Jon Cassie is an educator, writer, podcaster and game designer based in Southern California. See his work at Game Level LearnIlinx and SchoolNEXT.

Duran Duran and Barenaked Ladies - new albums returning to roots

My mother-in-law sent me an iTunes gift certificate for my birthday last month and I just got around to using it. I bought the most recent albums from two of my favorite bands - Duran Duran and Barenaked Ladies.

I've been a Duran Duran fan since "Planet Earth," and I've stuck with them through all of their lineup changes and radical departures from the "Duran Duran" sound. I was thrilled when the original lineup returned in 2004 with the great album "Astronaut," but was left a bit cold by its follow-up "Red Carpet Massacre." Their new album, "All You Need Is Now," is a definitive return to their roots. I am not saying it's their best album, but they have embraced their old style with determination. The title track has become infectious after a half-dozen listens. I don't find much to love in the dischordant first minute, but when it gets to the chorus, I'm taken back (in the best way possible) to the mid-1980s. "The Man Who Stole A Leopard," strikes notes that call "The Chauffeur" to mind. "Runway Runaway" has got great hooks and "Leave A Light On" sounds like a lost "Arcadia" track. The most infectious song on the album is "Girl Panic!," which manages to sound like it could have been released along with "Girls on Film," and totally contemporary at the same time. This is the album that should have come after "Seven And The Ragged Tiger."



Barenaked Ladies, an alt-rock mainstay of the 90s, is the only band I've seen in concert more than 15 times. Their legendary live shows notwithstanding, they write some of the cleverest songs in pop music. Their most recent album "All In Good Time" was released early last year. The first album without former lead singer Steven Page, the album clearly demonstrates his absence. This is not a bad thing, but the record is definitely missing elements of Steve-ness. Like "All You Need...," "All In Good Time" feels like an early BNL record, namely "Maybe You Should Drive." It's more stripped down and honest than some recent BNL offerings, while keeping the irony, storytelling and lyrical reversals that always marked their best material. I am still warming to this record, but "You Run Away" is likely to become one of my favorites. I've always preferred Ed as a BNL lead singer. This album, which could easily have come after "Maybe...," will probably not expand their fan base, but the die hards like me are, and should be, pleased.

Top 5! - Foreign Words for "Snow"

Top 5! - Memorable (Though Not Necessarily Auspicious) Beginnings