel really stretching out her scream eventually to near Cobain-ian levels.

Doe wears its influences on its sleeves, and it may or may not be named for the second song on the Breeders’ “Pod,” but it isn’t a mere imitator. It brings a thoughtful complexity to the table that is all its own. Along with other newer, grungier voices like Car Seat Headrest, Bully, Paws, Wolf Alice, Charly Bliss, Bleached and Speedy Ortiz, the emergence of Doe may indicate another ’90s-style alternative revolution just around the corner. This new rock may be getting mostly ignored by U.S. pop radio, but you can’t deny there is a burgeoning movement afoot. Sooner or later, it will bubble up to the surface.

Focus Tracks:

“Last Ditch” This song is the clear winner on a set without weak spots. When you first hear it, it might not grab you. By the third listen it will become your obsession. On the surface it is a loud/quiet/loud exercise but if you listen to it deeply you will realize that it is quite a beautifully written song about dealing with change and self-doubt. One can guess that in an acoustic setting it would have just as much power if not more. This may sound like a buzz-bin hit from 1995, but it deserves to make major moves in 2016. If true alt-rock does make a pop-crossover again, it will be because of a song like this one. This is a strong ballad in rock clothing.

“Turn Around” In under three minutes, this song really explores a lot of terrain with heft that is both sonic and emotional.

“Sincere” This groove is reminiscent of Elastica as Leel takes the opportunity to chastise chauvinists who pretend to be Feminists for positive attention. This is one of the best takedowns of its kind since Lush’s classic “Ladykillers.”

media: 42063969

quicklist: 4title: KT Tunstall’s “KIN” ” ****text: With “KIN,” KT Tunstall aims to make a record that is the opposite of her last effort, “Invisible Empire // Crescent Moon.” While that record was downbeat, slow and melancholy and folky, this album is a pop-driven collection with some earthy, softer edges. The presence of producer Tony Hoffer, combined with the eye-catching album art seems to indicate that Tunstall has been listening to Beck’s “Midnite Vultures” and in some slight ways, this album’s occasionally woozy, spacey, glossy upbeat sound seems like her (admittedly mellower, much less freaky and more adult-alternative-leaning) response to that record.

Tunstall is, however, much less goofy than Beck in funk mode, and the gloss here even remains on the softer songs like “Turned a Light On.” Some listeners may find that the use of compression on this collection sometimes mutes Tunstall’s performance by scraping away the edges. But at the same time, this is strong set of tracks and once you get used to the album’s shinier moments, the songs pop quite effectively. You can’t blame Tunstall for wanting to brighten the room and return herself to pop-crossover contention. It’s been a decade since “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” and “Suddenly I See” both became smashes. “Evil Eye,” “Hard Girls” and “It Took Me So Long to Get Here, and Now I’m Here” all have hit single possibilities.

For those who find points of this album too slick, I say give the delicate and beautiful title track a listen. In other words, “KIN” as an album has a little something for everyone and should provide her with a sense of creative resurgence.

Tunstall remains a stunning talent. If you don’t believe me, look up her solo performances. In stripped-down settings she is a master with a looping pedal. She continues to write effectively eclectic material. If “KIN” gets the promotion it deserves, it should continue her chart success.

Focus Tracks:

“KIN” While this album has a pop core, the softer final three songs bring this set around, beginning with the title track, which is lush, ethereal and orchestral. If the rest of the set has a hint of “Midnite Vultures,” this track may be her nod to “Sea Change.” Keep in mind years ago she famously covered that album’s opening track, “The Golden Age.”

“Evil Eye” Here’s where the freakier edges show themselves in the clearest light. This sounds like radio fare with a punk-funk and jazzy backbone.

“Everything Has Its Shape” This is near the end of the record when things slow down. Is it me or is there a slight Karen Carpenter quality to Tunstall’s voice on this track? I know that is quite a compliment but between that association and the driving Phil Spector-esque chorus, this track is a clear winner.

media: 42070943

quicklist: 5title: Wilco’s “Schmilco” ***text: “Schmilco” is like the less interesting fraternal twin of Wilco’s last effort “Star Wars.” While “Star Wars” reveled in the lo-fi world with occasional shoegaze nods, “Schmilco” is quieter and more acoustic, finding Jeff Tweedy often singing at a near whisper. Sure, there are moments where the spikiness shows through, like on the wiry and wonderfully bizarre “Common Sense,” but this is collection is more singular in tone with fewer high points.

Tweedy’s gifts as a writer are still occasionally on display on the opener, “Normal American Kids,” and “Happiness” is a decent track even though it needs a shot of adrenaline. There’s a song on here called “Shrug and Destroy,” a title that fits this set perfectly.

This album feels as loose as “Star Wars,” but far less magnetic. The high points of “Star Wars,” like “You, Satellite” hit you over the head and were like sudden revelations. In comparison, this album is a true underachiever. It feels like it is ramping up to something that never quite comes.

There are enough good tracks here to warrant a recommendation, but while “Star Wars” was a great album, ranking among the band’s best work, “Schmilco” is merely a passably good album. The ramshackle construction remains intact, but the band is half asleep. Nevertheless, in spite of these complaints, this shows yet another side to Wilco, proving that it is a constantly evolving force.

Focus Tracks:

“Normal American Kids” This is a quiet and effective ode to being an outcast. It sets of the album and it is its strongest point.

“Common Sense” This song is prone to freak-outs and that kind of energy, while occasionally dizzying would have sounded great on more of the record.

“Happiness” While I wish this song suddenly rocked out, it still possesses one of the best and most memorable melodies on the set.

media: 42064323

quicklist: 6title: Local Natives’ “Sunlit Youth” ****text: Local Natives’ third album, “Sunlit Youth” hints at the band wanting to earn pop crossover points. While 2010’s “Gorilla Manor” and 2013’s “Hummingbird” both fused their gentle vocal harmonizing with some smart indie-rock, “Sunlit Youth” immediately has a more synth-driven sound. Synths have always been an element to their music in one way or another but this album is brighter and slicker than the past two, all while maintaining the three-part vocal harmony cohesion from members Taylor Rice, Kelcey Ayer and Ryan Hahn.

The Silverlake band plays to a long tradition dating back to the ’70s’ California sound. Its use of harmonies a memorable guitar riffs update this formula quite nicely. On the stupendous “Dark Days” it is joined by the Cardigans’ Nina Persson with glowing results. Meanwhile, “Villainy” and “Fountain of Youth” marry this classic sound with a modern-pop-infused drive. On “Masters,” the band plays with sampling guitar loops, whereas “Jellyfish” matches a thudding beat with a lullaby-ready synth line.

This album is both anchored and adventurous. When the relatively organic-sounding bluesy track “Coins” arrives, it sounds quite smooth, while “Mother Emanuel” combines a rock core, a delicate melody and a dance beat.

“Sunlit Youth” positions Local Natives for a strong breakthrough. It’s a strong offering with plenty of distinct flavors. Once you think you have it figured out, it continues to throw curveballs. Bonus points are earned for the set’s elaborate physical packaging, which includes a series of cards. In the digital and streaming age it is nice to see such touches. But then again, Local Natives are obviously vintage souls.

Focus Tracks:

“Dark Days” (Featuring Nina Persson) This sounds like an AM-radio pop update and the addition of Persson into this realm is a nice surprise. This is lite pop in the most positive sense, perfect for late-summer chill-out sessions.

“Mother Emanuel” Quite simply, this song takes a number of surprising turns. Within the first 40 seconds it makes moves that make you think you know where you are going to end up only to be repeatedly taken on a constantly evolving array of sonic detours. Local Natives as always knit a deeply intense musical tapestry.

“Ellie Alice” This softer, more folk-driven ballad proves that the band does well in sonically stripped areas as well.

media: 42064724

quicklist: 7title: Bastille’s “Wild World” ***text: A quote from Kelly Le Brock’s character in “Weird Science" begins Bastille’s second album, “Wild Word,” an album full of scattered references and other such sonic touches. Singer Dan Smith possesses a skilled and adept delivery style but more often than it should, Bastille sounds here like a synth-driven, watered down answer to Coldplay and Snow Patrol after they went for more populist fare.

There are surprises here, like the cello line that devolves into distortion on “The Currents” or the doses of fuzz-guitar on “Warmth,” but even these fleeting moments seems a little too measured in their execution. At its worst, Bastille winds up sounding rather basic, bland as it tries to repeat the success of its debut, “Bad Blood,” and its ubiquitous single, “Pompeii.”

Yet in spite of this and its somehow over-the-top earnestness, the band has a saving grace when it comes to its melodies. This is a modern pop record in both the positive and negative senses. As easy as it is to criticize this set for its targeted maneuvers, it does have some key high points that make it slightly worthy

“Power” soars in spite of its formulaic energy and the unlikely ode to Truman Capote’s “ In Cold Blood” subject, “Four Walls (The Ballad of Perry Smith)” is unquestionably the strongest track on the set.

As adventurous as this set sometimes feels, it is still rather by the numbers, if you listen to its core components. You sense Bastille has stronger and artier aspirations than it is able to execute here. The vocal snippets and film samples are an interesting touch, but they often sound out of place and awkward. The band works best when avoiding the forced anthemic quality of “Pompeii” and focusing more on melody than hooks.

Bastille gives us a marginally admirable mixed bag here, but “Wild World” displays hints of a brighter and more experimental future. Often the best pop hits are the ones that are the least obvious. The members of Bastille are melodically adept enough to avoid tricks and formulas in the future.

Focus Tracks:

“Four Walls (The Ballad of Perry Smith)” This a strange subject for a beautiful song. This is not aiming for the charts. It is obviously intended to be a “deep cut” and so it lacks the formulaic pop trappings of other tracks on the set. This bizarre ode to a doomed death-row-bound murderer shows an interesting side to this band.

“Power” This is a targeted pop song that works. While Bastille’s transparent musical formulas sometimes let it down, its lyrics are often more thought provoking than its more obvious peers.

“Winter of Our Youth” This closing track again sounds like targeted pop, but there’s an alt-rock kind of depth in the song’s guitar riff, which gives the song some emotional pull. This is even true when toward the end some standard EDM and pop–dance elements almost creep into the mix.

Next Week: New music from Mac Miller, AlunaGeorge and more.

Missed last week's? Get the latest from Angel Olsen, the Wedding Present, James Vincent McMorrow and Zomby.

media: 42065005