Flash And The Pan - self-titled (LP review) (Epic): Few people remember them but they were a welcome addition in 1979. A more orchestral New Musik, and kin to The Fabulous Poodles, Flash And The Pan recorded catchy electronics & new wave boogie featuring lead vocals that sounded like it came from an AM radio. Grace Jones did an excellent cover of their "Walking On The Moon".
Consisting of Harry Vanda and George Young, the latter writing "Friday On My Mind" as a member of The Easybeats, Flash And The Pan was a pet project. They developed and produced AC/DC with George's younger brother Angus on guitar. One point off for that. To quote the album blurb, "While new wave is just a hairdo and punk is a rusty safety pin, Flash And The Pan is the New Music. It retains the fun of the Easybeats while maintaining its future musical vision by the use of some extraordinary production techniques." Being old-timers they wanted to distance themselves from The Kids while co-opting their sounds. I can't say I blame them, but you can't always have it both ways. Anyway, this is a great album filled with rich textures and beautifully arranged songs. The singing is deep and nasal with a pronounced and distinctive enunciation pattern. I'm sure you can find it cheap at a garage sale.
Flash And The Pan- Early Morning Wake Up Call (cassette review): Flash And The Pan’s fifth album, released in 1984 by Big Brother, is firmly rooted in the commercial new wave rock sounds of that era, and while it has its corny charms there’s nothing as interesting or cutting edge as "Hey St. Peter" or "Walking In The Rain". The dance beats are generally simplistic and not intrusive. The periodic hand-clapping parts are intrusive. "Midnight Man" offers some of the old charm and deserved to be a minor UK hit, and both "On The Road" and "Look At That Woman Go" are worth repeat listens. Otherwise there's too much 1984-era music here.
Flash And The Pan was a side project for Harry Vanda and George Young, an endeavor in vogue with songwriter/producers. A few hits later they found a viable hobby that lasted until 1988. They recorded six albums, and I'll wager most people could get by with just their greatest hits collection. Otherwise it’s pick and choose with a band who were always good and sometimes even great.
The Flying Lizards - self-titled LP (review) (Virgin): On one level I agree with the critic who wrote of the Flying Lizards, "... a perfect example of what can happen when theories and explanations come first." The Flying Lizards were whatever band David Cunningham taped together to present his often pretentious exercises in aural cubism. His reliance on cover songs and having his female singer de jour warble like a cross pollination of Nina Hagen and Lene Lovich led many, often rightly so, to label The Flying Lizards an art-school joke. The thing is though, sometimes it works.
They recorded three albums from ‘79 to ‘84, moving more towards covers as original inspiration escaped Cunningham's brain like air from a tire. It's hard to track down who plays and sings on various tracks. On the debut album it could be Viv Goldman, Deborah Evans or my aunt Edna. They scored in the new wave era with a cover of "Money (That's What I Want)". The detached Euro-snobbery of the tune fit like a glove on those who thought faking a British accent was cool. Band photos always showed Cunningham and a female singer. When not playing all the instruments himself, various members of This Heat and The Pop Group earned quick pub money in the studio.
At worst, The Flying Lizards were pretentious in ways that earn most folks a smack. At their best, they walked a fine line between Kraftwerk, The Talking Heads, The Normal, Klaus Nomi, Brian Eno, The Residents and a few other Ralph Records bands. The best album track ends side two, written and sung by Viv Goldman, who went on to work with PIL and others. "The Window" is a beautiful song Roches fans would pee themselves over. Roches fans are famous for their weak bladders.
Some parts of the album are annoying, while others intrigue me. The love/hate relationship is to be expected on records that go out of their way to be obtuse. My one hand clapping may be your why is that strange man waving at me? Either you liked or really hated that last line. Either wa, I still get to pat myself on the tushy for being clever. F--k Dance, Let's Art!
For Against - December & Echelons (cd reviews): The name For Against sounds like a second wave hardcore band like Born Against, but with a Marlon Brando "The Wild One" vibe: “What are you rebelling against, Johnny?”...“What do you got?” Formed in 1985 in the middle of America they cranked out excellent post-punk dream pop which, at least on their first two albums, were inspired by the best of bands like The Sound and Chameleons UK. The lead guitar sometimes reminds me of what The Edge was doing with U2 while I still liked them enough to pay attention.
Echelons came out in 1987 and was influenced partly and in a good way by Joy Division on tracks like "It's A Lie" and "Echelons". 1988's December is more accomplished as the band mastered the studio and created a fuller sound with excellent interplaying guitars and genius explorations of quiet vs. loud, or what the hip kids call, as they snap their fingers, negative space. Both albums are excellent and if you have any tolerance for how I've described this you'll them like them as much as you do free bowls of sex with drugs sprinkled on top.
The only problematic aspect of the band might be Jeffrey Runnings' asexual, fey singing, which I can't imagine comes out of the mouth of someone who now looks like this:
The only comparisons I can make are with whichever of the Kinman brothers sang in the country falsetto voice while in Rank and File and, of course, The Tail Of Sir Robin:
But, as usual, I digress. Echelons and December are great records and you should add them to your internet thefty want list immediately.
- Franz Ferdinand (CD review): To
paraphrase and sanitize my favorite line from
(new on DVD but wait for the special edition), "I
follow popular culture like old people make love". I don't watch TV, listen to
the radio or read music mags. I pick things up mostly from Entertainment Weekly
For a while I thought
were the leaders, if not founders, of the latest new
wave revival. They're neither. Their single "Take Me Out" may be the best known
in the genre but it's gimmicky and campy. The Futureheads, Interpol, Bloc Party
and Maximo Park are so much better. Only about half of their
While I enjoy their Joy Division, Wire, New Order and Gang Of Four influences, they also play campy glam and the disco Rod Stewart scorched the earth with in 1978 when he warbled "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?" Literally, that song, referenced more than once. The good songs are "Jacqueline", "The Dark Of The Matinee", "Cheating On You", "This Fire" and "Michael" (even sung like Sisters Of Mercy) and "40'".
I hate disco. What can I say. White people shouldn't try to shake their groove things, which we don't have anyway. We just have asses. And while I like many old glam songs there's a style of it that makes me wince like a football to the groi-oi-oin. Picture overly happy people clapping in rhythm while a marching band drum major high steps and waves that stupid staff left and right and up and down (no offense to the dude with the Eraserhead hairstyle). That's the glam FF goes for, and if this makes them the most popular band in the genre then once again I'm too cool for school.
- self-titled (CD review): I can't think of
a more fun band to come from the new angular movement than Sunderland, England's
was produced by Gang Of Four's Andy Gill, but to say this sounds like Gang Of
Four would be a mistake, especially compared to other bands. The Rosetta Stone
for this is XTC's
albums that have grown in importance years after their release. You can throw in
The Jam for good measure.
Barry Hyde sometimes sings like Robert Smith, but these guys sound Scottish or something. "Don't" comes out as "Dough'nt" and "Rust" is "Roost". I'm from New York so I haven't a clue. There's not a weak track to be found, my favorites being "Le Garage", "A To B" and "Man Ray". The songs generate infectious energy. I lost the track listing but a slow one sounds like Al Stewart, he of "Time Passages" and "Year Of The Cat".
I highly recommend this to all you new wave hipster doofus maroons out there in blogtown.
The Futureheads - This Is Not The World (cd review): Seems I'm not current on the present or recent affairs of The Futureheads, so here goes. This Is Not The World is their third cd, released in 2008, from before you were born... remember kids? Hailing from Leatherface's drinking grounds of Sunderland, UK, on This Is Not The World they crank out twelve songs of a fairly consistent pace, bombast and melodicism, and what it may lack in variety it more than makes up for in skill, craft, and the politeness for not wasting the listener's time with (f)arting around in the name of growth. This is get up and dance music, not tuneage for you to sit and stroke your hipster chin hair while looking self-serious.
Here in whatever they're calling the present decade starting with 2010 The Futureheads are strong survivors of their class of retro new wavers, which includes Bloc Party, who died the death of their own Important Mission Statement; Interpol, who discarded their Joy Division appeal for something less appealing; Dogs Die In Hot Cars, who shared a similar harmonizing skill with The Futureheads but ran out of steam early: and Franz Ferdinad, who'll be remembered for a song that sounds too much like "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy".
Here they come across like The Killers but less Wagnerian. They're seeking locomotion, not grandiosity, and they deliver with style. I think all twelve tracks are great but can't think of a reason to analyze individual tracks. If you like the two samples above you'll like the rest just as much, and if you have fond memories of them from their debut album you can sleep like a baby (crying and wetting yourself) knowing they've kept up the good fight against mediocrity and change for its own sake.
The Futureheads - The Chaos (cd review): Released in June of 2010, The Chaos hints at future avenues while offering mostly more of the same of what made their last album a welcome reprieve from other band's shifts into irrelevance. Even a four chord pinhead like myself realizes their catalog of clever yet interchangeable songs can get too big for everyone's good. Two songs hint at the funhouse rides Oingo Boingo and Madness while the closer squints towards Queen. No thank you please?
"I Can Do That" would be a great single, or as it's known today the "emphasis track". The Futureheads can write catchy, driving retro new wave music in their sleep, and for all I know they do. "The Chaos" and "This Is The Life" take that same energy and add the whimsy of Boingo and a Madness tune like "House Of Fun". If they're going to grow I'd like to see it in this direction, BUT, as I never get my way it looks like they'll go with Plan B - as their web site indicates they'll release a collection of their hits done a capella. A shade past halfway through the last track, "Jupiter", the band goes a cappela and what comes to mind is Queen singing "I want to ride my bicycle / I want to ride my bike / I want to ride my bicycle / I want to ride it where I like", and the me from 1978 once again cries tears of frustration that crap like that exists and people like it.
Peter Gabriel - Us (CD review) (Geffen): Anyone who doesn't give Peter Gabriel his due for innovation, intelligence, craftsmanship and sheer intensity is a sad little person. Of all the rock stars to embrace world music, Gabriel is by far the least pretentious and most innovative. As former leader of the prog art-band Genesis, Gabriel could stretch out a song to twelve minutes as well as any ELP or Rick Wakeman. In ‘75 he left the safety of a successful band for a solo career, in quick succession releasing four albums all with the same title and lettering – Peter Gabriel. Us came out in ‘92 and is surprisingly dull. "Kiss That Frog" was the single but it's only ok. Looking at his old records and thinking back to the show I saw in Atlantic City in ‘78 (?), I can't recommend them strongly enough. "Solsbury Hill" (Oh yeah), "D.I.Y" (Hoo Nelly), "I Don't Remember" (Crud!!) – it’s progressive meets new wave and a new standard is set for lush, fully-orchestrated weirdness. Many of these songs are creepy and paranoid. If "I Have The Touch" from the fourth album doesn't force you to dance until you retch from exhaustion, you must be dead, my dead friend.
Gang Of Four - Entertainment (LP review) (Warner Brothers): If you're an asexual, alienated white socialist who likes to dance funky without shaking your hips, Gang Of Four is the band for you! I laugh at the sell-outs they later became, but Entertainment is a classic new wave album, easily in the top ten in quality and importance. The Clash introduced reasoned political discourse to punk, but for a while Gang Of Four packed the intensity of Crass into the more neutral new wave genre without losing impact. The angry jaggedness of the guitars puts this one high up the best-of list.
Released in 1979, Entertainment shows the Gang Of Four as contemporaries of Wire, The Talking Heads, The Fall, Killing Joke, The Cure, Buzzcocks, The Au Pairs and The Mekons. The Minutemen came later but you can trace a line from Leeds, UK to San Pedro, CA. Their energy is kinetic, their seriousness confrontational. Gang Of Four in recent years has disavowed socialist associations in their music, but their lyrics and cover art lay it on hot and heavy. The front cover is bare except for the band name, album title and three small pictures of the same cowboy shaking hands with a Native American. The text that wraps around the pictures reads "The Indian smiles, he thinks that the cowboy is his friend," "The cowboy smiles, he is glad the Indian is fooled," "Now he can exploit him." As you all know, no one has ever been exploited under socialism (sarcasm off). The stridency of the lyrics is something I write off as pretentious and arty mental gymnastics. They never managed to smash the state, but they did manage to love a man in uniform.
The generally slower Solid Gold followed in 198, and then bassist Dave Allen left to form Shriekback with Barry Andrews of XTC. Gang Of Four released "I Love A Man In Uniform" and their descent into the disco side was complete.
Gang Of Four - Mall & Shrinkwrapped (cd reviews): I give Gang Of Four more slack than I should simply on the strength of their debut album, 1979's Entertainment!, whose jaggedness I adore as much as I despise its nihilistic and intellectually masturbatory political posturings. Even that good will takes a holiday when I remember the line "The girls they love to see him shoot". Chastened by the indifference of time they reformed the original members and studio-recorded a collection of their original Marxist theses in order to profit from them, forcing them to admit (or lie that) they never took their own lyrics seriously in the first place. They're possibly trying to have it both ways but I'll refrain from snickering too much in their general direction.
see a new cd by Gang Of Four so let's visit with their last two studio albums,
1991's Mall and 1995's Shrinkwrapped. 1991 saw the birth of commercial grunge
with Nirvana, and the nation's top selling record came from Garth Brooks.
Original Gangers Jon King and Andy Gill hit the studio to record a disjointed
collection of songs ranging from the pleasantly mild to the nicely abrasive to
the annoyingly forced. "Cadillac" isn't bad, mixing all three of the above
elements. "F.M.U.S.A." tries too hard to be hard while "Don't Fix What Ain't
Broke" repeats the bad lyrics of the title over and over like only a bad Devo
song usually can. "Impossible" is an excellent experimental tape manipulation
accompanied by sparse guitar and throwaway phrases. "Hiromi & Stan Talk" is
another nice experiment in juxtaposition. "Hey Yeah" is limp commercial funk
pop. The rest of the thirteen tracks come and go without accomplishing much and
I've always wondered how many people involved in the process of bringing filler
music to life think to themselves "I can't believe we're actually recording
this" before realizing it's how they make a living so they'd better get back to
Shrinkwrapped is a better effort, with a unified sonic palette of loud, abrasive and punchy songs whose only lack of virtue might be that it's not classic (or often even recognizable Gang Of Four) as much as it is calculated alt.rock. I dare anyone to hear "I Parade Myself" out of context and say it's Gang Of Four. "Unburden" and "Unburden Unbound" are atmospheric meanderings with what's now their recognized love of spoken lyrics. Shrinkwrapped will appeal to Killing Joke fans who also love U2.
I can't say I'd listen to either record again for pleasure but for reviewing purposes they did reveal enough about themselves to be worthy of writing about them. If you've ever reviewed records on a regular basis you'll know exactly what I mean.
Gang Of Four
- Return The Gift (CD review): The import
of Gang Of Four's old-is-new-again CD contains an extra disc of remixes that
begs the question: Will GOF try to out-club the club kids? Thankfully the answer
is they don't even go there. Think of
Return The Gift
as a great new Peel session recorded a quarter century
after the fact.
The career of GOF has paralleled that of Wire, with Wire producing more great albums up front before dissolving into irrelevance, only to come back strong riding a wave of nostalgia for jagged edges and asexual dance beats. I only point this out to show you how clever I am.
Why release covers of your own greatest hits? Well, it's not because the drum tracks needed improvement. It's more like how Pitchfork describes it:
To date, Gang of Four still have unrecouped advances on their EMI catalog and have never seen a dime of royalty cash from sales. So in order to pre-empt an attempt by their old label to cash in on the reunion with a best-of compilation they'd see no money from, they made their own best-of album, recording new masters that they'll be able to earn royalties from. It's good business.
Capital failed GOF then but they won't let that happen again! As they admit in interviews now, their politics aren't as they appear:
Q: Ah, so you were into politics already! A: No, I think that's overstating it. When you're young and doing those kind of things, you're throwing various things into the pot. Obviously, with the name Gang of Four, there's a certain element of irony and it's a little bit tongue-in-cheek. That's part of why that name works. But I don't think there was any political awareness at the stage.
Ah yes, to be young, dumb and full of art school pretentiousness. My god, their lyrics were something out of the SLA or a Sacco and Vanzetti musical, and it got more ridiculous as they went along as they tossed in groan-worthy double entendre sex references and packaged it in a disco coating. The girls they love to see you shoot. Hoo boy...
Disc one opens with "To Hell With Poverty" and it's an in-joke confession. Track three, "Natural's Not In It", contains the recurring line "Repackaged sex keeps your interest" and it's an admission of the entire idea behind Return The Gift. "Anthrax" has a spoken/sung vocal on the right speaker which opens with the words "This is an archeology exercise really". Jeez, the CD keeps on referencing itself.
On the plus side, the versions here all kick arse and "I Love A Man In Uniform" is given a stiffer wrist. The drums pound and the guitar slashes and burns. The bonus disc isn't that bad either, with only a few wane efforts at dance groove and club kid numbnuttery. All in all Gang Of Four present themselves well and are presented well by others. This "proves something" and also lines their pockets with a few evil capitalist dollars. Everyone wins and Gang Of Four can still pretend they didn't sell out to maintain the interest.
Gang Of Four
- Peel Sessions (CD review): I find it odd
that Gang Of Four's
has them re-recording old hits faithfully to the originals. It may be good but I
so fifteen bucks stay in ye 'ol vault. Compiled from three John Peel radio
sessions, the sound is of course perfect. It slows down as it goes along, with
the best material loaded up front.
Gang Of Four released Entertainment! in 1979 and by many accounts, including mine, it's one of the most influential records on modern music. It combines asexual funk rhythms, slashing guitars, disaffected vocals and cartoonishly strident marxist polemics that have aged as well as Ward Churchill. Gang Of Four are either pushing or pushing back fifty, so I wonder if anyone's asking them if they see the irony in their lyric "Repackaged sex keeps your interest". You know, as in selling old records seems a bit bourgeois.
Over its eleven tracks the Peel sessions start with songs from Entertainment! and moves to slower material (and material played slower) from Solid Gold, an over-rated record if there ever was one. The slower work has its charms but faster is always better, and I don't want to keep reminding myself I'm not listening to Throbbing Gristle or Can on barbiturates.
One more thing: "I Love A Man In Uniform" was Gang Of Four's Village People moment.
Even one more thing: Allmusic.com claims GOF influenced Naked Raygun. No, Frigging, Way.
General Public - "General Public"/"Dishwasher" (7" review) (Virgin): Why did Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger disband The English Beat in 1984 to form General Public? Probably for the same reasons Fun Boy Three replaced The Specials in 1982. I'm just guessing, but I figure both were tired of the punk/2-Tone scenes they came from. The violence and the politics wore like a war. Maybe they decided to start over, explore their pop roots, hop on the top-40 bandwagon and harvest some cash. Fun Boy Three was the more lightweight operation. General Public had a few hits that weren't far off from what they were doing in The Beat. "General Public" was their first and best single. Mick Jones from The Clash plays guitar. Saxa appeared on their second LP and is cooler than you'll ever hope to be. "General Public" was great to dance to and English Beat fans were happy. "Dishwasher" is an instrumental that sounds like Split Enz chipped in ideas. Not bad but it’s here as filler. Dave Wakeling plays all the time in the Los Angeles area, and I think they even advertise it as The English Beat. I’ll bet at this point it's more of a lounge act.
Girlfriend Material - We Love You & We Love You Deux (CDs review): the website for this Long Island alt. pop band no longer exists. That can't be good. There’s three songs on each CD, and just when you think they’re kicking serious tushy with an abrasive guitar chord attack and stinging farfisa new wave organ they throw in a funky white guy on mushrooms groove or off-key backup singing. Bands need to decide up front: do you want to suck or not? Mixing the two in the same song is annoying. "Don't Let Go" sounds like Devo's "Gates Of Steel", and just when you're felling good about life they pull the rave-drug bait and switch. The bastards. Good and bad shouldn't exist as close to each other as they do here. What a waste.
The Go! Team
- Thunder, Lightning, Strike (CD review):
The Go! Team
are from the UK, so the
must be from the USA! (Spinal Tap reference).
Thunder, Lightning, Strike
is a fun record but there's a hipster cuteness to it that can turn me off. They
create an impressive array of cacophonies that creep up on you like The Arcade
Fire (the latter less in your face about it) but I'm not a fan of scratching, no
matter how infrequent, and the old soul record horns they toss in are a bit too
precious, like claiming your favorite movie of all time is an
ABC After School Special.
The Go! Team do have interesting shtick: They cook the dials so the high end distorts like a sizzle, the drums are muddy and muted, they sing in a style that combines cheerleading and schoolyard jump-rope and they bang a lot of instruments junkyard style. About half of this is instrumental, and it's not all funk by any means like some reviews indicate. I really enjoy about 95% of this, and so much happens in each song it's not just a matter of saying I like this song but not that one. The allmusic.com review is my thoughts exactly without the total enthusiasm.
My favorite tracks are "Panther Dash", "Feel Good By Numbers" (sounds like the Snoopy theme), "Get It Together" (very pleasant flute), "Friendship Update" and (especially) "Huddle Formation", which packs as much energy as any Agnostic Front single.
God Is My Co-Pilot - Get Busy and Straight Not (CDs review): I know as a weirdo I should be more into this but God Is My Co-Pilot (GIMCP) tries too hard to be eclectic, unruly and arty. I need to quote Homer Simpson in this case, "Less arty, more farty". I like Renaldo and The Loaf, so I know my freak account is paid up. Bands like God Is My Co-Pilot are seemingly making statements through non-structured music. I wonder how much contempt these guys have toward their audience for having to perform for them. The more I listen to these the better it gets, or at least the more I appreciate what they're trying to do. Still, it's not something I'd buy or see live.
One of the band’s gimmicks is that husband and wife team Sharon Topper and Craig Flanagan are militant bisexuals. To quote Sex And The City, "I'm not sure bisexuality even exists. I think it's just a layover on the way to Gaytown". So, instead of saying God Is My Co-Pilot sound like No Wave Minutemen, it's also jazzy Crass. Crass is a band I can listen to up till the point I feel like I'm being screamed at like a dumb, lumpy proletariat. Topper sings, recites lez beat poetry and occasionally yells, but the lyrics are so dogmatic I imagine the stage she's singing on is forty feet high and her finger always points straight down at my face. Don't take my word for it. Here's lyrics from "We Signify": "We're co-opting rock, the language of sexism, to address gender identity on its own terms of complexity. We're here to instruct, not to distract. We won't take your attention without giving some back." Do whatever you want lady, I'm just not interested in the Power Point presentation. The band’s also known for releasing an endless stream of records on an endless number of labels.
Straight Not is a 26 track release from 1993, a year that saw ten GIMCP recordings. The Minutemen comparison is glaring in everything from song cramming to stridency. The Minutemen got funky, whereas Straight Not is freeform junkyard pickup-band jazz. GIMCP lineups changed constantly, and they mined a rich vein of poor NYC musicians, easy since they were closely tied to The Knitting Factory. It's taken me this long to finally appreciate The Minutemen. Freeform jazz will always elude me, along with Frank Sinatra, who to me was Rex Harrison with a slightly better octave range.
Get Busy is one of their last, from 1998. The songs are longer, and after a fashion they have actual structure. Topper's singing at times reminds me of Cindy Wilson of the B-52s. The crowded-stage, found-instrument junkyard band element is out in force but it's refined and supported by excellent percussion and horn. What makes this CD a keeper is how it evokes in guitar and sax the Smelly Tongue era Residents, who pull from the same Sun Ra influence.
Straight Not would be a perfect gift for your Gutter Gay friends, if such people even exist. Get Busy is for the Zappa fan who lives in his parent’s basement and enjoys the mold in the closet for its colors and musky odor.
The Go Go's - Beauty And The Beat (LP review) (I.R.S.): If recording a near perfect collection of pop tunes is a crime, the Go Go's pulled off a Brinks Job in 1981. One critic described it as "Sixties pop for the eighties with a seventies philosophy." Only the terminally insecure didn't like The Go-Go's when their debut came out, and the same applies now. And if you know your L.A. punk history you know the Go-Go's were an integral part of it starting in 1978. Belinda Carlisle sang with Black Randy. She also sang with The Germs for a short time. That’s right, I wrote The Germs. Charlotte Caffey was in The Eyes, while Baltimoron Gina Schock backed Edith Massey of John Waters fame in Edie & The Eggs (taken from her stolen scenes in Pink Flamingos).
The Go-Go’s painted their faces (like Split Enz) and called themselves The Misfits. Belinda and Jane were the punks (Billy Zoom taught Jane chords) while the others were more pop oriented. The combination worked well for them. Influenced by the singles standard of The Buzzcocks, Beauty And The Beat is not only blessed with great songwriting, Carlisle's voice is superlative and Gina Schock beats the living k-rap out of her drum kit.
The Go Go's break came when they opened for Madness in L.A. This led to a 22-stop tour and a deal with Stiff Records, who released "We Got The Beat" in the UK in a sped up 45 rpm version the band didn't like. I saw them open for The Specials on a pier in NYC. They put on a great show. The Specials were promoting More Specials and I was pissed they played so little off their debut. ODW also opened.
Every song on Beauty And The Beat is great. Lighten up and admit it. Poison Idea and other hardcore bands have covered Go-Go's. It's ok to like them. Really. I give you permission to have fun, ok? OK! Now, let's talk about that stupid haircut....
The Go-Go's - God Bless The Go-Go's (CD review) (Beyond): The Go-Go's last album came out in 1984. Thanks partly to an episode of Behind The Music (American youth’s favorite morality plays of meltdown and redemption) and partly nostalgia, the best all-female new wave band are back with an album cover that's pissing off the Catholic Church. Jesus!
Before the CD came out I watched The Go-Go's perform "Unforgiven" on Conan O'Brien. Not only did it blow me away, it sent me back to 1980 when Graham Parker and The Rumour played "Empty Lives" on the show Fridays. The creativity and energy of that lead guitar is still a highlight of my musical life, and "Unforgiven" captured that same feel. Billie Joe Armstrong provided guitar for this track on the album, and his accomplishment here cannot be understated. "Unforgiven" is easily one of the best songs I'll hear this year.
That guitar style comes from a great new wave tradition. Bands like Devo and Wall Of Voodoo were masters of it. They took direct inspiration from surf music (think "Wipeout"), spy theme music ("Secret Agent Man") and spaghetti westerns (Ennio Morricone). It's minimalist yet effective.
Not every song is a keeper, but enough of God Bless The Go-Go's is good enough to trample any notion the band only got back together to cash in on name recognition. The album is pretty much exactly what it should be - neither sucking up to the past nor pandering to the present.
Out of thirteen tracks there are three I'd rather not hear again. "Insincere" is an average album track and the time spent listening to it passes with no harm or foul. "Throw Me A Curve" is Belinda Carlisle's love note to her own plus size figure, on display in an upcoming issue of Playboy. I'll be sure to miss that, but I like how her face has, for lack of a better description, flattened out to an alluring sleekness. She had a pudgy face like Blair from "The Facts Of Life". The word-play of "throw me a curve" is too cute, but it's nowhere as sad as the repeated singing of the words "kissing asphalt" in, you guessed it, "Kissing Asphalt". If you think that's funny you probably think Beavis and Butthead was genius.
"La La Land" opens the CD with power, creativity and confidence. It's more biting than their old songs but it's still good clean fun, and you can dance the new wave two-step to it like we did decades ago! "Unforgiven" follows and we both agree I love that one. "Apology" is beautifully crafted, and such an effective interplay of words and music can only come from either time or talent, and in this case it doesn't matter. You can't come away from "Apology" thinking The Go-Go's reformed to crank out music by the numbers. "Stuck In My Car" opens with a guitar line ripped from "We Got The Beat".
"Vision Of Nowness" spotlights how well Carlisle's vocal chords have aged. She holds a note beautifully, and any time the word "nowness" is harmonized an epiphany reveals itself. I read somewhere that Sammy Davis Jr., upon meeting Belinda Carlise, called her a "vision of nowness". That' as so Candy Man of him. "Here You Are" is Beatlesque and Belinda sings like Cyndi Lauper. Psychedelic rewinds aren't my thing unless it's done for yucks by The Dukes Of Stratosphear, but the strings are nice and the wood block percussion is neat. "Automatic Rainy Day" reminds me I recommend listening to this CD with high volume. The guitar is generally low in the mix so at high volumes it makes more of an impact. Also, the vibrations add an intensity that toughens the entire work. Anyway, there's a nice roaring wall of guitar noise on this track. "Superslide" is playful like The B-52's. "Talking Myself Down" has a great piano accompaniment. "Daisy Chain" is another Beatle-inspired piece of orchestral magnitude, and I like it because it sounds like Andy Partridge arranged it.
I hope this record does well. There's no reason why it shouldn't, except that it may not be retro in the way the masses like it force fed to them. And, you know, these women are old! They're, like, your mom's age!
Goldfinger - (CD review) (MOJO): On Lookout Records, Operation Ivy combined ska with hardcore in a well produced and skillfully conceived package. Green Day made it big in the top-40 world with super-fast power pop and wacky hi-jinx. Hipster major label folks decided a combination of the best of both would sell, so they signed Goldfinger. Nothing sells like commercial street cred, as you know.
Punks make major labels sound like the Devil, an overreaction to what actually happens - music is formulated to appeal to either the widest possible audience or tailored so specifically to a niche market it looses all authenticity and comes off sterile. Major label punk almost always sounds like a corporate product. Majors (and small indies who act big) sell raw energy, individualism, attitude and rebel style the same way McDonald's does Big Macs.
Goldfinger's CD is another in a line of alternative bands, in this case alt. punk, rolled out to a hopefully receptive audience of fickle, trend humping kids. This has a little of everything mixed together to guarantee all potential fan bases are covered - mosh parts, ska/punk, loads of Green Day and just enough funk for that crowd. "Here In Your Bedroom" is a hit, and it's pretty good. The rest blurs into each other, all the nuances and unexpected shifts coming off as spontaneous as a Passion Play. I don't mean to beat up on Goldfinger in particular, but if this keeps up pretty soon I'll be ranting with the rest of the numbnuts on the Major Labels Suck bandwagon.
Good Shoes - Think Before You Speak & No Hope No Future (cd reviews): It's always disconcerting to hear a new band (at least to you maybe) sound so much like another band you wonder if they're ripping off said band wholesale, mostly had that sound to begin with, or were organically inspired to write songs that sound pretty much like another band wrote and performed them. I reflexively take off originality points but if the material is good I come around to thinking it's great someone's writing more good Band X songs even if they're Band Z. That's my verdict on London's Good Shoes, who sound much like The Futureheads, Maximo Park and fellow new wave revivalist travelers but are welcome contributors who keep the catalog lively and engaging.
2007's Think Before You Speak falls victim to too many songs sounding like sequels to the ones that came before it, but as individual tracks they're entertaining. You have to make a similar adjustment with The Strokes, whom Good Shoes emulates a few times, along with The Buzzcocks (see "All In My Head"). It's a cd that doesn't require much analysis but as a whole it's a series of relative high points. 2010's No Hope No Future is from a band older and less caffeinated, branching out musically but also sometimes clock-watching in songs that offer more feel than excitement. It opens well with "The Way My Heart Beats", seeing them looser and more experimental in pace and tone. "Everything You Do" is a slower number which offers an intriguing energy, unlike the closer "City By The Sea". "I Know" and "Under Control" are more in line with Franz Ferdinand in their glam/rock/wave/put your hands together and move intentions.
No Hope No Future has some great tracks but is not as consistently good as Think Before You Speak, which might repeat itself into submission if heard all the way through. Does this qualify as a quandary or am I just being equivocal?
Gruppo Sportivo - Mistakes (LP review) (Sire): I've seen this in discount bins for years. The name is weird like Spizz Energy 80. For fifty cents, this time I couldn't say no. Mistakes is a fun record with humor and sincere nods to the European and US pop music from that era. The biggest influences I found was Wings, of all things, with good new wave rhythms and even a kazoo solo to be had. Also coming to mind are Martha And The Muffins, Flash And The Pan, and Squeeze.
Formed in 1976 in Holland, Gruppo Sportivo was and is still helmed by Hans Vanderburg. The best of their two UK LPs were compiled on this US release. There's an informed quality to the songs, which touch on reggae, surf, lounge, show tune, girl group and pop with loving parody and serious execution. The two female backup singers have a lot of personality and great vocal range. Some of this is too slow, but "Mission A Paris", "Hey Girl", "I Shot My Manager" and "P.S. 78" are definitely worth a listen. And, for fifty cents I no longer have to wonder what the hell this band sounds like any more.
Guided By Voices- Alien Lanes (CD review) (Matador): I borrowed this from a co-worker and I'm writing as I listen for the first time. GBV have a sterling underground reputation, which is good, but their fans seem too firmly planted in the dreaded Alternative camp, so I turned this on with some trepidation. Here's some bands that pop into my head as I listen: The Who, Husker Du, King Crimson, The Beatles, Ween, They Might Be Giants, The Byrds and The Moody Blues. That's quite a mix, and if you can do it well you must be some brand of genius. Guided By Voices seem to succeed more often than not. GBV's reputation is for short, low-fi diddies that end just before you've figured out what's going on. I like that approach. Their influences may be progressive rock but their attention span is short and sweet.
By the mistake he jewel case came
with two CDs - Alien Lanes and something called Box (abridged). I can't say if
they were packaged together on purpose. Alien Lanes has 28 blasts of raw, short
tunes, while Box has 24 songs with generally higher production values. I like
some songs more than others but I will say they're good at what they do and
probably deserve their great reputation and small yet fervent following. I can't
say I'd buy anything from them, but I would like to hear more just to be more
familiar with their work. Who knows, they may have a record that will make me
into a groupie. Hey, it could happen, you know.
Half Japanese - Hot (CD review) (Safe House): Jad Fair's been around since the dawn of time putting out more recordings than even Jad himself can remember. He's always working here, collaborating there, yet his combined sales probably wouldn't top 100,000 units - not an indicator of talent but of the obscurity of Jad's world. Jad's weird enough to work with The Residents, but much of what I've heard from him is a milder version of the Zappa/Beefheart formula of eccentric rocking folk. No Trend did it a little harder and weirder, and Clawhammer probably still does a punkier version of it. The photograph of the band looks like it's from 1971. Rockin’ intellectuals who like to think it’s still 1971 are the market for this kind of music. Jad's a genius, and it won't be fully realized until the year 3027, when everybody will have a grand old time at the annual Jad Fair.
Hawaiian Pups - Split Second Precision (12” review) (Portrait): I owned this 12" EP when it came out in 1983, but sold it a few years later because I couldn't look at myself in the mirror for liking the blatant novelty song "Baby Judy". I swear the synthesized vocal track of "Up! Up! Up!" was swiped for that cutesy little dinosaur who chirped "Yup Yup Yup!" in The Land Before Time. Lately I've kept my eye open for this record, and there it was, in a fifty cent bin where it was meant to languish for all eternity. I don't mean that, not really, but the Hawaiian Pups are a guilty pleasure you don't admit to unless the hammer of the gun held to your head is pulled back.
New Wave was filled with novelty acts, some more novel than others. Joe "King" Carrasco's routine made me squirm, and someone still needs to talk me down from Nina Hagen. Then there's Skafish's nose, which I'd break but I only have two hands! Maybe you can argue that most new wave was a novelty. What made "Baby Judy" stand out was its seemingly blatant attempt to attract the attention of Dr. Demento (listed to have played a Hawaiian Pups track called "Spook Opera").
The work of three studio engineers (John Klett, Tara Shanahan and John Terelle), Split Second Precision is manipulated to hell and back, but also beautifully crafted. John Klett is now a master audio engineer who runs his own studio, and his on-line resume sums up The Hawaiian Pups thusly, "...my experience as an artist signed to one of the CBS labels (1982-1983)..." He’s credited with remastering a few Wendy Carlos albums. John Terelle runs Studio B at the Clack Sound Studios in NY, and he's worked with both The Go-Go's and Tom Verlaine. John has a good sense of humor and a while back I ran across something where he mentioned being in The Hawaiian Pups. Tara Shanahan sent me a nice e-mail recently but I don't know what she's been up to.
"Infinite Roads" opens side one, and you can peel it open like an onion until you cry. The influences are obvious but they put it together naturally and it flows nicely. The guitar riff is faux spaghetti western & faux middle eastern. The initial feel is Lena Lovich's "Lucky Number". In the middle you realize the song's changed to Santana's "Evil Ways". Tara's singing mimics the sensuality of Debbie Harry, and then she's going "Ayayayayayayay" like Lena Lovich. And then, and then!, a kid's choir goes into the children's sing-song "Mama mama please tell me, who the man I marry will be, doctor, lawyer, Indian chief, rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief." Children’s choirs are either pretentious (Pink Floyd), creepy (choose from a number of cheap horror movies) or boring (holiday TV specials). Here, it's just insane. It's out of place, but not really. It’s nutty.
There's a creative use of bells, primitive drumming, xylophone and oddball sampling on "Trash", a slow number that's lush and atmospheric. "Young Boys" is close to what King Carrasco was cranking out, but less extreme. The slightly funky new wave dance rhythms are driven by the bass, which is in my opinion deliberately low in the mix. Tara adds some Marilyn Monroe sexiness to her singing.
Then there's "Baby Judy", which takes 1000 face-cringing clichés and throws them at you like rotten fruit. The sad part is that it's masterfully done. The Jew's Harp effect that runs through it is mesmerizing. The voices are modulated to be either high and cute or low and serious. "Run Spot Run" is a major theme, along with lines like "Meanwhile, back in India", which is followed by screeching wails from, uh, India. The Baby Judy voice is the thing that makes you want to rip off your own skin one layer at a time. They also fit in the "Ah ha ha ah ha ha" riff from the silly song that went "They're coming to take you away, ah ha".
The b-side contains extended versions of "Baby Judy" and "Young Boys", the first mostly extended and the second re-worked as a pure dance number. The songs blend into each other, which I assume prevents the DJ from lifting the needle. That's a joke you only get away with once. Split Second Decision is an odd record that has aged fairly well, even if you'll be laughed at forever for thinking it’s not so bad after all.
Hot Butter Popcorn
(an appreciation): I've always loved the
1972 Moog classic "Popcorn". You can hear it
enough versions to make you puke. Written by
in 1969 and recorded by associate Stan Free under the
name Hot Butter, it pre-dated the guh-oofy
Hooked On Classics records but came long after
sits to the side in music history as an odd little creature neither fish nor
fowl, like "Video Killed The Radio Star". It's pretty cool and radical for 1972.
It opens with a solid tone neither warm nor cold, like a pleasant emergency broadcast signal. The moogs kick in along with a live drummer who works over his kit like Buddy Rich before he's about to have an controlled seizure. Cheesy yet lush strings come in later but I focus on the single note progressions of the popcorn sound, which move up and down the scale like muzak emulating vocals with the piano. At first it's clumsy, like each note is a major effort, but soon Free's hitting each note true. And in muzak fashion I make up lyrics like:
"I love popcorn, yes I do, I love popcorn, how 'bout you?..."
Kingsley was a Moog pioneer:
"Kingsley continued to experiment with the Moog, recording two Moog albums for
Audio Fidelity. Impresario Sol Hurok, fascinated by Kingsley's work, hired him
to lead a Moog quartet at Carnegie Hall in early 1970. There were two catches,
however. First, Kingsley had to convince Robert Moog to build the three other
synthesizers he needed. Then he had to hire and train four musicians to play
them. He ended up auditioning 150 players to find the four he needed, and the
group's initial performance drew a range of responses, from an outright slam by
The New York Times to an enthusiastic call from Arthur Fiedler. Fiedler asked
Kingsley to write a Concerto for Moog that the quartet performed with the Boston
Pops Orchestra in 1971."
I bet you can trace a line from "Popcorn" to the Silicon Teens.
The Human League - Dare (LP review) (A&M): I've always liked this record, but I've always been embarrassed by it too. Parts of it are decent while some songs make me wince. The first Depeche Mode album has the same effect. It's what happens when good electronic bands discover they can make money if they record pandering disco funk tracks for loud, stupid trend-humping fashion lemmings. Bitter much I am?
Human League started as a standard Kraftwerk-influenced progressive, electronic gloom outfit. After Travelogue came out in 1980, a few members left to form the British Electronic Foundation while new ones climbed on, including former Rezillo Jo Callis and disco-dancing schoolgirls Joanne Catherall and Susanne Sulley. They were literally plucked from the floor of a Sheffield club called The Crazy Daisy Disco to go-go dance and create a pretty distraction for a band with a rep for being boring on stage. That these two women became singers and a key to Human League's success is a great story of serendipity that used to get a lot of mileage in the music press. It’s a human interest story of how your dreams can come true, it can happen to you, when you wish upon a star.
Dare opens with "The Things That Dreams Are Made Of", sluggish in tempo but a good example of how well Human League used keyboards to emulate guitars, from walls-of-noise chords to emotive leads. When they list "Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee" as things dreams are made of, you can hear a "Hey Ho Let's Go!" feel in the music. "The Sound Of The Crowd" has a nice primitive, noire beat and the keyboards run at a Gary Numan pace. Side 2 opens with "Get Carter", a 1:02 minute mood piece commonly found on records of the time. "I Am The Law" sounds great loud, and any song about comic book bruiser Judge Dredd can't be all bad. It’s also great crooning from the School of Bowie. "Seconds" is reason enough to buy the album. In a just world it would have been the single. It’s easily one of the top five electronic new wave songs of all time. The sound of the explosion was so well mixed that for years I'd flinch every time I heard it.
The rest of the album is disco crap. What I hated most about their hit "Don't You Want Me Baby" was that, like Rod Stewart's "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy", losers mouthed the words while they gyrated their fat asses, thinking this added another front to their war of the sexes. I might say you're lucky for having missed that era, but with today's rap metal being as nihilistically stupid as it is, thinking you're hot poop is, in retrospect, quaint.
Ian Hunter- Short Back N' Sides (LP review) (Chrysalis): Ian Hunter fans love this record, and as a fan of kitsch I appreciate the corn value, but this is one of those embarrassments of riches/riches of embarrassments deals. There's a little of everything, the thought possibly being that if you visit every cliché you'll sell more records. Short Back N' Sides is also so over-produced it comes across more as a special effects reel than a rock album. This is especially true with the drums on the slower songs, which might have been recorded in a custom-engineered cave.
Ian is most associated with Mott The Hoople, one of the best and influential UK rock/pub bands of the ‘70s. As was his way of repaying debts of musical inspiration, David Bowie scooped up Ian during a career lull in 1972, lent him "All The Young Dudes", and produced the album of the same name that both saved and prolonged Mott The Hoople's career. Bowie's singing was partly influenced by Hunter. Master guitarist Mick Ronson oined Mott after his stint as one of Bowie's Spiders From Mars.
The Clash's Mick Jones, repaying a musical debt of his own, produced Short Back N' Sides, and everyone from Ellen Foley to Todd Rungren jumped in to lend support. Ian Hunter wrote the songs but the conception and execution of the album by a revolving menu of studio pros lead to a sterile product. It has its charms, but the faux-disco of "Leave Me Alone", with vocals that deliberately imitate Bowie, is enough to make you furtively peek around the room to make sure nobody noticed you're listening to pap.
"Central Park 'N' West" opens the album in fine pub rock style. The next song, "Lisa Likes Rock N' Roll", oddly sounds like "I Want Candy". "Noises", coming out a year earlier, had to have been the inspiration for Split Enz's "Six Months In A Leaky Boat". "Gun Control", in many ways a Kinks song, suffers from lite-ska. "Theatre Of The Absurd" is a stab at dub reggae, influenced by Mick Jones. There's a little of everything and you wonder how much was initiated by Ian Hunter and how much was pushed on him or added later on in the studio.
There’s some guilty pleasures, some legitimately fine music, and enough cheese to make a grown man wince.
- Turn On The Bright Lights (CD review):
This is about the band
and some other things. I've listened 1 1/2 times and that's all I need.
Interpol do a great take on Joy Division with some other inseminating bands thrown in. They're not as important as Joy Division but I'd rather listen to Interpol's catalog than Joy Division's. Joy Division was part greatness and part Snipe Hunt /No Soap Radio. Sure they have hits, but lordy could they record long stretches of nothing. That kind of noodling is great if you're in a barbituate-enhanced suicide death spiral, but it's dull for us civilians. You also don't want to venture too far from Throbbing Gristle's 20 Jazz Funk Greats or too deep into Jim Foetus. I also didn't appreciate JD and Foetus not listing what songs were on their records. I didn't know if something was an album or a 12", and after a point I lost interest.
I've watched Joy Division tapes for as long as I could hold the fast forward button. The meandering, minimalist electronic dada genre is like Andy Warhol's Campbell Soup Can. It's clever, simple and only worth the time it takes to get the punchline. The longer you dwell on these things the more pretentious or eccentric you must be. I find it creepy and instructive how Joy Division fans back in Ian Curtis' time drew sick pleasure from his epileptic seizures.
As far as Interpol not sounding original, who cares. There's almost no real originality in music anyway. Without The Rolling Stones and The Ramones the punk genre would still just be called garage rock. Without The Clash, Rancid would still be living in their van eating beans. I love bands that do a great job emulating other bands I like. I'd pay in blood for someone who did a good Wall Of Voodoo circa 1981.
Interview - big oceans (LP review) (Virgin): This is a fine collection of soulful pop tunes with engaging backup vocals and nice guitar work. Peter Gabriel was a fan but his early production work on "Shipyards" sounded too much like Gabriel, so Interview started over with someone new. Virgin lent initial support but lost interest when big oceans didn't chart well. There’s not a hit single in the bunch but each track is worth repeated plays Interview recorded two more albums and then faded gently into the night. Try to find this used - you'll be pleasantly surprised.
Interview (LP review) (Virgin): The third and last record from this subtle and underrated UK band. Released in 1980 from Virgin, who by this point had probably forgotten Interview was on their roster, Interview continues the tradition of strong album tracks in search of a killer hit single. If you can imagine a cross between Squeeze, Split Enz and Steely Dan you might get what Interview sounds like. The production values are excellent without being overproduced while the melodies are strong yet simple. Yup, another excellent record for when you're putzing around the house. Still, if they wrote a hit single or two they'd be remembered by more than just their mothers and geezer nerds like myself.
Ivor Biggun - The Fruity Bits Of Ivor Biggun (CD review) (Stiff Weapon): For two decades I knew the words to 1978's "The Wanker's Song" but I didn't know the title or who recorded it. All I know is that I crack every time I remember a line like "I've wanked over Italy, I've wanked over Spain, I've wanked on an omnibus, I've even had a wank on a train!" It’s a throwback vaudeville-era ukulele ditty sung by a man who sounds like Monty Python's Eric Idle, and it stayed on the UK charts for twelve weeks while topping the indie/punk charts for several weeks. It was the first hit for Begger's Banquet.
Why the punk charts? It's subversive within the context of a beloved musical style ingrained in everyone’s minds, young and old. Pub culture in the UK was (is it still?) multi-generational, and the dance hall tradition lasted longer than did vaudeville in the US. The US nuclear family blew up a long time ago, but not in the UK in 1978, so many Brits knew as much about nutty uncle Bob's favorite music as they did their own.
Ivor's still around and he's released a greatest hits collection that's funny even though it relies too much on the riff that made "The Wanker's Song" a hit. Ivor's a favorite of Dr. Demento, who includes Biggun's songs on his special comps. There's little cursing and the material is obscene only if you’re offended by witty metaphors and groan-inducing puns. "Hide The Sausage" is what Burgess Meredith should have quoted at the end of Dirty Old Men. I love the recurring line "Straighten out your wrinkle". Ivor's songs are often given multiple titles as many are cleaned up for mass consumption. "The Wanker's Song" is also known as "The Winker's Song", and in 1978 you could only buy the single in a plain wrapper because the ladies at the printing plant refused to handle the "obscene" cover art. It was then immediately banned by the BBC.
On these sixteen tracks you'll find an Alvin and the Chipmunks parody, backup singing in a fake Brooklyn accent, Buddy Holly rock n roll, faux rap, endless vaudeville influences and references to Suzi Quatro, Bryan Ferry, Gary Numan, David Bowie and Ian Dury. On the last track, Ivor introduces by name the fourteen year old boy who repeats a simple piano line as Ivor lays out a great comical monologue, the punchlines brought home by the rimshot of a kick drum. This CD makes you desperatley want to see the material live in a pub, pissed off your ass with four generations having a great time.
I think you can only buy this through Amazon.com in the UK. It's a great comedy record not only a part of punk history, it'll make your nutty uncle Bob crap his pants laughing.
The Jags - Evening Standards (LP review) (Island): The Jags were a One Hit Wonder on the strength of "Back Of My Hand", a cornerstone of any decent ‘80s comp, but every song on the Jag's debut LP is great. Evening Standards is one of the best retro-70’s power pop albums to come from the original new wave era.
The Jags get slagged as pale imitators of Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe. Big deal. The songs are catchy and punchy. If Elvis sang on this album instead of Nick Watkinson it would have wound up on many critics best-of list. The Jags lacked Elvis' bitterness and Nick Lowe's connections and associations. If Evening Standards came out on Stiff Records instead of Island, we wouldn't be having this conversation.
Half of the album consists of various singles they put out in anticipation of the album. The Buggles remixed the old tunes and are rumored to have had a larger participation in making the record. Again, who cares. If you like 70’s power pop, corny and white bread to the core, Evening Standards is flawless. If you like Elvis Costello and Stiff Records, this is amazing. People throw out the term One Hit Wonder like it’s a horrible thing. Evening Standards is a pop classic that will one day get its due. I picked it up again for fifty cents today. Do the same before everyone else wakes up.
Joe Jackson Band - Beat Crazy (LP review) (A&M): Who was new wave's most angry young man - Joe Jackson, Graham Parker or Elvis Costello? It’s Joe by a landslide! Elvis was married with a child at home, and his clever songs of sexual semantics may have come more from insightful observation than a life of bitter betrayals. Joe, on the other hand, has a face that can curdle cheese. His early songs were bitter and mean as hell. "Is She Really Going Out With Him?", "Happy Loving Couples", "Fools In Love" - the guy was pissed. Beat Crazy, his third album from 1980, saw Joe move from power pop into reggae and jazz driven by a frenetic bass guitar and a richly produced sound. Around 1980 there was a healthy movement towards reggae in both new wave and punk, propelled by The Clash, UK DJ Don Letts and Elvis Costello's '77 classic "Watching The Detectives". This was short-lived and new wave morphed into disco while punk moved toward hardcore and speed metal.
Beat Crazy gets little respect but it’s a great album.. There are as many fast songs as you'll find on either Look Sharp or I'm The Man, the arrangements are rich, and its simplicity is complex. The song "Beat Crazy" is an overlooked classic. After this album Joe dumped his great band and jumped head first into jazz, lounge, Latin rhythms and piano ballads. I'm surprised Elvis Costello is considered a god while Joe Jackson is a Trivial Pursuit question.
The Jam - Greatest Hits (CD review) (Polydor): The Jam formed around the same time as The Clash and the Sex Pistols, but they never fit into that crowd and didn't make headlines until these other bands faltered, making them the kings of punk's second wave. They were very popular, topping the charts and continually winning music magazine's reader’s polls. A mod band in every sense of the word, with their mohair suits, white shirts and skinny ties, they supercharged American r&b, The Who and The Kinks into catchy punk anthems. It's common knowledge The Sex Pistol's "Holidays In The Sun" was a rip-off of The Jam's "In The City". Paul Weller injected politics into the music but mod was more about fashion, dancing, shagging and amphetamines. The skinheads came from the mod/ska tradition, so it didn't shock anyone when the band hinted support for Britain's Conservative Party. Their first five albums (In The City, This Is The Modern World, All Mod Cons, Settings Sons, and Sound Effects), while inconsistent in their mod pretensions, yielded great singles. The Jam and The Buzzcocks were punk's greatest singles bands. Eventually Weller devolved The Jam into an over-produced r&b band with horn sections, female back-up singers and less to believe in. Elvis Costello did a better job of it on Punch The Clock. Weller went on to form The Style Council, and I'll leave it at that.
This CD collects nineteen singles and provides information on release dates and chart positions. The worst, "Precious", isn't listed. Huh... This song is the epitome of limp-wristed, white-boy soul. "Absolute Beginners" is a waste, but the rest delivers. On "David Watts" they improve the original Kinks version ten times over. They pack a hell of a lot of power, soul and hooks into each song. Anyone can scream into a mike and bang at guitars, but if you can drive the punks wild with hooks and melody you must be doing something right. Highly recommended.
Joy Division- Substance 1977-1980 (CD review) & Permanent 1995 (CD) (QWest/Warner): Substance is the better of these two greatest hits packages because it includes older material ( = faster and angrier) along with the standard gloom&doom marchess. Songs like "Warsaw" and "Digital" show the band to be contemporaries of The Buzzcocks, Gang of Four and Wire. Literally formed in the wake of a 1976 Sex Pistols concert in Manchester, they putzed around as Stiff Kittens and Warsaw, finally choosing Joy Division in 1978, taken from a porno novel and a reference to the Nazi practice of forcing women sent to the camps into lives of prostitution. Oh, lovely. Charges of fascism stuck to the band, and even if not true, their decision not to address the issue acted as silent approval.
Fronted by adulterous epileptic Ian Curtis, Joy Division's love of long, hypnotic drones helped usher in goth. Their pioneering use of gothic imagery inspired other bands to explore and exploit religious, mostly Catholic, themes. Just as Devo came up with De-Evolution as a commentary on the regressive effects of modern culture, Joy Division added melancholy to Kraftwerk's dehumanizing embrace of electricity = robot = human obsolescence to create post-punk dance music for a post-industrial society.
Joy Division reached mythical proportions after Ian hung himself in May of 1980, just hours before departing for a US tour. Every half-wit tried to connect this with "Love Will Tear Us Apart", as if the song made him do it. It's said Curtis listened to Iggy Pop before he slipped on his brown rope necktie. It’s Iggy’s fault. Live shows were a morbid affair, with Ian's epilepsy bringing on seizures for the bemusement of assholes who came specifically to watch (and maybe place bets). Sometimes strobe lights set him off, just like they did with Johnny Rotten.
I like the earlier and faster Joy Division songs. The slow songs make me sleepy. Ian Curtis was an interesting but not very good singer. He’s as off-key as the rest of the band is sloppy. At times they simply can’t keep a rhythm going. For proof listen to "From Safety To Nowhere". What really annoyed me was their habit of not listing songs on their albums, as if you already knew what was there. Are there two songs? Ten? I like attitude and style but not when it comes to this. That's just damn rude. Same with Jim Foetus, the rat bastard!
- Hot Fuss (CD review): I don't listen to
the radio, watch much TV or read music magazines so I'm happily oblivious to
whatever's hep. A while ago I heard
was retro new wave, which I love as long as it doesn't copy Duran Duran or
Culture Club, but their hit had a horrible beat once it kicked in and I dented a
finger in my panic to turn it off.
Now that I'm writing again I'm also reviewing, so when I saw The Killer's Hot Fuss on a co-worker's desk I said to myself "self, them there's content!" It's not bad but not great. There's a few hits but nothing for me to listen to again on purpose. What I do like about it is that it's popular without being crap, so maybe good new wave is back in style and the world will be a better place for it.
Reviews mention Oasis as a huge influence. If I've ever heard an Oasis song it wasn't intentional. What I hear in The Killers is The Cure, The Smiths, U2 and The Beatles (especially the last track). The dance songs have a nice beat and the slower songs are melodic, but nothing's knocking me out. The thing gets more heavily produced and orchestrated as it goes along, if that means anything.
The Killers - Live From The Royal Albert Hall (audio review of the DVD): I didn't know from The Killers until recently because in 2004, when Hot Fuss was released, I was past my ret-ro new wave phase by a year after The Stroke's second cd, Interpol's second cd, and the same time as The Futureheads' first. The few pictures I glanced at in glossy ads for shows at the downtown hipsterplex screamed something like this at me:
So I was just about to, ya know, walk on by, when suddenly, and without warning, there was this total eclipse of the sun. It got very dark, and there was this strange sound like something from another world. And when the light came back this weird disc was just sitting there, just, you know, stuck in, among the Zimas. I coulda sworn it hadn't been there before, but the young hipster man sold it to me anyways, for a dollar ninety-five. Sha la la, la la la, la la la loo...oooooo.
I don't chase after the latest bands and the next big thing can wait years as far as I'm concerned, so if I trip over something that's today's fish and chips paper that's just a bonus for me. Hot Fuss, Sam's Town and Day & Age later I think they're an interesting glam/synth/rock/wave band with a big sound inspired by U2 to collapse large stadiums with their grandiosity. It works for the most part. Nothing they do blows me away, and it could and maybe should because they're somewhere in my wheelhouse, but I appreciate them when I hear them. Live from The Price Albert Hall doesn't make me want to listen to them any more than I do now but it is damn impressive how it's the perfect venue for and realization of their potential. Someone ripped the audio from the DVD and that's what I'm reviewing.
London's Royal Albert Hall first opened in 1871 and is as grand a structure as can humanly be conceived. Queen Victoria is skanking in her grave as we speak knowing The Specials just played there on March 30th, soon after a glorious stint the Imperial Ice Stars "Cinderella On Ice". The Killers do the joint proud by orchestrating an energetic Big Sound that soars, inspires, and sends the large crowd into the rare concert nirvana of knowing you're more than getting your money's worth. They know all the lyrics and aren't afraid to sing along. The personal connection between The Killers and their fans this night was strong, and they earned it.
Only one other peer band could have pulled this off, and that's Arcade Fire, and there's seven people in that group. Netflix doesn't carry this dvd so I'll never see it, but at least I have these songs, which will live in infamy somewhere in my collection until the fire, flood or meteor strike. I know something bads a-comin'.
The Kinks - "Father Christmas"/"Prince Of The Punks" (7" review) (Arista): This 1977 single is noteworthy for a few reasons: "Prince Of The Punks" is an early use of the word "punk" as applied to the burgeoning UK movement, it mocks punks effectively, and it's a blistering attack on Tom Robinson, who scored with "2-4-6-8 Motorway". According to an informed source Tom was a member of the folk group Cafe Society, whose record was produced by Ray Davies and released on his Konk label. As an act of sweet revenge, Tom Robinson wrote a song about Ray called "You Don't Take No For An Answer" after Ray wouldn't let him out of his contract.
Here's the lyrics to "Prince Of The Punks": "A well known groover, rock 'n' roll user, wanted to be a star. But he failed the blues, and he backed too loose[?], Playing folk in a Cockney bar. Reggae music didn't seem to satisfy his needs. He couldn't handle modern jazz, 'Cause it played in difficult keys. But now he's found a music he can call his own, Some people call it junk, but he don't care, He's found a home. He's the prince of the punks and he's finally made it, Thinks he looks cool but his act is dated. He acts working class but it's all bologna, He's really middle class and he's just a phony. He acts tough but it's just a front, He's the prince of the punks. He tried to be gay, but it didn't pay, So he bought a motorbike instead. He failed the funk, so he became a punk, 'Cause he thought he'd make a little more bread. He's been through all of the changes, From rock opera to Mantovani. Now he wears a swastika band and leather boots up past his knees. He's much too old for twenty-eight, But he thinks he's seventeen, He thinks he's a star, But I think he looks more like a queen."
I love the song but it's a case of the one queen calling another queen a fruit. The insult is also a little unfair because more than a few bands jumped on the new wave and punk bandwagons, especially The Stranglers. The Kinks themselves jumped a few bandwagons: new wave with Low Budget and hard rock after Van Halen's version of "You Really Got Me". The so-called '77 UK punk scene made punk an international sensation/scandal, but these bands were following a path set in France and the United States. It's a delusional myth that punk created itself from the gutter and its stars played nothing else until punk possessed their souls and forced them to form bands. Except for the Ramones and Suicide nobody was doing much that wasn't a direct descendent of what came before it (the Rolling Stones being the biggest influence). Some second wave UK bands may have picked up their first instruments in the after seeing the Pistols play, but they were also fans of popular music their whole lives. Maybe incubated punks are common now, but not in the early days.
The Kink's influence on punk is not direct but from their influence on garage bands of the Nuggets era. They mastered ironic sarcasm with "A Well Respected Man", "Dedicated Follower Of Fashion" and "David Watts". Their most popular and influential work is from the ‘60s. The ‘70s saw Ray obsessed with folk, blues, country and the British dance hall tradition of showmanship. The ‘80s and ‘90s saw the Kinks produce album after album of mostly forgettable music. In many ways I find Ray Davie's career running parallel to Lou Reed's. I'm a huge fan of their ‘70s albums, starting with the phenomenal Lola Vs. the Powerman & the Money-Go-Round and peaking in 1975 with the embarrassment of embarrassing riches known as Soap Opera and Schoolboys In Disgrace. Any good biography on Ray and the band is worth reading, and one day the movie will prove fact is much stranger than fiction.
The Kinks - Lola Vs. Powerman and the Money-Go-Round (LP review) (Reprise): You might find a review of this 1970 album out of place, but 1) it's not, and 2) F. U. Lola is one of the greatest working class, pissed off yet somehow hopeful rock albums of all time. Ray Davies, whose career has been a roller coaster ride of greatness and mediocrity, hits the right notes of folk, country, rock and dance hall vaudeville to produce not exactly a theme album but an honest exploration of his emotions and all around mental state, which rode roller coaster rides of their own. He felt screwed but also saw the ridiculousness of it.
His experiences with the record industry left him feeling helpless and angry. The Kinks had many hits under their belts but not much wealth to show for it. Andy Partridge of XTC felt the same way, and like Ray, he went off the deep end and wrote a song about it, in his case "Funk Pop A Roll". While Andy's song is spitting anger, Ray's "Denmark Street", "Top Of The Pops", "The Moneygoround" and "Powerman" work an arc from seemingly playful parody to blunt seriousness. No one in the record industry food chain is spared, and each gets their turn.
"The Contenders" opens the record with some inspired pub boogie. "Strangers" is a great working-class anthem that works just as well as a drinking song (if not just a song to sing at a pub). "Get Back In Line" is so pro-union it would make Billy Bragg blush. "This Time Tomorrow" is another keeper and the lyrics strike me as the exact feelings of someone who has no idea what the present means or what the future might bring. It's Ray at his best. Oh yeah, their second most popular song of all time is on Lola Vs. Powerman and the Money-Go-Round. Can you guess what that song might be?
Klark Kent - Music Madness From The Kinetic Kid (10" EP review) (IRS): Stewart Copeland's name isn't anywhere to be found on this 1980 green-vinyl 10" packed in a regular LP-sized sleeve, but since the Police were one of the most popular new wave bands you'd have to be as dense as a diamond not to know this was Stew's solo project. In May of ‘78 and January of ‘79 "Klerk Kunt" released two singles, both on green vinyl. Last year everything was repackaged on one disc. Good luck finding it. KK was a one man band with Stew on guitar, piano, clarinet, and the biggest drum kit this side of ELP. The Klark Kent costume consisted of a Where's Waldo chimney-sweep outfit and a clear plastic face mask. In pictures he's always seen running and jumping. Stew was allowed to contribute a song (sometimes two!) to each Police album, probably to shut him up (Larry Fine of the Three Stooges drove everyone nuts with demands to play the violin on film). KK songs are so silly it's hard to accept them on any other level than childish. Every line has to rhyme, no matter what, like "Ritch In A Ditch": I want some money of my own/I gotta bring my work home/In a bus on the street/On the beat in the heat/I gotta fake with the law/I gotta look like a pawn". It’s like Dr. Seuss without the cartoons, which is what the KK thing was all about. The whole point might have been for Stew to jump up and down and sing silly rhymes. He went on to compose soundtrack albums, the best for the movie Rumblefish, featuring Stan Ridgeway on the excellent single "Don't Box Me In". A real oddity, this collector's item is something only Dr. Demento could love.
Klark Kent - Kollected Works (CD review) (Capitol): This being Novelty Record Month, it doesn’t get more novel than Stewart Copeland's alter-ego from the 1980+ era. Being an eccentric of many talents, Stew plays all the instruments and sings. A Copeland track called "Don't Care" was rehearsed by the Police but Sting couldn't sing it well, so Stew recorded it himself, and lo and behold it charted high enough to earn a guest slot on the BBC television show Top Of The Pops. Due to murky legal restrictions Stewart created an alter-ego complete with what might have been a cheap Jimmy Carter mask. Everyone who showed up to help also wore masks. Klark Kent made it big before The Police.
When the first single was released few suspected Klark Kent's real identity, and the press material made so little sense it almost repelled further scrutiny. As the Police became popular, and the public heard Stewart sing with them, the jig was up and Klark Kent settled into a comfy side project. A few singles and EPs came out, finally compiled as Kollected Works in 1995.
Stewart Copeland writes in his own style - quirky and based on his signature kinetic drumming and percussion. Not only did he own the world's largest drum kit, he used every bit of it, literally bouncing out of his seat with every hit. The vibe is jerky white-boy new wave reggae with world music inflections. The humor doesn't go beyond simple rhymes but the silliness is infectious and the music odd enough to be interesting. Kollected Works is an odd little collection from an odd tall man.
The Korgis - Dumb Waiters (LP review) (Rialto): Imagine a synth pop band with Leo "You Make Me Feel Like Dancing" Sayer singing. Then imagine Leo Sayer looking like Bill Gates. Korgis singer James Warren and a-little-of-everything-else Andy Davis were in a progressive band called Stackridge, whose label refused to release their last album because it contained long passages of narration and non-commercial (read unlistenable) music. A small core of Korgis fans fondly remember this but the only compliment I can give is that Dumb Waiters could have been a lot more limp-wristed.
I like synth music. Only 10% of all synth pop was listenable. Then again, only 10% of anything is listenable, but the difference is that bad synth pop is110% more embarrassing than anything else that's bad. OMD, ODW, Thomas Dolby, Human League, New Musik, Silicon Teens, The Normal, Ultravox, Gary Numan and a few others managed a few good albums that will nicely define the genre in the year 3000. The rest is leans towards lame. The Korgis may have had potential in 1979 but it's grown pungent like the beef-jerky-ized gym socks I recently excavated from the trunk of my car.
Their debut album, The Korgis, was well reviewed. Hopefully it's better than this slightly romantic, slightly gimmicky and only slightly interesting follow-up. I detect a touch of New Musik, Silicon Teens, ODW and even Fingerprintz in the mix. The cumulative effect is weak yet thankfully minimalistic and a little quirky. I acknowledge they didn't resort to disco or funk grooves to make it more commercial. "Silent Running" and "Rovers Return" bookend the record, and they’re all I can recommend to you out there in zine-reader land.
I picked this up for a buck. No harm, no foul. They thank Peter Gabriel in the liner notes, which led me to believe this record might be worth a listen. (Insert random wistfully snide throwaway comment here).
Kraftwerk - Computer World (LP review) (Elektra): Without Kraftwerk the world might not have been cursed by the disco plagues of trance, ambient and rave. (C)rap, while owing a heavy electronic debt, probably would have happened anyway. Still, these German electrical chemists are partly responsible for the creation and popularity of electronic dance music, which also includes bands I do enjoy, like Gary Numan, Bowie in his Low/Heroes period, OMD and Joy Division. 1981's Computer World was their last great work, and even if the world had caught up with them by then, and even if it does contains a share of commercial clichés, this album is a great guilty pleasure I can easily defend and easily distance myself from, depending on the song and my mood.
Kraftwerk didn't invent electronic music but they did a better job of refining it into self-contained song structures than their contemporaries. Their earliest albums from 1971-74 come across as experiments in avant-garde minimalism, only rarely cohesive enough for popular consumption, specifically the shortened version of the 22 minute "Autobahn". Radio Activity (1975), Trans-Europe Express (1977) and The Man Machine (1977), each a concept album, contained normal songs and earned Kraftwerk their reputation. Electronic, minimalist, layered, pristine, asexual - it's the soundtrack for a feared yet embraced future of technology as conqueror of all once known as "human". Kraftwerk worked from a series of specific concepts and theories, and I sense they felt man's evolution into machine was neither good nor bad, but inevitable. God damn were they German in that regard.
Computer World is a commercial record that sometimes crossed the disco line, but I love how they layered sounds to create emotional tones. The blips and bleeps they use to flavor each song are also genius. I saw them play live on this tour and they toured with something like four tons of computers. I was in awe because they invented many of the instruments they were playing, in their own Kling Klang Laboratories. Calling your music studio a "laboratory" sounds awfully pretentious, but these guys really did tinker with oscillators, computers and radio waves like scientists. The rumor was that robots performed their encore, but it was too hard to tell since I was far away and the band didn't move much to begin with.
1986's Electric Cafe was too little too late, and various remixes they've sporadically put out violate my remix rule - which is that I never listen to them because remix means sex it up more to appeal to dance club numbnuts who look for any reason to act sexy. Computer World is a great record. It's more fun to compute the numbers of my computer love on my pocket calculator on my home computer in our computer world....
- Minimum-Maximum (CD review): Read
info on Kraftwerk. Wolfgang Flur's book
Kraftwerk: I Was A Robot
was poorly received. To me they've had three stages: their early, prog-electronic
period (up to Autobahn), their golden creamy middle period (Radio-Activity thru
Computer World) and their we're still here period (the single version of Tour de
France is the exception). This two disc set from various stops on their 2004
world tour visits them all with loyalty to each as they were in their day. I was
able to salvage one full disc of material from the first two stages, banishing
the Eurotrash enviro-sounds that open and close the set to the humorless folks
who "Must get back to Dancecentrum in Stuttgart in time to see Kraftwerk".
Kraftwerk were an incredibly influential band but that doesn't mean the bands they influenced aren't crap. I loved Komputer's The World Of Tomorrow, an ode to Radio-Activity, Trans Euro Express and The Man-Machine. This is also really good.
I'm glad Kraftwerk didn't modernize "Autobahn" and "The Model", which would have been desperate and sad. Whatever tweaks they give tracks from Computer World I can live with, this album being as close to electronic dance music as I'll get. It helps that I loved the previous five albums.
The sound quality is great and the audience is barely discernible. I saw Kraftwerk on their Computer World tour and didn't want them to vary one note. That's what I came to see: man-machines replicating electronic music as man-machines would. You mostly get that on Minimum -Maximum. If only the new material wasn't weak.....
6/29 update: I watched a bootleg of the London stop of this tour. Florian Schneider seemingly can't sing and play at the same time. It's impossible to tell how much is live and how much is pre-recorded. It matches perfectly with the background visuals, often song lyrics in huge letters. These robots were brought out for one song and then the band came back dressed like Tron characters. Pictures are here at the Kraftwerk home page.
Lene Lovich - New Toy (12" EP review) (Stiff): There's an assumption "New Toy" was Lene's first hit, but it came out two years after her debut album Stateless, which yielded both "Lucky Number" and "Home". Who knows how many records it takes to be a hit. "New Toy" was written by Thomas Dolby in his prime. It has a bit of funk but not anything like the new romance crap that started overflowing the toilet at that time. What also helps is Lene's endearing eccentricity - unique and refreshing. Nina Hagen was probably as nutty as she looked. Nina and Grace Jones were both interesting but completely unapproachable in that East Berlin-brand of diva. Lene, born in Detroit, was more like Cyndi Lauper. Lene isn’t wildly giddy like Cyndi but her music is fun and doesn't take itself any more seriously than dance music should.
The New Toy 12" was a teaser for the LP that was to follow, but "New Toy” didn't appear on No Man's Land. This made no sense because it would have sold a lot more units of that album without denting the residual market for the EP.
Lene's catalog is reviewed as hit-or-miss, but it's aged well because the arrangements are quirky and well produced. Lene had a few hits and her album tracks were brushed aside as filler. At the time I wasn't that impressed but my attention span was shorter than it is now. After nineteen years a record can take on new meaning, and I've found there's a lot to like about Lene Lovich. Her music was not a gimmick and she worked hard at it. So, if you see anything from Lene Lovich on Stiff Records you should give it a twirl on the jukebox.
Lene Lovich - Stateless (LP review) (Stiff/Epic): Lene is a great example of the eccentric pop artist with intermittent talent who inevitably wound up on Stiff Records - new music’s answer to vaudeville. She looked like she hailed from the hinterlands of Austria, but until age thirteen she grew up in Detroit, Michigan. Her father was Yugoslavian and her mother British, which might explain the bad teeth and genocide against her neighbors (ka-zing!). The family relocated to England where Lene soon ran away to London, where she worked as a go-go dancer before discovering art and the saxophone. She and Les Chappell, her husband/svengali/manager/co-writer, came up with her image - a friendlier, less crazed version of Nina Hagen. Both worked the same turf and soon became friends.
Nina recorded a German version of "Lucky Number" and they've appeared together in support of PETA. Lene scored a #35 hit with her cover of "I Think We're Alone Now", standard Stiff pop pap, but she made a real name for herself with 1979's Stateless, which uses as filler the marching pop of Hazel O'Connor, but features a few choice new wave dance hits - "Home" and "Lucky Number". Lene's voice is strong, controlled and slightly more than slightly eccentric. Her Debbie Harry-esque inflection on "Telepathy" is nicely executed, and live probably melodramatic.
In 1981 Lene scored her biggest hit with "New Toy", written by Thomas Dolby of Thomas Dolby fame. Lene put out more records, but by 1982 her fan base had moved on to middle management positions in large corporations and whatever the hell's on the radio on the drive to and from work. Her last album came out in 1990. Here's Lene Lovich introducing herself, "Hello, I'm Lene Lovich. Well, I used to be the Lene Lovich, but now I'm just Lene Lovich. Oh never mind, may I have my food stamps please?"
Life Without Buildings - Any Other City (CD review) (Tugboat): This is profoundly good, and probably the most satisfyingly pleasant record I've listened to all year. Not pleasant as in sweet and quiet, which can be too, but beautifully crafted and constantly engaging like Patti Smith and The Feelies, whose filtering of Velvet Underground and Television haunt this like a ghost. Like both Patti Smith and The Feelies, Life Without Buildings create subtle rhythms and grooves that wind themselves up and increase with intensity the more you pay attention. The songs envelope you in ways most bands can only dream about.
Sue Tompkin's voice is similar to Altered Images' Claire Grogan (the band is out of Glasgow but only the guitarist is Scottish), and at a cursory level the comparison is shocking, but that may be only because it's hard to imagine anyone besides Claire actually owning that voice. While Claire sings like a baby doll, Sue is more human, adult, working class, or something like that, and how she uses it is a universe away from Claire Grogan. She owes Patti a bit in this regard too. Sue Tompkin manipulates her voice as a musical instrument, similar to scat singing and David Thomas' eccentric warblings with Pere Ubu. She uses repeated phrases and seemingly conversational lyrics in ways you can visually chart with movements forward, down and back. When you listen to Life Without Buildings it’s amazing how the music and Tompkin's voice compete with and compliment each other. You can focus on one, the other, or be lost completely in both.
Robert Johnston (guitar), Will Bradley (drums) and Chris Evans (bass) create a full sound with an intimacy you'd imagine best suited for a jazz club. The band cites PIL and ESG (a UK garage funk band) as influences, which I find missing in abundance. All you can see in a Talking Heads comparison is a similar understanding of minimalist white guy funk beats. Every time a band displays an introspective interplay of guitars Television is mentioned, but that band never aged well, whereas many post-Television bands crackle with excitement. I can see a Raincoats comparison but not The Slits, and of course there's Altered Images when they weren't stealing from themselves for a hit record. I do hear some Pylon. For fractions of a moment you can read Gang Of Four into "Philip" and "Envoys", but they dissipate quickly enough. The Feelies, Patti Smith and The Velvet Underground are a given. The more Rough Trade and jangle pop bands you know the more comparisons you can make.
My favorite tracks are the speedier ones, especially "PS Exclusive" and "Young Offenders". Notice how "I'm Waiting For The Man" is woven into "14 Days", and that "Sorrow" is based on the VU's "Femme Fatale", along with the intimate feel I've heard in a live version of Lou Reed's "Coney Island Baby". "New Town" sounds close to Altered Images, so two points added to that column. If you've read this whole review and have any interest in this type of music you should definitely own Any Other City. If it's not punk enough for you, spike up your mohawk, remind yourself how real you are, then choke on your own puke in the gutter outside CBGBs. Now THAT'S punk!
Kleenex/Liliput: Complete Recordings (2 CDs review) (Kill Rock Stars): This 46 song, two CD set retails for $14.95. Holy smokes that's value! 75% of it I rate as very good. The 25% that opens the show is someplace between astounding and and an endless string of happy expletives chanted while dancing a twitchy Teutonic jig. I easily place "Nighttoad" or "Split" in the category of top ten songs from the post-punk era. Liliput formed after The Slits, X Ray Spex and Gang of Four, but they recorded their first release the same year as Spex and one year earlier than The Slits and GOF. They were recording before Nina Hagen, Lena Lovich, The B-52's and any of a number of bands you may think they sound like. They're a cult band because they hailed from Zurich, Switzerland, and until recently their catalog was long out of print. Now everything they recorded is available and for lots cheap too.
Over the course of their run from ‘78-‘83, Liliput's roster fluctuated from three to five members, the only consistency being guitarist Marlene Marder and Klaudia Schifferle on bass. Over five years they fronted three different singers. They formed, as often happened, in the wake of a Sex Pistols concert. Marder and Schifferle were active in the local Swiss scene, and they probably had access to bands you assume influenced their music: Wire, Pere Ubu, Talking Heads, XTC, The Slits and Gang of Four. The songs on Disc 2 are from their two studio LPs, Liliput (1982) and Some Songs (1983), which as a pair match what The Raincoats were getting more credit for in the UK press. The music is slower and less joyous than the demos and 7"s they recorded starting in 1978. Disc 1 is the reason to buy this and you're nuts if you don't.
I found the following lyrics from "Split" on the internet: "Hotch-potch, Hugger-mugger, Bow-wow, Hara-Kirr, Hoo-poo, Huzza, Hicc-up, Hum-drum, Hexa-pod, Hell-cat, Helter-skelter, Hop-scotch". Some of it I hear, others I don't. It's hard to tell and it doesn't make a difference because it's irrelevant. Behind Laura Logic-loving saxophone and angular dance beats, nonsense words are yelled with reckless abandon with an infectious joy. All decorum vanishes when I hear the line "Hello kitty hello kitty woo woo woo woo!" I’m silly.
Before Liliput was Liliput, they were Kleenex, but after John Peel played the grooves out of their first single the Kimberly-Clark company put the kibosh on that infringement. When they started, Marder was the only one who knew chords so she wrote the music and helped the others figure out their parts. Lislot Ha didn't even know her drums could be tuned. In the fine tradition of Johnny's one-note guitar solo on "I Wanna Be Sedated", three and four chords are varied and manipulated with more skill than you’d expect from novices. Legend has it they started with only four songs, which they repeated for up to four hours for friends who kept asking for more. Sweet!
In their early days Liliput were the Swiss B-52's, while the B-52's were the American Liliput. They both minimized and deconstructed dance music, then added layers of aggressive, happy and eccentric novelty. If you frequented new wave clubs in the early ‘80s you’d remember "Die Matrosen". Looking down the list of songs on disc 1 all I can think is how much I love Liliput. A classic. Oh yeah.
PS: Much of the literature on this trumpets Liliput as a direct inspiration to the Riot-Grrl movement. Considering how difficult this was to find, and that they were a footnote in most people's memories, I don't see it. Musicians are not music historians and don't have access to everything.
PPS: The Business ripped off Liliput's "Hitch-Hike" when they wrote "Guttersnipe". The guitar on "Nighttoad" is an inversion of "Stepping Stone". The great cycle of theft, I mean life, continues...
M - "Pop Musik"/"M Factor" (7" review) (Sire): This 1979 single bookends nicely with The Buggles' "Video Killed The Radio Star". It's studio cheese but its creator Robin Scott is an interesting person. His approach to M was a deliberate approximation of Andy Warhol's take on art, media and culture. On an artsy fartsy level there's much going on behind this one-hit wonder.
In the ‘70s Scott managed and produced the pub rock band Roogalator, who recorded an early Stiff Records single. He also produced The Slits and released on his Do It label the first Adam Ant LP. In Paris circa 1978 he started a personal project called "M" and released a failed single. The next was "Pop Musik", and it became an international #1 hit. Some find the song an embarrassment but I'm impressed with the production and exactness to formula. This was by design and the story behind it is redeeming.
In response to an interviewer's comment that the song was antagonistic towards pop music, Scott came back with, "To some degree pop music is the muzak now. I mean, after the Sex Pistols I couldn't see what was left to do except make these observations. That's not to say that this communication doesn't have its possibilities, it’s just that people are too easily fooled by form as opposed to content. I certainly have always strongly identified with pop music because I felt it was 'white man's music', whereas I don't feel confident with rock'n'roll. For some reason the media has always used rock'n'roll as a means for separating generations and glorifying violence."
In Sounds Magazine Scott says of the song, "It was meant to sound like a current pop record. There's nothing dangerous about it. It's a glorified jingle. It was meant to be a Song For Europe, taking what is happening at the moment and taking the most impersonal approach to constructing a record."
That's cool as crap and his insights are impressive. He mentions the Sex Pistols as an inspiration, and you can't take away street cred from the man who produced The Slits.
The single was also released as a 10,000 run 12" where the two tracks run parallel to each other on the same side of the record. Depending on the luck of the needle drop, you either get one song or the other. Dude, the colors!
M - The Official Secrets Act (LP review) (Sire): M - producer/ musician/ manager Robin Scott, along with hired studio guns, earned the one-hit-wonder title with "Pop Muzik", an electronic ditty which was the "I'm too sexy for my shirt" of its day (1979, a Wednesday). The Official Secrets Act was M's second album, and while it didn't yield any top-40 hits there's a lot of interesting music, and it's fun to listen for what influenced M and who later sounded like M.
Sire Records was a haven for multi-talented innovators to show off their studio skills. There's a little of everything here and I bet Robin Scott considered it a matter of pride to cover much territory and cover it well. From the past he took early Kraftwerk's electronics and Roxy Music's lush romanticism. A contemporary of Bauhaus, Scott sometimes sings like Peter Murphy. "Join The Party" would be a nice rip of Re-Flex's "The Politics Of Dancing" if M didn't write his version three years earlier. OMD shared a few aesthetics with M and Thomas Dolby might have studied M like teenagers do internet porn. Sometimes The Official Secrets Act comes off like an off-Broadway musical ("Working For The Corporation") but there's a mastery of the various styles presented and even some hints at the world music Robin Scott embraced later in his career. It might help to have a high tolerance for 1980-era new wave indulgence, but this is better and more interesting than I expected. Trivia Tidbit: Scott's small record label released Adam Ant's first album, Dirk Wears White Sox, so now you know who to blame.
The Mad Professor Meets Puls Der Zeit: Meet In Berlin At Checkpoint Charlie(CD review) (ROIR): What a great record this is. From a technological, composition and mondo perspective, it's hard to beat this 1988 collaboration between South London's Neil Fraser (The Mad Professor) and (then) West Germany's Puls Der Zeit (Pulse In Time). Puls' now deceased lead singer, the blonde Nico-clone Soer La Blanche (White Sister), was the first to sing reggae in German. The tracks on this CD alternate between the Professor's own tracks, backed by his own band, and works with Puls Der Zeit that perfectly blend the political underpinnings of immigrant life in the UK with the Kraut-Kafka paranoia of life behind the wrong side of the Berlin Wall.
If reggae is ska slowed down by years of pot smoking, dub is reggae processed through Kraftwerk's Kling Klang laboratory. Dub is short for dubbing - the layering of tracks and reconfiguration of sounds. Any remix you've ever heard is a dub, and many original studio versions are manipulated as much as any Lee "Scratch" Perry or Mad Professor track. The Mad Professor isn't "sampling" - stealing other's people's words and music - he records with his band and then in the studio creates a whole new thing . In Dub there must be a delicate balance between digital technology and analog music. Good dub walks a thin line, the rest being either over-produced knob jerking or straight reggae. Great dub is science with a nice human face.
Meet In Berlin At Checkpoint Charlie is simply great, a crown jewel in ROIR's catalog of cassettes remastered for the CD age. It’s worth it alone for the last track, "Zaire", which is like Nico singing a Dub version of "Trans Euro Express". The sax lines are freaking genius. The CD starts with a nice but rote track, but once the East Berlin feel kicks in, it takes off and distances itself from other releases of its kind. Maybe it's just the Kraut rocker in me, or maybe this is what the Clash should have limited themselves to at the time of Sandinista.
Martha and The Muffins - Far Away In Time (CD review) (Virgin): This is a greatest hits collection from a new wave band that scored big with two singles, "Echo Beach" and "Women Around The World At Work". Think of a new wave X-Ray Spex or a more arty Romeo Void. The entire first LP is included along with seven tracks from the next two albums (1980 - 1981). The songs are playful and arty, the vocals clear and distinctive. M & M loved that saxophone, too, which is fine by me. Far Away In Time is a pleasant CD and I recommend it highly. Martha And The Muffins weren’t an an important band, but they had something to offer and they did, for a while.
Martha And The Muffins - Danseparc (LP review) (RCA): There's only two songs you need to know from M + M, "Echo Beach" from their debut and "Women Around The World At Work" from their third LP. The rest is gravy. M + M were one of the best new wave bands to use the sax, and Martha Johnson's voice is distinctive, even if not for everyone. Danseparc, from 1982, was their fourth album, and while it was obviously dance oriented (which struck me as selling out), M + M were always too weird to not be interesting. At their best their dance songs were inspired by the Talking Heads. The worst case scenario yields something not unlike weird takes of Re Flex's "The Politics Of Dancing". "Obedience" is the best danceable track, and "What People Do For Fun" the real keeper of the bunch. "Whatever Happened To Radio Valve Road" is great too. If I could stomach all dance music I'd probably proclaim Danseparc a classic. Still, even in tracks that offend my punkiness, there's things to love and admire.
- A Certain Trigger (CD review): Another in
a growing line of retro-asexual-new wave-dance bands, Newcastle's
add a mod sound and energy to the mix, offering a fuzzy yet invigorating set of
songs that demand to be played loud. The opening track, "Signal and Sign",
starts at a low volume as if to trick you to crank it up. I like this disc
especially because I'm a sucker for a clever wall of noise chord progression and
cheesy farfisa organ sound. Maximo Park combine the two and had me at hello.
A Certain Trigger sounds like The Cure meets The Jam, with what sounds to me like a Scottish singer. Many of the songs generate new energies within themselves, a rare talent I've come across in bands such as The Lazy Cowgirls and Space Cookie. Most of the notes I wrote while listening to this came down to "great song".
Maximo Park are like The Futureheads and Bloc Party but rougher around the edges, which is a nice niche to scratch.
Men At Work - Business As Usual (cd review) and Cargo (cd review): It's rare when what I think about something is also accepted knowledge, but I hit Australia's Men At Work right on target. Released in 1982, Business As Usual was twice rejected for American release and then went on to simultaneously yield the #1 song and album. I imagine soon after a suit at CBS Records started over again in the mailroom. Cargo was recorded on the road and released in 1983.
I was a big new wave fan
but not of the most popular songs and bands that 1) didn't sound good to me and
2) were loved by top-40 loving average folk oblivious to music as a treasured
geek niche obsession. Did voices compel them to buy every XTC single no matter
how slight the variation like I did? Hmmmm!? I didn't have anything against "Who
Can It Be Now?" and "Down Under", but after the saturation point I wished to
never hear again the word "vegemite". I never heard these albums all the way
through until last week, and while they're better than I thought they'd be
they're also artifacts of their time and place, which my sundial tells me was
28-ish years ago. As a side note I sample a lot of records I'd only listen to
start-to-finish at gunpoint.
Men At Work were a bar band who rose well above their station in life due to catchy tunes, winning gimmicks, luck and good timing. To paraphrase one definition, a bar band is a local music group that makes a name for itself entertaining in bars by playing crowd favorites in an up-tempo style. Civilians in the music wars go out to have fun on a Saturday night and wind up drinking too much beer at P.J. O'Stinkey's dancing to bar bands who wish they could be Hootie And The Blowfish. Punks similarly drink cheap beer in the back of Stinky's before listening to garage bands who wish they could be Rancid. It's all good, baby!
Men At Work were a solid band who mixed up instrumentation and style elements within a rigid format, not unlike Huey Lewis And The News (and I don't mean that as an insult). Everyone contributes equally and nobody showboats. No one instrument dominates and each can be heard clearly, an obvious balance not many records pull off as well. What I called their winning gimmicks were Colin Hay's distinctive Scottish-Australian singing and a world music-tinged new wave sound that owed more to The Police than aboriginal tribesman playing didgeridoos in the outback. Raise your hand if you thought the flute on "Down Under" was really a didgeridoo.
Business As Usual is surprisingly good, with saxophone, keyboards, flute and that "che-che" sounding instrument that looks like a maraca covered with stringed beads adding spice to the usual bar band setup. The mega hits were "Who Can It Be Now?" and "Down Under", and while time hasn't revealed anything new about them they've stood the test of time. "Be Good Johnny" was also popular, and it was probably more effective live as it seems fun and theatrical. My favorite album track is "Helpless Automation", reminding my of The Payolas, my favorite Canadian bar band who done good on a much smaller scale. The album ends with three lesser yet not bad tunes, but they were probably sequenced for a reason.
Cargo is surprisingly end-loaded, with the best tracks closing the show. It's starts off silly with "Dr. Heckyll & Mr. Jive", which sounds good but doesn't rise above the silly title. "Upstairs In My House" is peppy but not distinctive. The last three songs is where the cheese is at. "Blue For You" is Caribbean by way of Jamaica by way of The Police. "I Like You" is fast with a nice wig-out near the end. "No Restrictions" is Police-like with a flute part blown hardcore. Cargo is a continuation of the last album, but not as interesting.
I'd say a decent greatest hits collection would be all you need from Men At Work, but from where I sit you'd have to compile it yourself.
Millions - M Is For Millions (cd review): The Millions were kind of a big deal in the college rock scene of Lincoln, Nebraska and the surrounding farm states circa 1990, playing a cleaner, punchier and more progressive version of the generic rock oatmeal Patty Smyth was cooking up in the 80s. Lead singer Lori Allison has a great voice for the genre of mainstream pop rock, which I say as a neutral compliment. They claim among their influences The Pretenders (without the grit); The Police (heard on "Riga (Freedom)"); REM, which did apply for two band member's previous gig, For Against; and 10,000 Maniacs, ground central for a cultural nexus I never cared to understood. The style descriptions at allmusic.com for the Maniacs (alternative pop/rock, jangle pop, alternative/indie rock, college rock, adult alternative, pop/rock) add up to one of the last things I'd ever want to hear on purpose, and every 10,000 Maniacs fan I met seemed like a perfectly nice, sheltered, intelligent, upper middle class conformist with only the lightest hint of rebellion in their hearts. OK, maybe I envied that their lives seemed to be on a solid trajectory of success and happiness while mine was a random series of events with no predictable outcome, but still, that music bored me to tears. The snark in me thinks this is good music for people who don't know what good music is, but I don't find it just plain wrong like I do gangsta rap and rap metal so I'm going to stop digging my grave here and give it a rest.
Mojo Nixon & Skid Roper - Get Out Of My Way! (12" EP review) (Restless): This is a neat collectable because not only was it pressed on clear vinyl and you can't tell where to drop the needle, the 5 1/2" wide photo of Mojo and Skid on the disc makes it look like a picture disc. It’s a nice gimmick from a duo most remember as a gimmick. It's not a handle they deserved that much, but when you're dealing with titles like "Stuffin' Martha's Muffin", "Elvis Is Everywhere" and "Don't Want No Foo-Foo Haircut On My Head", it's not hard to see how they would be classified as country-fried Weird Al Yankovichs, or The Dead Milkmen.
Mojo Nixon, in a victory of content over context (or was it the other way around?), landed a gig at MTV even though he sang the immortal lyrics "MTV / Get away from me.. / I say Music Television / Should be covered in jism." Mojo's not the kind you hold a grudge against, and he’s so funny I guess they had no choice but to hire him. After five records the duo split up with Mojo going on to other projects, including two records with Jello Biafra, while Skid released solo albums in ‘90 and ‘91 that sorely missed Mojo's mojo. The latest on Mojo is that he's a DJ out of a station in Cincinnati.
There's two layers to a Nixon & Roper album: The top layer of "Mojo he funny" and the well crafted instrumental foundation. Mojo played guitar while Skid worked the washboard, harmonica, maracas, mandolin, bass congos, tambourine, 12-string guitar, stumpfiddle, and I'm sure the spoons and Adam's Apple. Not being a full band but one guitar player and a one busy percussionist, it took talent to pull off what they did. Mojo & Skid albums not only make you laugh they impress with the depth and intensity of their lo-fi rockabillly/ psychobilly/ cowpunk presentation. It's easy to let the lyrics melt into a fog and just get into the music. You can't say that about a Weird Al record. I bring up Yankovic because they’re lumped together as parody and novelty acts. Mojo Nixon was both and neither. If there really was a Screaming Church Of The Epileptic Jesus, and Mojo was in charge, life would be good again.
Get Out Of My Way! has seven songs, including Mojo's ode to Martha Quinn and "Jesus At McDonalds", which swipes the music of The Modern Lover's "Roadrunner" with Mojo doing his best demented preacher routine in what sounds like a live, sweaty, drunk performance. The following year, 1987, they released their breakthrough album, B-Day-Shus!!, and "Elvis Is Everywhere" made the answer to "Who is the Anti-Elvis?" a trivial pursuit question. Southern Culture On The Skids owes a debt to Mojo, and even Nine Pound Hammer/Nashville Pussy can thank Mojo and Skid for making the world safe for their democracy.
Elton Motello - Pop Art (LP review) (Passport): It's a popular misconception that Plastic Bertrand sang the English-language version of his "Ca Plane Pour Moi" ("Jet Boy Jet Girl"). It was actually Elton Motello, whose band released two albums of electro-pop with influences from all over the map - Devo (Duty Now For The Future period) , Roxy Music, New Musik, M, The Cars, Gary Numan, surf, electro-cabaret, and the kitchen sink. While a lightweight endeavor, Elton Motello recorded enough good music to warrant a future compilation CD that. Pop Art, transports you back to a time when it was ok to be kooky and eccentric, which was replaced by a full embrace of aggressive mental dysfunction. I'm sure you can find this for a buck somewhere. It’s worth it alone for "Pocket Calculator", a ripping Undertones-type popper that beat Kraftwerk to the punch by a year. Check out Elton on the cover. He looks like a young Al Lewis, TV's Grandpa on The Munsters.
Motels - Motels (LP review) (Capital): The ‘80s saw a proliferation of band names with the following addendum, "featuring (insert female singer's name here)". Til' Tuesday had Aimee Mann while Berlin fronted Terri Nunn. Los Angeles' The Motels was Martha Davis' instrumental backup. Davis sang with various lineups of The Motels for ten years before recording her 1979 debut. She later scored hits in 1982 with "Only The Lonely" and "Suddenly Last Summer", which sounds like "Celia" from this earlier album.
Martha Davis has a fine, distinctive voice that puts her in the upper echelon of female pop singers that includes Rachel Sweet, Stevie Nicks, Marianne Faithful, Cyndi Lauper, Annie Lennox, and the list that goes on and on. This debut may be a fine representation of Martha Davis' vocal talents but the songs themselves are deathly dull. You'd think a band with a decade under their belts would be able to write better material than this. I can't say anything stands out. I've listened to it three times and nothing sticks. The averageness of it all is both over and under whelming. Drummer Brian Glascock played on Iggy Pop's Kill City. The Motels reformed in 1998 and played nostalgia dates. This recent picture has doing her best Marlene Dietrich "I vant to be a lone" imitation. And the world said back...OK!.....
Bob Mould - Workbook (LP review) (Virgin): Bob's first solo album after Husker Du imploded, Workbook is one big Gordon Lightfoot tribute. It's "The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald" tweaked up for 1989. It's as if he decided to get as far away as possible from his old band. Look at Bob in this picture. Isn't he just the most sincere little boy you've ever seen? It took me a while to get used to Sugar, but I don't think I'll ever slow down enough to get into Workbook. The songs sound the same, maybe due to a lack of variety in speed and tone. Every song is beautifully crafted but the effect is lost after elven examples of the same perspective of sad, soulful angst. Everybody has their own opinion on who the real Bob Mould is. "See A Little Light" was a hit at some level and the album spent fourteen weeks on the top 200 chart. But man what a bore this is. If I want pleasant I'll listen to new age music. This coming from the man who gave us "New Day Rising" and "Chartered Trips", I just get the willies.
Bob's vocals are treated electronically and it's weird, like he's Johnny Bravo and he only got the gig because he fit the outfit. He did that with Sugar too but that band had a lot more bite to it. Workbook has an acoustic, twelve-string guitar and cello feel, so the treated vocals don't fit that well. Does Bob hate his natural singing voice?
Black Sheets Of Rain followed in 1990 and was tougher sounding. It didn't sell well. Bob did manage to combine what you might call the best of his solo work and Husker Du in Sugar, whose first record came out in 1992. Nirvana, and grunge in general, owe half their lunch money to Husker Du. Grunge did open the market for what Sugar had to offer. Sugar's last full-length came out in 1994 and since then Bob's gone back to the solo career, his last being 1998's The Last Dog And Pony Show. I haven't heard it but the reviews I read weren't positive.
Bob's latest gig is writing scripts for one of the professional wrestling organizations. Wrestling has been a long time passion for Bob, so this has to be a dream come true. Good for Bob Mould, the sweetest, most sincere little boy in the world.
- Dangerous Dreams (CD review):
Quality-wise, Los Angeles'
dwell somewhere in the upper middle in the ongoing
super-post Gang Of Four era. They started around the same time as The Strokes
and they share a similar aesthetic of treated vocals and driving percussion.
They differ in their leanings toward asexual dance funk, traced back to The
Talking Heads, Gang Of Four, Pigbag and others. My Washington DC local favorite
of the genre was Egoslavia. I fell for
for a time but they haven't aged well. I'm not a fan
of funk in general so when I like something it's because there's a lot more
going on in a song besides booty shaking. I like Moving Units well enough.
Allmusic claims "Between Us & Them" as the best song on Dangerous Dreams, and if you like Franz Ferdinand I think you'll agree. "Going For Adds" is my pick, A Franz Ferdinand sounding tune without the disco glam. Dangerous Dreams is interesting in that they reference different bands and sometimes mix them. "Emancipation" and "Birds Of Prey" sound like both Gang Of Four and The Strokes. "Scars" is 30% Joy Division and "Anyone" manages to evoke Ultravox.
There's a bunch of good tunes here but, not sadly, I was born without the funk gene. I'll listen to this again but it's not like Interpol and The Futureheads, influenced by Joy Division and XTC respectively.
The National- The National, Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers, Alligator, Boxer, High Violet (CD reviews):
I'm impressed with Brooklyn's The National in any number of ways. Their craftsmanship is as impressive as their presentation of textures and rhythms. I watched the video above and all I could think of is how damn impressive it all was. Understated, driving, melodic, powerful and, well, impressive in an indie-rock construct removed from normal commercial considerations. Their catalog, beginning in 2001, tends towards the slow but there's no navel-gazing or stalling for time. I'm reading about Chamber Rock but this seems closer to Chamber Music in that you imagine The National should be playing in Chamber Music halls and not the corner dive with an oddly configured plywood stage jammed in a corner. The same goes for The Arcade Fire and Interpol, two bands that immediately come to mind as influences but their debuts came three and one year after The National's self-titled cd. So there. Or something.
The most obvious comparison is with The Arcade Fire. There's a small debt to Joy Division, especially in Matt Berninger's singing, which lines up closely with Interpol's Paul Banks. Dig deeper and there's a distinct nod to the pastoral colloquialisms of The Smiths, influenced by The Kinks. Being an American band The National look back to The Band and their fellow travelers. In a flux of time The National could have easily appeared as an opening act in The Last Waltz (come on, people. Work with me on this!)
I won't break down the albums except to say the second, Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers, trips slightly over standard second album considerations while still being very good. Their debut is excellent and more intimate than the last three recordings, which expanded their sound and got louder to keep up with the floodgates opened by Arcade Fire's debut Funeral. I pretty much enjoy everything they've recorded, so they've stayed consistent in what they're trying to get across. What I mean by that is that bands will branch out into "more popular s--t" and homey (me!) don't play dat. The odd thing I've noted is they repeatedly reference "America" as a concept, which I don't expect from an American band unless they're embarrassed by being American. If that's the case, there's any number of utopias awaiting your enlightened mastery of nuance. Don't sit on my couch, drink my beer and tell me how much I suck. You know what I'm saying?
Negativland - A Big 10-8 Place (CD review) (Seeland): Are Negativland considered performance artists? Aural political terrorists? Witty multi-media social commentators? They moved from being a San Francisco radio show into releasing a few albums before getting into BIG trouble for infringing on U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For". It’s a simple yet ingenious collage of the song poorly rendered on kazoo and synthesizer, along with other noises and a tape of Casey Kasem cursing while reading a lead-in to a U2 song on his radio show. Most copies were returned and destroyed. I heard a promo and it's really funny and in the big picture harmless. Geez, how many people were going to hear Negativland? What some lawyers will do to bill $200 an hour.
This early release features attempts at real songwriting mixed with comedic propagandizing and a repetitive, surreal use of self-made tape loops. The device they use is to simulate changing stations in a car driving through the planet's weirdest radio market. Static, sound fragments and somesuch fight for attention. The approach and sound are pure Residents from their early years making reel-to-reel tapes with no regard for song structure. Many of Negativland's instrumentations seemingly come from the Rez product line. They've also stolen Snakefinger guitar licks. Their use of repetition to create surrealism grows tiresome and helps make this something you listen to once, unless the voices in your head order you to. Seeing this live, with a light show and multi-media presentation, must be, as the kids say, the poop. Like Laurie Anderson but without the strong desire to snore.
It's hard to say what propaganda is being propagated here, and what a "Big 10-8 Place" might be no more than a riddle. It’s nicely done though. You can't dance to this, and if you have sex to it your kids will be born with tiny glowing radio towers for ears and a smooth Barbie doll crotch. Negativland are in some trouble again with stealing intellectual property. They can't find a press for their latest CD because of a fear of a lawsuit.
New Musik - Sanctuary (LP review) (Epic): New Music is the most underrated of the ‘80s electronic new wave bands. With New Musik you have Kraftwerk, The The, OMD, Joy Division, Human League, Gary Numan, The Teardrop Explodes, Flash and the Pan etc. etc. all in a package so fun you'll feel consumed with endless amounts of stupid guilty pleasure. I'm trying to get out of the house as I write this, but Sanctuary is making me giddy. I don't get to dance anymore. Back before new was bled to death by new romance I loved dancing. I danced until I could barely breath. Sweat fell off me like rain. There's some retro 80's nights but they mostly play crap and the dance floor isn't as dance-friendly anymore. Eighteen years ago you could dance by yourself and nobody cared or noticed.
Tony Mansfield led this four-piece band from around ’79 -‘82. He's known equally as well as a record producer. New Musik put out a few EPs and three albums. "Straight Lines" might have been the first new wave electro-pop hit. You may not remember as you were one at the time, yelling "Mommy mommy I made poopie!", but this single was a hit. There's a myth that electro-pop bands didn’t have live drummers, which was often not the case. A live drummer gives keyboard-heavy songs a "live" feel that adds humanity to the music. New Musik used simple drum patterns to build a song's foundation, which I'd say is the only aspect of their music that doesn't come off as refreshingly creative. Their drummer was so good he did sound like a drum machine!
The over-produced quality of the recordings slightly mute what are in essence remarkably crafted pop tunes. This doesn't bother me but I can see where fans of bands like Joy Division would find this sterile and less serious. Gary Numan held down one key on the synth and it shook down the auditorium. New Musik plays notes and melodies in a peppy fashion. In the long run it might be a choice between cool and creative.
What makes this even better are lyrics which revolve around detachment, melancholy and loneliness. It adds a thematic edge to some of the happiest sounding music you'll ever hear. I think you can only find this on vinyl. It’s the American compilation of New Musik’s first two albums. I love this a lot.
New Musik - Warp (LP review) (Epic): The last album from Tony Mansfield's great synth pop band is controversial in New Musik circles, a small yet feverish bunch, because half of the album is not good, weighing down the endless celebration of the other half and their underrated earlier work. I'm a huge fan of everything New Musik recorded before this, and I find myself transfixed in the task of hearing and processing every bleep and strum on their albums. Their earlier work is a fascinating mixture of simple synth melodies, subverted tones and existential lyrics. The production is on the surface overdone if not beaten to death, but Mansfield creates odd sound and voice manipulations that give the music an edginess you can trace more to intent than the results themselves. In other words, New Musik may have been the Bay City Rollers of their time and place, a strange and wonderful place indeed.
In 1981, New Musik's second album, Anywhere, was released in the UK, while Sanctuary, a compilation taken from the two UK albums, came out in the States. Sales lagged and two band members left, leaving Mansfield and Clive Gates. "Straight Lines" was one of, if not the first, popular new wave synth pop singles. Most New Musik songs were timed in that same beat, for a cumulative better or worse. To make up for a prior lack of variety in the rhythm section, or maybe to hop on the latest musical bandwagon of 1982, Warp opens with "Here Comes The People" and its Thompson Twins funk fetish hand clapping disco crap groove. It's embarrassing and some New Musik fans were pissed. "Going Round Again" is a much better song, of the old school. "A Train On Twisted Tracks" is more limp electro-pop, not horrible but killed by the funk beat. "I Repeat" is good. Then, THEN, there's two versions of the Beatle's "All You Need Is Love". Let’s not talk about it. "Kingdoms For Horses", "Hunted" and "The New Evolutionist" are good, but while "Green and Red" is interesting, you start to realize how much New Musik and Thomas Dolby have in common. "The Planet Doesn't Mind" was the single, and it's a sell-out at every turn. Imagine New Musik trying to be Prince. Now stop. "Warp" closes the album and it’s decent.
If you delete 1/3 of this album you're left with material good enough for inclusion on a past album. The addition and focus on a funkier rhythm really was a sell-out, regardless of how commercial you perceive their earlier material. New Musik were to synth pop what The Ramones were to punk, and the change of direction not only didn't work, it was against everything you thought they were about. Warp isn't as horrible as I was warned it would be. I just know I’ll never to listen to the whole thing again. The warts of the record are unsightly.
The New Pornographers
- Mass Romantic (CD review): While I
recognize the talent and cleverness that went into making
I also have no reason to listen to it again. I'd recommend it to someone I think
might like it, but that's not me. It's five times as cute as it is clever, and
it's seemingly made by people who only claim their love of The Archies is
Ironic, and who can both differentiate between Belle & Sebastian songs and stay
awake in the process.
The CD opens well enough with "Mass Romantic", even with it's "Feelin' Groovy" fa la la's. Someone wrote that "The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism" sounded like Bowie. Maybe Stanley Bowie, but not David. It's a glam meets Beatles number, and "Jean Genie" only fits half the bill. The songs aren't bad - it just seems it would appeal to people who think ‘90s bands were a lot better than ‘80s and ‘70s bands.
In this category I prefer The Anniversary's Designing A Nervous Breakdown. Maybe to New Pornographers fans they're in no way alike but I know better because I write a blog. And I delete dissenting comments. (moo-ha-ha)
New York Dolls - Lipstick Killers: The Mercer Street Sessions 1972 (CD review) (ROIR): The New York Dolls were The Rolling Stones in drag. They wrote some classics but also benefited exponentially from being in New York City, where the American music press worked and lived. Many say they were the first real punk band, as valid as any other form of chauvinism, but the questions are always these when looking at the facts - what did they do first, what did they do best and what was their influence on bands that followed?
The Dolls were a glam garage band. David Johansen wanted to be Mick Jagger and Johnny Thunders fancied himself Keith Richards. Nothing new there. They dressed in drag, a common enough occurrence in lower Manhattan but still gutsy for a bunch of heteros. They weren't a particularly tight band, which gave other bands and assorted no-talents hope and inspiration they could maybe do it too. That was probably the major contribution of the New York Dolls, along with creating an early ‘70s local buzz about a new, exciting music scene on the horizon. Were they a more dangerous band than The Stooges? No. Did the MC5 kick out the jams like dirtie hippies long before the Dolls? Yes.
That being said, this collection of their earliest demos from 1972 is a bore, an archival thing that makes the 1973 Mercury release New York Dolls, masterminded by Todd Rungren, seem that much more a masterpiece. The hype attached to these Mercer Street demos is hysterical, as if having all the original members in a non-studio setting is by definition a pure perfection. That's all swell, but again, the Dolls seem really bored and the results are boring.
It's as if they're only going through the motions. It sounds like a sound check two minutes after waking up after an afternoon drinking binge. It sounds like breaking in a new band member on a song for the 15th damn time in a row. The drums go plop plop plop and Johnny Thunders is talking on the phone or something while plucking at his guitar. Segue the demo of "Personality Crisis" with the studio version. The demo stinks. Whatever their legendary live sound was, I can only hope it came close to the Mercury LP. If these Mercer demos are to be considered their standard -- well, then they don't deserve their reputation.
Lipstick Killers is for die-hard fans only. If you want to be blown away by an early demo, pick up something by Iggy Pop And The Stooges. Now THAT'S raw power!
Nico - Do or Die: Diary 1982 (CD review) (ROIR): The latest in ROIR's transformation from a cassette-only to all-CD format label, this greatest hits collection of live Nico tracks from an old European tour shows the singer at her best while also highlighting the limitations of her talent. After a career in Europe as a model and actress she was forced on The Velvet Underground by Andy Warhol, and up until her death in 1988 she crashed all over the world rehashing whatever glory she had while seeking heavy drugs like a fly does poop. Whatever contempt I have for Nico comes from the endless stories I've read about her. She was coldly indifferent and focused only on herself, be it her love(less) life, alcoholism or drug addictions. If you find her a tragic figure, that's your state of romanticized self-delusion. If she wasn't numb, good looking and part of Warhol's scene you wouldn't care either way about this person. I know I don't.
Nico gets credit for influencing goth, and rightly so since she sings torch songs like a droning Marlene Dietrich, often accompanying herself on a foot-pumped harmonium. John Cale worked with her long after she left the VU, and his own obsessions with drone and tone fit well with Nico's. The opening track, "Janitor of Lunacy", sets the imaginary scene of her playing at midnight in an abandoned cathedral, illuminated only by candles and moonlight. You get a sense the echoes of her chants are coming from the mouths of weathered gargoyles in the shadows. The track is effective and it leads into "All Tomorrow's Parties", one of four Lou Reed tracks on this thirteen song disc. She was a rare early innie in Lou's long life of outies, so maybe she's earned the right to perform his songs with impunity.
Too many slow songs are strung together in the middle, so a few clicks of the remote takes you to an odd disco version of Bowie & Eno's "Heroes", which she may able to claim some right to as a living bastardization of Nietzschian philosophies. The second version of "All Tomorrow's Parties" is a keeper because Nico sings without accompaniment, turning Reed's lyrics into an epic drinking song. It’s followed by "I'm Waiting For The Man” - too close to home not to be self-parody. I was listening very closely to hear if she took the opportunity between verses to beg the audience for smack. The set ends with "The End" by The Doors, too obvious a choice to be truly ironic, but still as good an epitaph as Hollywood could come up with.
The liner notes of the CD were written by someone who knew Nico for a short while and experienced firsthand a portion of her slow descent into oblivion. He makes the shocking blunder of relating stories of Nico's idiocy to her son Ari in the form of a letter. Nico pretty much abandoned Ari as a baby in order to carry on her life of whoring, drinking, and needle injecting. Is the writer oblivious or rubbing s--t into the poor kid's face for sick fun? It’s creepy stuff if you know the real story.
No Doubt - The Ska EP (review): Am I the only one who thinks in monotone "Yes, Doubt" when I hear the name No Doubt? Here's the third singer/band in a row I know nothing about and am comfortable as such. I heard mumblings about them somehow being ska but never put them together on the two or three times I chanced upon a video or radio tune by them. This five track release is the weakest of the three Girls Just Wanna Have Ska EPs as it's filled with what sounds like tapes from the back of the vault. The instrumental "Guns Of Navaronne" works best as it's faithful to the original 60's version and there's no singing, which on the other tracks is too stylishly idiosyncratic. On my own I just remembered her name is Gwen Stefani. Good for me.
"Racist Friend" is live and possibly recorded in a hallway. "Ghost Town" has a cock-rock glam opening and is only 30% recognizable as a Specials song. The two other tracks are "Up Yours" and "Everything's Gone Wrong", proving to me at least that The Doubt Band has as much to with real ska as a blue toaster oven.
Klaus Nomi - self-titled LP (review) (RCA): Born Klaus Sperber in Germany in either 1944 or 1945, "Klaus" is yelled in the way Col. Klink called for bumbling Sgt. Shultz on Hogan's Heroes. "Nomi" is an anagram of Klaus' favorite magazine, OMNI, made up as the name for a performance gig that never materialized. He was an odd little space man with an odd little career cut short by one of the earliest cases of AIDS. It's hard to say if his career had legs beyond his appearance with Bowie on SNL in 1979 and the release of his debut album in 1982. His talent for combining lite opera, pop and verboten high camp was innovative in the NY underground of the mid to late ‘70s, but in the larger consciousness it had little chance of surviving the demise of eccentric new music and the expiration date of his gimmick. He could have made a small living playing the same clubs Divine did, and he at least once sang opera with a full orchestra. We’ll never know if he could have successfully transitioned to a career in classical performance.
Klaus' bright shining moment was his appearance with David Bowie on Saturday Night Live, looking innately not of this earth. Bowie played the part but Klaus embodied it. His second claim to fame was appearing in Urgh! A Music War, singing "Total Eclipse". By all accounts he was his stage persona, and only in either Berlin, Paris or New York could he have gotten away with being himself. In the beginning he possessed generous amounts of drive, talent, genuine weirdness and luck. In ways large and small I compare Klaus Nomi to Jim Skafish.
Where does this leave his debut album? It's sometimes fun, sometimes funny and sometimes clever. The gimmick hasn't aged all that well and the end result is a curiosity worth checking out mostly as a legacy of its time and place. It’s very camp. Klaus sings opera in both soprano and falsetto, a neat trick, but unless you harbor a Marlene Dietrich fetish there's no reason to toss this on the victrola too often. His exact pronunciation is gratingly severe after a while, and I’m sure Fred Schneider could do a great Klaus Nomi imitation. The possibility raises the parody bar here a few clicks. Klaus recorded many covers, including one of "The Twist" that a Chubby Checker fan wouldn't recognize even with a gun to his head. Klaus' creative arc moved quickly from camp cabaret to horrifying synth-disco. This makes for an early career you can somewhat defend, only to dive for cover if someone brings up "Ding Dong" (yes, as in "Ding dong the witch is dead") or Donna Summer's "I Feel Love".
If you come across this record for a buck I'd say pick it up. The "Samson and Delilah" aria is nice and his voice is impressive in the right compositions. As a timely side note, Klaus worked as a pastry chef at the World Trade Center.
The Normal - "Warm Leatherette"/"T.V.O.D." (7" review) (Mute): The history of electronic music goes back beyond even the spooky sci-fi sounds of the theramin, but it wasn't until Kraftwerk in the early ‘70s that electronic instruments were developed to replace every organic sound found on a standard recording. When the U.K. punk explosion came and went in the late ‘70s, its D.I.Y. spirit was embraced by a new generation of musicians who saw promise in new technologies. Synthesizers, even the cheapest and simplest to operate, allowed anyone with a good ear the opportunity to create music. The more you learned what happens when you hit this button and twirl that knob, the more ingredients you had to work with on the way to recording a song. Synths, with their built-in programs and no built-in schedule on when something had to be finished, gave people with no musical training the confidence to give it a try. While not as gutsy as learning three chords on a guitar and getting up on stage, electronic music was and still is maybe the last frontier of innovation.
The early ‘80s movement of simple electronic dance pop came out of Daniel Miller's Mute Records, now a true indie but originally distributed through Sire. Miller's produced, among many others, Depeche Mode, Can ,Yaz, Moby, Soft Cell, Erasure, Howard Jones, Erasure and Thomas Dolby. It’s some of the best and worst modern music has to offer. The Normal, who released only one single, are a cornerstone of the synth-pop movement. "Warm Leatherette" and "T.V.O.D." were written and recorded by Miller using a small 4-track recorder, a Korg 700S synth and a cheap mini-mixer. I don't know who sang the vocals, but he perfectly conveys the alienating, creepy lyrics inspired by JG Ballard's "auto"- erotic novel Crash. “Warm Leatherette” was not used in the recent film of the same name. Feh. "Warm Leatherette" was later covered by Grace Jones, maybe the only woman who could cover this effectively. "T.V.O.D." is only a slight variation on the a-side formula of snares, bleeps, screeches, monotone singing and a repetition of the song title into infinity.
Fellow Mute label artists The Silicon Teens recorded silly covers and originals even more simplistic than The Normal. While their gimmick was cute I think they helped push electronic bands towards rich detail and lush arrangements. Daniel Miller only recorded these two songs as The Normal, but the single stands out as a vital cog in the wheel of alternative music.
Gary Numan - The Pleasure Principle (LP review) (ATCO): Oh, what it must be like to be a one hit wonder with more than a dozen albums under your belt. Numan had other minor successes, but "Cars" hit bigger than anyone imagined, and the drop is always painful. Numan took the electronics and detachment of Kraftwerk, added guitar and a live drummer, upped the volume, and threw in enough Bowie-clone glam and stage presence to hit paydirt. In concert he resembled a twelve year old miming The Thin White Duke. His clean, atmospheric style was an influence on other electro-dance bands. His innovation was a mix of dance electronics and post-punk rock. The songwriting was often weak but the concept solid. Numan's standard riffs would be considered too slow today for dance purposes, being funky enough to allow the keyboards time to emit long strands of atmospheric noise. While not a great album, The Pleasure Principle is a perfect example of modern music that flirted with science, aliens, electronics and the dehumanizing effects of humanity - combining to create a new, pure, emotionless future. It’s a future of alienation and science fiction becoming fact.
Gary Numan - Living Ornaments '80 (LP review) (Beggars Banquet): Having as much free time on my hands as Charles Manson, I listened to the first four Gary Numan albums today, plus this live album. Why? Because periodically his name gets mentioned as a godfather of all kinds of evil, from new romance to techno. The Foo Fighters and Marilyn Manson covered Numan songs, while NIN, The Rentals, Beck, Smashing Pumpkins and Hole dropped his name in the press. Gary Numan didn't re-invent the wheel, and while you can make a decent hits package from his early albums, the keepers live amongst some boring material that might intrigue the ambient crowd while putting the casual listener in a coma. The early OMD albums are a better buy, but then again OMD didn't look like alienated teenage Bowie clones
Don't get me wrong. I like my Gary Numan records. It's just that he repeated his standard formula of slow, asexual electronic funk too many times on the same record, and not much changed from Tubeway Army to The Pleasure Principle. Here's the best Gary Numan tracks from the ‘70s: "Jo The Waiter", "Me I Disconnect From You", "Are 'Friends' Electric?", "Down In The Park" (his best slow song), "I Die: You Die" (best fast song) and "Cars" (a dusting off of "Zero Bars (mr. smith)" from the first album). Living Ornaments '80 was released separately and in a box with Living Ornaments '79. Numans' material sounded better live, and here's proof on vinyl. I saw him either on this same tour or the one after. Standouts are "I Die: You Die" and of course "Down In The Park", which people in the know will tell you is the best single advertisement for Gary Numan's writing and performance skills.
Critics derided Numan as a Bowie clone, and not without reason. From Kraftwerk Gary took the idea of electronics as alienating and sterile, yet oddly organic and warm. From Brian Eno he took the Live I couldn't stop marveling at how he mimicked Bowie in every way, even down to his quick forward open hand gesture. Without the Eno/Bowie collaborations Low and Heroes, both from 1977, there would be no Gary Numan. Every once in a while someone will throw in a Roxy Music comparison, which I don't see much beyond maybe "The Aircrash Bureau".
Gary Numan's stock in trade was electronic funk that lacked soul and sexuality. For texture he used programmed keyboards to create walls of background noise that worked up and down slow progressions of notes, the effect being a controlled theramin sound. That's my big revelation for you about Gary Numan. He tamed the theramin and put it on record. I like Gary Numan but he's not the godfather of anything. He's behind Kraftwerk, Roxy Music, Bowie, and Eno on any list you want to put him on. Gary looks a lot like Peter Gabriel, and based on recent pictures I think he's morphing into Nathan Lane.
Oingo Boingo - Only A Lad (cd review): Danny Elfman is related to Jenna Elfman by marriage and is also the masterful composer of film soundtracks who helped create The Forbidden Zone, one of the craziest midnight movies of all time. For the most part I can't listen to what he recorded as Oingo Boingo, whose followers I thought were the new wave version of Jimmy Buffet's parrot heads. The glaring exception is the self-titled 1980 IRS EP and the 1981 A&M LP Only A Lad, a pure new wave concoction of fun and jumpy music only an octet of musicians (horn section, baby!) equal parts Cab Calloway and The Cardiacs could provide.
The single "Little Girls" jumped the pedophilic bandwagon nailed together by The Knack but is redeemed by the lack of Doug Fieger's creepiness and a whimsical 50/50 approach to the subject's merits and pitfalls. My favorite track is "Only A Lad", nicely dismissive of apologetic behaviorism a slightly and a more polished version of what's found on the EP. I doubt many remember what the IRS Records sound was. This be it.
The Kink's cover of "You Really Got Me" underperforms and the rest doesn't particularly stand out beyond containing an endless assortment of quirky start/stops and expertly executed about faces. On a purely mechanical level it's genius. Back then we were happy with a great song or two to dance to and a few other mild diversions. Only A Lad didn't overachieve but it surely didn't disappoint either.
Mike Oldfield - QE2 (LP review) (Virgin/Epic): Mike Oldfield is mostly associated with ‘70s progressive rock. He wrote the theme from The Exorcist , "Tubular Bells", and his recordings kept Virgin Records alive in the early years. QE2 sold well in the new music market when it was released in 1980. Oldfield adds layers of instrumentation to the standard minimalist cyclical structures of Philip Glass, and the results are staggering in both planning and execution. The louder you play this, and the more you drink, the better this gets.
Mike Oldfield is a genius who can play every instrument, maybe literally. On this record he mans the Mandolin, Bass Guitar, Synths, Banjo, Celtic Harp, Drum machine, Timpani, Electric Guitars, Bass Pedals, Piano, Claptrap, Vocodor, Syndrums, Chair, African Drums, Spanish Guitar, Aboriginal Rhythm Sticks, Marimbas, Vibraphone, 2X Speed Guitar, Tambourine, Gong and Northumbrian Bagpipes. If he solos on the skin flute that's ok with me as long as I don’t have to watch the slide show presentation.
The way it works is that songs begins with minimal instrumentation that repeats in cycles, and as cycles repeat new instruments and vocalizations are brought in. As far as I know there are no real words on the album. "Sheba" has some of the coolest singing I've ever heard, but for all I know it's all in Klingon. If this album is based on anything you'd recognize it would be the indigenous music of Europe, especially Ireland.
It's hard to put into words the intensity, craftsmanship, power and originality of QE2. It isn't punk, new wave or electronic, but there's no reason why everyone on the planet shouldn’t embrace QE2 as a work of genius. This album makes me want to turn off all lights, surround myself with speakers, turn the amp up to eleven, sing, dance, and drink myself into a coma. For whatever that’s worth.
Mike Oldfield - Five Miles Out (LP review) (Virgin/Epic): Maybe this is new age world music for white folk like me born without a funky soul, but lord do I love it. This is epic music - progressive rock's answer to Wagner. It's a sound so big I literally get antsy listening to it. It makes me lament the short life span of Quad stereo.
Mike Oldfield is in line with Phillip Glass, Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, Pink Floyd, Jean Michel Jarre, Mannheim Steamroller, Rick Wakeman, Pat Metheny, Vangelis, and Jean-Luc Ponty. He struck gold with "Tubular Bells", the theme from The Exorcist. He kept Virgin Records afloat for years, but was then brushed aside when the Sex Pistols were signed. Feeling betrayed, Oldfield said that "Punk diluted the musical abilities of practically a whole generation. You were machine-gunned to death in the pop press if you really could play". I know what he means, but not everybody can master most instruments as he did. I swear, Mike Oldfield could make a toilet plunger sing.
Mike took off a few years to digest his place in the new music landscape, then came back prepared to shorten his works and explore pop territory. QE2 is by far my favorite, a record that trembles in my hand each time I hold it, but Five Miles Out is also great. "Family Man" was made famous by Hall & Oates, but it was written by Oldfield and his band. Listen to "Five Miles Out", a sweet track that appeals equally to Kate Bush and Pink Floyd fans. Scottish singer Maggie Reilly sings on a number of Oldfield recordings, and when she opens her mouth angels smile. She sang on a Sisters Of Mercy album, so you eyeliner junkies should take an interest. Whatever Mike paid her wasn’t enough.
Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark - The History Of Modern (cd review): I'm a huge fan of early OMD, a band whose full name I've never been able to spell correctly since I think "Manoeuvres" is Middle English and pronounced in Spanish as "Mano-E-Oov-Race". Note I say early OMD, as after 1983's Dazzle Ships (ahead of its time) OMD, by their own admission, started recording tracks of crap in order to make a living instead of barely squeaking by. On that level I don't blame them but it's not something I can defend musically, and it makes being a OMD fan a qualifying existence, as in having to make defensive excuses for it.
Memory fails but I think I saw OMD three times in the early 80s. The first was when the drummer came out to play sax on "Mystereality", so that was a great show. The last time they had a horn section, and sometimes when not playing they repeatedly gave a limp-wristed wave to the left and right. Hmm, wow. In 2005 founding members Paul Humphreys and Andy McCluskey got back together and soon hit the road with two other original members to perform their 1981 benchmark album Architecture & Morality. Which leads to The History Of Modern, which has enough good (read early) OMD on it to make it worth getting and then trimming down to a viable group of songs.
The History Of Modern opens with "New Babies: New Toys", the opening hinting at "The New Stone Age". McCluskey's bass is as abrasive and fuzzy as science allows, and the collective noise the song makes is effectively orchestral as their name advertises. The chorus is a little too sing-songey, and while I applaud everyone's sexuality (as long as I don't have to watch the slide-show presentations) I'm not going to sing along with the bi-sexual insight of "It's better with the girls but it's bigger with the boys". Another song later on gets downright pedophilic. "If You Want It" is straightforwardly pleasant songwriting, not out of the park but if it becomes the disc's emphasis track I'd approve with a slight nod. "History Of Modern (part I)" is my first favorite track, with a great pulsing, vibrating beat on what is a uniformly well-produced cd. "History Of Modern (part II)" combines with Part I to replicate what "Joan Of Arc" and "Joan Of Arc (Maid Of Orleans)" were to Architecture & Morality. They make nice bookends with nothing between them.
"Sometimes" is some kinda horrible with its on-going scratching, soul sister singing, faux-opera flourishes and bad white soul groove. Ugh. File this next to Bowie's "Across The Universe". "RFWK" is musically a great song, penned in tribute to Kraftwerk, but I'm a bit confused by the lyrics "I loved you when I found you / I loved you like a son / You wrapped your arms around me and / The (loading? learning?) had begun / And all the years of passion..." Am I off base to find this pedophilic and creepy? Note that the sound of a turntable needle dropping and surface scratches have been added.
"New Holy Ground" is a sequel of sorts to "The Romance Of The Telescope", using the recorded sound of hard shoes walking around a hardwood floor as a metronome. It's slow, melancholy and most excellent. "The Future, The Past And Forever After" is disco fever with a hard beat that made me sick immediately. "Sister Marie Says" is great campy fun, with an operatic opening that would make Klaus Nomi proud. What makes it so great is that it proudly and equally rips off both "Enola Gay" and "Telegraph". The two old and one new song occupy the same space and time, folding the universe back onto itself. I imagine "Pulse" was rejected by Prince as an album track. Next! "Green" follows along the lines of "If You Want It" as a nice track that'll appeal to mid-to-late OMD fans more than I, but that's ok by me.
"Bondage Of Fate" is a waltz, and while it's not as epic as "Joan Of Arc (Maid Of Orleans)", whose pounding drums has never failed to freak me out, it's an amazing track that solidifies The History Of Modern as an effort made in earnest. The disc closes with "The Right Side", an obvious ode to Kraftwerk as it channels "Europe Endless". Holy crap. What a great song.
What I'll keep from this are "If You Want It", "History Of Modern (Part I)", "History Of Modern (Part II)", "New Holy Ground", "Sister Marie Says", "Green", "Bondage Of Fate" and "The Right Side". That's eight songs, percentage-wise a Hall Of Fame batting average. I'd include "RFWK" because of the music except the lyrics are creepy. I'm betting they recorded a few more tracks from this session that I'll like, and I'll wind up quite happy indeed with OMD in the year 2010.
They were working the retro theme so hard I'm surprised the entire cd isn't consistent with that vision. Mixing good (old) and bad (new) OMD doesn't improve the new or help blend them together - it's just bad programming. Still, there's a lot of greatness happening with A History Of Modern, and while it does fail at times it's never pretentious and it never tries too hard only to fall short. What they get right they do so spectacularly.
O.M.D. - Orchestral Manoeuvers In The Dark (LP review) (Virgin/Epic): I was in Tower and noticed a new OMD greatest hits package was available to be sampled on one of the listening stations. As I feared, with each hit of the "next" arrow I heard one of my favorite bands from the ‘80s go from great to horrid. At their best OMD combined organic and electronic sounds to create soulful soundscapes and infectious new wave dance music. OMD, a 1981 American-market compilation of songs from two 1980 UK full-lengths, is the real greatest hits package from a band that admittedly sold out for the financial gold ring that had eluded them for years.
Paul Humphreys and Andy McClusky formed OMD while art students and they never pretended to be anything but. This honesty separated them from fellow electronic practitioners Joy Division and Gary Numan, who used keyboards to create alienation and morbid seriousness. OMD's love of steam pipes and heavenly choruses made their work human and ethereal at the same time. For every poppy "Enola Gay" there’s a dreamy "Statues". OMD used a live drummer for much of their career, and in concert Andy spent most of his time on bass guitar. When I saw them the drummer even played saxophone, which can’t get any sweeter.
1981's Architecture & Morality was their best work. It’s rich, refined and well crafted. Subsequent albums reflected a reluctant acceptance of popular commercial style over spontaneous creativity. If you think Spandau Ballet and the Thompson Twins are as good as it gets, by all means buy the newest OMD greatest hits. If you want to hear some of the best real electronic pop of the era, buy this 1981 collection, along with Architecture & Morality.
Orchestral Manoeuvers In The Dark - Architecture & Morality (LP review) (Epic): This was OMD's third album and it’s their masterpiece. OMD were never as cool as Joy Division, probably because 1) Paul Humphreys and Andy McClusky were art students with day jobs, and 2) their songs weren't as gloomy, moody and alienating as their peers’. Then again, compared to techno all new wave electronic bands were bright and cheerful. OMD loved a good croon and the sound of steam. The faster songs on Architecture & Morality are excellent - "The New Stone Age" in particular, with it's rare use of guitar and thumping bass drum. "Joan of Arc (Maid of Orleans)" is a soaring waltz that will make you regret you never took ballroom dancing lessons. There was a time when industrial music was defined by the use of machinery and steam sounds. The soundtrack to Eraserhead is a prime example of early industrial music. OMD played light-industrial electronic, and this was their best work. After this they got tired of being broke and sold their souls to the top-40 demon, but if you want to know why OMD was once a great band, buy Architecture & Morality.
John Otway's Gleatest Hits (LP review) (Strike Back): John Otway is long past eccentric. He's a kook, an endearing combination of Ray Davies and Skafish. He wrote an autobiography, Cor Baby That's Really Me (Rock and Roll's Greatest Failure), and packaged himself as living proof of Murphy's Law. As noted in his bio, the book "rather sensibly concentrates its attention on the more fertile ground of cock-ups, disasters and how certain people, like Otway, have an ability to turn any situation to their own disadvantage. This was what his audience wanted and within weeks it had outsold, by a factor of ten, all the records he had released since his hit. Otway was good at promoting himself as a great failure, and in a many ways his career prospects improved in direct proportion to how badly those prospects were perceived to be."
Otway is a notable footnote in punk history because of a pair of 1977 tracks, "Really Free" and "Beware Of The Flowers Cause I'm Sure They're Gonna Get You, Yeah", both found on punk comps from that era. His best and most focused recordings were with Wild Willy Barrett. His work ranged from solid pop to trendy genre experiments to novelty productions worthy of Dr. Demento. "Headbutts" is a funny ditty you can segue with "Warm Leatherette". I also highly recommend "Mass Communication".
John Otway has made a small living for himself by being John Otway. He wiggled his way onto TV and made the final cut of a small 1990 film called Strike It Rich. It is said he first made a name for himself on "The Old Grey Whistle Test" when he jumped a height of six feet, his descent cut comically short when his crotch slammed into an amplifier. Fads come and go, but a good nut cracker makes even a simple man a legend in his own time. By the way, the record really is called his "Gleatest Hits". It's a joke at the expense of the Japanese. I don't even want to know....
Our Daughters Wedding - Digital Cowboy (Mini LP review) (EMI): When "Lawnchairs" came out in 1980 it became the best selling import single up till that time. The single version is less polished than the album version. I like the album version better. The band formed in San Francisco and moved to New York, but they first found a recording deal in Europe. Consisting of three pretty boys playing synthesizer (+ saxophone on occasion), ODW straddled the fence between great danceable new wave electronic music and the kind of sell-out bandwagon-hopping opportunism that weakened the genre into the joke it is today.
Before techno, and when industrial literally meant the sounds of industry, new wave synth bands were legitimately cool. Their stand against guitars may have been silly but keyboards and sampling technology opened up music to different, if not just simpler aesthetics. With synthesizers you could experiment with thousands of sounds, create drum rhythms, and cheaply create soundscapes and textures once only available to the likes of ELP and Mike Oldfield. Talent-free punk bands picked up instruments and it showed in every note. With synths, as long as you have a good ear almost anyone can create professional music. I mean it. Play with a drum machine long enough and you'll find patterns you think are too cool for words. Press a button and the keys now make saxophone sounds, heavenly choruses and the sound of bombs exploding. All it takes is time, knowing how to use the technology and a shred of creativity. In a 1980 book on new music, the section on Electronic Music includes Athletico Spizz '80, Wire, Pere Ubu, The Psychedelic Furs, The Talking Heads and Peter Gabriel. The big electronic bands of the time included Joy Division, Devo, Kraftwerk, OMD, New Musik, The Residents, Ultravox, and Gary Numan.
Our Daughter's Wedding added a drummer for this five-song mini-LP, which added life to what was criticized as a lifeless genre. OMD added a drummer and Devo had one for most of their run. "Lawnchairs" is catchy as hell, and "Target For Life" keeps right up with it. What I like about ODW is that they played the hell out of their keyboards. Bless his little Bowie-clone soul, but Gary Numan hit one note on the keyboard and held it as if it was the most intense sound in the universe. ODW worked it, and the addition of the occasional saxophone always scores points for cool. I saw them live and Layne Rico had long permed hair that he would swing in front of his face like a propeller. Unreal.
ODW is corralled with a slew of fey synth bands, but they weren't part of that. They were an unknown band who released an independent single that sold very well. They played hard and were early. They get extra credit for putting out a good 12" EP instead of recording a load of worthless crap for a full-length album.
Our Daughters Wedding - Moving Windows (LP review) (EMI): I bought this a long time ago and sold it back a shorter long time ago. I had no memory of it when I picked it up today in the mold-bin of Vinyl Solution. All I learned from listening to this now is how much better I liked their EP Digital Cowboy. For a synth band that was a pretty reckless record. The live drummer gave it a live edge, and they made a point to record it hard, fast and loose, just like when I saw them play back before the dawn or time.
Moving Windows came out in 1982, and the pressure to succeed ("If at first you don't succeed, suck seed" - Groucho Marx) led to electro-funk and variations on a generic song we'll just call "She Blinded Me With Weird Science". Sometimes they recapture some of the style they helped create. ODW recorded 1980's "Lawnchairs", at the time the best selling import single of all time. "She Was Someone" was the most popular track on the album, and while it's good, you can't help but think of Depeche Mode.
Forget this typical example of ran-out-of-ideas-need-to-get-big-again-quick-I-need-the-money. Find Digital Cowboy and listen to "Target For Life". That's as punk as synth-pop got.
Graham Parker - "Mercury Poisoning" (12" EP review) (Arista): Graham Parker was a pissed off fellow. He denied being pissed, but boy was he pissed. The greatest contract-fullfilling/breaking album of all time is Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music, but 1979's The Parkerilla was three sides of live material and one remixed-studio track on side four, with the needle grooves spread far apart. To cement the resentment sentiment, Parker recorded "Mercury Poisoning", a direct attack on his old label Mercury Records.
Dave Robinson, founder of Stiff Records, tried to get Parker to record an entire anti-Mercury album, which Arista would have probably not released. As it was, "Mercury Poisoning" came out only as a promo-only, one sided 12" with a plain gray label. It was an instant collector's item because 1) it was promo only, and 2) it was and still is one of his best songs.
No more pretending now, the
albatross is dying in its nest
The company is crippling me, the worst trying to ruin the best, the best
Their promotion's so lame
They could never ever take it to the real ball game
Maybe they think I'm a pet
Well I've got all the diseases
I'm breaking out in sweat, you bet, because
I got, Mercury poisoning
It's fatal and it don't get better
I got, Mercury poisoning
The best kept secret in the we--est, hey the we--est
The boys and me are getting
real well known around town
But every time we try to spread the action
Someone always brings it down, down
I ate the orange and I don't feel well
For them it's inconvenience for me it's hell
The geriatric staff think we're freaks
They couldn't sell kebabs to the Greeks, the geeks
Inaction speaks, and
Is this a Russian conspiracy, no it's just idiocy
Is this a Chinese burn
I gotta dinosaur for a representative
It's got a small brain and refuses to learn
Their promotion's so lame
They could never ever take it to the real ball game
Listen I ain't a pet
I aint a token hipster, in your monopoly set
You bet because
Yeah the best kept secret in the west The best kept secret in the west
Parker's follow-up was 1979's Squeezing Out Sparks, a landmark album. More albums followed, each a little less important than the last,until he settled into his place as the poor man's Van Morrison. He was the first rocker to proudly sing in his native cockney accent, and working class UK punk followed. He denies ever being a punk, a pub rocker, or having released The Parkerilla to get out of his contract. Whatever you say, pal. And oh yeah, you never should have let The Rumour get away.
Graham Parker- Squeezing Out Sparks & The Up Escalator (LPs review) (Arista): The veteran elder of new wave's angry young men, Graham Parker adapted his pub rock roots for two of the genre’s finest achievements. Squeezing Out Sparks came out in ‘79 and The Up Escalator the next year. The latter record doesn't get the same rave reviews as its predecessor, but they aren't that different. 1979 was the peak of the original new wave scene, with seminal releases from Iggy Pop, the B-52's and Joe Jackson following in the heals of Elvis Costello and Devo. Squeezing Out Sparks benefited from better timing than its 1980 follow-up, when first wave new wave began to be supplanted by post-disco dance crap.
Pub Rock is the unsung foundation of the UK punk scene. A form of roots rock, it was anything goes retro r&b, country and folk played in the only places you could find it - pubs. AS with punk, skill wasn't necessarily required, and in the early ‘70s it was as D.I.Y. as you could expect. The American equivalents were Southside Johnny and Bruce Springsteen (who sings backup on "Endless Night"). Pub Rock legend Brinsley Schwarz formed the backbone of Parker's famous backup band, The Rumour, who did for him what The Attractions did for Elvis Costello and the Joe Jackson Band did for Joe - they were the best things to ever happen to these guys. They were the tightest bands around, stripping down songs to their pop essence and then beating the hell out of them. Squeezing Out Sparks dropped the brass instrumentation of past albums for a streamlined rock 'n' roll attack you could dance to. It was the right material at the right time by the right band.
Parker's singing style owes a lot to Van Morrison, and while his confessional lyrics may have lacked Elvis' cleverness and Joe's nuclear bitterness, Graham's ability to paint vivid pictures with words has never been questioned. "You Can't Be Too Strong", an anti-abortion song (back then I think nobody knew what the stance of the song really was), was the most talked about track on Squeezing Out Sparks because it was honest and dealt with a nervous subject. The Up Escalator is a faster, harder album, and the slight shift of focus away from a more lyric-based approach may have turned off critics who prefer soulful crooning. "Maneuvers" and "Empty Lives" are phenomenal.
The Rumour were gone by 1982's Another Grey Area, and while that album was decent, Graham Parker's ride on the new wave roller coaster was over. Other albums have followed and his fan base is small, old, and dedicated. Back in ‘79-‘80 everyone wanted a copy of "Mercury Poisoning", a song Parker wrote about his hate-hate relationship with his record label. It was nearly impossible to find. Now I see it's tacked onto a few reissues. See what happens when you wait twenty years?
Payola's - In A Place Like This (LP review) (I.R.S.): From Vancouver, Canada, but British in concept and sound, the Payolas were a great band that didn't get their due in 1980, and by now they're probably the vaguest of memories up there with 25 cent comic books and Jimmy Carter's presidency. Led by Bob Rock and Paul Hyde, their first album was slightly over-produced and too eclectic, which turned off the punks, but their talent for taking The Rezillos, The Clash, the Boomtown Rats, Tom Robinson and The Police and filtering them through Mott The Hoople made for a diverse mix of pop songs that fell through the cracks of a buying audience that more simple sounds and concepts.
Their 1980 debut EP, Introducing Payolas, showed them to be tough and political within the confines of ‘70s power pop. "Juke Box", which brought them some attention, is the story of a poor yet happy fellow who works at a record store and knows every song note for note. He gets hired by a radio station but quits because they're forcing him to play commercial garbage. It’s a simple story and a simple point but there's a bitter energy to the song that makes it a classic of the genre.
"Juke Box" and "China Boys", a novelty political song, made it to In A Place Like This in shinier versions that fit with the feel of the album but took away some of the raw energy of the originals. The album is filled with power pop, new wave, reggae-ish parts and Mott the Hoople worship -- all clever, hook-filled and bound to discourage those looking for pure aggression or fashion. The more you know about the diversity of alternative music of the time the more you'll appreciate the Payolas. The more you insist new wave can be summed up in a video or poster the less you'll find any more than some pop songs that never made it to a campy 80's greatest hits collection. I'm not saying the Payolas were better than a chart favorite like the Police - but I will say they deserved more than indifference. In A Place Like This is worth finding. A greatest hits album came out last year on the Imprint label, but good luck finding it.
Two more albums came out in ‘82 & ‘83 under the Payolas name, then in ‘85 it was Paul Hyde and the Payolas, and then Rock and Hyde in 1987. The reviews I've read for these records have all been positive. Paul Hyde sang for Loverboy in ‘87 (snicker) while Bob Rock is a big-time producer for everyone from Cher to Metallica (yikes!).
Payolas - Hammer On A Drum (LP review) (I.R.S): Their last album from 1983, Vancouver's Payolas go for a bigger sound which trades rough edges for studio perfection. While not over-produced, the results are more pleasant and clever than exciting and new. I can't stop thinking of the J. Geils Band when I put this on. Mick Ronson produced the record and also provided backup vocals and keyboards. Ian Hunter, an obvious inspiration to lead singer Paul Hyde, appears on the album in an unspecified capacity.
A light reggae and alt-country feel permeates the album. "Perhaps Some Day" sounds like XTC's "Wait Till Your Boat Goes Down". "No Prisoners" is the closest thing to a single on the album, and it's a nice slow number that Sting could have written on a good day. If you've heard good things about The Payolas, I'd definitely start with their 1980 EP or 1981's In A Place Like This. Hammer On A Drum is a nice album. There’s not much else I can say about it.
Iggy Pop - Preliminaires (cd review): Rock and Art meet Indulgence on Iggy Pop's latest cd, Preliminiaires, a beautifully recorded disc that's half retro-jazz and blues. He claims he recorded it specifically for France. He sings the opening and closing tracks in French while another is mostly a woman singing in French. It's Iggy as you've never heard him before and it takes some getting used to, but no matter how often it falls short it's still better than Iggy's ventures into metal. But what wasn't? It's a nice step forward for Iggy as a rock and roll elder statesman, and it has The Ig sometimes talking melodically, reminding me he should be doing voiceovers and narrations for films. He'd be the Sam Elliott of the rust belt.
"King Of The Dogs" is the keeper, borrowing a Louie Armstrong melody and backed by a New Orleans jazz band. The lyrics have the world's forgotten boy moving up the ladder of self-esteem from wanting to be someone's dog to being king of them, and who can tell him otherwise. It's Iggy Pop, the only life form who can get away with singing "I'm a punk rocker, yes I am." The video's neat and also visually disconcerting. The videos doesn't allow embedding, so see it here.
"Je Sais Que Tu Sais" is great but it's also pretty much the same song as "She's A Business", so that's a little lazy. Iggy Pop is not The Fall. "Party Time" is fun and "He's Dead She's Alive" is pretty cool Delta Blues. "Nice To Be Dead" evokes Lou Reed talk-singing over music, which never really appealed to me as I would rather have real singing. I wasn't that big of a fan of Rex Harrison though I do think it's ballsy to talk melodically and pretend it's singing. "A Machine For Loving" has Iggy as narrator, recounting the loss of his pet dog and ruminating on the existential purpose of pets. I loved the lines "I helped him to settle on my lap / For a few seconds he looked at me, with a curious mixture of exhaustion and apology ' Then, calmed, he closed his eyes / Two minutes later he gave out his last breath". The story gets odd with something about automatic trained dog replacement, but Iggy does get out that "Through these dogs, we pay homage to love, and to its possibility / What is a dog but a machine for loving." I personally think pets are tests for people's capacity for good and evil - the good rewarded by unquestioned love and the bad damned to hell if there is one. There are two kinds of people in this world - those who protect innocence and those who destroy innocence. Pets are children who never grow cynical with age.
I enjoyed half of Preliminaires' twelve tracks, to me a very good percentage for Iggy since around 1982. "King Of The Dogs" is definitely one of Iggy's best ever. He should do an entire album of garage blues backed by the real deal bands. That would be sweet.
Iggy Pop - New Values (LP review) (Arista): This was a big, big record for Iggy and new wave in 1979. In that year it seemed new wave was going to break big and replace disco as America's favorite light entertainment. Disco, a lowest common denominator backed by money and size, simply swallowed new wave and the result was Culture Club and Duran Duran (I visible shudder). With quality releases by, among others, Graham Parker, Devo, the B52s, Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson and Iggy Pop, it looked like punk's cute little cousin was about to take over the world. It didn't, and maybe it was for the best, because who wants every idiot to be into what you like? Every 57th idiot is good enough.
After The Stooges broke up, Iggy was in the gutter, almost literally. David Bowie scooped Iggy up worked on his career. The Idiot and Lust For Life were decent enough but you got the feeling Bowie was giving Iggy his B-material. Iggy, as good as the people who attach themselves to his name, hooked up with James Williamson of The Stooges, who some die-hards didn't like for some reason that escapes me now. These twelve songs on New Values, 1/2 co-written with Scott Thurston, put Iggy back on the map and make for some of new wave's greatest hits. "Five Foot One", "I'm Bored", "New Values" – all great. The playing is tight as a duck's tush and there's no better lyrics than "I'm only 5 foot 1/ I've got a pain in my heart / All night out workin' / In the amusement park".
The next three albums had their moments but the consistency and good timing weren't there much anymore. With each album and tour a new band was put together, and I think that can only hurt a guy like the Iggy who’s a force of nature that needs to be controlled and guided to where he wanted to go in the first place. He's been hard rock for years now. The movie they'll make about his life will be too strange to be believed. I can't wait.
Back To Home PageTo Next Page