Nuno Bettencourt – Population 1 Review

Nuno Bettencourt – Population 1 Review

Nuno Bettencourt - Population 1Some may claim that Nuno Bettencourt’s Population 1 was created solely for the purpose of demonstrating his technical prowess on the guitar. Those who make such claims obviously haven’t taken the time to listen to this album. It’s a Bettencourt project, so you can expect some great guitar playing, but this album isn’t merely a riff-fest. There would have been less musical and therefore less satisfying ways of accomplishing that goal, which is clearly not what Bettencourt was aiming for. Take a listen to the opening track, “Flow”, and you will be enlightened.

When Nuno came out with Schizophonic, he was beginning to incorporate more alternative influences in his music. Suffice to say, it also carries over into this project. What makes this album different from any of its predecessors is its experimental nature. “Rescue” is an alternative rocker that segues into a Spanish guitar solo, “Stiff” is a dark and dramatic electronic track, and “Sick Punk” is dripping with industrial rock influences. All told, there’s enough variety to keep the listener entertained throughout.

On the flip side, songs like “Stiff” – clocking in at six minutes and 37 seconds – may not have much replay value. Music is a matter of taste, of course, and some people may enjoy this sort of thing, but it isn’t exactly a listener-friendly track. Fortunately, most of the other tracks stand up to many listens.

Some of the highlights include the infectious alternative rocker “High”, the dynamic “Rescue”, the contagious but short “QPD”, and the aforementioned “Sick Punk”. Most of the songs have very pop-friendly melodies, making them both memorable and listenable. “Flow”, for example, seems like an unlikely opening track (it’s a ballad), but it works well as the introduction to this disc.

Imagination & Creativity: 9/10

Nuno may have borrowed liberally from alternative, grunge, and various other types of music, but in almost every instance he makes it work. He proves that he isn’t just a one trick pony, as most of this disc probably never would have worked (musically) with Extreme or the Mourning Widows.

Sound & Music: 8/10

Some of the music is going to sound dated. Nuno didn’t jump on the alternative wagon until late in the game, but if you like the Foo Fighters there’s no reason why you wouldn’t enjoy this.

Variety: 8/10

There’s a great deal of variety on this disc, and as such, most people will probably find something they like. In this case this also means that some people are going to find a few skip-able tracks along the way.

Virtuosity: 9/10

Nuno is a superb guitar player, and if that wasn’t enough he plays all the instruments on this album. There’s nothing on the album that sounds amateur, and Nuno does a great job through and through.

Writing & Premise: 7/10

Like the Mourning Widows albums it’s not always clear what Bettencourt is writing about. Although songs like “Ordinary Day” and “Unhappy B-Day” have a direct and personal message, the rest of the songs aren’t so forthcoming. In some cases it seems as though the writing wasn’t as polished as it should have been, but if you pay heed to the lyrics, you will know that Nuno has a knack for extended metaphor. If you enjoy discovering and deciphering the message for yourself, your enjoyment of this disc will also increase.

Overall: 41/50

On the one hand this album is exactly what fans have been waiting to hear, because it answers the question “what would Nuno Bettencourt do if you let him loose in a studio?” On the other hand, the more experimental sections of this album may turn some people off; namely those who would rather hear a focused and cohesive rock effort. If you were expecting just another rock album, you came to the wrong place.

Harem Scarem – Human Nature Review

Harem Scarem – Human Nature Review

Harem Scarem - Human Nature ReviewHarem Scarem has been consistently releasing new material over the last 5 years; 2002’s Weight of the World, 03’s Higher, 05’s Overload, and in 06, Human Nature.

This prolific group has stayed faithful to its melodic rock roots, but they’ve also taken a few cosmic leaps along the way (i.e. listen to their self-titled debut and then to Mood Swings).

Human Nature finds Scarem in prime form, and although they haven’t taken any intergalactic jumps this time, the album is a true reflection of what fans have come to expect from this amazing band. Sure, looking back they may have alienated a few fans along the way, but Harem Scarem is a band that is continually looking forward, changing and evolving as necessary. Moreover, it always seems to pay off, like it does on Human Nature.

From the opening track, it is apparent that Harem Scarem hasn’t lost anything. Upfront and unapologetic guitar riffs, catchy hooks, big vocals, and melodies that few bands can duplicate. Some may say that they belong in the 80s, but many listeners will realize that melodic rock and Scarem go hand in hand. You can’t take the engine from the car and expect it to keep running. The band has a slightly more updated sound, but it hasn’t interfered with their creative vision. They may have slight leanings towards power pop on Human Nature, but the whole album is like the culmination of all the good parts of previous efforts.

For example, the solo section of “Next Time Around” is reminiscent of “Climb the Gate” off of Big Bang Theory. When you stop to recognize a moment like this, you are left with a smile on your face. Likewise, there are a few other heard-it-before moments scattered throughout the disc. Human Nature doesn’t really suffer from it, however. For the fan, it’s more like you’re in on an inside joke. The band is merely nodding towards their previous projects.

On the flip side, it’s refreshing to hear a song like “Give Love/Get Love”, a tribute to Queen. For a band that has always cited Queen as an influence, it’s almost as if you can hear the fans saying “it’s about time!” It really is about time. Scarem does a fantastic job, while staying true to their own sound.

Band Dynamics: 9/10

Everything fits into place exactly like it should. The big vocal sound, the drums, the soaring guitar riffs… The only thing we should be hearing a bit more is the bass, but it’s negligible.

Imagination & Creativity: 10/10

Scarem has always been an intensely creative and imaginative unit. Their sound is truly their own, and there really isn’t a stale moment.

Sound & Music: 10/10

The mix is a lot cleaner and less grungy, compared to, say, Big Bang Theory. Scarem will probably always appeal most to a particular audience, namely those who enjoyed 80s hard rock and melodic rock. Even so, their sound is updated enough to find mass appeal.

Variety: 10/10

It’s hard to find proper criteria to rate this band with, but a healthy dose of musical variety has usually been a staple of the Scarem diet. While Human Nature isn’t as varied as Mood Swings, it doesn’t get tired and is very listenable all the way through. There are some straight-up rockers like “Human Nature” and “Reality”, power ballads like “Hanging On” and “Starlight”, and even the Queen-influenced “Give Love/Get Love”. There’s definitely some good variety here.

Writing & Premise: 9/10

Lyrically, Human Nature is far more straightforward than many of Scarem’s previous releases. The subject matter is both relatable and poignant, and even thought-provoking at times.

Overall: 48/50

Despite some similarities, this album is sure to receive much better press than Big Bang Theory. Not only that, but it could quite possibly be their best work since Mood Swings.