Soundtrack – Various Artists “The Greatest Showman” (2017)

     My Fair Lady.  Peter Gunn.  The Sound of Music.  Camelot.  West Side Story.  Hello, Dolly!  Mary Poppins.  Woodstock.  Jesus Christ Superstar.  Saturday Night Fever.  Titanic.  High School Musical.  Throughout all the years of my blog, soundtrack albums, whether they be from Broadway shows or cinematic releases have been a constant.  (I didn’t include several other films that were either concert performances or albums that eventually inspired a film, like “Tommy” or “The Wall”).  Today we have what I think will be the last soundtrack, with the #1 selling album from 2018, “The Greatest Showman”.  Based on the life of P.T. Barnum, this movie starred Hugh Jackman in the lead role, with Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, Ziv Zaifman, Keala Settle, Loren Allred and Zendaya, among others, appearing in the cast and on the album.  Special props to Zac Efron, I must give the guy credit for completing the trilogy along with “Hairspray” and “High School Musical”.

     As far as albums go, this soundtrack is standard fare.  The songs, particularly the opener, “The Greatest Show”, and the last track, “From Now On”, are dramatic, bombastic shows meant to capture the energy of the cast and inspire the audience.  They are high energy tunes that fulfill that mission, and even though I’m not prone to frequently replay songs from this record, clearly it caught the eyes and ears of America and beyond, given its huge success.

     I think my favorite song may be “A Million Dreams”, sung primarily by childhood actor Ziv Zaifman.  It is genuine, sincere, and sweet, a quality not easy to find in the jaded world we live in today.  The two singles released are “This Is Me”, performed by Keala Settle, and “Rewrite the Stars”, performed by Efron and Zendaya.  Both are big songs performed by big voices, and absolutely fit the bill as emotional drivers in the show.

     Like all the soundtracks that came before “The Greatest Showman”, they represent a snapshot of the world we lived in during a certain time, and I appreciate the intent and purpose of musical film and theater.  Blending our desire to believe in the unbelievable with a love of song, dance, and story, I have nothing but good words for this album and I love that it did so well during a time in our history when the arts and performance aren’t always supported by those we look to for leadership.  The Greatest Show… indeed.

The Glorious Sons “Young Beauties and Fools” (2017)

     Back on June 28, 2019, I was at the Gothic Theater in Denver, waiting to see my current favorite band the Struts perform, and had invited my sister and her boyfriend to join me.  As the crowd was building and the opening act was preparing to come on, I started talking with two people next to me.  They indicated that they were there primarily to see the opening act, a band I had never heard of before, a band from Canada known as the Glorious Sons.  I viewed that as a positive sign and prepared to rock.

     Opening acts are an interesting phenomenon all on their own, and today’s selection and blog are dedicated to all opening acts.  We usually aren’t there to see them, and the range of support they get goes from rejection to disinterest to mild applause to the occasional home run.  I know I have witnessed all of these moments at a show.  Back in my younger days, my friends and I (at least most of us) were pretty close-minded and impatient when it came to opening acts, unless it was some other highly established name.  Over the years, among the big-name artists I have seen perform as openers include Jethro Tull, John Cougar, Def Leppard, Joan Jett, and Sheryl Crow.  Some were enthusiastically welcomed, and others, like John Cougar, left the stage dodging cups and flipping off the crowd.

     Thankfully with age and maturity, and reinforced by several good experiences, I try to remain much more positive about opening acts.  One of my favorites was a piano player and vocalist named Chantal Kreviazuk (also Canadian) that I saw open for Five for Fighting.  Two others worthy of honorably mention also surfaced when seeing the Struts.  Made Violent, a punk trio from Buffalo, opened the very first Struts show I saw, and they remain a favorite to this day.  You should check out “Two Tone Hair” or “Dirty”, they are great songs I’m sure you have never heard before.

     At the most recent Struts show, I witnessed something I had never seen before.  Not only did Nick Perri put on a stellar show as the opening act, but he also actually filled in for Adam Slack when the Struts performed, and the band barely missed a beat.  Now that is what I call impressive, and all of us appreciated that the show was able to go on.

     Sometimes you just don’t get there on time.  One time when I was seeing the Struts in Baltimore, my arrival was much later than I hoped, and I completely missed the opening act.  I was told they were good but didn’t think much of it afterwards until someone asked me the next year if I was at the show the year before when Greta Van Fleet, who have ultimately experienced significantly more commercial success than the Struts, had opened the show.  I really, really would have liked to have seen that… even though the Struts are still a better band.

     Of all the opening acts I have seen, and I have seen some of the best and some of the worst, the Glorious Sons remain my all-time favorite opening act.  They caught me completely by surprise the first time I saw them, with the infectious and equally hard rocking blend of songs that were instantly favorites.  That type of “love at first listen” almost never happens, especially with a live track, but they had several songs that remain all-time favorites for me to this day.

     I selected “Young Beauties and Fools” from 2017 as my tribute to all opening acts, as it contains my all-time favorite Glorious Sons song, “S.O.S.”.  To be fair, some may be caught a bit off guard by this song in today’s world, but even as it might be a delicate subject for some, I still love it as a spot-on rock tune with a great melody and powerful drum beat that just lifts the entire crowd into a frenzy.  Brett Emmons is the lead vocalist for the band, and Chris Koster, who is also unusually tall for a rock musician, is the lead guitarist in the band.  Adam Paquette also stands out on this track and others with a drum tone and rhythmic burst that is exceptional on all counts.

     The rest of the album, although rather short at just over 30 minutes, has several other highly listenable and enjoyable songs.  “Hide My Love” is my favorite “new” discovery, and “Josie”, “Everything is Alright”, and “Thank You for Saying Goodbye” are all not only great songs, but very different from each other in their sound.  The common themes are great hooks and riffs that leave you with a really favorable impression on the first listen.

     My two other all-time favorite Glorious Sons tracks are from other albums but worth a mention and a listen.  “Mama” is another anthemic rocker that is a great crowd sing-along, enhanced by one of my favorite riffs in modern time (man do I miss hearing more of the guitar in today’s music!), and “Closer to the Sky” is a different kind of track, more subtle in its delivery but equally enrapturing in its melody.

     After that first night, I was hooked and was able to see them open for the Struts three more times in the next 6 weeks.  Those shows remain some of my all-time favorites, as I truly felt like I was getting two great concerts in one.  The last few years have been challenging for the band, as they make their living playing shows, mainly as a headliner across the United States, and being a Canadian act, their exile north of the border due to COVID ran for an extremely long and frustrating period of time.  Thankfully, they are back on the road this summer and fall, as an opener and a headliner.  If they are anywhere near where I am, I will be there, and I hope you check them out as well.

Kendrick Lamar “DAMN.” (2017)

     Back to Kendrick Lamar today, and for my tastes, “DAMN.” is by far my favorite of the albums I have listened to in his catalog.  The mix of songs is more aggressive, in many cases tapping into a heavier dose of bass, beats, and hooks.  By most critic’s standards, this album is not as highly acclaimed as his last two albums, but it is much more in line with my preferences for hip-hop.  It is rated as album #175 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

     Like many hip-hop albums, “DAMN.” opens with a subtle, somewhat haunting opening track, “BLOOD.”.  However, that pace shifts dramatically with “DNA.”.  This is one of two songs (naturally my two favorites) that just drop the bass, beat and vocal with reckless abandon, and it is a thunderous treat indeed.

     My son tells me that his favorite sequence on the album is the trilogy of “DNA.”, “YAH.”, and “ELEMENT.”.  It’s hard to push back on that concept.  All three are among the best on the record.  “YAH.” is a bit more low-fi and subtle, but it comes with a trance-like groove.  “ELEMENT.” steps up the intensity level again, with some of Kendrick’s very best flow featured on this song.

    Other highlights include “LOYALTY.”, featuring Rihanna.  The second single on the album, these two are a perfect pairing and gel so wonderfully on this mid-tempo jam.

     As much as I like this entire album, my number one favorite song is the first single from the album, “HUMBLE.”.  Like “DNA.”, the intensity and power of this song are stunning.  Kendrick is not only phenomenal, but the production around this track raises it to a level that justifies its success as a #1 single.

     I can’t say I’m completely surprised to hear U2 on this album, as they and Kendrick have displayed a willingness to take on just about any unexpected collaboration.  Even though their role on “XXX.” is somewhat limited, Larry Mullen Jr. kills it on his drumbeat, and Bono’s instantly recognizable voice again raises this song to a higher level.  They add to a good song and make it great and serve as the power of talent from different genres making each other even more impactful.

     More than ever, I now understand and respect why Kendrick Lamar is the unquestioned king of today’s hip-hop world.  I don’t know at this point what, if any, role Dr. Dre contributed to the more concise and tighter structure of this album, as he is credited as Executive Producer, but this masterpiece definitely portrays the very best of current hip-hop.

Ed Sheeran “Divide” (2017)

     Today we have another modern pop sensation, British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran and his massively successful third album, “Divide”.  This record was not only the #1 selling album in 2017, but in the modern context of musical streaming, Ed Sheeran is at the top of the list of most streamed artists, and his huge hit “Shape of You” is the most streamed song of all time on some streaming services.  My view of this album is complicated, perhaps more than I thought it would be, and I even have some traumatic memories tied directly to “Shape of You” I will elaborate on.

     Let’s get the negatives out of the way first.  Ed Sheeran is just the most visible artist of an entire movement of dramatically sensitive white male vocalists.  You know these guys, right?  It doesn’t matter whether it is Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith, James Bay, Lukas Graham, or the absolute worst offender, Shawn Mendes (Shawn, it’s pronounced Stitches, not Stee-chez). Not only are you CONSTANTLY bombarded by their music everywhere, even at the gym where nobody ever says “let’s get swole and listen to 7 Years”.  Nope, it gets worse.  They are just so incredibly delicate and sensitive, you know every girl hears their music and thinks, “why can’t my guy be more sensitive like Ed?”  It’s not right, it’s painful to listen to, and it’s inescapable.  No song oozes this heart-fluttering want more than “Perfect”, another of the monster hits from “Divide”

    On top of that, sometimes they will deliver a song like “Shape of You”.  Beyond being omnipresent in every corner of life, some of you may even be confronted like one of my coworkers was, when she told me her mom told her how much she loved this song.  Nobody’s parent should ever positively reference a song where the lyrics include the line “and now my bedsheets smell like you”.  Again… it is just wrong.  It isn’t quite as scarring, but one of my local friends also shared that his love for this song is tied to the love for the shape of his wife.  Some thoughts are better left unsaid.

     So now that I have all of that out of the way, I will begrudgingly admit that even though the tone of his voice is sometimes a bit much, Ed Sheeran is a very capable singer and furthermore, like his female counterpart Taylor Swift, he is an effective and talented songwriter.  Taking a bit more time to listen the second time through, I appreciated the autobiographical nature of many of his songs like “Castle on the Hill”, the admittedly touching “Supermarket Flowers”, and a bonus track, “Nancy Mulligan”.  You get the sense that Ed is in fact, a pretty good dude, and despite the fact he is one of the most successful artists on the planet, he effectively portrays himself as just a normal guy who lives life for his friends and family.  It’s hard not to like that aspect of his music, and for that I will give him kudos and praise.  I don’t think I’m ready yet to add “Shape of You” to my playlist, and I probably won’t need to since the entire planet is still streaming it at an alarming rate, but I found a couple of others I will secretly add to my playlist (don’t tell my son) and move on to the next record on the list.

The Rolling Stones “Blue and Lonesome” (2016)

     One of the more interesting and longer-running feuds in rock and roll was re-energized last year when Paul McCartney said the Beatles were better than the Rolling Stones, partly because the Stones were just a “blues cover band”.  Once you listen to the album “Blue and Lonesome”, a sentiment many of us who listen to the blues can relate to, you realize Paul may have been right and wrong at the same time.  Obviously, the Stones have had much more to offer than cover tunes in their almost 60 (!) year career, but this this vintage revisit of their roots, with twelve remarkable blues cover tunes reinforces not only their greatness but their unbelievable staying power as a band.

     Many of the “classic” rock artists continue to record to this day.  McCartney and Ringo, Robert Plant, The Who, Elton John, and yes, the Stones, among many others, but their current music never sees the light of day on classic rock radio, and when playing in concert, it is these new songs that often represent bathroom breaks for fans waiting impatiently for the “classic hits”.  I’ve always felt this to be a bit close-minded and unfair, because many of these artists, well beyond the ones I listed above, are still making interesting and relevant music today, even if it goes largely unnoticed.  For some reason, Ozzy Osbourne, of all musicians, seems to be the only artist from that era to get frequent airtime with new material.  More power to him, and for what it is worth, he did come out with a pretty impressive track featuring Jeff Beck just this year.

     Anyway, once in very rare moment, one of these acts brings something forward uniquely enjoyable, and I don’t think there is a record released by any classic rock artist in the last ten years that rivals “Blue and Lonesome”.  If you listen to this album, co-produced by Don Was, it is as if you are magically transported back to 1964 and their first album.  Mick Jagger’s vocals are unbelievably vital, and although his core range was never as wide as someone like McCartney, Plant or Elton, his delivery in his late 70s sounds somehow unchanged through 60 years of performing.  Just as it was in the beginning, his harmonica is also central to their blues foundation.  As timeless as Jagger is, if you see him onstage, his “moves like Jagger” haven’t lost a step either.  Keith Richards and Ron Wood do the majority of the heavy lifting on guitar, with one very special guest appearance, and perhaps most endearing of all, Charlie Watts is outstanding in his last studio album recording.

Back to the Beatles vs. the Stones for just a moment, my friend Mike posed that question to me a while ago, and my first-response answer still stands to this day. If we are judging on their work in the studio alone, I have to give the nod to the songwriting of Lennon and McCartney, with Harrison bringing his own gifts to the party. However, if we are talking a live performance, there is a reason so many consider the Rolling Stones the greatest rock and roll band of all time. The beauty of “Blue and Lonesome” is that it is a studio album that sounds like it could be and should be a live performance, and it was in fact recorded in just three days, the way it used to be done by acts of this caliber.

     There isn’t a weak link on this album and every song is a gift to any blues-based Stones fan.  The album opens with a rocking up-tempo blues beat that was released as a single, “Just Your Fool” by Little Walter.  Howlin’ Wolf, Magic Sam, Otis Hicks, Jimmy Reed and the legendary Willie Dixon all see their songs surface here, and I love that several of these artists reconnect this blog with its earliest roots, completing the circle with an album released in 2016.

     While I will sing the praises of the entire record, there are two songs I have to specifically single out for consideration.  I didn’t know it at that time, but it isn’t surprising to me looking back on it, that these are the two songs that also feature Eric Clapton on slide and lead guitar.  What a masterpiece these songs are to enjoy.  “Everybody Knows About My Good Thing”, written by Miles Grayson and Lermon Horton, is almost too good to be true, and while Clapton is in top form, Matt Clifford also stands out on piano, and Charlie Watts almost steals the show with his unusually thunderous back beat.  No matter how much I already praised his work, you have to acknowledge how good Jagger is on this song as well.

     The album concludes with Willie Dixon’s “I Can’t Quit You Baby”, a song that immediately recaptures my attention as a track Led Zeppelin also covered on their first album.  No matter how biased I may be towards their version, there is no denying how great this effort is, once again featuring Clapton on lead.  And as much as one is tempted to compare two great covers of this song, you can’t ignore the fact that the Stones took their run at this song in their mid 70s.  The power and force of Mick, backed by the subtleness of Keith Richards and Ron Wood wrapping their magic around Clapton’s lead, is truly a spectacle to be taken in.  I spent the night listening to and comparing both performances, and then going all the way back to Willie Dixon for his original home run.  Some nights you just need the blues, and this was a good night to reconnect with some of my favorite music of my past.

     Of all people, it was my son who originally turned me on to this album.  I know my friend Jim is also a devoted advocate for this record as well.  If you have even a hint of appreciation for old British rock blues, you can’t go wrong with “Blue and Lonesome”.  The musical world now belongs to a new, different and very capable generation, but I’m grateful the Stones were able to deliver a new album of old songs that reminds us all where it all started so many years ago.

Bruno Mars “24K Magic” (2016)

     Some artists are so charismatic and entertaining to watch perform live, that a studio album doesn’t necessarily capture their full power as an artist.  I think that might be my take on Bruno Mars and his album “24K Magic”.  There are two phenomenal hits, the title track in particular, and some other decent songs on this record, but for me, the magic of Bruno Mars will always be best defined by his multiple appearances in the Super Bowl Halftime Show.  Since I have seen him there, any other artist has failed to measure up on that same stage. 

     Riding the wave of the massive hit “Uptown Funk”, which was actually a Mark Ronson song featuring Bruno Mars, this 2016 album and its equally high energy title track reinforced Bruno Mars as the modern-day version of James Brown, Michael Jackson and Prince all merged into one.  His blend of sweet and soulful vocals with an always-present posse of dancing masters made for an audio-visual burst of entertainment, and clubs and radios alike were overwhelmed with interest for this song.  No matter how many times I hear this song or its predecessor “Uptown Funk”, (which is not on this album, just to clarify) I always smile and tend to reach for the volume button. 

     “That’s What I Like” slows down the pace half a beat, but is another big hit delivered in the same style, with similar effect.  The other singles, “Versace on the Floor”, “Chunky” and “Finesse” are less impactful, and honestly, there isn’t too much else on this relatively short (33 minute) album to get excited about, as they are pretty basic pop songs, but the entire record is still a fun play and is probably a dozen times more enjoyable performed live.

     I will keep an open mind every year as I watch the Super Bowl, but until I see otherwise, Bruno Mars will always be the unquestioned king of the Halftime Show, and this collection of hits he strung together makes him one of the most enjoyable and dazzling performers of the last decade.

Drake “Views” (2016)

     Up until recently, I only really knew three things about Drake.  One, he sold and/or streamed a ton of songs in the past decade.  Two, he really likes basketball, and three, I have always known him primarily for his song “Hotline Bling”, which has been a favorite of mine since it was released.  When I started listening to his 2016 album “Views”, I didn’t know that this would be the record where I was reunited with “Hotline Bling”, but I’m glad it was.  In general, I think I enjoyed this record more than the last one we discussed, “Take Care”.  It is still primarily low-fi R&B with a hip-hop flavor, and there are some pretty dark songs on here about relationship failures and breakdowns, but I enjoyed this album more than I expected.

     The record opens with a solid vibe, on the song “Keep the Family Close”.  It starts off with a pretty light and chill feel, but both words and music get much more intense as the song builds.  “Feel No Ways” has a phenomenal beat, and looking back, I’m very surprised this catchy tune wasn’t one of the five singles from the record.  For obvious reasons, I definitely feel an affinity for “Weston Road Flows”, and it has a fairly hypnotic back-track sample that feeds into Drake’s hip-hop side.  “With You” features another Canadian R&B singer, PARTYNEXTDOOR, and I really enjoyed the blend of their vocals and the songwriting on this track.

      “Hotline Bling” brings back some funny memories laughing at and enjoying this song at the same time.  It even provided the fuel for one of the more bizarre covers by my favorite glam rock band, the Struts.  It remains the most memorable standout song of this record, and one of my favorite songs of the last ten years.  I’m glad I got another dose of Drake, and I’m sure I will be giving him a few more streams on my playlist, as if he needs any more commercial success.

“I know when that hotline bling, that can only mean one thing…”

Frank Ocean “Blonde” (2016)

     I have invested some extra time trying to make sense of today’s album, “Blonde” by Frank Ocean.  It is a very highly regarded concept album, compared by some to “Pet Sounds” by the Beach Boys, and is rated #79 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.  I won’t ever reach that level of affection for this record, and it is a bit of a challenging listen, but like almost all of these records, I found some nuggets I enjoyed.

     Frank Ocean is a talented and soulful singer who has thrived across multiple genres in the past decade.  For this record, there is a lot of electronic distortion and reproduction of his voice, and on some songs, it works, and on others, I find it a bit annoying.  I love how it opens the lead single and first track on the record, “Nikes”.  Yet, on the very next song, “Ivy”, his voice is inexplicably transformed into Phyllis Diller in a S&M machine at the end of the song, and there is nothing I yield from that whatsoever.

      There are multiple spoken word tracks on the record, which I’m sure have some context and meaning but leave me a little confused.  We appear to have his mom repeatedly telling him not to do drugs on “Be Yourself”, and on “Facebook Story”, the thick European accent reminds me of “Giorgio by Moroder” by Daft Punk.  They are entertaining, but I can’t say I understand their placement and context here.

     As I detected on “Lemonade”, I heard fragments of other classics seeping through on two successive songs on this record, and the songwriting credits confirmed my suspicions.  “Close to You” is in fact a highly reworked transformation of the same song performed by the Carpenters and written by Burt Bacharach, and as I listened to “White Ferrari”, I was sure I heard elements of “Here, There and Everywhere” by the Beatles, which was reinforced by the omnipresent Lennon & McCartney in the songwriting credits.

      In total, I would say this album is a bit too abstract for me, but I did really like “Nikes” and some of the other highlights I referenced above.  I know my son is a huge Frank Ocean fan, and I can see some similarities in style with Drake, although Frank Ocean is a much more evolved singer.  This is certainly representative of the music of the time, and I’m glad I invested the effort to get to know it well.

Beyonce “Lemonade” (2016)

     My expectations for “Lemonade” by Beyonce were pretty low, as I don’t usually gravitate to modern R&B music.  I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed the musical diversity of this highly acclaimed album, which is rated #32 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.  It appears most people associate this record with the relationship difficulties she was experiencing with her husband Jay-Z at the time, and he is notably absent from the entire record, either as a performer or producer.  I’m only speculating here, but I wonder if the album title is an extension of the saying, “When life gives you lemons…”.  True or not, this record has some really interesting songs that showcase her versatility and remarkable talents.

     Among my favorites are the subdued but catchy melody “Hold Up”, “Sorry”, a tune where she is pretty angry and not terribly remorseful for her emotions, “Daddy Lessons”, which incorporates a mix of Dixieland Jazz with a slice of country, and “Freedom”, a powerful song with a strong performance from Kendrick Lamar.  “Formation” is another intense and funky track, and I also really enjoyed “Love Drought”, which I’m really surprised wasn’t released as a single.

     Another unusual song that works well is her collaboration with Jack White on “Don’t Hurt Yourself”.  An odd pairing perhaps, but this song really blends them well, and I remember thinking the drums sound a lot like “When the Levee Breaks” by Led Zeppelin.  My instincts were proven correct when I saw the songwriting credits and saw all four members of Zeppelin credited on the songwriting, even though at most, the song mixes in the amazing drums of John Bonham on sample.  As much as Led Zeppelin has “borrowed” from other artists, I think this was a pretty generous credit, but that trivia aside, this song is another unexpected highlight, as well as another side of angry Beyonce I haven’t seen before.

     As I said, I don’t naturally gravitate towards Beyonce or her style of music, but I really love the way she branched out here, and I fully understand why it was so successful commercially and critically.

The Struts “Everybody Wants” (2016)

     Lots of music comes and goes for me, but at the end of it all, my heart still comes back to the basics of guitar-based rock and roll.  Unfortunately, by 2015, that genre was fading fast, at least in the mainstream world of popular music as hip-hop, R&B and other electronic genres took hold, along with a highly diversified mix of artists.  There were still hard rock bands and various strains of guitar rock, but most of it was pretty intense and was closely connected to the roots of metal and grunge and was frankly a bit depressing.  Thankfully for me, I was driving one morning on I-95 south of Jacksonville, and  I just happened to turn on the radio and heard this funky riff-mix of guitar, bass, drums with a hint of synthesizer that changed my life.

     There have been several bands who I have embraced so significantly that they became embedded in my lifestyle, and I’m grateful to celebrate the UK glam-rock, classic-rock, whatever you want to call them-rock band who is bringing a fresh sound to an iconic brand of music, the Struts.  From Derby in the United Kingdom, this band has recorded several albums and spent the last decade on the road, and as a faithful and committed fan, I have seen them live 15 times, in 13 different venues, in 7 different states.  Their shows are enthusiastically high-energy, led by today’s perfect front-man and showman, Luke Spiller.  A guitar band has to have a strong guitarist, and the songwriting, playing and singing of Adam Slack is equally essential to the success of the band.  Jed Elliott on bass, and Gethin Davies on drums joined the band after Luke and Adam and are superior showmen and performers in their own right.  In total, this band is just too much fun, whether it be live on stage or on record.  I always hope for them to really blow up in popularity, but for now, I also consider myself equally blessed to be able to see them in so many different intimate clubs that have become a part of my lifestyle and fiber as a music fan.

     Their debut album was released to the U.S. in 2016 after its 2014 debut in the UK and is one of my favorite albums of all time.  If I could only take ten (probably even five) records to a desert island, this would be one of them.  As I noted above, my attention was first captured by the funky rocker that is “Kiss This”, and after I purchased the CD and listened to the entire album, I was instantly hooked.

     Oddly enough, if I HAD to pick a least-favorite song, and that would be a challenge here, it would probably be the opener, “Roll Up”.  It is a true set-opener as it announces the band’s arrival, but the hook from this song just doesn’t completely grab me the way the others do.  However, from that point on, it is just song after song of highly infectious tracks that are hard rocking, but with pop sensibility, somewhat reminiscent of the way David Lee Roth worked with Eddie Van Halen to record rocking songs that people enjoyed dancing and bouncing to just as much.

     “Could Have Been Me” is the second song, and usually is the last song they play in a live show.  By far their most streamed song, it’s hard not to embrace the message of the lyrics.  “Don’t wanna live as an untold story, Rather go out in a blaze of glory…    I wanna live better days, Never look back and say, Could Have Been Me!”  Amen, Luke.

     Next is “Kiss This”, which to this day still rates as my all-time favorite Struts song.  The crunchy riff is phenomenal, and when augmented by Jed on bass, this song just sends me into a frenzy, whether I’m at a show or not. 

     The hits keep coming with “Put Your Money on Me”, which is probably their best pop-rock song.  If you see Luke Spiller in person or on stage, there is a hint of androgyny in his delivery, and after showing my parents a video of the Struts performing this awesome song, my mom told me she was confused by two women kissing at the beginning of the video.  Of course, we know that A), there is nothing wrong with that even if it were so, and B), it was just Luke and his then-girlfriend.  That absurdity aside, it really is a great hook and often the first song I play for potential new Struts listeners.

     They display their diversity with the breakup ballad “Mary Go Round”, which has proven to be a fan favorite for sing-along at live shows as they usually play it with just Adam on acoustic guitar accompanying Luke.  The quality of songs on this first album is remarkably consistent, and in a different era, I have to think many of these songs, this one included, would have been massive radio hits.

     The next two songs are sassy and a bit on the provocative side, and excellent up-tempo numbers.  “Dirty Sexy Money” is another staple of their current live show, and while “The Ol’ Switcheroo” is slightly less familiar, it is a hilarious perspective on the longing eyes of two different couples.  “She Makes Me Feel Like” is perhaps a bit more wholesome in its theme yet, if possible, even more happy and catchy in its delivery.

     “Young Stars” is more of an anthemic rocker, even more so than many of these others, but they all play really well to a house full of enthusiastic fans.  This one has another lyrical misstep for me, as I thought for years Luke was embracing technology and singing “I was buffering”, when it was in fact, “I was born for it”.  Unlike many of his peers, his British accent almost always shines through in his vocals, which completely adds to the charm and appeal of the Struts.

      Two last songs I will highlight are “These Times Are Changing” and “Where Did She Go”.  Both are raucous tracks that are perfect for crowd sing-along, and “Where Did She Go” served for many years as their “human fireworks” track, when Luke would have the entire crowd get on the ground, then burst into crazy jumping at his demand.  Ahh.. to be a rock star and have the audience in the palm of your hands.

     If you haven’t heard the Struts, “Everything Wants” is a fabulous place to start.  Even today, it is my favorite of their three records, and many of these hits remain the backbone of their spectacular live show.  Go see them live, enjoy the records, but as Luke Spiller would famously say, “Remember the name the Struts!”