Psychedelic Furs - self-titled LP (review) (Columbia): Yes, the Furs are that band who recorded "Pretty In Pink", and yes, that’s Richard Butler looking like Johnny Rotten and Richard Hell's bastard-heroin love child. The Psychedelic Furs are as associated with the ‘80s as The Breakfast Club and Mall Hair. That’s too bad because their first two albums are excellent - much better than most people's recollections of an MTV band either creative or uncreative enough to rewrite the same top-40 hit over and over. The Psychedelic Furs is a landmark album that may place second after Talk Talk Talk as their best reviewed work, but it's a fascinating, primitive, raw update of every avant-garde theory that fueled The Velvet Underground.
PIL, Siousxie And The Banshees, Eno & Bowie, and Roxy Music are contemporary influences on the Furs, but their foundation comes directly from Andy Warhol's art and John Cale's contribution to The Velvet Underground. Richard Butler once met Warhol and became fascinated with his concepts. The early Furs' sound builds directly on an old jazz theory (picked up from India) of atonality where musicians sustain and vary one cacophonous note, creating a hypnotic wall of noise that hallucinates the mind. It’s weird stuff in line with hippie drum circles. The Furs' instrumentation is not all of one note, but the crescendos they build and maintain are based on this theory.
The source of the name The Psychedelic Furs is to me still in dispute. Some sources claim “Psychedelic” comes from the 60's music genre, but in every interview I read in the ‘80s, Butler claimed he simply wanted to give the band the most un-punk sounding name he could think of. My guess is “Psychedelic” is a nod to Andy Warhol and "Furs" comes from the Velvet Underground’s "Venus In Furs". In other news, "Sister Europe" gives a nod to the Velvet's "European Son", "Imitation Of Christ" is the name of a Warhol film, and Richard Butler's cut-and-paste writing style was popularized by William Burroughs. Butler became friends with Bowie at some point, who may have passed on his own love for this Dada-inspired writing style that literally means cutting poetic word phrases into strips of paper and then randomly putting them together to see what happens.
The album opens with "India", which begins with a soft atmospheric ambiance likely inspired by side two of Bowie's Low and the Velvet's "Ocean". "India" as a title reflects the origin of the Velvet Underground's sound. "India", "Fall", "Pulse" and "Flowers" are full-speed blowouts that put on vinyl what the Velvet Underground were famous for live but couldn't bring to the studio - reckless abandon bordering on drug-induced hysteria. This album works best played loud with the lights turned off. The hypnotic effect is hippie-tastic!
More on the Furs some other time. I saw them three times live in the early ‘80s and the shows got worse as they became more popular. I sat in a bar with Richard Butler for an hour after the second show. He was funny. The first time I saw them a speaker fell on the drummer's head and at one point Richard punched someone in the band and stormed off the stage. Now THAT was funny!
The Psychedelic Furs
- Greatest Hits (CD review): The
Psychedelic Furs are my favorite post-punk new wave band. I like their
cut-and-paste lyrics, the sax work on the early records and both Richard
Butler’s hoarse voice and Bowie mannerisms. I saw them in their original lineup
and twice more, the first show a classic, the second really good and the third a
waste of time. For that last show they had a full row of lights at the stage
level directed into the audience's eyes. No fun.
A few others and I sat in a bar with Richard Butler after the second show. He was funny, he listened, he didn’t hold back and for the autograph he gave me he wrote “love” twenty times in a row because I had said he uses the word a lot. Fun.
I own all their records but I listened to the Greatest Hits CD to see how it works as a package. Right off the bat it earns brownie points by opening with “Sister Europe” from their classic first album, the album a very logical progression from The Velvet Underground to the post yet still very much punk era. People who bought the disk thinking the Furs wrote “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” would expect it to open with “Pretty In Pink”. BTW, the John Hughes movie was titled after the song, not the other way around.
It’s almost mandatory to own the debut and Talk Talk Talk. Forever Now and Mirror Moves lead into a more commercial sound but are both more than fine albums. Midnight To Midnight, Book Of Days and World Outside yielded a few good songs each but that’s about all. By that point the Furs became like The Kinks and Iggy Pop – surrounding a few good tracks with the musical equivalent of packing peanuts.
The tracks are “Sister Europe”, “Mr. Jones”(single version), “Dumb Waiters”, “Pretty In Pink”, “Love My Way”, “President Gas”, “Here Come Cowboys”, “Heaven”, “Heartbeat”, “The Ghost In You”, “Heartbreak Beat”, “Angels Don’t Cry”, “All That Money Wants”, “Sometimes”, “Until She Comes”, “There’s A World Outside” and Only You And I” (live). The single version of "Mr. Jones" is not as good as what's on the album.
By the time of “Heartbreak Beat” the Furs were running on fumes, repeating the same mid-tempo beat in any new way Butler could dream up. The CD ends with a live version of “Only You And I”, from the third album. It’s there almost to rebut the last few songs, reminding one and all that the Psychedelic Furs were, at one time, the poop.
Psychedelic Furs - Midnight To Midnight (LP review) (CBS): I feel bad this first review of a Psychedelic Furs album is a drive-by shooting. I love their first few records, but I recently bought this 1987 LP for 75 cents and had a feeling it would confirm my theory that from ‘87-‘89 the Furs recorded one decent single for each album, then surrounded it by filler. By this time the original Furs were long decimated and lead Fur Richard Butler obsessively enamored with his small remaining cult status. Oddly enough there are no Furs song on the Breakfast Club soundtrack.
The hit from this was "Heartbreak Beat", the title an echo of the single "Heartbeat" from Mirror Moves. By now Butler was cranking out formula Furs songs, with wailing sax, soaring "Big Country" guitars and his signature cut & paste lyrics that repeat the same phrase over and over, usually the song title itself. Early Furs records were distinguished by their originality, and while Richard Butler could write a catchy lyric and surround it with a Furs-sounding musical riff on the drive over to his stylist, the pudding proves the other Furs actively made early the records the gems they are. Midnight To Midnight is dull for a Furs album but it's not that bad. I'm comparing it negatively only to past product and spanking Butler for being so lazy.
There's eight musicians listed on the album but only three pictured on the cover: Richard Butler up close with his brother Tim and guitarist John Ashton in the background. Ashton was to the Furs what Marco Pirroni was to Adam And The Ants - a talented guitarist so good he achieved recognition from core fans that rivaled their ego-driven bosses. I'm distracted by how much Ashton resembles Pee Wee Herman and Johnny Thunders. If Richard Butler looked any more like Bowie as a zombie.... no, he's pretty much maxed out the Bowie zombie look. The leather fashion statements and excessive hair gel use by all is really annoying.
Pylon - Hits (CD review) (DB): Founded by University of Georgia art students in 1979 and named after a William Faulker novel, Pylon was a tent pole of what came to be known as the "Athens, GA scene". While not as popular as the B-52's or REM, they quickly developed into a band's band, which meant, like being a comic's comic, they dazzled the crapola out of their peers but never made it big themselves. Hitching a ride on the B-52's growing fan base in NYC, they impressed The Village Voice's Robert Christgau, who wrote about them whenever they played in town. They left copies of their first single, "Cool" with any record store they came across, and that's how they got their name out in the east coast hinterlands. In 1980 they released the Gyrate LP, followed three years later by Chomp. They started but did not complete a tour with U2, then broke up shortly after. By their own admission they never cared for the nonsense of a music career. In 1987 Rolling Stone named REM "America's Best Band". Drummer Bill Berry insisted the honor actually belonged to Pylon, who had broken up years earlier. This sparked media interest and the band reformed and recorded their final album, Chain, in 1990. They played their last show in 1991. This twenty track greatest hits collection was issued in 1989.
One fan site says singer Vanessa Briscoe is now a registered nurse, the mother of two girls and married to Bob Hay, the former guitarist for The Squalls. Guitarist Randy Bewley is the father of two boys and teaches art at an elementary school. Drummer Curtis Crowe is the father of a boy and a girl and works in TV and film as a carpenter. Bassist Michael Lacowski runs a graphic design agency and DJ's techno (god save us all) at Athens-area clubs. The site also notes "None of the members of Pylon is making music", which sounds like the postscript of a crime drama.
The band claimed their influences were Television, The Mekons, Gang Of Four and The Talking Heads. Listening to Hits I come away with a strong comparison to the Au Pairs, followed by Gang of Four, Wire and the B-52's on a few songs with a slight surf dance thing going. Pylon songs function more as jams than songs. They have beginnings, middles and ends, but the tracks play more like ideas and concepts explored for a time and then faded out or stopped. The drums pound asymmetrically in minimalist fashion while the bass works independently from the drums to create effective heavy, asymmetrical riffs that thankfully don't get too funky. The guitar is all over the place, stalking the vocals and sharply slashing the sonic landscape. The genius of Pylon is how they combine elements that mostly refuse to conform to each other. My one gripe with Pylon is Briscoe's singing, which sometimes growls like she should be singing with Heart. It's not a constant thing but on a track like "M-Train" I find her style doesn’t work with the material.
Hits boasts good songs that may sound alike if you're not a fan of the genre. At times I'm happily transfixed by it all. "Stop It" sounds like the 1977 Devo song "Social Fools". "Yo-Yo" is a horrible track that sounds like the worst rejected track from Tina Weymouth's side project The Tom Tom Club. Listening to this makes me feel ashamed and embarrassed. For you it might trigger an epileptic seizure, so be sure to chomp down on a pencil if you play track 14.
r.l. crutchfied's DARK DAY - Exterminating Angel (LP review) (Lust/Unlust): Crutchfield was a member of the no wave band DNA and then released three albums under the name DARK DAY from 1980 to 1985. His take on the atonal, discordant and alienated performance art/new wave/punk of New York's late ‘70s no wave movement was cyclical minimalism in the vein of Philip Glass - here using drums, synthesizers, piano, bass and guitars. A synth is used to create the violin-sounding riffs that define the album’s sound. Crutchfield recycles that sound a little too much for his own good but the album is a dark cave of noise and feeling well worth looking into.
Crutchfield sings like Hans or Franz from Kraftwerk and his dry, effeminate detachment is both a blessing (it's kind of cool) and a curse (it's kind of pretentious). There's a great song called "No Nothing Never” fans of Tuxeedomoon should seek out – as in right now! Exterminating Angel would have done well on The Resident's label, Ralph Records. My only complaint about Exterminating Angel is that it repeats itself more than it has to. In small doses this is good enough to be scary in an arty "Sprockets" fashion. Goths with a good attention span will also enjoy this. Live this must have been some freaky s--t that either transfixed you or made you run screaming and tearing at your own flesh.
Rank And File – Sundown (1982, Rough Trade), Long Gone Dead (1984, Slash-Warner Bros.) & Sundown (1987, Rhino) (LPs review): When you've been around as long as I have you've seen bands, trends, and generations of punks come and go. You also get to see bands you like go from Great to Suck. This happened with Rank and File in three albums and five years. They had a good thing going and then who the hell knows what happened. Whoever advised the band down their path of irrelevance deserves a good panking, at the very least.
Original members Chip and Tony Kinman were in The Dils, while Alejandro Escovedeo played with The Nuns. Rank And File's 1982 debut, Sundown, is my favorite album of what was called country punk, a misnomer as it was closer to new wave than anything else. Country Punk bands had a love for Patsy Cline and Hank Williams, sounds they brought into the present with new wave drumming and a hyperactive presentation that won them few friends in Nashville. Sundown nicely mixes slower numbers with a healthy portion of faster, poppier numbers. Long Gone Dead is Rank and File as the Kinmans plus two. It could have been a lot better but the tempos are too slow and the great vocal harmonies of the Kinman brothers, especially Tony's great twangy falsetto, are muted for a more straight-ahead set of songs that fail to go beyond nice simple melodies. I experimented with my turntable and determined that most of the record should have been recorded at 40 rpms instead of what was coming out at 33 1/3. At the higher speed you can hear what the Chipmunks would sound like as a country band.
Their final release, Rank And File, is so over-produced and off the mark it’s as a textbook example of what not to do with a band given one last chance by both fans and the record industry. It recognizes the lethargy of the last album but miscalculates by reinventing the band as stadium rockers like Loverboy. Cock rock guitar hysterics replace the bluesy country feel of the earlier material, and the drumming is now that heavy, thumpy banging. Rank and File should have recorded an album that was a 50/50 compromise between traditional country and the punk the Kinmans were once known for. Instead you recorded a hard rock album with new-country pretensions. I'm listening to this right now and I'm embarrassed for the band. Honestly. As of right...........now the album is living in the dumpster out back. From Great to Suck in three short albums. Oh well.
Red Rockers - Good As Gold (LP review) (415): They’re one hit wonders with "China", but it’s a memorable tune and nothing to be ashamed of. They began as a Clash-influenced band in 1981 but turned country-punk for this 1983 release. On Good As Gold you have the hit and happily a lot more to like. Fans of Rank & File and Translator should go for this like a dog to another dog's butt. While not as consistently interesting as these other bands, Red Rockers kept a good new wave drum beat and the guitar work is inspired by great Spaghetti Western soundtracks. The only clunker on the album is "'Till It All Falls Down", which should have been buried instead of opening side two. It's funky and rocky. Yikes. I'm sure you can find this record for a buck at some geezer's garage sale. As long as you don't have to pay tax I'd say pick this up pronto, pardner.
Lou Reed - Rock N Roll Animal (LP review) (RCA): Lou Reed had a love/hate/envy thing going with David Bowie for years. Bowie was a huge fan of The Velvet Underground and paid all due respect to Lou's work. When Lou left the Velvets his career was a little above Iggy Pop's; hovering somewhere between non-existent and yesterday's fish & chips paper. Bowie used his clout to get Lou and Iggy back in the studio, contributing his name, connections and hands-on work as producer, singer and musician. Lou Reed, being a proud man, and a royal asshole, resented Bowie's fame and his own lack thereof.
Having just come off the commercial failure of 1973's Berlin, which he considered worthy of a film adaptation, Lou hit the road with some of Alice Cooper's band to prove he could produce that big stadium sound which sells millions of records. He wanted to show Bowie he was just as big a rock god. Inside he hated the tour as a personal sell-out, but he had to be happy about all the good press and decent record sales. Rock N Roll Animal reached #45 on the album charts and stayed in the top 200 for 27 weeks.
Lou Reed goes through backup bands like crazy. Some have flat-out stunk. This band was the best money could buy, and they maximize the hard rock intensity of Lou's simple guitar riffs to heights not realized before or since. The record opens with something called "Intro", which leads into "Sweet Jane", whose guitar thumbprint is as well known as any in rock history. You'll read Rock N Roll Animal is a heavy metal album, a conclusion very wrong in context. Was Alice Cooper heavy metal? Is metal today anything like it was in the early ‘70s? This record is heavy, glam, progressive rock. It’s a less soulful, harder version of Bowie's David Live. Lou isn't even on stage during "Intro", an instrumental lead-in (I'm sure Lou didn't write it) that establishes the talent of the band and the huge, deep, monumental treatment of Lou Reed songs about to come. It's the best thing on the record, even if just for the wild sense of anticipation it creates. As "Intro" blends into "Sweet Jane", Lou enters, looking like Joel Grey's Cabaret bastard child. It's Lou's music from then on, but the focus is on his band and what they've done to the music. Lou knew he was a cog in this rock’n’roll machine he created to prove a point, and this grated on his nerves to no end.
The best songs of this show at Howard Stein's Academy of Music in NYC are on this record ("Intro/Sweet Jane", "Heroin", "White Light/White Heat", "Lady Day", "Rock n' Roll"). More from this concert was released in 1975 as Lou Reed Live ("Walk On The Wild Side", "I'm Waiting For The Man", "Vicious", "Satellite Of Love", "Oh, Jim", "Sad Song"). "Walk On The Wild Side" and ""White Light/White Heat" should have switched places.
Lou followed this with Coney Island Baby and since then he's never let the spotlight drift from himself, for better or worse. 1978's live Take No Prisoners, recorded at The Bottom Line, is intimate and just as good in its own bar bluesy way. Lou spends much of the album channeling Lenny Bruce. I saw the tour either just before or after this and Lou was leading the band like it was day two of rehearsals. The more I've read about him as a person, the less interest I have in him. I find his new material dull, and have so for many years. There was a time in the ‘70s I carried a picture of him in my wallet. What can I tell you?
R.E.M. - Automatic For The People (CD review) (Warner): I've decided to listen to R.E.M. after years of floating in a blissful state of "couldn't care less". Some trivia: In the early ‘80s a local Washington DC band had to change its name from R.E.M. to Egoslavia because a new band from Athens, GA was getting big and were willing to fight for the name. Considered a new wave band at the start, R.E.M. was actually one of the first Alternative bands - as in a slight alternative to what was on rock and roll radio at the time. As far as I’m concerned R.E.M. is a punchier, updated version of folk rock. Listening to Automatic For The People I detected the influence of Gordon Lightfoot, CSN&Y, Neil Young, Harry Chapin, Simon & Garfunkel, Cat Stevens - even The Roches. Thankfully for me and them they also take from The Feelies.
Tesco Vee covered "Losing My Religion", as a joke or not I can’t say for sure. Alternative was never revolutionary. It was a series of sub-genres that appealed to those who wanted to be different – but not by much! At first I thought this CD was too slow, but the songs have all grown on me, making me want to hear more. Oh, God! Does this mean I have to get into The Smiths now too?
Refect Refect - The Future (7" review) (Kill Rock Stars): Ralph Records doesn't release odd little things like this anymore. Refect Refect is like Negativeland without the sampling or seriousness. There’s lots of silly non-sequiturs that are pretty funny and not at all pretentious. Put this on for your friends and they'll think you have too much free time and money on your hands. One side is called "Matt's Future", sung by Matt, I guess, while the other is "Sue's Future", sung by what's her name. The music on both sides are simple yet effective keyboard effects. The words are spoken as animated poetry. Fans of the Silicon Teens could relate to this. If you're one of the twelve people on Earth who remember the no wave artist R.L. Crutchfield you'll smile upon hearing this. I like it. This will get recorded on a mixed tape here at geezer punk central before disappearing for a thousand years in my cheap IKEA shelving. I thought Kill Rock Stars only released records by girly bands who hate boi-oys. Oh well, wrong again.
Refect Refect - What's Your Defect? (7" review) (Kill Rock Stars): While not as interesting or creative as their 7” The Future, I can see why K distributed this. It’s lo-fi and arty, with cheap, over-amplified instruments and off-kilter harmonies. The three songs on the B-side sound like Beat Happening. The A-side is a longish spoken word backed by beatniks randomly touching their instruments. The woman in this sounds a lot like Sandra Bernhart. Does she annoy you too?
These lyrics were printed on the label of the single, "My boredom has met your boredom. I back down to it in the corner in the room filled with people. I tire more of myself than anyone else. Wish I could hang out with someone different. The bookshelves tower over me and I see: oh! it's books of random facts. Key to the art of conversation. To make myself more interesting. My mind becomes so bright you can read a newspaper by me forty miles away. So I've a new line, a tidbit: 'So...what's your defect?' C'est la vie, finis, et toi, au revoir".
If you think this is deep poetry, snap your fingers repeatedly instead of applauding. I find this more grating than anything else because the people who write like this most always take themselves too seriously, and they expect you to acknowledge their monumental artistic pain or else they'll look down on you more than they do already. When Ego combines with Art and Pretentiousness you have what passes for most poetry scenes. Ah yes, the artistic romance of the self.
Steve Reich & the Kronos Quartet - Different Trains (LP review) (Elektra): Since it's the Kronos Quartet's 25th anniversary I pulled this out for another listen. I had forgotten how powerful Different Trains is. The Kronos Quartet lends two violins, viola and cello to Reich's best work. Reich is one of the founders of the minimalist movement and pioneered the use of tape loops and sampling. Like Phillip Glass and Mike Oldfield, Reich works with cycles of sound that circle like the moons of a planet, adding layers of texture and variations on simple themes. When it doesn't work the results can be dull and repetitious. When it does work, as it does here beautifully, the music sweeps you up and you can almost feel your body moving. Surrealism is either very effective or very annoying.
Different Trains places you inside both the trains of Steve Reich's youth as the child of divorced parents and the trains Nazis used to transport Jews to certain death in concentration camps. Reich notes, "If I had been in Europe during this period, as a Jew I would have had to ride very different trains." He recorded memories of his now elderly governess and those of a retired Pullman porter, in addition to recordings of Holocaust survivors and European train sounds of the ‘30s and ‘40s. Trains whistles, air-raid sirens, vocal samples and the Kronos Quartet combine to create moods and intensities impossible to achieve in louder, faster styles. It’s the horror of the quiet after a massacre and the deliberate planning of mass extermination.
Kronos' job was to imitate the speech melodies of the samples used. They recorded four separate tracks, which were then combined via sampling keyboards and a computer with words and train sounds. The result is a work of art expressed through sound. This 26 minutes piece in three movements is for late at night when there’s only you and your fears.
Here are the word samples from part II - During The War: "1940" "On my birthday" "The Germans walked in" "Walked into Holland" "Germans invaded Hungary" "I was in second grade" "I had a teacher" "A very tall man, his hair was concretely plastered smooth" "He said, 'Black Crows invaded our country many years ago'" "And he pointed right at me" "No more school" "You must go away" "And she said 'Quick, go!'" "And he said, 'Don't breathe!'" "Into those cattle wagons" "For four days and four nights" "And then we went through these strange sounding names" "Polish names" "Lots of cattle wagons there" "They were loaded with people" "They shaved us" "They tattooed a number on our arm" "Flames going up to the sky - it was smoking"
If anyone ever needed some perspective on their lives its punks and goths, whose complaints are often intellectual diversions for middle class kids who do have a decent future ahead of them. Just as the movie Scared Straight was shown to city kids to deter them from a life of crime, Different Trains should be required listening for every blue hair and cosmetics addict who thinks their troubles are the worst this world has to offer. Only an asshole complains about cheap shoes to a man who has no legs.
Renaldo and the Loaf - Songs For Swinging Larvae (LP review) (Ralph): Renaldo and the Loaf are a band only the Residents could sign. They worked together on 1983's excellent Title In Limbo, producing some of the best work of the Resident's catalog. Renaldo was the more technically talented band but never came close to the Resident's popularity.
Renaldo and the Loaf were two Englishmen, David Janssen and Brian Poole. Here's the instruments they play on Songs For Swinging Larvae; guitar, mandolin, bouzouki, drums, floc drums, diverse percussives, Ted's metal comb, Loop to Sobstory, voice, clarinet, loops, scalpel wielding, prepared guitar, hacksaw blade, and bass guitar. The music is as bizarre as the instruments (and those who play them, for sure). As side one ends, the needle moves to a grooved loop with a voice singing "Boom Boom Crash Crash". Side two opens with the same loop. This is a record where one man sings like Mickey Mouse accompanied by the kazoo, then the next second a bell tolls over a loop of a backwards voice. This isn't for the weak of ear. A high tolerance for Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart might qualify you for this, but these guys are more Dr. Demento than even that. They sure are talented, you have to grant them that no matter what you think. If they wrote this sober and straight, Renaldo and the Loaf may be clinically insane. The tracks are more sonic collages than actual songs, and the end result is creativity either at its best or worst. It's a close call but I like it.
Are Renaldo and the Loaf stranger than the Residents? Musically they have more talent and their structures are more complicated. I think they have the technical skill to be stranger than the Residents, but Renaldo comes across as eccentrics, whereas the Residents can be downright demented. Putting an actual photograph of a woman giving head to an infant on the reel-to-reel box for Baby Sex has to make the Residents the more twisted band.
The Residents (review) - I know who The Residents are and you don't! If you don’t and you’re paying even the slightest attention you should too. Internet sources spill the beans, so search for it if you must. The answer is as shocking as the nose on your face.
In 1984 People Magazine called the Residents the most popular unknown band in the world, which is probably true (they've always been big in Japan and right now they're huge in former Soviet Bloc countries). They formed around 1972, producing reel-to-reel tapes inspired by Sun Ra, Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa, John Cage, Harry Patch, and Moondog. We're talking off-key tunings, chaotic sound structures, familiar songs bastardized nearly beyond recognition, the use of toy and found instruments and a nightmarish blend of blues, jazz, classical and rock forms. Mostly known through their music, The Residents insist they’re artists who create in all media forms. Never ones to seek the spotlight, they have adopted a number of disguises over the years for their few public appearances. In 1978 they introduced the tuxedo with giant eyeball head look and that's been their signature ever since.
Who and what are The Residents? They began as five college friends from Louisiana who moved to Northern California, trimmed down to four, then in the mid ‘80s probably dropped two more members. In the past, women have assumed the roles of at least two Residents in concert. What they are, more so today, are a San Francisco--based performance art group who actively recruit talent from the local avant-garde arts community. Multi-media artists who covet new technologies in their infancy, The Residents were pioneers of electronic music, video and CD ROM technologies. Experts in the history and evolution of American popular music, The Residents regurgitate visions of culture and history as perversions manipulated by wires of inevitability, at a sideshow where "Everyone comes to the freak show, to laugh at the freaks and the geeks, everyone comes to the freak show, but nobody laughs when they leave."
The quality of their work ebbs and flows with their ever-changing ideas and attention spans. Projects start and stop with regularity, some finished years later and others abandoned to the ashes. The Residents are not a punk or new wave band. They are a performance art collective. Their remake of "Satisfaction" in 1976 hit a nerve with punks who appreciated the attack on The Rolling Stones, and the songs on Duck Stab found a new wave audience who enjoyed silly strangeness for its own sake, but for the most part they appeal to Zappa/Beefheart cultists and demented artistic minds everywhere. Sure, there may be weirder sounding bands, but The Residents are the old-time real deal. An early reel-to-reel tape, 1971's Baby Sex, had as its cover a photograph of a woman giving oral pleasure to an infant. The thing was never released, but still…1988's God In 3 Persons is a twisted tale told beautifully, and you might imagine it would make a great PBS special until you get to the end where Mr. X., crazed with lust and confusion, tries to separate the Siamese twins with a knife, and then has intercourse with the bloody open wound. The Residents hit the Self-Destruct button on this opportunity.
Their body of work is uneven and often underdeveloped, but... but, when the mood is right, listening to Cube E live show is enough to make me realize that The Residents are a gift to the world. On some days their firm grasp of the dark underbelly of American culture terrifies me. Other days I just feel they're wasting my time. I live for the good days.
What's my take on the Residents?
At times they exhibit a scary knowledge of the history of American music. Some
of their work is pure genius, while others should never have been released. The
quality of any Residents product is in direct proportion to how inspired they
are, and some days are much better than others. If you're a fan of
Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa, you should enjoy The Residents. If weirdness
isn't your cup of something, run away and don't look back. The Residents are
performance artists, not musicians, and as you all know, when you hear the words
Performance Art, anything (or nothing) can happen because quality is in the mind
of the artist, not the audience.
Projects of Note:
Meet The Residents (1973): Their first album after a number of reel-to-reel tapes and the original "Santa Dog" 7". The first pressing's cover was an alteration of the Beatle's Meet The Beatles, which raised a stink with The Beatle's label and lent the band some media exposure . The Beatles themselves couldn’t care less. It's obvious here The Residents are barely talented as musicians. Toy instruments supplement traditional instruments like piano, horns and guitars. Effects come through tape editing and cheap electronic manipulation. What they did have was an advanced sense of the absurd. Meet The Residents is more of a set of ideas than actual songs. From the liner notes: "The instruments on this record have been tuned to approximate Western culture harmonies and artistic freedom is assumed for the right to substitute normal instruments when necessary." The question raised by this album is: Did (and do) The Residents fabricate their image of Dada Deconstructionists to cover up for an inability to make conventional recordings, or did they internalized all the lessons and meanings of popular music to the point where all they could create are grotesque pieces of sensory overload?
Vileness Fats (filmed from 1972-76, released in short form in 1984): If you need proof The Residents need to be restrained for their own good, this is it. Over four years they filmed over fourteen hours of unintelligible nonsense (they're The Residents!). Years later they edited some parts into an hour-long video, recorded a soundtrack and released it on video and vinyl. Vileness Fats makes no sense at all. Eraserhead is a child's puzzle in comparison. The Forbidden Zone is the closest thing you'll find to this. The intended plot involves a love triangle between both sides of a schizophrenic character and an Indian Princess. One personality is the leader of the townspeople while the other is the leader of a group of bandits outside of town. This fascination with clashing cultures later became an obsession with the Mole Trilogy. The album contains some good mood pieces and the sax screechings are great, but they don't work as a movie soundtrack. Over the years The Residents created soundtracks that rarely if ever transcended their own quirkiness long enough to be viable for commercial film use. 7 stars. Favorite line: "Never a word from this Mortimer Snerd".
Fingerprince (1976): Conceived as a three-sided album, the lonely third side was released separately as Babyfingers in 1979. Side A contains ideas formed during the Not Available sessions and shows a movement away from what Ralph describes as The Residents' "Train Of Consciousness" format. The eight songs show a lot of structure, for The Residents. Side B is a 17:48 minute ballet composed for a performance at the San Francisco Museum Of Modern Art. Later canceled. It would have been the oddest ballet in recorded history. Interesting but not exciting. 5 stars. Favorite line "Chew Chew Gum Chew Gum Gum Chew Chew..."
The Third Reich 'N Roll (1976): A nightmarish deconstruction of ‘60s pop classics Resident-ified to the point of near incomprehension, blended together in a format requiring intense concentration to follow. The first side is titled "Swastikas On Parade" and the second "Hitler Was A Vegetarian". The Nazi references and imagery weren't serious and they weren't a joke either. It was all Dada. Do they love or hate these songs they butcher? Who knows. The Residents claim thirty songs are involved, including "Hey Jude", "Good Lovin', "Wipeout", "96 Tears", "Gloria", "Sympathy For The Devil" and "Poppa's Got A Brand New Bag". Lacking song structure, or maybe The Residents didn't know how to start and finish a tune, the parts smash into each other in a manner suggesting homemade tape looping and editing. Censored copies covering up the Nazi images were printed for the German market.. It’s primitive but it works. 8 stars.
Duck Stab (Buster And Glen) (1978): Proof The Residents could write catchy songs with a defined beginning and end. It’s the strangest album your boring friends might actually enjoy. On my birthday I only do two things: eat Chinese food and listen to "Birthday Boy". Favorite lines: "Hide from the tongue! The tongue is coming! Cruising! Oozing! Over land and under ashes, In the sunlight, see - it flashes/Find a fly and eat his eye/But don't believe in me.." 8 stars.
Not Available (1978): Released by Ralph without The Resident's permission (or so the legend goes) four years after it was recorded, Not Available is a hauntingly beautiful album. Under the “Theory Of Obscurity” the band wasn't going to release it until they had forgotten it even existed. I think this theory was a fabrication designed to mock the pretentiousness of music theory in general. Divided into four parts, Not Available is a tightening of the cut-and-paste randomness of earlier Residents recordings. Some of the music was borrowed from the Vileness Fats film in production at the same time. Solidly based in grand piano and screeching yet soulful sax, Not Available reminds me of Fats Waller wrung through The Resident's wringer. A very underrated work. Favorite line: "The breakin', and the achin', are the makin' of the soul". 9 stars.
Eskimo (1979): "This album attempts to recreate not only the Eskimo ceremonial music, but also a living context for its existence, in the form of Eskimo stories. Although on the record the stories are told purely with sound, a written account is provided to aid your appreciation of this unique culture. For maximum enjoyment, this record should be listened to with headphones while reading the enclosed verbal accounts of what you hear. The disc should be played in its entirety and in the proper sequence of sides. A relaxed state of mind is essential. Warm clothing or a blanket should be within easy reach."
What a ‘70s concept this was. Get stoned, listen to sounds of cold winds and read stories while listening to headphones the size of salad bowls. It's neat reading the stories along with the record, but on its own the album offers only muted "windy" soundscapes similar to earlier works. Like Penn Jillette said in exasperation, "Tap your foot to wind". Concept - 7 stars. Execution - 5 stars.
Diskomo/Goosebump (1980): "Diskomo" was a follow-up to Eskimo. You can bet this was recorded to mock the "Hooked-On-45" phenomenon then sweeping the nation, which took existing hits and mixed in simple electronic-disco beats. The fake cover sticker screams "Disco Will Never Die!" The eight minute A-side is a hoot, right up there with the Sex Pistols' "Black Arab" mix. The medley has a distinct Japanese sound. The B-side is a four-song collaboration with Half Japanese's Jad Fair. Every sound originated with toy instruments purchased at Toys-R-Us. In the studio they were tweaked all the way up the wazoo. Children's nursery rhymes are given the Residents treatment, and Jad's involvement keeps the Rez boys focused and more accessible, unlike Eskimo. 8 stars.
The Commercial Album (1980): Forty songs, each approximately a minute long. Some songs were extended while others were shortened. Brilliant kernels of ideas explored for a minute or so. It's their attempt at making a Residents top-40, an irony for a band with a self-imposed inability to achieve commercial success. The four One Minute Movies they filmed are considered some of the first music videos. XTC's Andy Partridge sings on "Margaret Freeman" and Lene Lovich on "Picnic Boy". The cover art is their best so far. 9 stars.
The Mark Of The Mole (1981): The first of the Mole Trilogy, the story makes little sense and the songs don't shed much light on the confusion. From "The Story So Far": "The Mohelmot people live underground in the desert in gigantic ant-like colonies. They are primitive and superstitious. Music has a ritualistic purpose that supports their love of darkness and their belief in work. A quirky storm causes water to fill their holes and forces them to cross the desert to seek another land. On the coast they meet the jolly Chubs who seem eager to welcome the exotic "Moles". Soon it is apparent that the welcome has more to do with cheap labor than true acceptance. The Chub culture as reflected through their music is superficial and pleasure oriented. Tension eventually mounts and a form of war breaks out between the two groups..."
This is the Residents' version of life for the Oakies during the Dust Bowl of the Great Depression. Or maybe it's the Resident's own feelings on moving from the Deep South to San Francisco. Either way it's hard to follow and the music is captive to that confusion. The Residents built massive sets and toured the disaster-filled Mole Show. The Mole Trilogy is a road they never should have traveled in the first place. 4 stars
10th Anniversary Special (1982): It was a scam but the concept is genius. Ralph Records hired Penn Jillette, gonzo magician and the voice of Comedy Central, to stay in a cheap hotel room for six days and listen to every Ralph Records release from the (then) last ten years. He can't leave or do anything else but listen to these albums. As he listens he talks into a microphone. Over the six days you hear him slowly go crazy with cabin fever, not helped by the Ralph catalog of unpopular music. Penn begins with an open mind, eager to please the faceless people paying him, yet the sounds he is forced to endure offends his more traditional tastes. Eventually they drive him to the edge of sanity where he comes back with a new-found appreciation of Ralph Records. Like I said this was all a joke. Penn was a friend of the band and even toured with The Mole Show. It’s cool, though. The LP version contains a twenty minute mix of the Ralph catalog. "Tap your foot to wind" indeed. 8 stars.
Title In Limbo (1983): A collaboration with England's Renaldo and the Loaf, the two groups recorded ideas in the studio, which The Residents then worked on until the project was finished, most of the vocals provided by Renaldo's Brian Poole. The Residents' impulses to noodle are held in check (at least on side one) and eleven actual songs emerge. "Monkey & Bunny" and "Mahogany Wood" are some of their best work. Side A, 10 stars, Side B, 6 stars.
The Big Bubble (1985): Part 4 of The Mole Show Trilogy (there never was a third), The Big Bubble is notable mostly for the human faces on the cover. Fans speculated a real Resident or two may be amongst them. Only the grinning geek up front is old enough to be an original Resident, but who knows for sure. Sung in the nonsense language of the Mohelmot, the album has the feel of a live recording performed with strong conviction if nothing else. Snakefinger's guitar is put to full use. "Cry For The Fire" was a highlight of their 13th Anniversary Tour. 5 stars.
The Census Taker (1985): A commissioned score for a low budget film of the same name starring Saturday Night Live's Garrett Morris, new music was recorded while some older material was re-worked. A much better attempt at soundtrack music than Vileness Fats, but you'd need to see the film before passing final judgment. There’s one thing I know for sure, and that’s for The Residents to be involved this must be one weird ass movie! 7 stars.
The 13th Anniversary Show (1986): A band that neither enjoyed nor benefited from touring, after thirteen years the Residents visited Japan in 1986 when a Japanese label commissioned two weeks of concerts. Nineteen year old American fan Rich Shupe talked them into an American tour and acted as their road manager. The Residents doubted anyone cared. Shupe contacted booking agents, who at first thought it was a prank. 24 shows in 18 cities were quickly booked. I saw the show in Washington, DC and am looking right now at a framed concert poster from that night. One of the eyeballs was stolen during the tour (later recovered) and the black skull made its first appearance. Memorial armbands for the stolen eye were for sale in the lobby. Stage lighting was provided by hand-held spotlights and the stage was littered with inflatable giraffe-looking things. I noticed two of The Residents were women. Did The Residents lose a few members or were they there but not dressed as Residents? My guess is that the Black Skull and the singer are the two remaining original members. A nice retrospective of their career, Snakefinger on guitar was the main force and he kept The Residents from drifting off into Dada Land never to be seen again. 9 stars.
God In 3 Persons (1988): A shift from the discordant past to a streamlined, cleaner sound, The Residents created a masterpiece of storytelling that borrows the concept of Eskimo and makes it commercially viable. This is their first release outside of Ralph Records, and this association with Rykodisc indicated a desire to reach a wider audience. The music is an instrumental score to the spoken story told by Mr. X, a sado-masochistic drifter who falls in with a pair of androgynous, Siamese twin faith healers. This is something you have to listen to in the dark with headphones, so you can figuratively taste the dust of the small towns they visit. A shorter instrumental-only LP came out, but it doesn't allow you to read the words to the music. Easily an album you can share with your normal friends, up till the point where Mr. X. has intercourse with the bloody open wound he's opened in the twins with a knife. The story makes for good reading around a campfire, especially if you talk in the same sleepy southern drawl as Mr. X. Best line, "Sadly now I see the answer/All her life she was a dancer, but no one ever played the song she knew". 9 stars.
Buckaroo Blues, Black Barry, The King & Eye, CUBE E (1989): The high point and creative culmination of their career, Buckaroo Blues, The King & Eye and the live CUBE E tour present The Residents as insightful, commercially viable multi-media artists and true visionaries with a real understanding of the history of American popular music. It is a recounting of the evolution of popular music through old west cowboy country, slave-era spirituals, and gospel, and how they came together in Elvis Aaron Presley, the Baby King of the story. The show I saw was astounding. When the cube-headed giant spread its arms ten feet out I swear I lost all track of time and place. That this was never filmed is a crime. The live album is great, and it’s both cool enough for your artiest friends and Residents enough for their most eccentric old-school followers. 10++ stars.
Freak Show (1991): An album, a CD ROM, a comic novel and a staged play in Europe – The residents got a lot of mileage out of what is essentially a dull set of songs. The CD-ROM came out in 1993 and blew everyone away. Nicely realized by Jim Ludtke, Freak Show is an interactive adventure into the minds of The Residents and the lives of the freaks they've created. Exploring the trailers of the freaks adds acres of dimension to the songs and videos (mostly panels from the graphic novel). Strong visuals and technical innovation more than compensate for songs that lack riffs and intensity. There's a sterile quality to instrumentation here where the material calls for something more ugly and abrasive. Album: 3 stars. CD ROM: 10 stars. Graphic Novel 10 stars.
Our Finest Flowers (1992): The Residents' version of a greatest hits package to celebrate their 20th anniversary. There were already so many Residents hit collections available so I guess they had no choice but to bastardize their own work. Song and lyric fragments are mixed together with excellent results. By now some fanatic with free time has probably figured out the source of every riff and word. There’s minimal instrumentation but everything is perfectly conceived and executed. “Kick A Picnic” is now one of their recognized greatest hits.
From the liner notes, a story I don't believe for a minute but it does serve as classic Residents myth-making: "Some people thought a nice collection of ‘greatest hits’ would be a suitable observance. So The Residents tried to write down their ‘greatest hits’ until suddenly one of the guys got a stomach ache and threw up on the song listing. The guy that made the mess had to wash the list off and in the process pretty well smeared the ink all around the paper. Everybody thought it was funny so they started reading the words, or at least what the words looked like. "Perfect Goat", one said. ‘I think we should put that on our album’. They knew the vomit was no accident, it was an omen. They tore the paper into little pieces and dropped them onto the floor. It was still wet. Some of the pieces you couldn't read anymore, but they didn't seem to care. Somehow, ideas came from these torn slips. And sure enough, "Perfect Goat" did make it on the album. Along with fifteen other tracks that Dr. Frankenstein would have surely been proud to have stitched together. Yes, these are new songs. Just like all good pop music, there is something familiar about them, something friendly. But as you listen, never forget that vomit is at their core: twenty long years of painful regurgitation". 9 stars.
Gingerbread Man (1994): First an expanded-album CD-ROM and then a soundtrack CD, this is the opposite of Freak Show in that the ROM stinks and the CD is great. These nine stories narrated over music would make a great stage performance. The music cycles around the children's song "Run, run fast as you can, you can't catch me, I'm the Gingerbread Man". Stories of loss, fear, bitterness and failure are acted out by Todd Rundgren and San Francisco performance artists. The ROM contains some fascinating images but there's no rhyme or reason to anything. Woodcut heads spin around and the screen and things change randomly as you hit the keyboard. It goes nowhere quickly. CD 9 stars. ROM 2 stars.
Bad Day On The Midway CD ROM & Have A Bad Day CD: DO NOT BUY THIS SOUNDTRACK! I have no idea what this is, but it sure isn’t a soundtrack album. The Residents call it a “treatment”. What’s in it? Music, background noises and lines used by characters in the Resident’s CD-ROM Bay Day On The Midway. I imagine this was compiled in a few hours by whichever Resident picked the short straw. I doubt new material was recorded for this. I bought the ROM the day it came out, and after hours of play I was able to find only one resolution to the game. When the cheat book came out I ran to the store with a list of questions I needed answered, all a variation on “what’s behind the doors?” Know what? There’s nothing behind the doors. The game is one big red herring. And, it was voted best of the year! This only proves the CD-ROM industry is still in its infancy. Whatever impressed the critics couldn’t have been anything to do with how playable the game is. As far as places to go and things to do, I thought this had a lot more potential. Have A Bad Day the soundtrack is mainly soundscapes of sounds and words from the game, and if you’ve never played Bay Day On The Midway this won’t make any sense. If you’ve played the game you’ll be sick of this by now. I think they called this CD a treatment because there’s a distinct lack of songs. It’s nice to hear the only real tune from the CD-ROM, “Lottie The Human Log”, the most cheerful thing they’ve yet to record. Word has it this is being developed into a TV series?!
Our Tired, Our Poor, Our Huddled Masses (2 CDs) (Cryptic/Ryko): Who has more greatest hits collections, The Residents or The Beatles? It's probably a close call. For a relatively unknown band they sure do this kind of thing often. Maybe the quest is to come up with a collection you can present to your friends without them thinking the Residents suck and you're some kind of lunatic. Rez fans take pride in the fact that their version of "Satisfaction" was repellent, but face it, the song sucks. It's abrasive for the sake of shock value and shows none of the humor and musical insight that makes The Residents cool. Five seconds in and you get the point. Now turn it off, my ears are bleeding.
This 25th anniversary two CD set (Four CDs if you’re rich) is an excellent introduction to the band. Most of the people who'll plop down $20 bucks for this should already own most of these recordings, but the challenge of putting together a comprehensive yet listenable set of Residents tunes has been met. The albums The Third Reich 'N' Roll, Fingerprince, Eskimo, Have A Bad Day and Freak Show are presented as medleys, which works out well because the Resident's work is often highly conceptual and for new fans the scope of each of these albums might be better appreciated in these condensed versions.
The enclosed booklet is well written and doesn't present the myth of The Residents as anything more than necessary bulls--t for a band whose reputation is based on anonymity and obfuscation. I mean, if you still believe The Residents are four guys from Louisiana and not two original members (if not one) and a collection of local San Francisco talent, your Stupid Tax payment is due to my home address. If I haven't scared you off already, buy this and you won't be sorry. The collection is great. 10 stars
Eyesore: A Stab At The Residents (tribute CD) (Vaccination): Here's my big fear about bands covering The Residents: All you have to do is sing in weird voices, bang toy instruments and play your synthesizer off-key in an artistic exercise in Art Damage. That's partly true here, but the bands are uniformly talented and the recording quality is excellent. Through Ralph Records you can still buy the three tape The Residents Unmasked Collection, something even a Residents fanatic only listens to once.
Eyesore contains 35 songs from 32 bands like Primus (who worship them), Idiot Flesh, and Snakefinger (The 5th Resident). Stan Ridgway appears on an answering tape apologizing for not having anything to contribute. Sadly, Ism's punk cover of "Constantinople" is missing. Penn Jillette wrote the liner notes and admits The 10th Anniversary Radio Special was a sham. He only pretended he had never heard of The Residents and their music. The songs span the many years of The Residents career, most attention given to 87's Duck Stab and 80's Commercial Album. 7 stars only because covering The Residents is a daunting task.
Hunters: The World Of Predators And Prey (1995): Commissioned to provide instrumental music for the "Hunters" series on The Discovery Channel, The Residents finally get it right and produce appropriate soundtrack music that doesn't remind you of a bad science fiction film. Based in African rhythms, these twelve pieces express context but do not intrude. I guess somebody finally sat them down and explained that soundtrack work isn't about The Residents, it's about being appropriate to the subject matter. I don't hear any recycled riffs from fifteen years ago either. As a soundtrack 8 stars. For home listening 5 stars (it can get boring).
Wormwood (1998): (update: I really like this now but I can't tell you how pissed I was on the first listen. The opening track sounds like it came from the Bad Day On The Midway soundtrack which should never have seen the light of day.)
Open letter to The Residents: Stop it right now. I mean it! You and I both have no idea what you're doing these days and I need for you to focus. Focus. Please. I've grown to like this CD, but here's my concerns:
1. Is this a concept album or a soundtrack to a stage show that may never set foot out of SF? This sure isn't a self-contained work. The songs start to make sense if you read the bible stories in the liner notes, but even then they're vague. What this thing needs is running narration. I'll bet the stage show has it (It did). God In 3 Persons was beautifully self-contained and told stories in vivid detail. All I got out of the song about Jeremiah was the line "My name is Mr. Misery".
2. What's the deal with the drums? The Residents are just not a "drums" kind of band. At times I was unhappy reminded of the cheesy 1984 play "Chess" with its electro-pop hit "One Night In Bangkok".
3. It's nice to have someone else besides Big Rez sing every once in a while, but just like nobody went to see the Ramones to hear CJ, Residents fans want to hear you, Green Eyeball, YOU! Not every third member of San Francisco's performance art community.
It sounds as if the songs on Wormwood not sung by Big Rez were (at least initially) scored by non-Residents. This might account for the off-Broadway chill you feel every so often. "Spilling The Seed" is the worst offender in this regard. "Tent Peg In The Temple" is a remake of Gingerbread Man, an underwhelming CD-ROM but great concept that should have been performed live. There's a lot of good music but it could have been nastier and more self-explanatory.
Residents fans were made to drool for months over this. Imagine, the sickest minds in music bastardizing the bible's most twisted tales. The results are mostly tame. There's not much here to impel the religious right to take up guns and overrun the Cryptic Corporation building.
On a happy note, I heard a healthy amount of sounds that harkened back to Title In Limbo, an earlier collaboration with Renaldo and the Loaf. This was confirmed by a review of the Residents' recent performances in San Francisco. The last encore was "Walter Westinghouse".
There's liner notes in the bottom of the plastic CD, written by fan club maven Uncle Willie. Here's the last paragraph: "The stories and ideas represented here are definitely in the Bible. The desire is to neither vilify nor sanctify the book, but to allow it to be humanized. For the Bible to be looked upon as spiritually uplifting is good and useful, but that view overlooks the Bible's abundant images of plague, torture, and cruelty. It is this dichotomy that gives balance and substance to the book. Without both, the dark and the light, there is no measure of either, only the bland reassurances that pass for organized religion today." Testify, Uncle Willy, Testify!!!!
The Residents - General Store (cd review): I haven't totally given up on The Residents but I'm surely not enjoying their flailing and sputtering over the last, oh, nine years. They let Molly Harvey escape after Demons Dance Alone and since then The Singing Resident has allowed a steady march of strangers into the studio to record under the Residents name whatever the hell it is they've released in a mad race to double their discography by the middle of next week. It's like they expect to only sell a few hundred of anything so why not open the floodgates? I still find it strange that Residents fans still can't just come out and say who the Singing Resident is. Follow the money, or lack thereof. It's Occam's Razor, not rocket science.
The limited edition (aren't they all now?) instrumental collection Dollar General is surprisingly very good. I hear only a tiny discernable Residential quality to it, a good thing based on the past decade, but it's impressive alone in what it accomplishes using what has to be the zero budget and available technology at wherever The Residents record in San Francisco. The Residents toured for years with a xylophone player instead of a drummer, and he's heavily involved on this recording partly inspired by Balinese Gamelan music. Since they reveal almost nothing about their operation I'd even hazard a guess that no original Resident was involved in writing or performing Dollar General. Prove me wrong American Residents fans who look and lurk like the Unibomber, or any European Rez fanatic who chooses their favorite bands and philosophers using the same criteria.
The cd's hook is that it's played before the band comes on during the Talking Lights tour, which would have been a much better show if it was built around Dollar General instead of the ugly, shapeless music; grunted mumbly singing; storytelling that builds up to not much; and a visual gimmick that got old a third of the way through the performance. Mix new songs with lyrics based on the vibe of Dollar General, add instrumental transition pieces, toss in old hits using the same instruments, and that's a great show. Biz Rez should give up on storytelling. His ass can't cash the checks his mouth writes. He admited it openly when referring to Bunny Boy.
The sixteen tracks in one sitting tax the attention span but individually each piece has a lot going for it, particularly in depth and texture. I sample "War Zone" because it ends like the Twin Peaks theme song and "Hazzled By Mamasan" because it's the loudest and busiest. I'll once again state my wish for The Residents to put on one last tour called "The Residents Unmasked", telling the true story of the band and having whatever original band members come out and perform in and out of costume. The web of lies that makes up the Residents mythology isn't worth taking to the grave. There's no great mystery about The Residents beyond simple unanswered logistical and personnel questions. They would make for a great story - for a change for old time's sake.
Animal Lover (CD review): My relationship
must be like what Chicago Cubs fans go through, but what do I know, since, to
paraphrase the cop from
I follow baseball like old people f—k. I’m their unofficial and unwanted career
advisor. I WANT them to be successful, and so does Big Rez in spite of the
self-destruct mechanism in his DNA. The sad speech at the end of the Demons
Dance Alone show was textbook
Munchausen By Proxy.
Big Rez is the leader and maybe only remaining original member. Potbelly Rez might be too. Gawd, everybody with a passing interest knows who the Residents are by now. The mystery angle reeks of staleness. Molly Harvey is 50% of the Residents as a reason to like them. She’s great.
The reviews generally understand The Residents and Animal Lover pretty well, which means they’re understood and taken seriously by the media. At least as much as their recordings warrant. The Popmatters review is especially good, so read it and I’ll go from there.
The Residents are brilliant but suffer from ADD and Big Ideas. They start with huge plans and end with whatever they’re able to pull together. Animal Lover is very successful as a reel of ideas to be mixed down into something great as a touring show. What The Residents really need is a guru with experience staging performances that appeal to the PBS crowd. That’s the money and the future of the franchise. The fans will follow no matter what, and anyone expecting Eskimo Jr. should be shot. The Residents refer to themselves in everything they do so the fans should be pleased as punch if their band gets it right in widening their appeal.
On Animal Lover the Ry Cooder –Stan Ridgway film score elements work well. The choruses STINK and should be deleted entirely. The guitar has been happily freed from its Snakefinger-Is-Dead-Long-Live-Snakefinger restrictions. Molly’s “ugly” voices are more tolerable than Big Rez’s. The kettle drum sound on the xylophone synth is intense, impressive and most of all entertaining to an audience.
As a performance this should be pared down to one continuous hour, mixing instrumentals, songs with lyrics and performance elements in a sequence that flows, moves and does not repeat. The biggest problem with Residents shows since the Cube-E Tour (stunning but never filmed. Bastards!) is that they have Big Rez and company repeat shtick. In Wormwood they waved props around randomly. Icky Flix and Disfigured Night had Molly and Big Rez moving around each other as they interacted. Sorry to say this but Biz Rez should limit his up-front time and keep the ugly to a minimum. They should also realize that simply playing music as a band can be just as interesting as seeing a stage show.
Hey, it only took two songs for them to say penis in the context of dismemberment. Remember how God In 3 Persons ended? That’s right, with Mr. X raping a knife wound. Self-destruction in 5,4,3,2,1…boooooooom.
Animal Lover has a lot of greatness in it and it’s a step up in a number of ways from other recent albums. It’s just that it’s formless and in need of both paring and reassembly. I know what’s better for The Residents then The Residents do. It’s my blessing and my curse.
Open Letter To The Residents:
The Residents are not a punk band. They’re a performance art collective. In the ‘70s they were the most perverted example of what Captain Beefheart was getting away with. Sure, there are weirder bands. Their work is uneven and often underdeveloped, but... when they get it right they do so in a way nobody else can touch.
If you're asking "The residents of what?" you won't understand or care about anything I'm writing about, but if you named your cat "Santa Dog" and know where Skinny was born, this one's for you, you freak. I have no right to tell The Residents what to do after their almost thirty years of existence, but as a fan whose passion for their work runs from love to hate to indifference, here's my career advice to a band at a crossroads of their existence, at a time the band is acknowledging they're looking for new recruits to keep the concept going into the future.
The first thing The Residents need to do is realize who they are and what they need to accomplish. When they came together in the early ‘70s their music was experimental to say the least, but not totally unheard of since Zappa and Beefheart were well established by then. They found a measure of popularity when new wave and punk bloomed in the late ‘70s, and starting with God In Three Persons in 1988 The Residents shifted their focus to stage-oriented performance pieces and multimedia work. In their own anti-commercial way The Residents willingly sold out to commercial expectations. I'm all for that and I want them to succeed. I just don't think they're going about it correctly, and as usual with The Residents it's a matter of not focusing enough on the task at hand, in this case an analysis of where they stand in the cultural marketplace.
The Residents would do well to realize they now operate in the realm of the Blue Man Group and Cirque Du Soleil. What The Residents have to sell, and what I think they're trying to present, is a spectacle of music, dance and theatre. They need to consult with outsiders who can help them better deliver on the premise and promise of their capacity to thrill a large audience of alterna-culture vultures. I attended the Wormwood show in Los Angeles and intentionally judged the performance in terms of how it might be perceived by someone who has never heard of The Residents. Wormwood failed because the pacing bogged down (dirges played back to back) and the reliance on a single prop for each song was a sorely missed opportunity to do something more than wave around a rolled carpet, for example, for five minutes.
The Cube E shows of 1989-90 were a success on every level, and of course it was never filmed in its entirety. God In 3 Persons could have been a great piece of theater except it's problematic to present the scene where the drifter (Mr. X, indeed) tries to violently separate Siamese twins with a knife, and then decides to have sex with the wound!! Sometimes I detect a self-destruct mechanism at work. Gingerbread Man could have made for a nice, intimate, cheap-as-dirt performance art tour, while Freak Show and Bad Day On The Midway would be much more effective as films.
The Residents are famous for being the most popular unknown band in the world. They hide behind eyeball masks of anonymity and, according to the hype, are free to produce art outside the realms of celebrity and personal identity. The published history of the band is a series of half-truths and fabrications, while the media see their identities as prosthetic eyeball heads. It’s all very quaint and all but it's time to drop the act because in the new millennium it's holding them back. Residents fans are fairly intelligent as a group, and they must know by now the real identity of The Residents. If I could figure it out, so could a family of sea monkeys.
I'm not a bean spiller, but it is common knowledge The Residents are no longer a musical group per say but a collective of artists. For the long-term sake of the project known as The Residents, they should identify themselves by name and offer anyone who participates the right to claim credit for the work they produce. If Molly Harvey left Ralph Records because she was not allowed to bask in the glory of her contributions, that would be a crying shame because she’s talented and a real asset. For the sake of The Residents' future viability they shouldn't make membership as attractive as the witness protection program.
While they're going about the business of recruiting a new generation of performers, the original Residents should unmask themselves and offer the true history of the band. The myths wore out their welcome long ago. Now's the time to rekindle interest on the part of the media. A tell-all book would be great. The Residents aren't The Beatles in disguise. There's no boat to be rocked if they revealed their real names. The truth is overwhelmingly underwhelming.
The Residents are a creative business and they should look to perfect their art in that context. Residents fans know the limitations of the group's skills and attention spans, and as a collective they should bring in the right people who can make this an ongoing endeavor when Big Rez retires to that big bubble in the sky. Maybe all it would take is just one person who really sees the big picture of who The Residents were, are, and are trying to be. I honestly think they should consult with the folks at the Blue Man Group. Or at least relearn every lesson the Cube-E tour should have taught them.
The Rezillos - Can't Stand The Rezillos: The (Almost) Complete Rezillos (CD review) (Sire): Just like The Undertones and Buzzcocks, Scotland's Rezillos walked a fine line between punk and new wave. Started as a lark, the group found success with their ‘77 single "I Can't Stand My Baby" and took it from there. Most of their songs were fun and whimsical odes to Chuck Berry-influenced garage pop, B-movies and trash culture, but the Oi-ish "Somebody's Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonight", a Fleetwood Mac cover for Christ's sake!!!!, will forever earn the band a place in punk history.
In ‘78 they released the well-received album Can't Stand The Rezillos, toured heavily, then broke up by year's end because of endless squabbling in the ranks. Lead vocalists Eugene Reynolds and Fay Fife formed the Revillos, a slight name change that got them out of their existing contract. The Revillos broke up in 1985 and reformed for a while in 1994. Sire released this CD with most of the band's recordings, including a thirteen song live set from ‘78 that's poorly recorded but captures Fife's distinctive, powerful singing. What you mostly get from these recordings is how much fun was involved. The point was to have fun, a quality dearly missing from today's scene. Don't make me reminisce like the geezer I am. Take my word for it, before hardcore, people took themselves a lot less seriously and had fun for the fun of it. What a concept. Now everything's a lesson or an attack. Progress - who needs it?
- Snakebite: Blacktop Ballads & Fugitive Songs (CD review):
I'd take a bullet for
I worked security for Wall Of Voodoo one night in 1982 and Stan sat next to me,
asked my name and then said, out of the side of him mouth as always, "So, tell
me something about yourself." The nicest guy, hands down.
Snakebite, from 2004, is his best album since 1985's The Big Heat. His best songwriting was with Wall Of Voodoo, before his solo career as the great American storyteller of the imaginary, anachronistic noir-west. "The Big Heat" and "Drive, She Said" were engrossing tales, but Stan didn't and couldn't write to that level all the time. Each song was expected to be a Raymond Chandler, James Ellroy and Raymond Carver masterpiece all rolled into one, and not even Stan could pull it off.
What one should expect from Stan is a group of songs you wouldn't mind hearing him play live. The big appeal of Stan Ridgway is Stan Ridgway, sitting at a piano lit by a single spotlight as cigarette smoke snakes to the ceiling, singing stories in a small club on a small stage. That's the stuff. I don't know if this is how he performs, but if not, he should.
Snakebite finds Stan with a catchier set of tunes, fascinating arrangements and a beautifully recorded CD that sounds organic and analog. The Delta Blues and a bit of roots country permeate the work, making this the first disc in a while where I imagine Stan and the whole band, not just Stan and a few musicians better kept in the dark. Here's the non-standard instruments found on the CD:
Jazzmaster guitar, squawk box, harp, wurlitzer piano, efx drums, sunblock, bug repellant, reed organ, fiddle, siren, harmonica, organ, handclaps, 2 string jawbone, french horns, mellotron, farfisa organ, celeste, flute, slide guitar, cello, viola, wooden swamp flute, dice, elka strings, sci-fi machine, violin, brass & monsters, brushes, angry birds, stylaphone, glockinspiel, trombones, carny drums, underwater bells, nylon & octave guitars, piano, PPG Wave, cocktail drums, banjo, tape loops, shovels and rakes, bamboo flute, bo guitars, tap shoes, beercans, spoons, baritone sax, hammer dulcimer, samples, hand drums, rhythm ace, train whistles, dustpan, trash compactor, saxophones, wurlitzer, mellotron, accordian, mandolin, nylon guitar, woodwinds and brass, cinema string quartet, popcorn box, marching drum, snake guitar, melodica, oberhiem, juno 106, moog bass, reed organ, mellotron, autoharp, marching percussion, woodwinds, hi- strung guitar.
Stan writes a great history of his involvement with Wall Of Voodoo, titled "Talkin' Wall Of Voodoo Blues, Pt. 1". I would still like to know what exactly went wrong. At times I detect a Lou Reed-type delivery. Stan often sings like he's talking in tones. The lyrics are top notch all around. It's numerically impossible to top lyrics like "Oh, the people in the carnival, they all act just like kin / And you can't be in the middle when you're sleepin' with a Siamese twin / Oh, the dog-faced boy lifts his leg out in the pourin' rain / When you're travellin' with the carnival, there really is no shame / Nope, no shame". That's from "Running With The Carnival", which steals the happy riff from "Feelin' Groovy". Then there's this line "I gotta hang up now and crash into this house / Daddy's home!" Sweet.
Stan is the man, and I hope nobody's gunning for him because I hear bullets sting.
Romeo Void - Benefactor (LP review) (415/Columbia): Heavily influenced by Roxy Music, one-hit wonder Romeo Void used saxophone to lay swank sexuality on top of a standard new wave beat. Very much in line with fellow 415 Records bands Translator, Red Rockers and Wire Train (you can throw the Psychedelic Furs into the pile if you have to), Romeo Void's great strength was artist & poet turned vocalist Deborah Iyall's sexy singing, which gave Berlin's Teri Nunn a run for her pornographic money. I remember the media made a big deal about Iyall being overweight. They pondered if this was an aberration or a change in cultural direction. Barbie dolls always win, silly wabbit!
"Never Say Never" was their big hit, and what a hit it was. The dance floors always filled when that one hit the speakers. "Wrap It Up", "Flashflood" and "Chinatown" are good songs but for the most part this album is a single with other songs added for effect. The Furs did it better all the way around. If you have "Never Say Never" on a comp there's no need to pick this up. Extra points added for the use of saxophone, the coolest instrument on the planet.
Roxy Music - Manifesto (LP review) (Atco): To me, Bryan Ferry will always be a suave dude sporting a smoking jacket, a matching ascot and a martini. Roxy Music, whose first album came out in 1972, is arguably the most influential progressive band of that era. New Romance and synth glam came directly from Roxy Music. '77 UK punks didn't attack Roxy Music as they did just about everyone else, probably because they all wanted to be Roxy Music when they were younger, and like I said, Ferry was too suave even for Johnny Rotten. Brian Eno was a member on the first two albums, and his later work with David Bowie makes Manifesto a companion piece to both Low and Heroes. 1979's Manifesto came out at the height of new wave, and while not an overly exciting set of songs, it added to their reputation as the smoothest band on earth. "Dance Away" was the hit single. Besides Bowie, the other reference point for this album would be the Talking Heads, another funky white dance band. David Bryne also seems to have taken some inflection lessons from Bryan Ferry. Not a release to slam into the ol' 8-track player on the drive downtown for a night of trouble making, but if you want to romance the ladies, if you know what I'm sayin' and I think you do!, nothing maxes your chances of getting an extra base like Roxy Music. Boi-oi-oi-oi-oiiinnnggg!!! Or as they say on Monty Python, "Say no more, say no more. Nudge nudge, wink wink."
Rubber Rodeo - self-titled (LP review) (Eat): Way back, when new wave and punk co-existed as wimpy little brother and obnoxious, glue sniffin’ big brother, and disco was thought dead and gone, there were a few cool sub-genres of new wave that made a night at clubs an adventure in variety. In the same evening you’d hear everything from The Bay City Rollers to The Sex Pistols - and it all made perfect sense. New wave embraced many styles - electronic, rockabilly, no wave, ska, punk, and even country. While X was an L.A. punk band that led you to believe they came from a dusty one horse town in Texas, other bands reverentially played up the camp and cliché value of Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash and soundtracks from old spaghetti westerns. Blood On The Saddle put out some harsh sounds, Wall Of Voodoo took the minimalist Gang of Four/Wire approach, Rank and File switched from punk (The Nuns and The Dils) to a two-steppin’ blend of c&w and new wave (the backup singer sounding like a hillbilly castratto/yokel eunich), and Rubber Rodeo put out an EP and two albums of fun loving country new wave that was presented as camp but played for real.
Hailing from Providence, Rhode Island, the six-member Rubber Rodeo were art student types who loved Patsy Cline as much as they did The Charlie Daniels Band and Devo. Their instruments were guitar, mandolin, violin, organ, drums, bass, synthesizers and pedal steel. Led by Bob Holmes (picture a chubby faced Andy Partridge) and Trish Milliken (a tiny Linda Hamilton-type who sang like Patsy Cline and dressed like Annie Oakley), between 1982 and 1986 they released one 12" EP and two full length albums, Scenic Views and Heartbreak Highway - distinctive electro-new wave dance music and slow torch songs. In the beginning they played up the camp and played it loud, fast and corny. Scenic Views saw them go for major label gold with mixed results. The great "Anywhere With You" is muted by the horrible trucker-slogan anthem "Slow Me Down". They sputtered out with Heartbreak Highway, embarrassingly overproduced and contrived.
When I saw them play in ‘82 they were at their best, ripping through Glenn Campbell's "Wichita Lineman", Dolly Parton's "Jolene" and originals that kept the crowd "yee-haw"ing for sixty minutes. The band tossed out toy "Whistling Lariats" and I had more good clean fun that night than any time I can remember. The drummer had a Harry Dean Stanton cowboy preacher thing going that was too funny to believe. I guess everyone has an obscure band or two they remember fondly and will always love. Every time I toss Rubber Rodeo vinyl onto the player I smile like the old fart I am. I still have a Whistling Lariat, unopened in its original packaging, treasured but never to be opened. Good times, good times...
Rumble Fish Soundtrack (LP review) (1983): With films you either get a soundtrack or a score. Soundtracks are big sellers these days because they're mainly collections of popular songs by popular artists. Scores are the background music used in films to define mood and character. Some scores are modern classical music pieces that rival Wagner in their intensity and instrumentation. Danny Elfman is a master at this, a surprise considering the silly sideshow elements he put into Oingo Boingo. Techno has been hot lately for soundtracks because 1) it's loud and fast and 2) it's disco for pissed-off, bi-curious white guys. You also have Ry Cooder Tex-Mex minimalist guitar, Philip Glass, world music peoples, and every once in a while a kook like Stan Ridgway, The Residents, or Stewart Copeland is given a chance to score a “difficult" film.
Rumble Fish, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, came out in 1983 and starred Mickey Rourke, Matt Dillon, Vincent Spano, Diane Lane, Nicolas Cage and Dennis Hopper. It’s aged fairly well. Here Copeland plays the piano, guitar, banjo, double bass, keyboards and rhythm synths, tuned percussion, typewriter, drums, and kazoo. As the drummer for the Police, Copeland used every corner of his massive drum set, his trademarks an eccentric, kinetic energy and a love of added percussion. For pleasant background music the Rumble Fish soundtrack is a nice find. Stewart tones down the wackiness of his Klark Kent and Police past and delivers a professional product which still retains his signature. The real onus is "Don't Box Me In" with Stan Ridgway, a collaboration even greater than the sum of its parts. It’s one of the best songs from the ‘80s, and rare too because it was only found on this soundtrack. I'm sure you can find this used for a buck or two - worth it for the first track alone.
Save Ferris- Introducing... (CD review) (Starpool/Epic): I don't listen to music on the radio because nobody's playing anything I'm interested in hearing. Alternative stations came and are in the process of being gone, and I haven't noticed. I'm no Grumpy Gus or anything - hooray for successful alternative bands. It's just that I only enjoy a solid 2% of what they play, so news radio gets all my business.
Even I've heard of Save Ferris, one of many ska/swing bands signed in the wake of No Doubt's success. I imagine a female lead singer is the key to immediate label interest. Swing is on the upswing and Save Ferris' ska horns swing, baby, swing. There's a new CD out, this being their 1996 debut. It's as pre-packaged for success as the Spice Girls. This 7-songer is titled Introducing...Save Ferris, there's a fake add-on sticker on front hyping "The World Is New" and "Under 21" as hits, and it's put out by a subsidiary of Epic Records. Save Ferris are popular, so I guess the plan worked. Good for them. The music itself is average third wave nonsense. Monique Powell's voice is strong but the material is too weak to support it. They’ve sold out for cash, so as I look at the Salvation Army-brand furniture crammed in my tiny room I smirk and congratulate myself for never having sold out to The Man! (dat's right!)
The Scissor Girls - New Tactical Outline, Sec I (7" review) (SGS): The dollar bin at the record store is like an orphanage filled with kids in their 30s - you fell really bad but you wonder what the hell must be wrong that they're still around. The fantasy is to find a store with rare punk records they know nothing about and are glad to dump for cheap, if only because the covers look stupid. Non-punk mom and pop shops are now fairly extinct, so to see a four year old single for 92 cents can only make one think it must suck (and not gently either). Most of the time that's true, but sometimes buried in piles of crap are golden nuggets of corn, and this record still has its original shine.
Besides the need to buy things for review, this single stood out because it’s packaged in a blue ziplock bag with a hole punched through the top for rack display (huh?). The packaging screamed experimental noise damage and the two photos of three nerdy women with floppy bunny ears were too good to be true. I knew song titles "New Tactical Plan", "by Process of Elimination" and "Ambulatory" would have nothing to do with the actual music itself. I also knew the music would be arty, disjointed and intended to alienate at high volume. The only question was- would this suck? This doesn't suck - as a matter of fact it’s great. I haven't heard anything like this since the early ‘80s. The band Pigbag pops into my head (along with DC band Egoslavia), but this is even too weird for that. Ralph Records could have put this out. I'd say TSG (which means "The Scissor Girls" but are not credited as such on the single) ate a lot of Throbbing Gristle and have Foetus on their breath. The closest thing in more commercial music I can equate this to is early Gang of Four played at 45 rpm with no regard for song structure. Through the chaos you can detect some funky rhythms but it's the farthest thing from Soul Train one can imagine.
Performed live this must have cleared a room faster than an emo band opening for Agnostic Front. I like this a lot. Maybe a full-length album would gnaw at me but this 7" just isn't enough. If this single exists in a store near you it should be easy to find because its packaging makes it hard to keep with all the standard size 7"s. Etched into the vinyl are the phrases "new tactical pt. no. 4: retreat defunct plan" and "no. 8: install counter-attack". If you don't know about etched messages on the inner band of vinyl you're missing out on some cool inside jokes and weird comments. Any real info on this band would be greatly appreciated.
Added reader commentary on the Scissor Girls:
Hi. My friend O sent me a little story that he also sent to you About the Scissor Girls. I was there with him at the Blue Flamingo that Fateful night. Their RV had scissors painted on it. A year later I found their records when I was visiting my friends in Chicago. One of them knew The Scissor Girls, and apparently they were quite big, as big as a band like that can be, I suppose. Apparently there was a whole scene of dykey, no-wavesque bands in Chicago at the time. Anyway, I have the single you speak of on your Web site, as well as an album, and I believe another is in circulation. Well, hot damn. There's a huge write-up about them on the allmusic.com guide.
Howdy, this is O from the Moleculoids in Austin, TX. I saw in one of your sections you asked for some information about the Scissor Girls... I tell ya what I know. I walked into their show at the Blue Flamingo in Austin in Summer '95 and was blown away...they were the single weirdest band I have ever seen, with the possible exception of the Boredoms from Japan. Total art-damage no wave spaz-noise, almost zolo but too extreme, rather prog-punk at times....three hip-nrrd girls making cacophany with unusual nuance and creativity. They looked art-punk, rather dikey, and one of them wore bits of a kind of Sun Ra silver outfit I think? Trying to describe it, I tell people it was rather like gene-splicing Devo and the Butthole Surfers together, but with some odd near occasions of math aka King Crimson or Les Claypool. The kinetic blasts of vibration that passed for songs slowed down or sped up unexpectedly, maybe like Sonic Youth covering the Red Aunts... The bassist/singer played an acoustic bass guitar like the guy from the Violent Femmes, so instead of the godzilla-fart low-frequency electric mudd that every punk band in the world dutifully apes, there was a crisp yet one more element of originality...what a blast of fresh air in a city of dogma punk! (probably it was not a coincedence that after that it was only a matter of time before I got bored as hell with the retro parade of Austin ‘77 or hardcore or garage style bands where not a lick is in danger of originality, and traded in my punk rock membership card and headed off to art-rock/spazz zone with the Moleculoids).
Well naturally I was so impressed, I told them they could stay at my house (they were from Chicago) and they followed us around in a big RV with a scissor logo. I recall a mild sort of tension among this outre trio, the nature of which I was not privy to.... tour stress? Two crashed in one room, the singer in the noisy living room. When asked where else they played on tour, the singer girl's insectoid reply was "La Bock?" I figured out she meant "Lubbock", which is rural-ass Texas, and can only wonder what the punk rock peeps out there made of this far-weirder-than-what-have-you-core band. They apparently had some recognition in Chicago before they broke up...
The Selector - Too Much Pressure (CD review) (Chrysalis): Second wave ska, kids! Ancient history, three credits toward your degree. One of the original 2-Tone bands, “The Selector” was used as the band name and song title on the b-side of The Specials' first 7". The final lineup wasn't formed until the single became popular. Their hits were written by guitarist and original member Noel Davies, and great they were: "On My Radio", "Missing Words", "Three Minute Hero" and "Too Much Pressure" can be found on countless comps from the period. The only problem with this first album is that secondary songs often steal riffs from the hits.
In typical 2-Tone fashion, The Selector's follow-up, Celebrate The Bullet, didn't have much going for it. The band broke up and have since reformed. The first Selector album is great and probably the most underrated of the period.
Sex Gang Children - Live In Paris (CD review) (Nigma): I've never listened to Sex Gang Children before, and after this I see no reason to do so ever again. A live album is the worst way to judge a band, but I've heard this brand of death rock before and I tune it out quickly. It's hypnotic drone music for the self-obsessed to twirl to and stare at themselves in any and all mirrors. In a pinch a hand-held mirror would do. As with the Grateful Dead, it helps to be on some kind of hallucinogenic that intensifies the effect of pounding tribal drumming and screeching guitars.
At first I thought singer/screamer Andi Sex Gang was a woman, which made this CD sound too much like Crass. These twelve drone-fests run into each other with the exception of "Mauritia Mayer" and "Les Amants Dun Jour", songs with real structure and tuneful enough to compete with Sisters Of Mercy. The quality of the recording leaves a lot to be desired and the set list is fairly dull. But, what do I know? I don't know what it's like to be dead. Or undead. I'm usually pretty sleepy though. Does that count for something?
Sex Gang Children were big in ‘82-‘83 when they helped fill the post-punk void. Their name was Malcolm McLaren's first choice for Bow Wow Wow. He then passed it on to Boy George (?!) who let it drop when he realized it would hinder his rise to fame. I know people who own Sex Gang Children t-shirts, and this will make a nice gift the next time I see them. Make a ghoul happy. That's either my ticket to heaven or a better seat in hell.
The Shaggs - Philosophy Of The World (CD review) (RCA): I started listening to this disc and researching the history of The Shaggs about four months ago. The magnitude of the music and the implications of their place in music history overwhelmed me. I couldn't even imagine where to start. Now that the urge to write an incoherent 500-page manifesto on The Shaggs has leftmy body, it's time to get this over with. Almost everything you need to know about The Shaggs can be gleaned from the album cover.
The Shaggs were Dot, Helen and Betty Wiggins from the tiny town of Fremont, New Hampshire, as remote to the modern world of 1969 as the innermost Kentucky Mountains. Smiling, clueless, clumsy, eager, shy and homely - just like the music they recorded one day in the big city at the insistence of their nutty dad, Austin Wiggin Jr. If beauty is in the eye of the beer-holder, these women would be "keggers". Austin's mother told fortunes, and she predicted Austin would marry a strawberry blonde, have two sons she would not live to see, and that his daughters would play in a band. The first two premonitions came to be, and Austin set out to make the third a reality. He pulled the girls out of the public school system and enrolled them in a mail-order home schooling course. They practiced music in the morning and afternoon, rehearsed songs after dinner, and performed exercises for an hour before bed. I fear the knowledge of Austin's possible instructions on colonic health. The Wiggins girls were not allowed to date, and were discouraged from most outside associations. They played on Saturday nights at the local town hall to disinterested crowds of screaming kids, and made only baby steps toward learning how to play their instruments and write songs.
In March, 1969, Austin dragged the girls to Massachusetts to record them "while they're hot", as he famously told the puzzled studio engineer. The girls were bewildered by, if not afraid of, their new surroundings and the recording process itself. They never thought they were any good and they had no interest in the destiny their father chose for them, but they did as they were told. What they recorded that day can never be equaled or replicated. If they waited a day or a month they might have not recorded the album Frank Zappa called his third favorite album of all time, the album NRBQ took on as a personal ministry of primitive revelation. If not for the obsessions of a few individuals entranced by a vanity album of only 100 known copies, The Shaggs' Philosophy Of The World would have rotted into nothingness over time.
Simply put, Philosophy Of The World is the best bad album of all time. It's aboriginal folk music played by Americans in the style of rock and roll. It is the foundation on which all lo-fi music is based. Everything about the record is wrong - the playing, the writing, the singing, and especially the timing. Yet, it comes together and it works. There's every reason to hate this, and most people do, but it is a perfect record. A perfectly bad record. There's bad bad, good bad, and then in another dimension there's The Shaggs.
It didn't help that the girls were separated during the recording process. Poor Helen on the drums plays like a deaf mute with severe ADD. You (and probably Helen herself) never know what song she's playing to, and the drum solos that open and close "My Pal Foot Foot", the musical cousin of Plan 9 From Outer Space, can't be defined by words but by twitches and ticks. Sometimes she simply goes off like she's experiencing a seizure, except I imagine she not once lost her odd little smile. For a split second here and there, especially in the song's openings, you think you're hearing the Velvet Underground. Some critics say they're affecting an accent which sounds almost Oriental, which is nonsense. They lack the skill and guile to fake anything, and also, that's how people talk in New Hampshire. Idiots!
1000 original copies of Philosophy Of The World were printed. 900 of them were immediately stolen. The girls learned to play a little better and later recorded more songs. Austin died in 1975 and the Wiggins girls went on to small lives of obscurity. Until the world came looking for them. A magazine article on the life of The Shaggs has been optioned by Tom Cruise's film production company. The ending might be anti-climactic but it's a hell of a good tale. They'll have to use the original recordings, because nothing can come close to the grotesque beauty of what was recorded almost by accident in 1969.
This collection is true to the original pressing. Remixes are out there but I'd stay away until you've heard the originals as god and the devil intended. You haven't lived (or died) until you've heard Austin Jr. talk-sing his way through a later number that combines the implied violence of "My Boyfriend's Back" with a Hawaiian rendition of "Chattanooga Choo Choo". Apples don't fall far from the tree, especially the rotten ones.
Shonen Knife- Let's Knife (CD review) -
This is a guest review by John Foster (Farms Chicken). He's a doctor from Florida, a state with a population evenly split between retired ethnic New Yorkers and moronic rednecks who work overtime to remind you that Florida is more like Alabama than the place New Yorkers go to die.
I first heard about Shonen Knife in 1990, when I saw a five minute spot on them on MTV called "The Weirdest Band in Rock". I like some offbeat stuff, so I went to the biggest record store near me, which had one copy of one of their CDs. I bought it, and have been hooked ever since.
They're a three - sometimes two - woman punk/power/pop band from Osaka, Japan. Kind of the ultimate D.I.Y. band. In 1981 they decided their day jobs were boring and they would "make a band". They taught themselves how to play, wrote their own songs, designed and made their own clothes, and even made their own recordings on a cassette recorder. Their big break was opening for Nirvana in 1990.
A couple of things make them "weird", or interesting, depending on your point of view. Although they can play hardcore punk (I think their version of "I Want To Be Sedated is better than the Ramones’), they look, talk & act like normal middle class Japanese women - always polite, no tattoos, drugs, rowdy behavior, etc.. Then; they write songs about stuff they are interested in, like cats, ice cream, playing tennis - no riot girrl stuff. They abhor all the trappings of rock "stardom" and insist on being treated like "normal people". Their guitarist, singer and unofficial leader, Naoko Yamano, put in her list of twenty favorite albums of all time Black Sabbath’s "Paranoid" and the Brady Bunch’s "It’s a Sunshine Day". And she wasn't joking.
They have tried a lot of styles - ska, heavy metal, techno, bossa nova, but I think they really shine with their power/pop songs with a punk edge. If you can’t find them at your local record store, Amazon.com has all their international recordings, and a lot of their Japanese only ones. "Let’s Knife" is a good place to start. Unfortunately, their two best recordings are only available from Japan right now. These are "Millennium Edition", a collection of their best stuff, and "Orange no Taiyo" a three song mini-CD which has them really burning up the song of the same name, their best song ever IMHO. It’s easy to find their North American fan club if you search the net. There you’ll find all the instructions on where & how to order CDs from Japan. And the people you’ll deal with speak English and are a LOT more pleasant than the record shop people in Long Beach.
(I had one of my staff, possibly from R&D, e-mail John to say that his review had to take the form of an album review, to which he responded...) Sorry, didn't think of that. I'd put "Let's Knife". It was released in 1993 and was their first record that went over big in the west, and it's still in release. It's got everything from remakes of their earliest stuff, like "Burning Farm" - the title song of their first album, some great punk/power pop songs like "Bear Up Bison" and "Riding on the Rocket", more melodic songs like "I Am a Cat", and some songs so bizarre ONLY Shonen Knife could do them - the nuttiest being "Tortoise Brand Pot Scrubbing Cleaner Theme". About 3/4 of the songs are in English an 1/4 Japanese, which is a nice mix. It's probably the best CD for someone to get to see if Shonen Knife is their cup of tea. Plus it's got a cute pic of them on the cover - and for only $9.95 extra you get a set of the amazing Ginsu knives - a $49.95 value!!! - order today!!!!!!!!!
Shudder To Think- "Erecting A Movie Star" & "Lonesome Dove" (promo casette review) (Sony): I shudder to think anyone would pay cash money to buy this crap. Zing!, baby, right in the gut of American corporate rock. I'm here all week. Hey, is this mike on? You've been a lovely audience, all except the fat guy in the first row. Zing! Am I hot tonight or what?
The Sinceros - The Sound of Sunbathing (LP review) (Columbia): This album is famous for one thing really - the album cover. It's quirky and cute - what we associate with new wave back in 1979. I don't remember this having any hits on it and even though there's some fun songs there's also not much beyond "Little White Lie", as good as the Jag's "Back Of My Hand". I didn't like this record when I first put it on last week but now I think it might just be outdated. I'll put this on as background music when I'm cleaning the apartment.
The band's history is noteworthy. They backed Lene Lovich on Stateless, a classic album and former Vibrator Don Snow went on to replace Paul Carrack in Squeeze. The Sound of Sunbathing sometimes devolves into generic ‘70s power pop but The Sinceros often emulate either Joe Jackson or Split Enz, and if you like either of those groups this album is a lot of fun to read into. (Roni from the Sinceros e-mailed me recently to say Joe Jackson didn't go into the studio until a month after they did, and they had no idea what Joe sounded like. Roni did acknowledge the Split Enz influence might be correct)."Little White Lie" manages to combine both of these other bands - maybe that's why I like it so much. "I Still Miss You" takes the classic riff of The Modern Lovers' "Road Runner" and turns it into kitschy synth-pop without being that annoying. "My Little Letter" is a ditty written for top hat, cane and soft shoe.
I've changed my mind. This may be a campy, eccentric new wave classic. Or, it may be crap. That would depend on your tolerance for this sort of thing. I personally miss the days of quaint eccentricity. Now it's all Attitude and kids blowing up their high schools because they don't fit in. No wonder people live in the past - it's always a nicer place to be.
- Obsessions Of You/Sink Or Swim (7" review)
(I.R.S.): (11-00 update from Andy: I have the
answer to "Where is he now". I met his cousin Bobby Skafish, a Chicago DJ. As of
a couple years ago, Jim was a piano teacher and telephone psychic, I think in
Jim Skafish has a web site you have to see to believe.
I don't get many e-mails, but more than a few have asked whatever became of Jim Skafish. I don't know, but what a weird character he was, more famous for his nose than his singing. Imagine a tall manwith the face of Ron Palillo (Horshack from Welcome Back Kotter) and a nose the size of a child's fist. And those nostrils ! I'd say you could shove a dime up each one and not hit nose for a while. Man ! Like Oscar Madison said to Murray the Cop on the Odd Couple, "I'd break your nose, but I only have two hands!"
This was the single from Skafish's debut album from 1980. Skafish’s music reminds me of Captain Beefheart trying to write an off-Broadway new wave musical. In Skafish you'll hear Oingo Boingo, Klark Kent, Beefheart and mid 70s Devo. With its tempo changes and oddball weirdness, you couldn't dance to Skafish. Skafish was a spectacle and a pretentious high-school band experiment, but mostly it was that nose. "Sink Or Swim" isn't on the album but it's the reason you should find this 45. I've always looked for a song that sounds perfectly normal at both 33 1/3 & 45 rpm. This is it! At its intended 45 rpm speed it combines Oingo Boingo, Klark Kent and "Mechanical Man" - era Devo. At 33 1/3 it sounds like Wall of Voodoo channeling The Cramps through old Devo.
Skafish was a small footnote in new wave history, but he rates #1 in the "Where Are They Now?" category. My guess is that once he found a two-for-one nose job special he quit the business and now sells used plumbing supplies from an old ice cream truck.
- Foundation Ska (CD review): I know
are the Beatles, Stones and Hootie & The Blowfish of Jamaican ska, but the
is too boring to be anything but archival. Only four (by my count) tracks have
vocals, and "Dr. Kildare" is missing the lyrics I have on a great mix tape.
Instrumental ska is nice every so often, but not one after a fricking other.
If there's a Skatalites CD of all vocal tracks, please let me know. The Skatalites are great, but if you point to these repetitive instrumentals as the best 60's ska you'll turn off a lot of potential fans. Here's a great place to start your journey to the wonders of the first wave. Take it from me, Dr. Ring-A-Ding, the Great Wuga Wuga. This cassette I know by heart.
The Skoidats- The Times (CD review) (Moon Ska): Man, when was the last time I listened to a ska record? Back in the 2-Tone era that's what I listened to 2/5 (as Ralphy Wiggum would say, 24/7 would be "unpossible"). The Skoidats formed in 1995 in Missoula, Montana, which might as well be the second moon of Pluto as far as where you'd expect to find a skinhead ska band. This is top quality stuff with a tight horn section (I was noticing to my chagrin that some third wave ska bands had large horn sections that struggled to stay together), bass guitar that keeps up, oi - inflected guitar chords and not an ounce of cuteness. I'm so happy for that last part. The opening tracks are focused on the serious, and then at the end it either devolves or loosens up to punk humor influences.
There's a nice mixture of punky ska and dancehall numbers for the caffeinated crowd. "Goggles & Blinders" opens with a sing along like Naked Raygun, and MAN did that catch my ear. After that, "Yesterday" opens with a drumbeat and bass line right out of the Killing Joke playbook. Sweet! "The Times" does find the Skoidats chanting "Oi Oi Oi", a capital crime for American bands. "Beer Beer Beer" is a gangs-all-here drinking song by The Clancy Brothers.
The Times is pretty good, I guess. I don't know how it compares with all the other third-wave ska. It's a genre I listen to in small doses and then lose interest in quickly. Operation Ivy kicked it up to for the hardcore generation and after that it got too nutty and young for me. I guess.
The Smiths Best, vol. 1 (CD review) (Sire): The Smiths and R.E.M. were the first big post-new wave alternative bands. In the early ‘80s, as new wave was morphing into top-40 disco crap, these two bands, along with The Cure and others, created the alternative scene we still have today. The Smiths, embodied in lead singer Morrissey, was a band you either loved or hated because of Morrissy's fey crooning and self-possessed lyrics. It seems many people do hate Morrissey, but he’s a beloved figure in Mexico. These thirteen tracks are all pleasant enough, and Morrissey's singing is a distinctive monotone crooning, like a British & gay Bing Crosby.
The Smiths do an admirable job injecting originality into a minimalist style designed as a platform for Morrissey's obsessions with his own melancholy. Oscar Wilde said all bad poetry springs from genuine feelings, a philosophy Morrissey embraces as pure ideology.
"This Charming Man" is a cool variation on Iggy Pop's "Lust For Life" as channeled through The Jam. "How Soon Is Now" is a classic of the twirl-by-your-lonesome-whilst-pondering-the-depths-of-your-own-miasma genre practiced by goths. In this collection you can also hear a Siouxsie and the Banshees-inspired use of Eastern rhythms. "Panic" is a great song that reminds me that Morrissey, for all his faults, wrote some infectious vocal riffs. He almost spoils it by using a children's choir for the chorus, always a sign of pretension beyond human comprehension.
In general The Smiths were decent when they pepped up the pacing. The slow songs are just that – slow.
- LP, LP II and LP III (CD review): When
you look up
list page also offers
which is the wrong comparison except to say by the third CD Annie of The
Soviettes learned to control her voice in a similar fashion as Roxy Epoxy, or
maybe Martha Davis of The Motels. Roxy is the better singer, but no offense.
If you listen to these three discs in a row there's a progression through the short history of Grrrl punk from Bikini Kill to more recent Sleater-Kinney with stops for Cub, The Donnas, The Buzzcocks and even a Joy Division guitar lick thrown in for yuks. It's mostly based in power chord pop-punk, and they make every song rousing and interesting on some level. The Soviettes are also good at rendering "emotional" guitar chords, which I trace back to Cock Sparrer and always loved on Sloppy Seconds records.
I like Sleater-Kinney, Bikini Kill and their ilk like The Soviettes but never find myself putting them on for entertainment. I do love Cub though and will never part with my Anti-Scrunti Faction LP. Pretty Girls Make Graves are a few times more interesting to listen to but you should sample a few tracks from each CD and see what you think (you can do this at both allmusic.com and amazon.com)
The Specials (LP review)(2-Tone/Chrysalis): (I lost my original, extra witty review of this album, so here’s a summary): This debut album was the first and best of the 2-Tone label ska explosion that hit in the late ‘70s. Produced by Elvis Costello, whose clout helped open the door to America, The Specials played ska for the emerging punk generation. Ska originated in Jamaica in the early ‘60s and was itself a blend of Calypso, American R&B, and other regional dancehall styles. Driven by large horn sections, old ska tunes as a recurring gimmick stole riffs from spy movies and spaghetti westerns. 60’s ska was either really good or really boring. With the help of marijuana, ska slowed down to became reggae. The Vespa crowd bow their heads in reverence when the names Prince Buster and The Skatalites are invoked, but the recordings are generally of poor quality and favor instrumentals that make their point and then go on forever. What the Specials did was make ska more palatable to rockers by toning down the horns and bringing up the drums and guitar. The main force behind The Specials was organ player Jerry Dammers, not Terry, the lead singer. Dammers split his time between the band and 2-Tone, which also signed The English Beat, Madness, The Selecter and Bad Manners.
The second Specials album, More Specials, was as dull as The Specials was exciting. The Specials and 2-Tone both faded away as follow-up albums by once popular bands failed to generate excitement. The English Beat was an exception. Members of The Specials went on to Fun Boy Three and TheSpecial A.K.A. After the fall of 2-Tone, American ska was dominated by northeast bands that once again placed heavy emphasis on large horn sections. These bands had their followings but it wasn’t until Operation Ivy released the Hectic EP in 1988 that ska became the monster it is today. Operation Ivy combined ska with hardcore and made it relevant to kids weaned on the thrash of The Dead Kennedys and Minor Threat. The Specials may sound mid-tempo now, but if you saw them perform “Too Much Too Young” and “Gangsters” back in the day, you know they were hard to the core of something. Dance Craze is a live concert film of the most popular 2-Tone bands, and some bootleg copies do exist, so keep them eyes open. The fight scene on stage was faked, by the way.
Speedies - "Something On My Mind"/"Time" (7" review): Old timers have a single or two they think no else knows about but them. For me it's The Speedies, five fellows from NY who put out with two singles around ‘80-’81, evaporated, and then a few members later formed Racer X. If the Speedies were around five years earlier they would have been remembered as one of American’s best power pop bands. In 1980 the Speedies were probably considered a new wave band, but they're too much of the real thing to make this anything less than garage pop both aggressive and sweet. Not being signed to a major label their singles probably didn't see much distribution beyond the tri-state area (NY/NJ/CT). This was produced by Clem Burke - Blondie drummer and a Ramone drummer for about a day. If you find this, buy it. With all the reissues coming out of obscure bands, maybe the Speedies will get their due. Etched into the vinyl on the a-side are the words "EVIL POP IS GOD". [2007 update: last year The Speedie’s sigle “Let Me Take Your Photo” was featured in a Hewlett Packard ad for digital photography. Hell froze over and monkeys flew out of my ass.]
Split Enz - "One Step Ahead"/"In The Wars" (7" review) (A&M): This single from 1981's Waiata album is decent enough, but what makes this special is a pattern etched into the vinyl. I think you were supposed to turn off the lights, aim a flashlight at the spinning disc and then stare at the groovie light show on the ceiling. I was never able to make it work well but the single is neat to look at when you hold it at the right angle. The pattern is a field of musical notes packed too tightly to make much sense. The cut has a prism effect and you can see some trippy colors as the record spins. If I took LSD it would be more impressive. My copy of 1980's True Colours is also etched, but with large geometric patterns and the band name and title included. The album looks nicer than the 7".
Colored vinyl, limited editions and picture discs were common sales tools in the old days of punk and new wave, when such novelties were needed to get noticed. Stiff Records worked any gimmick they could cook up for their bands. New Wave singles took the novelty aspect of marketing to new highs with, using the example of XTC, poster sleeves, single-as-game with board, spinner and cut out game pieces, and attached postcards you could mail to friends. Record collecting was fun because you never knew what the hell was going to come out next. Today colored vinyl seems to be the only gimmick left. People are suckers so the ploy still works.
The B-Side, "In The Wars", sounds as much like Adam And The Ants as it does Split Enz. The band photo on the back of the single has them dressed kind-o new romance. That’s depressing.
Split Enz - True Colours & Waiata (LPs review) (A&M): Formed in 1972 in New Zealand and always a big favorite in Australia, Split Enz by 1980 had energized their fascination with The Beatles, Roxy Music and the Kinks (at their most overblown) just in time to ride the new wave to fame and (tiny) fortune with the album True Colours, followed quickly by 1981's Waiata. More commercial than the sometimes similar sounding Undertones, and slightly less clever than Squeeze, Split Enz added layers of sound in the studio to produce complex albums that have aged well. On these two albums they effectively fight off a predilection for theatrical overstatement. Their albums before and after weren't usually so lucky.
In the ‘70s Split Enz dressed in custom suits whose colors and patterns defied description. These fit perfectly with their wildly painted faces and screwy haircuts. The Go-Gos face-painted in the same way. Keyboardist Eddie Rayner claims Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious saw their London shows and later copied their hairstyles from Split Enz. I can believe it. The Finn Brothers went on to Crowded House and solo work. Most critics prefer True Colours over Waiata. I'll take "Hard Act To Follow" and "History Never Repeats" over "I Got You" any day. The initial pressings of True Colours came out on laser-etched vinyl that's really cool. Prism shapes cover both sides and as light hits the record you can see cool light-show on the wall. Someone on the internet says Split Enz was never a new wave band. Oh please, they helped define the look and sound of early new wave. New Wave was just an umbrella term for bands of various styles that fit into a certain set of accepted similarities. These two Split Enz are great and the more you delve into them the richer they become.
Squeeze - 6 Squeeze Songs Crammed Into One Ten-Inch Record (10" review) (A&M): One of the great novelty covers of the new wave era, this 1979 10" record came in a 12" sleeve cut on the sides to make it appear two hands are squeezing the album like Charmin bathroom tissue. It was a ploy to get the band attention in the fickle yet vital US market. Squeeze didn't record a US top 40 hit until 1987 but were very successful in the smaller new wave market. The songwriting team of Chris Difford (music) and Glenn Tilbrook (words) were often compared to Lennon & McCartney, which was both a blessing and a curse. It sounded impressive and might have been accurate to some extent, but it set up expectations that inevitably stopped being met, and the comparison pissed off enough people just on principal.
Squeeze's reputation today is dated and bound to a few hit singles, which is a shame since they could bring the house down when they tried. Maybe that was due to Jools Holland's boogie-pub piano. Maybe Squeeze should have stopped recording while the iron was still hot. Maybe Difford and Tilbrook retroactively wimped out their reputation by becoming Tin Pan Alley song writing hacks-for-hire after disbanding Squeeze in 1982. I could really say the same thing for Joe Jackson.
Tilbrook and Difford met as teenagers in 1974 and named their first band "Cum". Upon reflection they changed it to Captain Trudlow's Sky Co.- Skyco for short. Thinking about it some more they took the name of a Velvet Underground album featuring Doug Yule (whatever the hell that record was, and I own it, it shouldn't have been allowed to go out under the VU name). Squeeze signed with RCA in 1975, only to be dumped the next year after recording five demos. In July of 1977 they self-released an EP under the "Deptford Fun City" label, launched by future IRS Records mogul Miles Copeland. "Back Track" is a great song from that session. In Oct 1977 they signed to A&M Records, following the label’s PR disaster of signing the Sex Pistols. John Cale produced Squeeze’s first LP, an experience the band didn’t enjoy.
More than just a gimmick, this EP features rare versions of some songs, the highlight a rocking, fast version of "Goodbye Girl" with Jools pounding the keys. "Cool For Cats" and "Up The Junction" are edited and re-mixed to no ill effect. "Slap & Tickle", "Bang Bang" and "Take Me I'm Yours" are the album versions.
Squeeze were a great new wave band with some singles I love and others whose popularity escapes me. I can't think of a better song than "Annie Get Your Gun". I worked security for a concert they did some time around ‘81-‘82. After the show the band set up tables in their dressing room and let back anyone who wanted to meet them for an autograph and a few words. Now that was class.
Squeeze - Spot The Difference (cd review): This August, 2010 release is a welcome oddity that serves a number of functions. It's fourteen new studio recordings of some of their greatest hits (no "Annie Get Your Gun" or "I've Returned"? Seriously?!) recorded faithfully to the originals. The band's propaganda is that "The quality of these “new” tracks cements the band’s legacy, not only serving as a reminder of how great those songs were but how compelling they sound today." Sure, there's that, but consider this comment from an Amazon review: "Indeed, this WAS done in order for Difford and Tilbrook to profit from their great songs. Having signed away way too much of their rights to their original recordings, they've sadly made nothing from greatest hits packages like 'Singles--45s and Under' that so many people have bought." Spot The Difference is also something new to promote on their latest set of tours, but to me it's a personal studio concert from the band at their best, devoid of an a-hole standing to your left screaming "wooooo wooooo wooooooooooo!"
The vocals and bass are deeper and the production offers more depth than the originals. You can hear the quiet parts better, if that makes any sense. "Hourglass", "Loving You Tonight" and "Some Fantastic Place" are from when I stopped paying much heed to Squeeze but I never tire of "Another Nail In My Heart", "Black Coffee In Bed", "Cool For Cats", "Goodbye Girl", "Is That Love", Labelled With Love", "Pulling Mussells (From A Shell)", "Slap And Tickle", "Take Me I'm Yours", "Tempted" and "Up The Junction". I'm always duly impressed with the country-twanging "Labelled With Love". Just quietly reading the lyrics causes dogs two counties over to howl at the moon. Have you ever heard a song as descriptively depressing as this that wasn't about your own life?:
She unscrews the top of a new whiskey bottle And shuffles about in her candle lit hovel Like some kind of witch with blue fingers in mittens She smells like the cat and the neighbors she sickens
The black and white T.V. has long seen a picture The cross on the wall is a permanent fixture The postman delivers the final reminders She sells off her silver and poodles in China
Drinks to remember, I me and myself And winds up the clock and knocks dust from the shelf Home is a love that I miss very much So the past has been bottled and labelled with love. During the war time an American pilot Made every air raid a time of excitement She moved to his prairie and married the Texan She learnt from a distance how love was a lesson
He became drinker and she became mother She knew that one day she’d be one or the other He ate himself older, drunk himself dizzy Proud of her features, she kept herself pretty He like a cowboy died drunk in his slumber Out on the porch in the middle of summer She crossed the ocean back home to her family But they had retired to roads that were sandy
She moved home alone without friends or relations Lived in a world full of age reservation On moth eaten armchairs she’d say that she’d sod all The friends who had left her to drink from the bottle
Drinks to remember, I me and myself And winds up the clock and knocks dust from the shelf Home is a love that I miss very much So the past has been bottled and labelled with love.
Drinks to remember, I me and myself And winds up the clock and knocks dust from the shelf Home is a love that I miss very much So the past has been bottled and labelled with love The past has been bottled and labelled with love The past has been bottled and labelled with love
I apologize. I went on a three day bender after cutting and pasting these lyrics.
Considering how popular they were and the strength of their songwriting I find Squeeze a somewhat forgotten band. I don't hear their songs around or read their name as much as I expect but I'm glad their music has been used in Grand Theft Auto and in ads for both Burger King and Heineken. They deserve to be generally more popular. I've always wondered how much it helped and then hurt them to have Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford compared to the sainted John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
Squeeze - Ridiculous (cd review): If, when, and how the hell did you ever get to be as old as I am, you'll most likely realize you haven't kept up with a goodly number of bands you claim to know and love. The career trajectory of most groups looks like a roller coaster that lollygags at the top and then descends, sometimes at a pleasant angle but often at a dead drop. I liked Squeeze more than well enough from 1979 (Cool For Cats) through 1982 (Sweets From A Stranger) but hadn't invested time or money into them until catching the engaging Glenn Tilbrook film One For The Road, from 2005. Figuring I'd jump somewhere in the middle of their descending period I choose 2005's Ridiculous, and in a pleasant yet bad way it reminded me of the film. Me 'splain:
The movie is a travelogue following Tilbrook and friends on a D.I.Y. RV tour of the US. Tilbrook's pleasant, his friends are pleasant, everyone he meets is pleasant, his audiences are pleasant - it's so damn pleasant you don't know if you should throw up or get a big "I Wuvs You" Bunnies tattoo chiseled into your chest:
In an NPR, aren't-we-all-lovely fashion it works on film but it's not what I look for in a Squeeze album. They started as a hungry new wave band with the powerful songwriting team of Tilbrook and Difford, for better or worse the Lennon and McCarthy of their generation, producing one of the greatest greatest hits collections of the time. Melodically they were often on par with none, and their lyrics usually astute ("Another Nail In My Heart") when not downright depressing ("Labelled With Love").
What you have with Ridiculous is the feeling the songs were written by either Tilbrook or Difford in isolation after nights of good food, good wine, sparkling conversation and the inspiration of beautiful tableaus seen from a variety of balconies and verandas. I picture couples in Starbucks buying this after one picks it up from the counter display and says "Honey, I'd like to hear this", also after a night of good food, good wine, etc.
It's not bad when it's not bad. The keepers are "Electric Trains", "Long Face", "I Want You", "Daphne" and "Lost For Words". I listened to Ridiculous many times more than I normally would a cd I find initially weak, thinking and expecting it would grow on me. As a whole though there's a noticeable amount of in-studio overcompensation for what showed up as ideas worked up on guitar or piano. It too often settles for less, not that it's bad but it just is, and that's not what you want from a band that once was hungry and were the better for it.
The Stone Coyotes - Situation Out Of Control (CD review) (Red Cat): I'm at a loss as to why this was mailed to me, with enough promo literature to burn for days, but it's not bad and I'd recommend it highly to anyone who likes their rock with a bit of twang and their country/folk with a heapin' helpin' of rocking power.
A promo sheet from Ariel, their publicity company, claims "They have a spare, aggressive style with timeless songs grounded in rock, country, punk, folk and blues." The only punk link I can make is that "Bone Tired" sounds like Rank and File's "The Conductor Wore Black", a favorite song of mine for, like, ever. The live track "Saw You At The Hop" also has a nice punky energy to it. Back in the day I imagine The Stone Coyotes would have been considered a country punk band. Barbara Keith sings like Heart and the band is tight. Something tells me they'd do ok opening for ZZ Top.
Their back story is interesting. A three piece from Massachusetts, they're a husband/wife/son from first marriage organization. Doug Tibbles on drums is pushing 60. Now that's cool. Even older than yours truly. He worked at one time as Jim Nabor's stand-in on the TV show Gomer Pyle, and wrote scripts for the classics My Three Sons, Bewitched, Andy Griffith, The Munsters (twelve freakin' episodes!), Family Affair and Chico And The Man. If he wrote the Munsters episode where Herman has to eat his hat and then says "Them's eats" with a forced grin, Doug's a god. Barbara Keith on vocals and guitar wrote songs for Tanya Tucker, Hank Snow, Olivia Newton-John, Lowell George and Barbra Streisand (the last - yuck). John Tibbles on bass guitar is a good boy who has to commune with groupies on the sly.
Author Elmore Leonard, of Get Shorty fame, based the band he created for his follow-up novel "Be Cool" on The Stone Coyotes. Not only that, he toured with them a bit for some spoken word/music split gigs. If and when that book gets filmed as a sequel to the hit John Travolta film, The Stone Coyotes will be on the soundtrack and most probably in the film itself. Not too shabby.
Not a punk record but quite good all the same.
The Stone Coyotes - Born To Howl (CD review) (Red Cat): I'm going to write a number of nice things about the The Stone Coyotes and this CD, and also a few possibly not so nice things about who I imagine their fans are (and the songs written for them). I giveth and I taketh away as is my wont.
The back-story of this three-piece mother-father-son combo is great, and worth the read at their web site (www.stonecoyotes.com). Barbara Keith spent years writing songs for the likes of Tanya Tucker, Hank Snow, Olivia Newton-John and Lowell George. This indicates a flexibility and diversity of songwriting talent. The Stone Coyotes succeed when they stick to their strengths and fail when they reduce their songs to simple slogans and statements.
The strengths of The Stone Coyotes are found in some wonderfully produced exercises in what happens when you combine Bob Dylan's overlay of words to music over a danceable mix of ZZ Top, The Rolling Stones and The Band. Keith's voice is perfect for her better material, sounding like whoever the hell sang for Heart, a band I know nothing about and don't care to either. "Shake", "Torn Asunder", "Detroit or Buffalo", "Four Times Gone" and "Death Of An American Song" are simple, direct, real and nicely augmented with acoustic guitar and peddle steel. Their cover of the ever-covered "Jolene" by Dolly Parton is perfect, seamlessly mixing a wall of four chord power fuzz with acoustic Spanish guitar and electrified lead. These are the Stone Coyote Songs I consider their art. The rest is their commerce.
Here’s a bit of history. In the ‘70s there were rock clubs all around the country where white folks danced to Led Zepplin and Queen. I'm not making this up. Women went to dance and be sexy, and men went to get sex. Dancing was the part of the mating ritual men hated the most. Women had an innate sense of rhythm, whereas the guys, they'd move their hips to Queen and shake a fist in the air whilst making various pained looks, to indicate it hurts so good (I guess). Then disco came along and black funk was watered down and simplified for white consumption. Rock clubs died. I imagine a goodly number of older white folks remember dancing to rock and would like to do so now. The Stone Coyotes seemingly also write songs for these people too, and I'm just guessing here, but I bet they make up a sizable portion of whogoes see them play. What do these folks want? Simple slogans repeated often enough in a single playing of a song for anyone to sing along like a pro. That, and rockin' music you can boogie too.
90% of all songs with either the word "Rock" in its title, or are about rock music, suck 90%. Lou Reed's "Rock N Roll" and any of Dave Davies references to the music industry have been exceptions. Here we have two songs with Rock in the title: "The First Lady Of Rock" and "Rock It". The former takes the heaviness of Joan Jett's "I Love Rock And Roll" and turns it into a lite-heavy declaration of triumph in the male-dominated rock world. "Rock It" isn't bad but it's not as intelligent as their better material. It's an anthem, not meaningful self-expression. Which reminds me, is Loverboy dead yet?
For selfish, hypocritical reasons I like "American Child", which takes part of its riff from The Beach Boy's "Surfin' USA". Whenever Barbara sings "Give me Jerry Lee Lewis, give me Joey Ramone", the guitar plays a little Ramones riff. It's personal preference that I like this more than "The First Lady Of Rock". It's still not anywhere as impressive as their more personal material.
The Stone Coyotes know what they like and they know what their fans like. They're catering to both well. It’s a small slice of the rock pie, but pie is good with some whipped cream and a hot cup of coffee.
The Suburban Lawns - self-titled LP (review) (IRS): Not long ago, in a galaxy a few blocks from my apartment, I saw that former members of The Suburban Lawns were playing the local club/bowling alley/best-pizza-by-the-slice-joint-run-by-dimwits. Unloading gear from a pickup truck was Bill Ranson, who went by the name Vex Billingsgate when he played bass with the Suburban Lawns. Other fake band members were Frankie Ennui, Chuck Roast and the legendary Su Tissue, who looked like a bored prep school princess barely out of puberty. She later appeared in Something Wild and then fell into a volcano or something. Bill spoke quickly, took credit for everything from starting the band to resolving the time-space continuum, and then handed me his business card. He sands, stains and refinishes floors. The Suburban Lawns weren't playing but Bill had a new thing going, and what the hell do I know, so I went instead for pizza served by idiots.
The Suburban Lawns released "Gidget Goes To Hell" in 1979 on their own Suburban Industrial Records, and it was one of the odder singles to come down the pike. I'll bet they were lumped in with the Surf Punks and Human Sexual Response. It wasn't surf and it wasn't punk, but it was rock you could dance to it if you were a geek and proud. Su sings like a European eccentric but she sounds more like an adult here than she did on the 1981 LP. Su's voice is interesting, part put-on and part highly trained and rich. "Janitor" and "Protection" were released as a single in 1980. There's a 21 track CD collection somewhere. Good luck finding it. The album is a collectors item. There was another album from 1982 called Salon De Musique.
The Suburban Lawns is a small-time classic. The sound is exactly 65% Undertones and 35% Devo. Sue's not the lead singer on all tracks I recommend this record to all my imaginary friends and they always thank me later on.
Here's something I found on the internet:
Influential New Wave band from New York City and California, active 1980 through 1985(?); featuring lead vocalist Su Tissue.
As told to me by Brian Smith (who prefers not to have his email address bandied about):
The Suburban Lawns were friends of mine, and although they were in New York for a short while, they were mostly from Southern CA. Their first studio was in Long Beach, in an old store front. Su and Bill (Vex) were students at Cal Arts, where they met and the band first formed. The drummer and guitar player were from Huntington Beach. Frank was a computer geek, and Chuck was a house painter.
I helped get them their first paying job at the Cuckoo's Nest in Costa Mesa, where a lot of unsigned bands played. Their independent single Gidget Goes To Hell was self-produced. They first appeared on the radio on Rodney Bingenheimer's "Rodney on the Rocks" on KROQ in Pasadena. I was sitting in their van when it was broadcast.
Their influences were The New York Dolls, David Bowie, Eno, etc. They regularly appeared with Human Hands, Wall of Voodoo, The Blasters, The Brainiacs (Featured in Lily Tomlin's movie The Incredible Shrinking Woman), The Furys, etc. When they became better known, they opened for The Psychedelic Furs at The Whiskey a Go Go, U2 (at the L.A. URGH - The Music Wars concert series, which was made into a film), and after they went to New York, they appeared on the Saturday Night Live show (after the original cast left and they re-grouped 1982).
The song JANITOR was conceived after a conversation in a loud room between myself and Su. She asked me what I did for a living. I said "I'm a Janitor" and she thought I said "Oh my genitals". Frank overheard this and wrote the song.
Trivia: Su was a student at the Berklee College of Music. She studied classical piano. I think she's from Boston. In 1986 she appeared in a movie, Something Wild with Melanie Griffith and Jeff Daniels, directed by John Demme.
The band broke up because of the usual ego problems that arise after awhile. I was at the last show in Hollywood, Christmas Eve, 1985(?). Thought you might be interested since you bothered to mention them. Truly one of the best of their time. I'm glad I was around because it was a real kick in the ass!
Yes, the part about "Janitor" is true.
Suddenly, Tammy! - (We Get There When We Do) (CD review) (Warner Brothers): Call me a poser if you must, but I love this CD. It’s soft college alternative with piano, bass, drums and the sweet voice of Beth Sorrentino. That's it! Beth bangs away at the keys like Bruce Hornsby when she has to, otherwise the songs are sweet without being pathetic, like how cool Cub is even when they sing sweet ditties. Listen to "Hard Lesson" or "Not That Dumb" and you'll be a fan for life. Fans of Kate Bush (and her little sister Tori Amos) should pick this up immediately. All you punks should broaden your little harder-than-thou horizons and get this too. We Get There When We Do is a collection of memorable melodies rendered perfectly..
Suddenly, Tammy! - Comet (cd review): (A lost album washes up on shore) Time to cash out some of my remaining Punk Rock Street Cred and get girly about Suddenly, Tammy!, a middle-ish 90's alt-indie band featuring singer-songwriter Beth Sorrention on piano, backed by Ken Heitmueller on bass guitar and Beth's brother Jay on drums. My Cred also just took a kick to the repository of future generations as two minutes ago someone found my site by typing "Can a girl steal your soul by kissing?". To complete my trifecta of testosterone shame my favorite show right now is Castle, whose fan base can't even conceptualize the idea of a raised toilet seat.
I spent the alt.-90s trying to avoid alternative music but some things fell through. I discovered 1995's We Get There When We Do in a dollar bin and it's been one of my favorite possessions since. It gets compared to Ben Folds Five and Tori Amos, which I'm not going to research to say either way. I will say it's great singer-songwriter material, with Beth's pixie voice bringing the right quirk to songs ranging from heartfelt to rollicking and rocking. Their 1993 debut is less interesting and Beth's solo songs I've internetted are neither here nor there, but I hold out hope that given the full studio treatment they'd rise to the occasion.
Suddenly, Tammy! were dropped by Warners in late 1996 as part of a larger purge and the master tapes for Comet were put in storage to possibly be never heard from again, bedeviling the few who remembered and were nice enough to care. Here in January of 2011 the songs appeared for sale as downloads on Amazon for $8.99, and there was great joy in The Land Of Esoterica. The quality of the recordings are a shade less rich than We Get There When We Do but Comet is almost that album's equal, which is so freaking fantastic I might just add a few bucks to Amazon's tip jar in appreciation.
Comet waits until track five to rock out (my punk cred demands I add "as it were") and there should have been one or two extra rockers in the mix, but each song is a winner, and if you random play this and the last one they combine flawlessly like a double-LP, in effect making We Get There When We Do even better than it is.
I think New Musik has an unreleased album in a cabinet somewhere, so that's my new holy grail. I'd also like to have The Resident's Buckaroo Blues & Black Barry cassette digitized, along with a song called "Moonie" by Tetes Noires. After that it's all gravy, baby, gravy.
Talking Heads - Talking Heads 77 (CD review) (Sire/Warner): Maybe the Talking Heads were the strangest band to come out the CBGBs scene only because they looked out of place amongst the junkies and punkies. Preppies all, they played minimalist white funk to the hookers and failed artists of the Bowery. That they often shared stage time with the Ramones suggests either a shared aesthetic or the absurdity of juxtaposition that defined the Talking Heads. This debut album is slower than you'd expect but there's a lot of beauty in the simple song structures and David Byrne's high-strung vocals. Ex-Modern Lover Jerry Harrison joined the band in time for this release and Jonathan Richman's aura seems to inhabit part of Bryne's psyche. Tina Weymouth on bass deserves more credit than she gets for laying out the groove in each song. Talking Heads 77 contains the mega-hit "Psycho Killer", a single which extended to them the street cred of edgy artistry they would never have earned without it. A subtle yet engrossing release that only gets better with each listen.
Talking Heads: Popular Favorites - Sand In The Vaseline (2 CD set review) (Sire/Warner Bros.): Two CD set greatest hits are great because they provide a sweeping overview of a band’s career. For successful bands like the Talking Heads, one CD just doesn’t cut it. The Talking Heads may be the first new wave band (tied with Devo), coming out of but separate from the CBGBs scene of the mid ‘70s. The Talking Heads often played on the same bill as the Ramones. This may seem like an odd coupling, but these bands shared a common aesthetic of deconstructing music to its core, only to rebuild it in simple yet powerful ways. While the NY Dolls and the Heartbreakers were rendering trashy imitations of The Rolling Stones, the Ramones reached back to the Phil Spector wall of sound to create short blasts of dance music they thought was as commercially viable as anything on the radio. In the beginning the Talking Heads played “black” dance music as only white preppies from Rhode Island could piece together on drums, guitar and bass. The original trio of David Byrne, Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth were fleshed out by the addition of former Modern Lovers Jerry Harrison on keyboards by the time of the first album, Talking Heads 77. Brian Eno for a time was an unofficial fourth member, and under his tutelage the sound grew larger than life and Byrne was encouraged to pursue his love of world music. Easily the most eccentric man in music, asexual David Byrne is truly the man who fell to earth. He’s labeled as pretentious, but I think he’s just superhumanly weird. From the liner notes: “Some friends got into heroin. It was cheaper. I tried it. Too strong. I wasn’t exactly gonna get a lot of writing done on that stuff. But I guess it was a mythic drug…”be-bop…hard rock”… hip writers, etc. The French loved that stuff…musta thought it was cool.” Reminds you of Rainman, doesn’t it?
I wasn’t that big a fan of The Talking Heads when they first broke big in 1980. I was too cool for that, but now I’m looking to pick up their entire catalog. Like The Cars, The Talking Heads had a knack for writing popular songs that were also good too. The Cars recorded the same album over and over again, always coming up with enough hits to make it worthwhile. The Talking Heads’ sound diversified as they went on. It’s easy to pick up the c&w influences, and some say they went too far with the world music (African and Latin), but they did it with a hell of a lot less pretension than that shmoo Sting. There’s a guy who masturbates to his own picture.
Two booklets come with Sand In The Vaseline, One containing short blurbs from the four original band members, the other with liner notes from various band members on each song in the set. The writing is mostly dull. For “Love For Sale” Byrne writes, “Tried to write a song using only lines from advertisements. It didn’t work.” Anyway, all the hits are here, from “Psycho Killer”, “Once In A Lifetime”, “Life During Wartime” to “Wild Wild Life”. Live songs and demos are included for street cred! My favorite has always been “Heaven”, which somehow reminds me of the song “In Heaven” from Eraserhead. I like disc one better because I enjoyed them more as a four-piece than as a tour bus full of musicians.
Tears For Fears - The Hurting (LP review) (Polygram): This is one of the best new wave albums of 1983, but what makes it intriguing is the pseudo psychology it's based on. Roland Orzabal was a sensitive lad from a broken home who found meaning in the works of Dr. Arthur Janov, who has written ten books and counting on his "Primal Therapy”. He both claims his is the only way and that "Primal Therapy is not a religion". Yeah, right, I bet Janov primal screams every day when he remembers how rich L. Ron Hubbard became once he turned his science fiction into Salvation.
According to Janov's web site, "We are born needing, and the vast majority of us die after a lifetime of struggle with many of our needs unfulfilled. These needs are not excessive--to be fed, kept warm and dry, to grow and develop at our own pace, to be held and caressed, and to be stimulated. These Primal needs are the central reality of the infant. The neurotic process begins when these needs go unmet for any length of time." "We have found a way people can reduce pain by going back to the original, overwhelming trauma so they can reduce it bit by bit over time, until the pain is resolved. The only way to resolve the trauma is to descend into the Pain and react to it."
Can a person ever break free from their primal pain of unfulfilled childhood needs with the help of Primal Therapy? Of course not. There's gold in them thar therapies: "Primal Pain can be re-channeled or diverted, but never erased. If a feeling such as "I am not loved" is set in early childhood, it never leaves. Life experience, even being loved by hundreds of people, will never change the painful feeling. The trauma of the pain remains, stored, waiting to be felt and resolved." Cha-ching!!!!!!! says Mr. Janov's cash register as he peddles a balm but no cure. Beware the talking cure, as they say. In this case, it's a screaming cure, and the foundation of Tears For Fears, itself a Janov reference.
Roland Orzabal is a dour little man. Typical lyrics are "I cannot grow / I cannot move / I cannot feel my age / The vice like grip of tension holds me fast / Engulfed by you / What can I do / When History's my cage / Look forward to a future in the past". Orzabal is a certified foot soldier for the cause of fringe psychology. He wallows in a quagmire he himself stirs up. I see the potential for artistic inspiration coming out of Janov's theories, but Orzabal creating Tears For Fears strikes me as nefarious an act as John Travolta making Battlefield Earth. They're both attempts to legitimize quackery through popular culture. Travolta failed because the movie stunk. Orzabal failed to move the masses to his little cult religion because he wrote catchy little dance numbers whose lyrics are mostly remembered in phrases and therefore rendered harmless. His lyrics might be fine examples of Primal Therapy tenets, but they were lost in a sea of equally self-obsessed lyrics consumed by masses of the self-obsessed. The timeless maxim of "Shut Up And Dance" doomed whatever chance Orzabal might have had to spread the word of Primal Therapy. Maybe he didn't intend to preach and just wrote from his heart, but theories like Primal Therapy are too self-serving to think otherwise.
Oh yeah, this is a record review. The Hurting was Tears For Fears' debut album from 1983. Orzabal, childhood friend, bass player and vocalist Curt Smith, and keyboard player Ian Stanley had been together in a ska band called Graduate, whose second single, "Elvis Should Play Ska", was a minor hit probably on the novelty factor alone. The Hurting yielded three top five singles in the UK. The band made a major dent in the US charts two years later with "Shout" and "Everybody Wants To Rule The World". There's not a weak track to be found on The Hurting. The most direct influence on their sound is Peter Gabriel, followed by Ultravox. Great attention is given to percussion, indirectly and quite effectively flirting with the primal rhythms of world music. The production values are excellent and it's a more complex work than most synth-pop, especially the kind that makes it into the top 40.
Orzabal wrote all the songs on The Hurting, split some of the credits with Ian Stanley on Songs From The Big Chair, then marginalized the marginal Curt Smith by 1989's The Seeds Of Love. By then new wave of any stripe had been long forgotten. Orzabal now fronts a band called Tomcats Screaming Outside. I wonder if he still constantly pouts his lips. Smith, he of frail and soft cheekbone, formed a band called Mayfield and recently recorded new versions of two hits he didn't write, "Pale Shelter" and "Everybody Wants To Rule The World". Isn't that an artistically sad way to make a buck? Smith and Orzabal are said to have recently resolved some differences and wrote songs together. A reunion tour would do well, and lord knows they have the free time.
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