RTS - Best complete album. Everyone is playing at the top of their game. Dan had more space without Immy and wrote great PARTS. It wasn't just solos, they were great parts. I miss that. Cool dark but optimistic vibe. Great songs, great variety. I love this record. Every year I get way into again and its like visiting a whole part of my life again. Just the interplay between Dan, Dave, Charlie and Immy from 4 minutes on in Miller's Angels alone makes the record great.
AAEA - The band had a "sound" on this record that's incredible, even if it was shaped by T-Bone. Great drumming and bass playing - fantastic rhythm section. I agree with T-Bone that the band lost something by losing Steve, even if Ben is great in his own way. Guitars sound really cool. Organ is really cool and has its own vibe. Band picks their spots instead of overplaying. You feel like you're in the room. The guitars in Rain King are awesome in the verses btw. I always wondered if they were indeed Dave, and after hearing the Slim's show from 93, they are! Dave's approach works well with Adam because it gives space to the story in the lyrics. But Dave's tone is incredible. Most underrated part of the band by far.
TDL - Good record with some really great moments. A little less focused than the last two efforts. I know that was intentional because this was an "indie" record. Kinda the band's Sgt. Pepper but in a desert instead of the technicolor 1967. I dig the travelling troubadour vibe of it, even if the songs don't always compliment it.
SNSM - There ARE some great songs on here and the band was returning to focusing on their collective sound. But the guitars just don't sound as good as they did in the past - they aren't warm, they're fighting with each-other on the electric songs. Acoustic songs sound good but fail to capture the vibe of intimacy on previous efforts (Miller's Angels, Mercury, Perfect Blue Buildings... all sounds better compared to intimate songs on this record). The drumming just doesn't have the interesting character that Steve and Ben had. It sounds like a session drummer. I LIKE Jim, but it's true. Sounds like Adam is influenced by the plays he's been seeing in NY. This doesn't work as well for me because it sounds less honest than the deliveries on earlier records. Over enunciation sounds fake, even if it's popular. I preferred thinking of them as a California band too.
Hard Candy - I get what they were going for, almost too-sweet memories. But the tone of the instruments is too polished. It misses the sound of the amps, the sound of the room. But some of the songs are cool. There's a certain abrasiveness on the records from here on out. I think it's mostly Dan and Immy fighting over space, which is unfortunate.
SUW - Drums and really the whole record doesn't sound very good - kinda muffled and missing excitement in frequency range. Guitars are ok, but maybe can't be saved because of the tone of the drums. Songwriting is alright, but like some of SNSM, there's too much acting in Adam's delivery for my taste. I like plays, but incorporating delivery elements from them doesn't work for me. Johnny Appleseed's Lament is an awesome song though. I believe it's Dan's guitar on the left channel on this song - it sounds great. Immy's slide guitar in the center right is too overdriven and ultimately takes away from the song. He's a great player. I notice live that when he plays pedal steel the band sound improves greatly. He may just be too much for the overall sound of the band at times. Not always, but at times.
These opinions are subjective. The band is still fantastic. It's perfectly cool if you disagree.