Next week, Janelle Monae’s Dirty Computer comes out. It’s her third album, and the first one divorced from her Metropolis conceptual piece, and every song I have heard has been pretty amazing. The week after that we get Frank Turner and Gaz Coombes and Belly and Leon Bridges. I’m pretty excited for what’s coming up.
As for what’s already here? Well, some weeks you just have to put your head down and power through. And this is one of them.
Let’s begin with Sting and Shaggy. (Yes, for real, we’re gonna do this.) I’m a completist by nature. Sequential numbering is my nemesis. If I have one record from an artist, I feel this odd compulsion to have all of them. And if I’ve followed an artist for years (or in some cases, decades), I just can’t imagine not buying the latest of that artist’s endeavors, no matter how awful I expect it to be. This is how I have ended up with so many latter-day Tori Amos albums I will never listen to, and why I continue to buy Jandek records, despite finding him completely unlistenable most of the time.
It’s also why I have purchased 44/876, the new collaboration between English turtleneck-rocker Sting and Jamaican reggae superstar Shaggy, the man behind “Boombastic” and the anthem for all gaslighters, “It Wasn’t Me.” Sting is 66. Shaggy is 49. The pair has posed on motorcycles for the absolutely ridiculous cover of this thing. You can tell without even hearing a note that this is going to be a travesty, especially if you’re in this for Sting.
I am. I’ve been a fan of the erstwhile Gordon Sumner since I was 14. I saw Sting on the Nothing Like the Sun tour in 1988 – it was my first-ever concert, in fact – and I still love that record. If you count the Police, Sting has made more good music than bad, but he’s catching up. The arc of Sting’s career is long, but it bends toward horrible dreck. The moments when he shows what he can really do – the score to The Last Ship, for example – are fewer and further between. And now we have this.
I’m not even sure how to review this. It’s exactly what you think it will be, in the main: Sting adding his unmistakable voice to feel-good reggae music while Shaggy does his Shaggy thing. Sting has always kind of wanted to be Bob Marley, but thankfully he leaves a lot of the Jamaican vocal stylings to the actual Jamaican, which is a good thing. There are a couple songs that bring more of Sting’s style to the fore, like “Waiting for the Break of Day,” and those are the ones I dislike least.
But I can’t really say I like any of this. It starts out ridiculous and gets more so as it goes along. I can scarcely believe that Sting willingly sung a trifle like “Gotta Get Back My Baby,” or a coffeehouse reggae number like “Don’t Make Me Wait,” on which Shaggy announces “you know this is more to me than just hitting it.” “22nd Street” sounds like a Muzak version of John Mayer. “Dreaming in the U.S.A.” edges Police territory (but just enough to make you wish you were listening to the Police), and I appreciated its positive message about immigrants, if nothing else. But courtroom drama “Crooked Tree” sapped away all that good will.
That 44/876 exists in the first place is a fact I am finding it hard to wrap my mind around. I want to applaud Sting for trying new things, for stepping out of his comfort zone. But I also want to grab him by the shoulders and physically steer him back to that comfort zone, in the hopes that he’ll get back to making music I like sometime. Sting and Shaggy are reportedly best friends now, like Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart, and that’s adorable. But I hope it doesn’t portend more collaborations like this one. Listening to 44/876 makes me want to do two things: 1) cry, and 2) put on Outlandos D’Amour, so I can remember how good Sting used to be.
I didn’t expect to have the same feeling about A Perfect Circle, but alas, I do. It’s been 14 years since Maynard James Keenan’s other band made a record, and 15 years since they made a record of new songs. It’s also been 12 years since Tool, Keenan’s main band, delivered something new, and his work as Puscifer hasn’t really been hitting the spot. Fans of Keenan’s voice and work have been in something of a dry season.
So a new A Perfect Circle record should be cause for celebration. And until I pushed play, I was admittedly quite excited. But Eat the Elephant (for that is what the new album is called) is by turns boring and trite. A Perfect Circle was never really a band, and Billy Howerdel plays most of the instruments again, but for the first time, it sounds like it. These songs feel empty, constructed from keyboards and not much else, and Keenan isn’t given a lot to truly sing. These songs meander and never quite seem to get where they’re going, and without the sense of dynamics that has marked this band’s prior work, the result is dishwater dull.
It takes four songs to get to anything that even sounds promising. The opening trilogy (“Eat the Elephant,” “Disillusioned” and “The Contrarian”) is so lifeless that I can barely believe Keenan stayed awake through them. That fourth song, “The Doomed,” starts with a powerhouse drum beat and sounds like it’s going to break the streak, but then it fails to offer much. If you know me, you know I was looking forward to a song called “So Long and Thanks for All the Fish,” and this one was certainly a surprise – it’s a major-key pop song with a jaunty melody and some dark lyrics. But it, as well, doesn’t go anywhere.
And on and on. First single “TalkTalk,” in addition to being a sharp condemnation of hypocritical Christianity, is the only thing here that almost sounds like A Perfect Circle, giving Keenan a chance to bring out his growl. “By and Down the River” isn’t new – it appeared on the band’s best-of five years ago, and hasn’t gotten any better. It sounds like the Cure on an off day. Howerdel finally pulls the stops out on the final couple tracks, but it’s too little, too late.
I feel pretty safe in saying that Eat the Elephant is not what fans have waited 14 years for. It has some charms, certainly, and it’s always nice to hear Keenan, but I was jumping out of my skin to hear this thing, and now I’m dejectedly filing it away as a disappointment. I’m certainly going to come back to it and try to like it, but there’s no way I can pretend that this is filling my need for more from this band, and for more from this week.
In fact, I was about to write this whole week off when we got an eleventh-hour save. On Friday, stoner metal gods Sleep surprise-issued their reunion album, The Sciences, their first in nearly 20 years. If you don’t know Sleep, you probably don’t understand why this was kept under wraps until just a few hours before it came out, nor why news of its existence caused so much excitement.
Suffice it to say that Sleep, a power trio from California, embodied and defined stoner metal for the whole of the 1990s. They play slow, powerful, endless groove metal, best exemplified by their magnum opus, Dopesmoker, a 63-minute song about the Weedian people on their way to the Riff-Filled Land. (Did I mention they smoke a lot?) Dopesmoker is one of the most impressive metal achievements I’m aware of, and it broke up the band. (It also took until 2012 to get a definitive version out.)
Since then, guitarist/singer Matt Pike has been fronting the amazing High on Fire, and bassist Al Cisneros formed the duo OM, playing the same slow stoner metal but without guitars. Still and all, neither of these bands were Sleep. Only Sleep is Sleep, and this reunion record proves it. The Sciences is adorned with a cover depicting an astronaut smoking an enormous bong in orbit, and the album sounds like the band has never been away. The riffs are huge and stunningly simple, the bass work is monumental, new drummer Jason Roeder is a powerhouse. Everything I loved about Sleep is here.
The two centerpiece songs on this new album have been around a while. The 12-minute “Sonic Titan” and the 14-minute “Antarcticans Thawed” are classic Sleep, rumbling forward without moving from square one. Of course Sleep would write a song called “Giza Butler,” and of course it would be 10 minutes long. Of course Sleep would kick things off with “Marijuanaut’s Theme,” more of their pot-laced fantasy work. No surprises here, until you come to “The Botanist,” the six-minute instrumental that closes the record. This song is the first evolution in Sleep’s sound in evidence here, Cisneros taking a back seat to Pike’s searing leads, and it’s tremendous.
Is a new Sleep album enough to put this week in the win column for me? Hard to say, but I have been digging on it since midnight Friday, and I don’t expect to stop. It would take a lot to blot out the Sting/Shaggy fiasco, but if anyone can, it’s Sleep. Still, if it takes a surprise metal release to even start balancing the scales, we’re gonna need some more good music stat.
Next week, Janelle Monae returns to save 2018. Follow Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tm3am.
See you in line Tuesday morning.