Saturday, March 12, 2011

Semi Precious Weapons - We Love You; You Love You

For a while now I have wanted to write a dual music review on comparing a band’s independent debut album versus their major record label release. However I have struggled to find a band that would be perfect for this type of review. Well, that’s partially true. As a matter of fact I have been wanting to write a review about a glam rock band I admire, Semi Precious Weapons, but have had trouble finding their major record label release. Ironic I know, but I had no trouble buying their indie CD at a local Best Buy a few years ago.

It all started back in December 2008 when I actually saw a music video on MTV. Shocker I know, but it was preceded by an episode of MTV’s “MADE,” where a girl wanted to become a rock star. In the episode, Justin Tranter, lead singer of Semi Precious Weapons, was the girl’s coach and helped her achieve her dream of becoming a “rock star.” When the episode ended, Semi Precious Weapons’ music video “Magnetic Baby” came on and I was immediately blown away by their catchy song. After getting over the initial shock of seeing a music video on MTV I did what any other normal person would do- I Googled Semi Precious Weapons.

From my initial research (MySpace and YouTube) I was pleasantly surprised by their music and enjoyed their brand of rock n’ roll. It was great seeing that glam rock was still being appreciated and also being recognized by MTV. Unfortunately, most people I know still had no idea who they were or even cared to learn about a New York glam rock band.

It wasn’t until October 2009 did I really get excited because Semi Precious Weapons was announced as the opening act for Lady Gaga on her Monster Ball tour after the Fame Kills tour with Kanye West fell apart. Finally, a well deserved band was going to be recognized. When Lady Gaga was still Stefani Germanotta, a struggling singer in New York, she became friends with lead singer Justin Tranter and the band Semi Precious Weapons. I think that’s awesome she would help expose her friends to a wider audience. Still, unless you were a fan of Lady Gaga or a fan of them from before, you probably wouldn’t recognize them.

Around that same time I was excited to learn that SPW had been signed by Interscope, Lady Gaga’s record label, and that their album was coming out June 2010. As a matter of fact, Lady Gaga executive produced their major label release, You Love You. Before I had a chance to listen to their new album I finally saw them perform live with Lady Gaga at Staples Center in August 2010. Although my date disliked Semi Precious Weapons I reassured her that she needed to give them another try by listening to their debut, We Love You. After lending her the album a few weeks later, she concurred that their “indie” album was much better than “their current sound.”

Despite me scurrying record stores and even major chains like Best Buy I had trouble finding You Love You. Now I know what most of you are thinking: why didn’t you buy the album on iTunes or buy it online? That’s not my style. I always like to physically buy my albums. I love looking at liner notes and having something to hold on when listening to the music. Plus I like supporting local record stores and try my best to visit at least one record/indie music store each week.  Sure I was discouraged for a long time, but I was determined to buy my CD in person. Recently I decided to take an Amoeba trip in between my two classes during a three hour break since Hollywood is only a short drive. As luck would have it I was finally able to pick up my very own copy of You Love You and a ton of awesome CDs. That trip to Hollywood definitely made my week, but I digress.

Semi Precious Weapons was originally composed of Justin Tranter (vocals), Aaron Lee Tasjan (guitar/backing vocals), Cole Whittle (bass), Dan Crean (drums) and Joe McCanta (keyboards). McCanta left the band before they recorded We Love You and Steve Pyne has since replaced Tasjan on guitar.

We Love You was released on September 30, 2008, through the Razor & Ties record label and came with a necklace from Fetty jewelry, Justin Tranter’s rock n’ roll jewelry line. Fetty has been one of Tranter’s passions besides music and has since become a successful jewelry line sold at Hot Topic, Urban Outfitters, and Barney’s. “Taste” kicks off this fantastic, fresh album.

Filled with heavy drums, exciting electric guitars and Tranter’s tremendous vocals, “Taste” is the perfect example of how the band has an eclectic music taste. Combine 1970s hard rock + glam rock + a dash of alternative music = Semi Precious Weapons. Tranter’s raw vocals seem reminiscent of David Johansen with the attitude of The New York Dolls, but with Lou Reed lyrics. Sure Tranter might emulate David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, but he makes his look all his own.

By far the best song on the entire album and one of my personal favorites is “Magnetic Baby.” This was the first song I had ever listened to by Semi Precious Weapons. Tranter’s vocals and lyrics immediately hook you, “It’s not my fault I look better in her party dress/ It’s not my fault that you left your slutty girlfriend/ It’s not my fault that this is how my mamma made me/ I’ve been magnetic since I was a baby.”

Don’t disregard a song simply because it’s catchy, but this song utilizes the band’s energy to create a fresh, fun, and fantastic song. The same energy and intensity is carried over into their eponymous song, “Semi Precious Weapons.” What makes We Love You an amazing album is the band’s raw energy and intensity. Their sound isn’t flawless, but they have immense heart that carries over in all their songs. The passion is there and I’m loving it!

Other worthwhile songs on the album include “Her Hair Is On Fire,” “Jesus,” and “Rock N’ Roll Never Looked So Beautiful.” In addition, this album includes two radio versions of “Magnetic Baby” and “Her Hair Is On Fire.” For independent fans, this is an album you won’t be disappointed with because you definitely get a bang for your buck. Probably the band most reminiscent of Semi Precious Weapons’ sound is The Darkness since lead singer Justin Hawkins and Tranter have similar vocal styles.

Lady Gaga continues to champion them and I love that kind of loyalty, but their sophomore/ major label debut isn’t nearly as good. I am not going to bad mouth You Love You at all, but merely point out it’s “not the same band.” Their sound is more “poppy,” they have lost their “glamour,” and most of their glam/hard rock sound. But the most devastating thing is they no longer have the same raw attitude and that’s why I am disappointed.

Probably the best way to compare these two albums is one is better produced, You Love You, but We Love You is better executed. They no longer possess the sound that launched their careers, which is fine, but it’s just not the same. You Love You is still an enjoyable album, but it’s very different and only contains three songs from their debut “Semi Precious Weapons, “Magnetic Baby,” and “Rock N’ Roll Never Looked So Beautiful.” However, they are very different when compared to the originals.

How do I explain this? It’s like comparing an original album to a live album, sure they are the “same songs,” but they sound drastically different. Still, I recommend checking them out, but I personally prefer their debut over their “sophomore” album.


Buy here: You Love You
Buy here: We Love You
Buy mp3: You Love You (Amazon MP3 Exclusive Version) [Explicit] [+Digital Booklet]
Buy here: We Love You (CD with Bonus USB)

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