Snoop Dogg, 'Singles' soundtrack, Linkin Park and Magic Giant music reviews

PHOTO: Snoop Dogg performs during the 2017 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival at Fair Grounds Race Course, on May 6, 2017, in New Orleans.PlayTim Mosenfelder/Getty Images
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intro: This week the soundtrack to Cameron Crowe’s 1992 film “Singles” gets expanded and reissued for its 25th anniversary, Linkin Park release an electro-pop album, Snoop Dogg explores his past with an eclectic new set and indie folk-pop act Magic Giant make their debut.

quicklist: 1 title: Snoop Dogg’s “Neva Left” **** text: Snoop Dogg’s latest album is not only a return to his roots but also a love letter to hip-hop on both the West and East coasts. When he begins the opening title-track with a sample of the Charmels’ “As Long As I’ve Got You,” which was famously used by the Wu-Tang Clan in their song “C.R.E.A.M. ” it speaks volumes of his intensions. Later when KRS-One shows up on “Let Us Begin” or Redman, Method Man and B-Real show up on “Mount Kushmore” it shows this album is pretty much a cool hip-hop summit. A record where you find guest turns from Too $hort and Wiz Khalifa is a rare find.

The G-Funk heard on the Rick Rock-featuring track “Moment I Feared” is fresh and the way Snoop uses a looped line from A Tribe Called Quest’s “Check the Rhime” on “Bacc in da Dayz” shows that he wants to make the most of this album’s nostalgic potential. The spacey groove of the Stresmatic-assisted “Swivel” will capture your ears a well.

Snoop also seems to be playing up his gangsta image on here with multiple shout-outs to the Crips. He sounds authoritative and like he’s approaching serious business. “Big Mouth” is angry and a bit silly, as Snoop tells people to mind their own business.

On “Vapors,” Snoop pays tribute to a Biz Markie classic like he did with Slick Rick’s “Lodi Dodi” back in the day on “Doggystyle.” Of course, this is a remix, since he originally put this on his 1997 effort, “The Doggfather.” There are a handful of such remixes here, making this a bit of a hodge-podge of an album, but by exploring the past and using some classic guests to their fullest potential, Snoop has made a record that brings to mind some of his glory days.

He’s able to have his image both ways, too. He can bring a menacing tone to the hard-edged “Promise You This,” or bring the mellow, breezy R&B as he does on “Go On,” where he mentions that he likes “riding on a bike with (his) grandson in the park.” Snoop is a rapper full of many layers and this is a likably scattered but really enjoyable record. Indeed, Snoop “Neva Left.”

Focus Tracks:

“Let Us Begin” (Featuring KRS-One) Snoop and the Blastmaster meet, seemingly providing a conceptual display of what would happen if “Criminal Minded” and “My Philosophy” were blended with “The Chronic” and “Doggystyle.” Both rappers are playing to their past with excellent rewards.

“Swivel” (Featuring Stresmatic) This football-themed track works a sturdy groove. When Snoop says, “I’m shady like Brady,” all you can think of is “deflate-gate.”

“Go On” (Featuring October London) This is the smooth summer hip-hop jam you’ve been waiting for as Snoop works a warm funky party groove.

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quicklist: 2 title: “Singles” Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Deluxe Edition) ****1/2 text: By a strange coincidence, the day after Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell’s tragic death, the soundtrack to Cameron Crowe’s 1992 movie “Singles” got reissued in double-disc form in honor of its 25th anniversary. This is a classic article of the “grunge” movement and a love letter to Seattle. Cornell’s song “Seasons” has long been considered a favorite, providing a hint as to where Soundgarden would head on “Superunknown” two years later. In fact, the deluxe edition puts six more Cornell pieces that were either early demos or score pieces written for the film. The best moment is probably the earliest recording of “Spoonman,” (here titled “Spoon Man”) which sounds fully fleshed-out even in its minimalist state. The film featured a number of live performances from Soundgarden and Alice In Chains. These live performances are on the deluxe reissue while the original soundtrack offers up studio takes of the former’s “Birth Ritual” and the latter’s classic single, “Would?”

This album also saw the release of two excellent Pearl Jam classics with “State of Love and Trust” and “Breath.” Eddie Vedder, Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard actually appeared in the movie as members of Matt Dillon’s fictional band Citizen Dick.

This soundtrack isn’t only about grunge either Seattle son, Jimi Hendrix gets some love with the inclusion of “May This Be Love” and Heart side-band, the Lovemongers, featuring Ann and Nancy Wilson deliver a stellar live reading of Led Zeppelin’s “Battle of Evermore.” At the time of this soundtrack, Cameron Crowe was married to Nancy Wilson.

Mudhoney’s “Overblown” is thunderous while Screaming Trees’ “Nearly Lost You” shimmers and stomps. The inclusion here of Mother Love Bone’s “Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns,” undoubtedly introduced a few curious listeners to the songwriting of the late Andrew Wood, whose death led to that band’s dissolution, giving way to Pearl Jam’s formation.

Music from outside of Seattle gets some love, too. Paul Westerberg’s two tracks, “Dyslexic Heart” and “Waiting for Somebody” both show the Minneapolis-bred leader of the Replacements fitting in quite well. In addition, the standard soundtrack closes with Smashing Pumpkins’ eight-minute masterpiece “Drown,” which previewed the direction the band would head on “Siamese Dream” a year later.

As a film, “Singles” is a decent set-piece. Perhaps “Reality Bites” captured what it was like to be single in the nineties a little better, and in Cameron Crowe’s filmography it is not as great a as either “Almost Famous” or “Say Anything…” The soundtrack, however is one for the ages.

Considering the large part Chris Cornell and Soundgarden played on this collection, the timing is either unfortunate or fitting, depending on your point of view. This collection is filled with love and depth and this is one of the few soundtracks that benefits from the expanded reissue treatment. 25 years later, this still sounds remarkably fresh.

Focus Tracks:

“Seasons” (Chris Cornell) There are so many classics on here, but this pensive song takes on new resonance in the wake of Cornell’s sudden death. “State of Love and Trust” (Pearl Jam) This was perhaps the first hint that the future would be bright for Pearl Jam and that the success of “Ten” wasn’t a fluke. This upbeat rocker deserves a place beside their best work.

“Drown” (Smashing Pumpkins) Smashing Pumpkins were still a rather small Chicago band, coming off their debut album “Gish,” but this extended groove with its noisy, freaked-out guitar solo showcases one of the best and catchiest guitar hooks of Billy Corgan’s career. A shortened version of this is on their best-of, “Rotten Apples.”

“Spoon Man” (Chris Cornell) Raw and charged with some cowbell action, this lo-fi reading of a future Soundgarden classic still packs a lot of power.

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quicklist: 3 title: Linkin Park’s “One More Light” ***1/2 text: Linkin Park’s new album, “One More Light” will be a polarizing listen for some of the band’s fans. On the record they scrap many of the “nu-metal” and hip-hop elements that were heard on early records like “Hybrid Theory” and “Meteora,” giving way to smooth, sleek, modern electro-pop. The fans looking for the harder edge will be left waiting. Then again, even at their peak, there were always better and more effective places to get your rock than Linkin Park records.

If you separate this album from your preconceived notions of how Linkin Park should sound, it really isn’t anywhere close to being a bad record. In fact, in places it is quite good. Remember, early on in their career the band was known for forward-thinking sonic manipulation of their grooves, in a way providing a precursor for dub-step and other electro elements that have now become pop radio mainstays. That kind of experimentation with sound can be heard right from the beginning of tracks like “Battle Symphony” and “Sorry for Now.” When you hear Chester Bennington’s duet with singer Kiiara, “Heavy,” it sounds like the band heard the Chainsmokers and Halsey sing “Closer,” and thought, “We can do that and make it better.” They succeed.

The one dose of hip-hop that is here is “Good Goodbye,” which features Pusha T and Stormzy, neither of whom sound out of place.

Linkin Park actually deserve more respect for this record. Closer, “Sharp Edges” is a moody acoustic piece that shows some honest maturity seeping into the band’s song-structures. Throughout the album there’s some nice vocal interplay between Mike Shinoda and Bennington. It is probably easily the most chilled and evenly-toned album of their career, lacking the forced angst that sometimes permeated their earlier records.

With “alt-rock” radio sort of falling off the radar, it makes sense that the band would want to switch gears. Some may wrongly view this record as them selling out. When I hear it, it seems to me that they are sticking to their strengths. “One More Light” is easily Linkin Park’s best album in a decade. It is also an album that gets better with repeated spins.

Feature Tracks:

“Heavy” (Featuring Kiiara) At 2:50 this is a little short, but this is quite possibly the best pop-minded move the band has ever made, maintaining their emo side in a softer way but maintaining a melodic punch.

“Battle Symphony” On an album packed with ballads, this song still has an authentic, anthemic stomp. The stuttering synth refrain provides an effective hook.

“Invisible” Mike Shinoda gets his chance to sing an excellent ballad here. Yes, this is streamlined, but it still shows a winning side of the band.

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quicklist: 4 title: Magic Giant’s “In the Wind” *** text: Led by vocalist Austin Bisnow, California band Magic Giant offer up a sound that brings to mind a warm hybrid somewhere between Imagine Dragons and the Lumineers, with soaring melodies, anthemic choruses and some strong banjo and guitar work. The trio is onto something and “In the Wind” shows great promise on songs like “Window” and the rising hit, “Set the Fire.”

This is a likable set of songs and you can hear the density and intricacy in the band’s execution. The heavy production on the other hand, lets these songs and the band down. In order to get onto the charts, this record is coated in electro gloss, which in a very real way diminishes the band members’ ability to showcase their natural level of skill. The heavy beats sometimes clash with the Zambricki Li’s strong banjo work and Zang’s skilled guitar and bass-lines. If you listen to “Let’s Start Again,” it is evident that this band is better when things are less busy, although their use of a horn section and a violin throughout the set adds some stunning turns.

The band provides an interesting spin on some sounds that are in at the moment, with a nice builders like “Shake Me Up” and “Great Divide,” while “Celebrate the Reckless” blooms quite effectively.

Yes, this record is sometimes a bit frustrating. It is merely good when it could have been better with a reductionist, more organic approach. If I were advising Magic Giant, I’d say to take the effects down a notch for their sophomore effort. Of course, the real catch-22 is that the use of effects that sometimes strangle what would be great songs arguably is the reason why they are getting airplay in the currently myopic radio landscape. Maybe once they build a secure fan-base, they can surround their songs with a backdrop that does them justice.

“In the Wind” is a really promising record that sometimes gets a little drowned in its own sense of forced bombast. This is the work of three truly impressive musicians but the end product here brings to the forefront the flawed narrowness of the current corporate pop radio landscape. Many of these songs deserve a softer and gentler touch. Still, Magic Giant is an act to be watched, perhaps with great success ahead. If you listen closely, you will find plenty to love here.

Focus Tracks:

“Window” Making excellent use of a sing-along hook, this song brings to mind the best qualities of Jason Mraz to Of Monsters and Men. This is a possible hit waiting to happen with its bright, beautiful charge.

“Set the Fire” It is clear why this single is getting some success, as it rises quite effectively. It may be a tad formulaic, but it really sticks in your head. Again, this is a track that might sound better with a less chaotic, unplugged reading, but it is still an incredibly dynamic standout.

“Let it Burn” Another single waiting to happen, with an effective pop-charged lift. It’s the kind of track that will make you want to clap and sing along.

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