New Wave, Ska & Misc. Punk Music
Reviews, Part I
A - F
All Girl Summer Fun Band - All Girl Summer Fun Band & 2 & Looking Into It (cd reviews): Portland's All Girl Summer Fun Band formed in 1998 and have so far released three records, the last in 2008. They've shrunk from four to three members and their site's blog was last updated in 2008, so hmmm. A natural K Records band, they've progressed from twee pop to indie pop to the harder cuddlecore and UK indie pop found on Damaged Goods and various Billy Childish projects without dropping much entirely. It makes you look forward to seeing how they'll change in the future.
The self-titled debut sees them playing standard genre fare, all pleasant enough with the standouts "Later Operator" and "Cell Phone", the latter with an ongoing wall of analog video game noise I always find amusing even though you couldn't pay me to actually play one. The next cd, annoying named "2", hits a homer right away with "Dear Mr. & Mr.s Troublemaker" - loud, fun and prerequisitely cute with its use of narrated typing segments. It's followed by the equally winning "Down South, 10 Hours, I-5". The album tracks are all loud and as attention grabbing as the genre gets, with two additional standouts in "Video Game Heart" and "Samantha Secret Agent". Looking Into It has the band moved out of Tweetown and now residing in alt.rockville. It's the most commercial but also the best of the three as it looks back while moving forward. Fans of their earlier sound have nothing to complain about with "Rewind", "Trajectory" and "Lost". "Plastic Toy Dream", "Everything I Need" and "Plastic Toy Dream" are the record's highlights but there's not a weak track in the litter. From their EP you also get the great Cub-like "Grass Skirt" and the whimsical "Charm Bracelet", which illustrates the conundrum of some twee-indie bands where you can't understand how grrrl-assertive womanhood occupies the same space as a precocious ten year old's world view.
Lily Allen - The Ska EP (review): I don't know who Lily Allen is and out of cultural spite I'm not going to find out on my own. Does she juggle or play the flugelhorn or dance The Locomotion or something? She provides two Specials songs, "Gangsters" and "Blank Expression". "Gangsters" is live with a talented band, but her singing is probably more appropriate in whatever style she normally sings. "Blank Expression" is commercial glossy studio dub reggae. The song can get as cute as her singing, so it's not a keeper, but parts of it flow nicely. A different mix might work for these ears. I think she's being sincere so while it's a no go it's also no harm no foul (maybe a smidge foul).
Altered Images - I Could Be Happy: The Best Of Altered Images (CD review) (Sony/Columbia): Altered Images recorded a few great songs, and a few of these were cannibalized from previous hits ("I Could Be Happy" being Altered Images' DNA), but they're a true guilty pleasure. "I Could Be Happy", "See Those Eyes" and "Happy Birthday" are new wave staples, and Steve Severin of The Banshees did a nice job producing their first single, "Dead Pop Stars", blessed with the good timing of coming out after the death of John Lennon. There’s a distinct Siouxie Sioux influence on their earliest recordings. The guitars aren't as biting, but they skit around with the best post-punk of the era. Clare Grogan's voice turned off a lot of people but it's very distinctive in an impish/childish fashion. She’s the Scottish Cyndi Lauper.
Clare starred in two Bill Forsyth films, Gregory's Girl (1980) and Comfort and Joy (1984). Bill Forsyth was the UK's John Hughes. Happy Birthday was released in 1981 and Pinky Blue in 1982. By 1983, when Bite was released, new wave as we knew and loved it was dead, and Altered Images changed with the new disco times to record a bad record. The first half of this greatest hits package is great, the second half both sucks and blows.
Clare went on to perform in BBC productions and is now employed in front of the camera on the UK's VH1. She periodically guests on other people's records and maintains a lingering fan base who keep her name alive.
Half a dozen or so really good songs is not bad for a two-hit wonder.
Tori Amos - Under The Pink (CD review) (Atlantic): Tori Amos fans will never admit it, but without Kate Bush there might never have been a Tori Amos. Bush, progressive rock's answer to Stevie Nicks, wrote the book on piano-driven, highly-produced, organic yet electrified odes to the romantic fantasies of girls stuck between sexual fantasies and lingering beliefs in unicorns and elves. Word has it Tori is even more out there than Kate, but not as nuts as Bjork.
Years ago I was given a free ticket to a Tori Amos concert. She’s as close to Kate Bush as you can get without violating copyright laws. Kate was trained as a dancer and mime, and her shows were theatrical in a high school theatre fashion. Tori bangs the keys with an odd smirk while straddling her piano bench with one leg to the side. I got into the Torster's faster, louder, more complex songs but fell asleep during the slower, emotional crooners. The hall was packed with crazed fans, mostly teenage women (and men who like teenage women). Between songs she was always good for a rambling girl-power speech. There's a fine line between mystical and nuts. I'll never forget the small stuffed animals wedged between instruments and amp stacks, like Tori couldn't perform without Mr. Snuggles and Floppy Bunny for moral support.
Under The Pink is generally slow but the songs grow on you. There are certain aesthetic similarities between Tori Amos and R.E.M. If you like one you should have no problem with the other. "Cornflake Girl" was the hit. I have nothing against Tori Amos. Kate Bush hasn't put out a good Kate Bush album in a long time, so if Tori can do it for her I'm happy.
The Arcade Fire
- Funeral (CD review):
a great record, a collection of mid and up-tempo funeral dirges you can dance to
if not shuffle along with, the biggest influences being The Talking Heads, New
Order and John Cale of The Velvet Underground. The instrumentation is inspired,
mixing orchestra and rock elements with touches of xylophone, accordion, steel
drum and mandolin. They even toss in a waltz. Remorseful yet impatient, they end
some slower songs with a roaring finale, on "Wake Up" kicking into an uplifting
"Lust For Life" fadeout. Whatever they do, The Arcade Fire doesn’t sit on it’s
Members of Canada's The Arcade Fire lost loved ones in quick succession, and Funeral is about loss. Or so I read. The lyrics, as I hear them, are too obtuse to mean much specifically. I have no idea what these songs are really about, but they read nicely. This from someone who generally pisses on lyrics as poetry, and poetry as answers to existential questions.
There's a lovely sound throughout of instruments being plucked and tuned like when an orchestra warms up before a performance. The standard/expected drone of string instruments are, if anything, underplayed, a nice change and a classy choice.
I've never heard anything quite like this and if it's wholly original in its own way I wouldn't be surprised. I highly recommend this.
Atom And His Package
- Hair: Debatable (CD and DVD review): Adam
Goren's traveling one man, a guitar and a CD player band
Atom And His Package
was an acquired taste, and I thankfully discovered him
through his most accomplished work,
It's one of my favorite records and I'm amazed how complex it is. What came
before was childish and the follow-up home studio CD,
Attention, Blah Blah Blah,
had some great songs mixed in with the filler. 2004
a 27 song live CD with a bonus DVD of the entire show, plus a number of
documentaries and somesuch. The whole thing retails for $14.
He recorded full band stuff on sequencers and synths, and played live guitar over it while he sang and told jokes. I guess you could call it singing even though it was mostly an atonal rap that didn't rhyme. The choruses were sung though. The songs tended to feature hair-metal guitar riffs in synth pop and casio punk wrappings. It's a bizarre combination but it works for me. On his side was an unnatural gift for catchy melodies. "Upside Down From Here" and "Shopping Spree" are classics.
On the live CD I liked the stuff I liked and forwarded through what I didn't. The live dvd shows Adam to be a combination of Ian Mackaye and Paul Reubens. He's Pee Wee when he sings and his tongue shows. He's playing in the paneled rec room of a Philly church and it must be 120 degrees. Adam sweats profusely.
The DVD also comes with a two minute Philly Music Profile, a music video, Atom singing a song with another band, and two documentaries. The longer one is well made, but I think Atom's not worthy of a documentary no matter how nice he is or how much his fans and family love him. It's endearing yet somehow embarrassing.
Atom wrote one of the sweetest lines in "Does Anyone Else in This Room Want to Marry His or Her Own Grandmother". I made the line bold. I think he means Matlock, not the A-Team character:
Hey grandma, let's get married// I know it sounds like a crazy thing to do// We'll move you and your samples down to Philadelphia//Stay old with me, and I'll get old with you// I'll pay the bills, we'll cross the words and watch Murdock// We'll dine on the samples at the grocery store// We'll find a place and paint this whole house purple// Purple-ize the walls and we'll purple-ize the floor// And it breaks my heart to see you alone// Grandma, let's elope// And it breaks my heart to see you alone// Grandma, let's elope
Atom & His Package - Redefining Music (CD review) (Hopeless): The title really should be Atom Grows Up And Gets His Act Together. Compared to his back catalog of silliness and childish singing begging for a slap, Redefining Music is a major step forward and one of the most fascinating records I've come across lately. Each time I put it on a different set of songs stand out, and that's a quality that spells success.
Adam Goren is a one man band who travels the country playing shows in clubs and small halls. He plays guitar while his custom CDs of sequenced accompanying music play through the clubs’ speakers. At its core it’s advanced casio punk, with the drumming sounding live while he tears into his guitar with gusto. Atom & His Package is also a funny band, for better or worse. The main vocal comparison I can make is to Stewart Copeland when he recorded as Klark Kent. You can also sense a kinship with how REM approached their quirky "Stand", specifically on "Undercover Funny”.
On past recordings Adam, to be funny, resorted to non-sequitur lyrics and simple gimmicks of ska or polka rhythms, making him the Weird Al of Pennsylvania. There was also a marked stridency in his singing, which is usually what you do when you fear the audience isn't paying attention. Redefining Music is more mature, its comedy coming from clever observations, playful chord structures and a interesting instrumentation. Adam still comes across as young, but at least now he's a prodigy and not a goofy teenager.
There's a lot going on within Redefining Music: some things old, some things new, some things borrowed and some things blue. Each track is nicely designed and filled with riffs and surprises. No sound or beat lasts for long, yet the internal timing of each track is flawless. There's always something new, no matter how many times you listen.
My favorite tracks are "Shopping Spree", "Seed Song", "Anarchy Means I Litter" and "If You Own The Washington Redskins, You're A Cock", which is as funny as it is rhetorically correct. Propagandhi should take notes. When I hear the word "hitmen" in "Mission 1 Avoid Job Working With Assholes" I wonder if Adam is borrowing from a great Trenchmouth song, and "For Franklin" might be based partly on Depeche Mode's "Dreaming Of Me". If you’re good with new wave you could probably pick apart this CD for days.
I grade Redefining Music an A for both its eclectic sources and its clever songwriting and execution.
Aztec Camera - High Land, Hard Rain (LP review) (Sire): This was Spanish guitar acoustic poppy new wave that melted some critics back in 1983. I like "Oblivious" as a single, and "Queen's Tattoos" keeps the eyelids open, but the rest is at best pleasant and at worst fey lounge music. I don't mean that as a cut on anyone's sexuality, it's just that some bands' songs demand you wave your limp wrists left and right and over again. Like this one does. "Release" sounds like an airport lounge act at 2AM, or at least the nostalgic memory of such things. You could glue this under my left foot, something by Orange Juice under the right foot, and then swim into the sea far enough to drown. The Style Council was a bit more exciting, but not by much. Let's call this a once in a lifetime experience. I’m amazed there’s an entire genre like this of unrelentingly boring music.
Bauhaus - 1979-1983 (CD review) (Beggers Banquet): If these guys were crybabies they'd be called Boo-Hoos. Hello, Is this thing on?... Come on everybody, find a mirror and twirl to the gloomy sounds of Bauhaus, the godfathers of goth rock, which combined electronics and abrasive guitars to create a dichotomy of reflective moodiness and loud aggression. Throughout their short career they explored glam, long-winded minimalist mood pieces and enough structured music to warrant this hits package. Peter Murphy went on to Love And Rockets while other band members showed up forTones On Tail, Jazz Butcher, and Dalis Car.
Bauhaus is one of the few goth bands I can get into. Some of their material should be shorter ("Bela Lugosi's Dead"), but they know to be loud and aggressive even on the more reflective tracks. You can twirl to Bauhaus until eternal night becomes law, but like I say, there's an underlying aggression that keeps them from being coy, pretentious, or worst of all, cute. Any greatest hits package will do and there's more than one to choose from.
11-01: Someone e-mailed me with corrections.
'Love and Rockets' was NOT
Peter Murphy's band. It was ALL of Bauhaus
minus Peter Murphy. 'Dalis Car' was Peter Murphy and Nick Karn (the bass player for Japan). 'Tones on Tail' was Daniel Ash and Kevin Haskins with Glen Campling
(someone who worked as a Roadie for Bauhaus and apparently was an art school friend of some of them). 'The Jazz Butcher' had David J. on a few of them.
The B-52's - self-titled (LP review) (Warner Bros): The B-52's are a band with a gimmick, but they’re not a gimmick band. At least not for the first few albums. When guitarist Ricky Wilson died in 1985 they lost direction and fell back on their cute, campy image to record product like the Flintstones movie theme. In the late ‘70s they were pretty cool, making an impression on Saturday Night Live. My fascination with the dance The Pony comes from watching Fred Schneider work it on "Rock Lobster". For a brief, shining moment new wave was poised to take over the airwaves, led by Elvis Costello, Devo, Graham Parker, Iggy Pop and of course the B-52's. New Romance killed new wave.
The B-52's shtick was big hair, two female singers, and Fred - seemingly John Waters on happy pills and caffeine. He later released a lame record under the name The Shake Society, but pick up his 1996 stab at real punk titled just... fred. It's a train wreck, but in a good way.
The strength of the first B-52's record is its minimalism. Wilson's guitar is a tribute to Dick Dale's surf riffs, while Keith Strickland's drumming is simple and Kate Pierson's electric organ emits small bursts of horror movie shocks. "Planet Claire" opens the album with morse code blips and a "Secret Agent Man" guitar riff. B-52's lyrics rarely made it beyond "Some says she's from Mars/Or one of the seven stars/That shine after 3:30 in the morning/Well she isn’t!!", but forget the singing and listen to the instruments. The B-52’s played great surf and spy music.
Side one is strong, "Rock Lobster" being a perennial frat boy favorite. Side 2 is weaker, redeemed only by "6060-842". The closing track is an uninspired cover of "Downtown". I imaine they were one song short of an album and barely rehearsed the song before recording it.
Wild Planet came out a year later, and while it had no clear hits I think it's the better record. Side one of Whammy Kiss is also great. Don't throw The B-52's in with loser bands like Duran Duran. The B-52's were fun and eccentric at a time when new wave and punk were still new and open to all memberships.
The B-52s - Wild Planet (LP review) (Warner Bros): The strengths of the early B-52's are many: a minimalist aesthetic that mirrors the Talking Heads, the underrated surf/secret agent man/spaghetti western guitar of Ricky Wilson, Kate Pierson's perfect pitch control, Cindy Wilson's looser and more emotional singing, the discordant yet mesmerizing way Kate and Cindy harmonize, Keith Strickland's simple, efficient and powerful drumming, and Fred Schneider. It's hard not to love him even if you're smiling at him in a funny way.
Wild Planet came out in 1980, in the wake of their successful 1979 debut. Wild Planet yielded "Party Out Of Bounds" and "Private Idaho" but it didn't make as big of an impression. Wild Planet is a record whose greatness takes a little longer to grasp.
Wild Planet contains the same ratio of clunkers to hits as their debut, but the hits are more challenging and less single sounding. To correct whatever feelings Cindy may have harbored about not being featured as a singer, she belts outs their most powerful tune, "Give Me Back My Man", giving her instant Patsy Cline status. There's nothing cute about the song, and the delivery is so effective it almost makes perfect sense when she sings "I'll give you fish, I'll give you candy, I'll give you everything I have in my hand. Give me back my man". "Devil In My Car" is the other buried treasure.
The B-52s - Funplex (CD Review): When I first read there's a new B-52's cd my first thought was "Why?", not in a bad way, but at this point they need new material as much as Jimmy Buffett. They're both nostalgic fun-time party bands, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that, and nobody has expectations of hearing an album track off Bouncing Off The Satellites. Listening to this it's immediately obvious Funplex is comparable even on the existential level to Bob Mould's Body Of Song. Both are reconciliations of seemingly incompatible old and new sounds, and are bookends of the adaptability of asexual new wave and melodic hardcore punk to innovation. When projects like this fail they can do so spectacularly (see Billy Idol's Cyberpunk and Neil Young's Trans). Modern dance music intrusions are kept at a minimum, which is still a little too much for me, but the B-52's come "this" close to recording a great album. Out of it they got a few more songs for their next greatest hits collection and a handful of club-friendly crowd pleasers to use live on tour. Not too shabby.
Funplex is front-loaded with the songs that best defined what made them great in the first place. Few remember this in context, but their first two albums are minimalist surf/spy masterpieces. Focus on the drums and guitar alone and you'll hear it. The upgrade on the first few tracks are the alterna-rock influences last heard on Fred Schneider's beautiful mess of a record Just...Fred. Their greatest strengths are the vocals and (especially) vocal harmonies of Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson. A good dance beat is the easiest thing to stumble upon. The trick is building on it, and nothing makes a B-52's song soar more than when the girls belt it out.
Fred gets his own paragraph because he's both a great asset and also the reason why Funplex drags down a few times. He always makes me think of John Waters, but that's not important. Fred should not be allowed to slowly talk-sing. It's that simple. I also find his slow faux-rapping just as ineffectual. Don't get me wrong. I love Fred for the kitsch genius he is. I just think he has weaknesses and should avoid them plague-like. His ability to dance The Pony alone makes him, to me, a god.
"Juliet Of The Spirits" reminds me of Bob Mould's "I Am Vision, I Am Sound", and "Eyes Wide Open" sneaks in part of a chorus that sounds like Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill". Does anyone know why there's an apostrophe in "The B-52's"?
Above are two songs from Funplex and a few more for flavor. "Planet Claire" opened their debut LP, and as such it's their mission statement. It's a great example of their eccentric, southern-fried, minimalist approach. "Give Me Back My Man", from the second LP, corrected a universal wrong by giving Cindy Wilson the chance to prove that while she was not as great a singer as Kate Pierson was she was at least 98% as good, and that's more than enough. "Whammy Kiss" is the most fun the band's ever had, and it's The B-52's at their best.
The B-52's were one of the first, one of the best, and one of the most popular new wave bands. They did for quaint eccentricity what the recently departed Estelle Getty did for loveable old curmudgeons.
Bad Manners - Forging Ahead (LP review) (Portrait): Bad Manners never signed to 2-Tone Records but they appeared in the film and on the soundtrack for 1981's Dance Craze. Madness will always be more of a novelty act to me, but it was Bad Manners who covered "Monster Mash", "Wolly Bully" and "Can Can". Bad Manners is the real deal no matter how fun and funny they are. They also had the fattest skin of all, Fatty Buster Bloodvessel, a man of monumental girth and a freakishly large tongue that by weight shamed Gene Simmons. Besides being the best live second wave ska act, Bad Manners were a professional studio band who recorded reggae, dub, swing and old-country wedding music. There's nothing they didn't do and didn't do well.
According to their website, badmanners.net, Fatty fell ill on tour and has to lose weight to relieve pressure from a hernia. The man's the size of a house but he works the stage like a sugar fiend. I guess something had to give, and it did. In the grooooooiiiinnnnn!
Bad Manners formed in 1979 and recorded their first LP in 1980. It was titled Ska'N'B, which was how they described their sound. Their first six albums, through 1983, are of equal value and may be best covered at this point by a greatest hits collection, of which there are a few. Forging Ahead is the best of the six, even though it doesn't contain "Lorraine". Along with Buster on vocals are nine band members, including a harmonica player.
Bad Manners is England's in-house ska party band, and I've never read a bad live review. Buster's a real skinhead and shows bring out a skin contingent, so call them posers at your own peril. They're a funny band you can take seriously.
Beck - Odelay (CD review) (DGC): I read that even though alternative is petering out as a trend the industry is always on the lookout for the next Beck. I'd never knowingly heard a Beck song so I borrowed the mega-selling Odelay. I'm sure he's very good at what he does, but what total crap! How derivative, how pandering, how unoriginal. Alternative is an irony and a bastardization of the term. Slight variation is more like it. Rebellion is now a corporate commodity. Kids are puppets to style, fashion, music and lifestyle manipulation - and all the while they think they're immune to manipulation. A whole generation is happily in bed with and under the control of the system they claim to hold in contempt.
Back to Odelay, it's a mixture of psychedelic, hip-hop, rock, lounge, folk, soul and whatever else might be popular. To be honest, punk isn't the most original thing in the world either, but it is a real alternative. This stuff is a mish-mash of older mainstream styles. Alternative? Alternative to what?
Big Bad Voodoo Daddy - self-titled (CD review) (EMI): Hey, daddy-o! Like, were you asleep last week? Don't you know swing is the next big thing and it’s happening right now? Skee Bop Boop Bepp Boop Bop?!?!?!
Swing is the logical next step since ska’s down in popularity. Swing is jazzier and offers more opportunity for experimentation and big, bad horn blowouts. You may have noticed ska bands are adding swing to their mix. The swing revival is a nice gimmick, and hopefully ska will retain some of its charms. I don't think it’ll last longer than any other hip corporate trend, but what can ya do? This here CD here is loads of fun but I'd rather hear the originals. Those guys lived it and you can hear it in old scratchy recordings. Skeep Bop Boop, indeed.
- The Best Of Big Country (CD review): I've
often compared songs to
but I've never owned any of their records.
The Best Of Big Country
raised a question or two that was answered by other
people's reviews of their work.
Their big 1983 hit was, of course, "In A Big Country", featuring their signature sound of a guitar that sounds like a bagpipe, hints at Scottish folk music and an attempt to create stadium-shaking anthems that inspire through sheer humongusness. This high is sought over and over again, with pretty fair results, but the cumulative effect is commercial overkill.
What I was wondering was if the repetition was a bad thing (if I wasn't a fan) or a good thing (if I loved them). I like their songs well enough individually but I won't be listening to all of this again. I was also trying to determine from the hits if there might be a reason to pick up a regular album where I'd be further rewarded with filler tracks of more variety. I didn't get that sense since every track on Best Of is recorded to be HUGE.
The review consensus seems to be that Big Country had great songs but never broke through to as large an audience as was expected. While not a one hit band, they're a one sound band, and the Scottish stadium anthem thing has to be a gimmick with limited potential. They could have been limited by the "yeah, I get it" factor.
Singer Stuart Adamson was the guitarist for The Skids, who went to that sweet suburbia in the sky.
U2 fans would and should love Big Country. Punks get their teenage Scottish kicks from The Real McKenzies.
Billy Bragg - Life's A Riot Etc. (with the Between The Wars EP) (LP review) (CD Presents): Punk's resident socialist folksinger, Billy Bragg’s been pumping out tender love ballads and worker's anthems since 1983's Life's A Riot with Spy Vs. Spy, here combined with a political EP from ‘85. A mixture of Elvis Costello, The Jam and The Clash (whose ‘77 gig inspired him to pick up the guitar), Bragg vigorously strums his guitar while belting out heartfelt pleas for both social and socialist understanding. Good luck on both counts.
Recorded as if in a subway station at 2AM, Bragg's strong songwriting skills propel basic protest folk into classic acoustic punk. Here's where you'll find "The Milkman Of Human Kindness" and "A New England", the latter a keeper for the ages. The Between The Wars EP is basic Woodie Guthrie protest folk inspired by striking mine workers he met on his first solo tour. Recently he and Wilco finished and recorded Woody Guthrie songs at the personal behest of Guthrie's daughter. Socialism is the mildest mental disorder in the communist family. It’s genocide by the well-intentioned.
Blancmange - Seconds Helpings: The Best Of Blancmange (CD review) (London): The two-headed love child of keyboardist art students Stephen Luscombe and Neil Arthur, Blancmange ran from 1979 to 1986 and left a few new wave dance hits in their wake. I recognized more of these tracks than I though I would. "Living On The Ceiling", "Blind Vision" and "Don't Tell Me" take me back to 1982-4 when in clubs I had to endure a lot of music I had no interest in just to be thrown the occasional doggie treat of Elvis Costello or The Rezillos. Blancmange skipped along the line of what I could stand and what made weasels rip my flesh. As with most synth bands who formed in the ‘70s and lived to see the ‘80s, Blancmange moved from interesting and odd music to blatant dance crap. What they had going for them early on was an affection for the Talking Heads and OMD (before OMD themselves sold the farm).
Neil Arthur's voice, while limited in range, is both monotone and emotive at the same time. He sings and speaks and speak-sings at will, making him twice as talented as Rex Harrison. On the negative side are songs with a blatant disco-wave beat and the use of a loud synth drum pad every fourth beat (see "Feel Me" for details). I can't think of a better example of a band that lived on the crack between good and bad synth pop.
- Silent Alarm (CD review): Man, this is
the stuff! According to “The Internet" they're the bee's knees with the highly
desirable 15-25 year old demographic.
London's Bloc Party plays what I call retro-new wave and the press say is alternative pop. Happily they do it well, and even more happily there's a number of these bands today giving back new wave its good name. According to their own site, Bloc Party are pretentious oddballs. Oh well.
Silent Alarm is filled with interesting songs you can dance to like we did back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. We danced with heart, soul and a little bit of what I call gumption. The songs are exhilarating and fun, with soaring choruses and guitars that, you may not want to hear this, comes more from emo than anything else. The singer fellow sounds like Robert Smith, and while I do hear elements of a few olde British bands, mostly Gang of Four and The Cure, there's a driving and whirling energy (driven by the drums) that make this modern sounding too.
Since you all borrow songs from “The Internet”, listen to "Like Eating Glass" and "She's Hearing Voices". You may not thank me today, next week or forever for that matter, but when you die I'll piss on your graves, I swear I will, you ungrateful fuggs.
The Bongos - Drums Along The Hudson / Numbers With Wings / Beat Hotel (cd reviews): So like there as was once this band once in the 80s, The Bongos, and they had this song that went like "(Booda dooda doodoo dooda booda dooda dooda booda) In The Congo, In The Congo". That was like the whole song I think. On a less serious note that's all I knew about Hoboken, NJ's The Bongos, so I listened to their 1982 debut LP, Drums Along The Hudson, itself a collection of singles and an EP going back to 1980. I was impressed by it to say the least. It distills elements of the NY art punk scene from then and a few years earlier into a very satisfying and eclectic collection of indie pop tunes. You'll hear everyone from The Feelies to No Wave to even a little devo-style nervous energy. It's a distinct product of the northeast tri-state area. Then they signed with RCA for an EP in '83 and an LP in '85, both of which goes through the jangle pop motions. The Bongos were good when they were hungry and lazy when they got fat. And dat's dat.
Drums Along The Congo saw The Bongos as a tight three-piece led by singer/ songwriter/guitarist Richard Barone. It opens with [Booda dooda doodoo dooda booda dooda dooda booda] "In The Congo" which is pretty much a perfect power pop song with a distinctive Glenn Mercer (Feelies) guitar wig-out in the middle. "The Bulrushes" opens and closes with a flourish of The Byrds but its entirety is mid-paced electrified acoustic Feelies third album strumming with a bop-your-head-twice-to-the-left-then-twice-to-the-right rhythm. I hate to drop a Feelies bomb again but on "Clay Midgets" there's another Mercer-break in the middle. Once again a great simple pop tune. "Video Eyes" was the only track written by bassist Rob Norris and the drums pound while the guitar cuts. There's a Devo feel to the singing. Another winner.
Barone then channels Roy Orbison and Richie Valens for "Glow In The Dark", a track with nicely understated horn accompaniment. "Telefoto Lens" pounds and adds bleeps and bloops while reminding me of Fingerprintz on a good day. How's this for obscure? "Certain Harbours" starts with a repetitive bass line that mimics the opening lines of Stiff Little Finger's "Suspect Device". Then some James Chance No Wave kicks in followed by Mission Of Burma determination. Nice. "Speaking Sands" is a nervous pop version "La Bomba" in most things but name. "Burning Bush" is a peppy instrumental with pounding drums that will make you dance or something approaching similarity. "Automatic Doors" moves closer than before to Fingerprintz and fails a bit in its insertion of a tiny amount of asexual funk. "Hunting" is a little too paisley underground for my tastes but I see its merits. "Zebra Club" is a catchy slow Byrds number with some Feelies added.
"Three Wise Men" fakes slow and then goes full-frontal Feelies pound-a-thon with a James Chance meets Bow Wow Wow workout. Genius really. "Mambo Sun" is an adequate remake of a T-Rex song that charted via novelty. The album closes with "Question Ball", which features real bongos as to avoid a lawsuit.
They added a fourth player when signed with RCA. The only track worth hearing on the Numbers With Wings Ep is "Barbarella" and Beat Hotel is over-produced pap with one decent track, "Come Back To Me. Definitely check out the debut album. It's pretty near perfect. If The Bongos quit after that they'd be legends now like The Nerves.
David Bowie (review) - David Bowie turned fifty in January. He’s done a few exciting since Scary Monsters in 1980, but if you’re younger than 35 you may have no idea how important David Bowie is to the history of punk and new wave. In the 1970s he influenced the British punk and new wave scenes more than anyone, and this influence transferred to a United States that loved all British music.
In the mid ‘70s he was the only musician seemingly everyone in England liked - the teds, the rockers, the mods, the (pre)punks, the pub rockers - even football hooligans. Sid Vicious worshipped Bowie. This info came from Johnny Rotten, who personally hates all things Bowie. UK bands picked up punk from American bands like The NY Dolls and the Ramones, but they took from Bowie his glam fashion sense and stage presence. British new wave owed much to Bowie - the fashion, the alien sexuality and the artistic experimentation. Gary Numan was a boyish Bowie clone who mimicked Bowie’s signature movements on stage. Richard Butler of the Psychedelic Furs was another direct follower.
Bowie didn’t create punk music, but if he hadn’t rescued the careers of Lou Reed and Iggy Pop the history of punk would have included these two seminal figures more in passing. After he left the Velvet Underground, Lou Reed fell on hard times, and as a personal admirer it was Bowie who co-produced Transformer in 1972. Bowie’s involvement with Iggy goes even deeper, starting with his co-production of Raw Power in 1973 and peaking with him co-writing and producing The Idiot and Lust For Life, both in 1977. Bowie toured with Iggy as a keyboard player and arranged for his appearance on the Dinah Shore Show. Bowie saved Mott The Hoople's ass too. Bowie’s help was in part repayment of a debt he owed Lou and Iggy. Early in his career Bowie copied Anthony Newley, the British Wayne Newton, and sang odd songs like “The Laughing Gnome”. His move toward guitar-driven power rock came from his admiration of The Stooges and The Velvet Underground
You’ll hear that Bowie albums (I only refer to his pre-”Let’s Dance” material) were years ahead of their time. While true, keep in mind Bowie did not create white soul (Young Americans, Station To Station), minimalist electronics (Low, Heroes, Scary Monsters), or Glam/Glitter Rock (Ziggy Stardust, Diamond Dogs). Bowie’s gift was the intellect and curiosity to seek out and learn from underground trends around him. All big trends start as ripples in underground culture. Bowie did his homework and guessed correctly on what could break big. He rode trends into the big time and made them even bigger by his involvement. He was also smart enough to collaborate with great musicians like Mick Ronson, Robert Fripp and Brian Eno.
No two Bowie songs sound alike, an accomplishment few can claim. Bowie's reign ended with “Let’s Dance”, a sell-out that brought him top-40 success in America at the price of his cutting-edge reputation. I think he was trying to record another “Fame”. He went from leader to follower, his work since Scary Monster mired in a half-hearted trend-humping. Frolicking with Mick Jagger in the video for “Dancing In The Streets” is a world away from appearing on SNL with the late, great Klaus Nomi.
David Bowie is a true Renaissance Man, a genius intellect whose knowledge of literature, film, art and culture is possibly unmatched in the rock world. Surprisingly, he gives bad interviews. Bowie often struggles to explain himself and his answers come off as improvised.
Wall Street sold bonds with a guaranteed earning of 7.9% based on future royalties from the Bowie catalog. This put 55 million dollars into Bowie’s pocket. It truly was the year of the Diamond Dog.
Bowie studied mime at an early age and his unworldly sense of balance and space has laid the groundwork for his many stage personas and performances. His acting on Broadway in The Elephant Man stunned NY theater critics (I saw that show, and Bowie was AMAZING). His screen performances have been a mixed blessing, from his sufficiently bland debut in “The Man Who Fell to Earth”, his excellent performance in “Mr. Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, to his insufficiently bland turn in “The Linguini Incident”. In the late ‘60s he guessed correctly that exploiting his bi-sexuality could only help his career. For all the machismo attached to rock music, effeminate men have long ruled rock. Marrying Angela, a more butch version of himself, only heightened Bowie’s sexual ambiguity. For a fellow with bad teeth and two eyes of different color he’s done well for himself. Mr. Jones, Happy 50th birthday!
Albums of Note:
Man Of Words, Man Of Music (1969): Cute, coy songs to make Ziggy Stardust fans wince in pain. Pretentious art-student lyrics and a child-like view of the world. “The Laughing Gnome” is a rip-off of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and while it may be cute the first time, pretty soon you’ll be ripping at your own flesh. The material has been packaged under different titles over the years like a bad public-domain movie. To be borrowed, not bought.
The Man Who Sold The World (1970): Famous for two reasons: 1) The UK album cover has Bowie languishing on a couch in a full length dress, and 2) Nirvana did a cover of “The Man Who Sold The World”. Dated yet not bad. “Width Of A Circle” is great.
Hunky Dory (1971): An early great unplugged record. The Spiders from Mars play together for the first time.“Queen Bitch”, a tribute to Lou Reed, is the earliest Husker-Du sounding song I’ve heard. “Andy Warhol” kicks tush. The mellow favorite of any real Bowie fan. “Changes” is his most famous song but it wasn’t a hit single.
Ziggy Stardust (1972) : After a few tries at putting together a band, image and sound, Bowie got it right on all fronts. Rock Opera, movie soundtrack - call it what you will. Ziggy was Bowie as androgynous spaceman rock and roll god. Mick Ronson was tricked into wearing makeup and the rest is history. Glam really took off with Ziggy and the seeds of the new wave and punk movement were sewn. This was conceived and planned as a stage show. Every song a classic.
Aladdin Sane (1973): Get the pun? GET IT?! Still the space child, Bowie and The Spiders lay down tracks in no particular order. “Panic In Detroit” and “Watch That Man” are keepers. “Time” is Bowie at his crooning best. The cover of “Let’s Spend the Night Together” is horrible. Bowie claimed Aladdin Sane was Ziggy Stardust in America. The album has a slight R&B feel and hints at what is to come. It’s an underrated album.
Pin Ups (1973): Mostly average remakes of early ‘60s UK R&B hits. Not bad, but only lounge singers should be allowed to do entire albums of covers. Dig the Keith Moon-y drum solo on The Who’s “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere”. Excellent use of the saxophone on this disc. Bowie made the sax cool.
Diamond Dogs (1974): Conceived as a stage-set production of Orwell’s 1984, Bowie wore the hat of musical-playwright, creating a doomed future where humanoids lived among “fleas the size of rats sucked on rats the size of cats”. Playing now without The Spiders, “1984” sums up the gist of the album and its gloomy future vision. “Rebel Rebel” was a hit with the rock-anthem crowd who liked the title and loved to scream “Hot tramp, I love you so.” It also had a goofy, slow rhythm any white stoner could dance to. Second only to Ziggy Stardust in all around greatness, and a bridge between the glam and soul periods.
David Live (1974): An amazing live double LP that walked a fine line between the Ziggy years and the emerging Thin White Duke soul period. Backed by a ten-piece band, Bowie proves himself the best crooner in rock history. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll make Julienne fries. When I was fourteen I could lip-synch this entire album (singing into a brush). I’ve heard this album was poorly made and Bowie wasn’t in top form, but it's my favorite nonetheless.
Young Americans (1975): Bowie hops aboard the plastic Sooouuullll Train and scores with “Young Americans” (the shortened singles version contains the worst edit ever). “Somebody Up There Likes Me” swings, but “Across The Universe” is so painfully bad it burns the soul. Luther Vandross sang some backup and co-wrote “Fascination”, while David Sanborn played sax. “Fame” is on here. I didn’t want to mention this.
Station To Station (1976): A lite follow-up to Young Americans, it’s similar to Aladdin Sane in that both are collections of songs randomly placed together. “Station To Station” is a killer crooner’s opus. Here Bowie’s the Thin White Duke.
Low (1977): Brian Eno and Bowie combine to create weird instrumental soundscapes and bare-bone electronic rock songs stripped of all emotion and humanity, very austere and very “German”. Bowie was said to be coked up at the time. Most people don’t equate Bowie with drugs, but for years he was zonked out on something, be it ludes or cocaine. On Low he's sure feeling existential. His vocals are a deadpan monotone. The B-side is all instrumental and often boring - new age music for the Nietzsche crowd. The A-side is fantastic. “Be My Wife” is the coolest song Bowie ever sang. I’d say this album was 75% Eno / 25% Bowie. At this time Bowie rejected rock music as a worn out abomination.
Heroes (1977): Continuing where Low left off, this has the hit title track, but “Joe The Lion” is my favorite. The instrumental “V-2 Schneider” kicks off the B-side with style, but the subsequent instrumentals push you back into a waking coma. A slightly more commercial version of Low and the more popular of the two.
Lodger (1979): Bowie’s last with Eno, this didn’t do well. Bowie heads back into rock and explores world music on his own terms. The seeds are sewn for the superior album to come. Not bad though.
Scary Monsters (1980): The best Bowie since Diamond Dogs and the end of an era for many Bowie fans. When Bowie sold out with “Let’s Dance”, some fans moved on to more progressive pastures. Scary Monsters is the Heroes period as a less bleak, purely commercial venture. It’s the best Bowie album to spring on a neophyte.
David Bowie - Bowie At The BEEB (3 CDs): This reasonably priced box set is the perfect example of what I've been waiting to happen for many years, and I hope it becomes a trend. Stagnating in vaults and closets is a great wealth of recorded material from any number of bands. Get the stuff out there! What the hell are they waiting for? The fan base to hit some magical age when income and nostalgia make owning these recordings more important than life itself? I hate bean counters and their mentality is short-sighted. Supply can create Demand. The collections Rhino Records puts out are usually great. Part archival, art, commerce and geek obsession, they know good music makes life worth living so they spread the love with content and packaging. It would be nice if record companies thought of people more as educated (and educable) consumers then the sheep and lemmings they usually are.
This was supposed to come out four years ago as a three-disc set of everything Bowie recorded for the BBC. Word has it Bowie didn't want any distractions from his Earthlings CD, so the delay. Reduced to two discs of BBC material from 1968 to 1972, and a third disc a BBC Radio Theatre concert from June, 2000, Bowie At The BEEB avoids the duplicity of song titles that appeals only to fetishists who should never be allowed to mix rifles and water towers. The new concert is ok but out of place, and most likely thrown in to placate demands for a three disc box set. The same version of "Ziggy Stardust" appears twice on Disc 2. That nobody caught this says either a lot or a little.
I love BBC sessions. They hit a perfect balance between live and studio recording. MTV Unplugged is a rip-off of what the BBC did for decades. But enough about me. Why don't you talk about me for a while.
I'm not going to beat individual tracks into the ground, but suffice it to say these early BBC recordings are excellent renderings of the material. Disc 2 concentrates on the Ziggy Stardust period and is therefore the best, but the tracks from Hunky Dory are reason enough to buy this. The Lou Reed songs are noteworthy, especially the boogie-woogie piano on "White Light/White Heat". It may sound like the microphone is accidentally catching Bowie talking to someone during "Andy Warhol", but that's really an imitation of his friend and mentor. Bowie portrayed Warhol in the 1996 film Basquiat. The third disc from 2000 is lush, evoking Roxy Music in its romance. The newer songs are not as strong, but it's fascinating to hear "Always Crashing In The Same Car" outside the context of Eno and Berlin. Nice work on the liner notes too.
There's no reason not to own and study this, since Bowie is the most influential artist in alt. music circles.
(by mistake I reviewed this
twice) David Bowie
- Bowie at the Beeb: Best of BBC Radio 68-72 (CD review): Around
1976 I carried a picture of David Bowie in my wallet. I also had one of Lou
Reed. That’s what normal fifteen year olds do. I guess. I hope. I had become a
Bowie fanatic around 1974. I coveted each album up to Scary Monsters and then
with Let’s Dance I lost interest. 2003’s
In a world where there’s twice as many Bowie compilations than original recordings there has to be a feeling of overkill. He’s not dead but they’re always picking through his bones for something to sell. Bowie at the Beeb: Best of BBC Radio 68-72 is a 2-disc set that takes Bowie from his Anthony Newley days to Ziggy Stardust, his most lasting achievement.
The first sixteen tracks are only interesting because they show you Bowie didn’t start on the cutting edge. He offers folk crooning and string sections, and he’s backed by what sounds like a generic house orchestra. “Width Of A Circle” and “God Knows I’m Good” are decent. Where’s “Please Mr. Gravedigger and “The Laughing Gnome”?! Whimsical Bowie fans want to know.
The set earns its value with the 1972 sessions. Mick Ronson and the Spiders From Mars really kick arse and the famous BBC techs record everything perfectly as usual. The session includes The Supermen/Eight Line Poem/Hang Onto Yourself/Ziggy Stardust/Queen Bitch/Waiting For The Man/Five Years/White Light White Heat/Moonage Daydream/Hang Onto Yourself/Suffragette City/Ziggy Stardust/Starman/Space Oddity/Changes/Oh! You PrettyThings/Andy Warhol/Lady Stardust/Rock 'N Roll Suicide.
My box set contains a third disc from a live 2000 in-studio show. It contains Wild Is The Wind/Ashes To Ashes/Seven/This Is Not America/Absolute Beginners/Always Crashing In The Same Car/Survive/Little Wonder/The Man Who Sold The World/Fame/Stay/Hallo Spaceboy/Cracked Actor/I'm Afraid Of Americans/ Let's Dance.
Disc 2 is the keeper. The box retails for $26.98 and if you’re a Ziggy Stardust fan you may have to break down for this one.
- Reality (CD review): I'm exceedingly
and happy David Bowie worked again with producer
who guided Bowie through the best albums of his career. Bowie's a collaborator
with vision, or at least he was until Let's Dance. His ventures into club music
only made him look desperate to be relevant. With Heathen (2002) and Reality
(2003), maybe Bowie's finally comfortable with himself and his legend, or at
least aware of what made him a legend in the first place.
Reality draws from albums as diverse as The Man Who Sold The World, Young Americans, Heroes, Scary Monsters and Outside. His band on this one is high and tight, his stated reason for making the album in the first place. Tony and the band knows what's best for David, and hopefully Bowie knows they're right and will continue in this vein.
"New Killer Star" opens the disc and it's Scary Monsters all over again, a good sign. Iggy Pop's crooning is cooler, but Bowie controls his voice better and it's always a pleasure to hear the thin white duke's pipes. The cover of Jonathan Richman's "Pablo Picasso" goes the original one better, lending it a middle eastern dervish last heard on Heroes' "The Secret Life Of Arabia". "Never Get Old" reminds me of Heroes' "Sons Of The Silent Age". "The Loneliest Guy" is a bit too much like "After All" from The Man Who Sold The World", but besides that it's ok. "Looking For Water" borrows the glam beat of "Rebel Rebel", which appears on the bonus disc and is a superfluous cover version of his own damn song.
"She'll Drive The Big Car" has a clumsy, slow drum beat but it's otherwise a great reminder of what made Young Americans so great. The backup singing is masterfully soulful. "Days" employs two acoustic guitars to fine effect, and it has horns like his sessions before Ziggy Stardust. "Fall Dog Bombs The Moon" offers nice guitar leads of the Robert Fripp variety. "Try Some Buy Some" is a George Harrison cover and it does nothing for me (Bowie's worst song is his cover of John Lennon's "Across The Universe"). "Reality" is a real rabble-rouser, a sequel in spirit and power to Outside's "Hallo Spaceboy". "Bring Me The Disco King" closes the disc and it's too slow and moody. I imagine all the lights go out expect for a single spotlight and all of a sudden cigarette smoke fills the room. It's 2AM and welcome to the Bowie Room at Cleveland's beautiful Hopkins International Airport.
All in all a good record with its share of greatest hits material ("New Killer Star", "Pablo Picasso" and "Reality"). Welcome back David, the new teeth look great.
- Outside (CD review): 1995's
an odd disc that reminds me of The Resident's last CD,
a bit in sound but also in that they're both decent records in need of trimming
and reorganization. Too long and not very coherent, Bowie and 70's collaborator
Brian Eno combine their Berlin work, Peter Gabriel's world music, and
ambient/techno beats to create a nice sound that, if cut and pasted correctly,
would be a highlight of his catalog. The piano work comes right out of Aladdin
Outside tells a story but then again it doesn't. Five spoken segments break up the CD and after the first listen they just take up space. They would work better in shorter form and lesser quantity. Towards the end there's a pile-up of techno tunes that could stand to lose a track or two.
On the plus side, "Outside", "The Heart's Filthy Lesson", "Hallo Spaceboy", "I Have Not Been To Oxford Town", "No Control", "The Voyeur Of Utter Destruction", "We Prick You" and "Strangers When We Meet" are good to great, and if Bowie wants to revisit this recording he could use these as stock to help make Outside an all-around winner.
Boxhead Ensemble: The Last Place To Go (LPs review) (No Choice): I'm listening to this for a second time for your benefit, not mine, so just shut up and read. These two records contain the improvised music that accompanied each showing of a 1998 b&w film titled Dutch Harbor. It's a little tentative but not uninteresting as long as you don't listen to it directly and have something else to do. A combination of Ry Cooder, New Age, Kronos Quartet, Phil Glass and The Velvet Underground just before they all fall asleep from exhaust fumes, I imagine the multi-media experience must have been intriguing. Take this description from the album notes:
"Dresden, Germany. The club turns dark, people settle, cigarettes glow, the sound of the projector begins. Light beams across space forming images on the screen above the stage. Leaning against a pillar in the back of the club, I feel the weight of the building and imagine the silent meandering of people moving through this space a hundred years ago. The screen gives us flashes of another world; icy hills, dark waves, bright lights from ships in the distance. The heads of people in front of me are intent as they absorb this tiny frozen corner of Alaska called Dutch Harbor."
All those pretentious, rich art snobs together in one place and the joint wasn't ‘sploded? What an artistic statement that would have made!
Bunnygrunt - Action Pants (LP review) (No Life): I'm a sucker for cute as long as it's not cutesy. My introduction to the genre of twee pop came from cuddlecore band Cub, who could thrash as well as anyone, yet specialized in sweet, fast pop melodies for those hap-hap-happy times when it hits you there's no reason to grind your teeth.
The All Music Guide defines the genre as "...perhaps best likened to bubblegum indie rock — it's music with a spirit of D.I.Y. defiance in the grand tradition of punk, but with a simplicity and innocence not seen or heard since the earliest days of rock & roll. Twee pop traces its origins to 1986, the year the British weekly NME issued a cassette dubbed C-86, which included a number of bands — McCarthy, the Wedding Present, Primal Scream, the Pastels, and the Bodines among them — influenced in equal measure by the jangly guitar pop of the Smiths, the three-chord naiveté of the Ramones, and the nostalgic sweetness of the girl group era."
I agree with only half of this. The Ramones connection is off. Also, pre-1986 there were bands like Aztec Camera and Orange Juice who took what Television started and gave it an occasional burst of new wave energy. I know nothing of The Bodines and Primal Scream, but in twee pop there’s a major debt to The Feelies' ruminations on the primitive, hypnotic jams of The Velvet Underground, and also a debt to lo-fi legends Beat Happening. Calvin Johnson's K Records exerted a huge influence on American twee pop. Twee Pop is cute but not dumb. It's a punk attitude towards icons of the commercialized youth culture of days past - to simpler times more quaint than real. This is knowingly so, so it's also ironic – the fertile ground for smugness that makes one want to smack the grin off twee-poppers.
Bunnygrunt are accused of being the cutest pop band of all. No, that would be Joan Of Arc, who deserve gut punches. This short-player is full of pep and caffeinated pop gems guaranteed to make Dick Clark smile from beyond the grave (oh, he's still alive? Sorry). The six tracks,"Superstar 666", "Transportation Pants", "I Am Curious Partridge", "Just Like Suppertime", "Criminal Boy", "Tadpole" run into each other, but they're fast and nicely augmented with fuzz and odd percussion. They beat the crap out of their instruments throughout "gi2k", that is when they're not being quietly mod. The twelve minute finale "Open Up And Say Oblina" is pure Feelies-mania, slow but engaging when played loud.
If you like Cub you'll go for Bunnygrunt like a bulimic to the middle and pointing fingers. Maybe twee poppers won't and can't beat you up, but they'll tell you to screw off in a heartbeat, and that's good enough for me.
– Aerial (CD review): There was a time when
albums were preceded by a 7" single, granted a second if the material was there,
and sometimes even blessed with a third if the album was a smash. On the b-sides
you'd get live and b-materials. Everybody who cared won. Now the emphasis is on
the single as the only song of value. By decree everyone's a one hit wonder. The
album is dead. Long live the album.
Kate Bush, on the other hand, dilutes Aerial by mixing a and b material to create a two disc set that should have been one, and even then it's not that good. It's easy to love Kate Bush and it's good to be supportive, but as someone who's followed every record since 1978's The Kick Inside I'm not going to stick a flower on this pile and call it a rose garden. Aerial is another Lionheart, which at least can be defended as coming out too quickly. Aerial is in some ways a lazy work, giving in to easy rhythms and repeating itself in tone and pace.
Disc one is front loaded with the best work, and I have to ask if this was a concession to the record label. "King Of The Mountain" is a nicely subdued "Running Up That Hill" that teases of bigger and better things to come. "Pi" is thematically like "Experiment IV" and nobody sings number sequences as beautifully as Kate. Then "Bertie" offers a string and mandolin combination that sends you back to The Dreaming. So far all's well in Kateland.
Then "Mrs. Bartolozzi" lands and it's obvious Kate's gone stir crazy and needs to get out of the house more often. What makes it worse is that it doesn't stop at 4:35, instead it gets even more silly about washing machines and domestic trivialities. Re: "How To Be Invisible", Stevie Nicks is in some ways the American Kate Bush, but I never expected Kate to write music that sounds like Nicks should be singing it. It's not a bad song, but still. Kate Bush has a "style". This is not it and it's not the only one on the CDs. "Joanni" has a comfortable Peter Gabriel feel but it’s a b-side, along with Kate on piano on "A Coral Room".
Disc 2 is a wasteland. It's a season cycle of one, Spring, and I'll spare the details except to say her son has a cute voice, a man shouldn’t sing lead on a Kate Bush song, I never thought Kate would go for the easy club groove or Latin rhythm, and "Aerial" is Steve Reich you can dance too.
Oh, Kate, you gypsy witch theater nerd. Come back to us.
Kate Bush- 50 Words For Snow (CD review): Thank you, Internet, for giving me the language to accurately describe this as "Contemporary Chamber Pop", which I imagine is as useful a description as "Modern Classical". 2011's 50 Words For Snow is minimally prodigious and marginally impressive. On the up side Kate's hinting at the ability to recreate the magic of the second side of Hounds Of Love. The two albums after that one were her Babushka phase and 2005's Aerial the slight musings of a mad housewife ("Slooshy sloshy slooshy sloshy / Get that dirty shirty clean / Slooshy sloshy slooshy sloshy / Make those cuffs and collars gleam / Everything clean and shiny / Washing machine Washing machine Washing machine"). On The down side the songs on 50 Words For Snow are cyclical and seemingly endless, with wandering structures that can sound more like ideas for songs than completed works.
I'm in agreement with the one star reviews on Amazon, which generally find it a great missed opportunity to have accomplished more. There's 7 tracks of the following length: 9:46, 11:08, 13:32, 7:16, 8:05, 8:30 and 6:48. I'll listen to them now, live, and say when each should have ended:
"Snowflake" 4:20 edit. A nice mood piece but it
repeats itself over and over.
"Lake Tahoe" 3:21 edit. It did end there, but then it started up again. Wow.
"Misty" 2:25 edit. Someone else did the work for me:
"Wild Man" 5:00 edit. This is an actual song, a
sequel maybe of "Sensual World". The backup singing is the odd treatment Bowie
gave his recordings.
"Snowed In At Wheeler Street" 4:20-ish.
"50 Words For Snow" 6:08 edit. Another actual song that's most likely the single.
"Among Angels" 2:45.This one meanders and seems made up on the spot. The cd ends with a whimper.
A few tracks could have been combined in a suite or intentionally cut short to serve as idea filler, which isn't a bad thing and is often clever. I haven't a clue as to why the songs are as long as they are. It serves no purpose. Hopefully her next album will be focused and tuneful instead of moody and endless. I hear the seeds for maybe another The Dreaming.
David Byrne - Look Into The Eyeball (CD review) (Virgin): I didn't expect the latest solo project from the man who fell to earth after Bowie to be so intimate, as in small in scale, or so pleasant to listen to. I can handle Latin rhythms for about as long as I can gargle with Listerine, but the world-beats on The Eyeball are more often than not inflections added to horn and string arrangements that recall Elvis Costello's work with The Brodsky Quartet. Sometimes I'm all herky jerky like its old time XTC, or swaying to and fro like Bryan Ferry. The Talking Heads minimalist funk is here too. No need to go into any more details, but it’s an all around good time the kids will blow off as easy listening.
Calvin Krime - kids incarcerated (7" review) (Skene): Skene bands work harder than your average punkers. This sounds like fellow label-mates Trenchmouth -- jazzy, arty, a little bit funky, with screamed and sung lyrics. When done right it’s great, and this Minnesota three-piece hold their own, non-sexually speaking. Fugazi, At The Drive In and all other arty jazz punk fans take note. Four songs-o-fun. From 1996 for you folks keeping score.
The Cardiacs - Random Thoughts:
I'm new to The Cardiacs (at will I'll add "The" to the official band name of "Cardiacs") but I've immersed myself in their catalog, reviews, and band history for a few months and can write about them without fabricating opinions. They're a great band who ask for some of the derision they get by being over-indulgent in their eccentricities, but they're neither precious nor cute, and in a world overflowing with deliberately unlistenable bands they're more accessible than they've been given credit.
Their Wikipedia page is thick with names, facts and figures, and this will not be a dissertation on all things Cardiacs. I'll bottom line it based on my thoughts and who I think they sound like and can be compared to. Formed in 1977, The Cardiacs are a prog punk band ("Pronk") with an eccentric, provincial love for sea shanties, circus music, medieval music (sometimes I picture little people from Spinal Tap dancing around a miniature Stonehenge), '77-era thrash punk rock, the late 60's prog psychedelic band Gong, Sparks, Magical Mystery Tour-period Beatles, the occasional ska riff, and space rock, in my book their main flaw as when they divert into it I tend to stare off into space. Their contemporaries in their formative years were Split Enz, Oingo Boingo, Wire and XTC. Their one hit, 1988's "Is This The Life" (actually written prior to 1980), was a slice of dream pop The Chameleons wished they'd written first. I'm ignorant on many new bands but I do know The Arcade Fire owe Tim and Jim Smith a heartfelt thank you note.
As if Split Enz and Oingo Boingo never existed!
The Cardiacs' prog-punk-garage years were captured on cassette (The Obvious Identity, Toy World), their first single was released in 1979, their first studio album in 1988 and their last in 1999. Tim Smith suffered from both a heart attack and stroke in 2008 and his recovery has been slow but supposedly good. They've grown from raw to eccentric to consistently polished, yet an enduring and endearing thread of what can only be called Cardiacs runs through it all, yielding an admirable consistency of overall quality. Instead of standard intro-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-outro song structures you often get diversions into the odd yet well-informed and complicated, most of which works even if it trips up pacing the song's built up to that point. Their songs are dense with ideas but I find none of it confusing or perplexing, and they should get more credit for the solid walls of sound they crank out with professional
exactness. Would I remove entire sections of songs that ultimately bore me? Boy Howdy, would I, but I'm no rocket surgeon.
Stop, Start, Left, Right, Go!
So far I've done all of my Cardiacs listening in random order while exercising, so I'll sample each of the 145 tracks I have in order and see if I can recall my thoughts. Sampling The Cardiacs will ensure I miss a lot as a great side-step might only take a few seconds: 1980's Obvious Identity is Oingo Boingo filtered through UK prog instead of Cab Calloway. "Cameras" sounds like Wire and "Bite 3/a" is great lo-fi punk. The 1981 cassette Toy World is raw but the band is building on a richer, fuller sound. Some of these tracks will appear later on. 1988's A Little Man and a House and the Whole World Window has a heavy sea shanty vibe and there's a recurring theme around the lyric "That's the way we all go." The first and last songs are bookends. 1989's On Land And In The Sea is a rich album that's not as focused as the last, which might mean the tracks were written earlier but not selected for A Little Man. The Seaside was a 1984 cassette issued on cd in 1990 and is my favorite release. It has the punk energy of the early years and the polish of the studio albums. 1991's Heaven Born And Ever Bright is a loud album filled with walls of sound. 1995's double cd Sing To God is a phenomenal set considering it's the band's seventh album. I find Sarah Smith's singing grating and annoying. Gosh, ya think they stole the opening riff of "Fiery God Hand" from XTC's 1984 song "Wake Up"? 1990's Guns is their least enjoyable album even if it generally sounds good.
Selling Out For Filthy Lucre!
So here we are and there you have it. All the kool kidz listen to The Cardiacs, so shouldn't you? Unless of course you're not kool (psychology will get those stupid kidz goose-stepping in line!).
Jim Carroll Band - I Write Your Name (LP review) (Atlantic): If Patti Smith was a dude, she/he'd be Jim Carroll. No, wait, if David Bowie was Leonardo DiCaprio he'd be Jim Carroll. Or, if Ian Hunter, Wayne County and Lou Reed weighed a combined 97 pounds, it'd be Jim Carroll. I feel free to make fun of him because he's a poet, who are like mimes except they talk instead of pretending they're trapped in an invisible box.
Jim made the news last year when two putzes shot up their Columbine, CO school in partial homage to a scene in The Basketball Diaries where Leonardo, as Jim Carroll, fantasizes mass murder in homeroom. Back in 1980 he had some fame with "People Who Died", a laundry list of junkie friends who tossed the dice of life and lost. The album Catholic Boy came out the same year and sold respectably. 1983's I Write Your Name was his third and last album, after which he went back to poetry and acting. I wasn't very impressed with the album when it came out, but listening now it does have its charms.
Over-produced and blindingly polished, the songs are decent and it's fun to hear Jim channeling Iggy, Lou, Wayne, Ian and Patti all at the same time. His I'm-pretending-I'm-recording-this-live-at-Max's Kansas City version of Lou Reed's "Sweet Jane" is the only low point because it's cute and obvious.
The Cars (review) - I was never a big Cars fan. During my punky new wave years they were too in with the in-crowd. I put them in the same league as Hall & Oates and Phil Collins - top 40 radio kings who cranked out catchy singles on demand. I picked up Elektra/Rhino's two CD set, The Cars Anthology - Just What I Needed, in hopes of divining what made them so popular. Their place in music history doesn't go much beyond the numbers of records they sold, but the music is catchy and it’s aged well in it’s own sterile way. Their music and influence are both shallow yet wide.
Ric Ocasek has a weird voice and looks like Joey Ramones' Irish cousin. The Cars were excellent musicians who produced an endless stream of hits that opened up new wave to a huge cross-section of listeners. Ric produced the Bad Brains’ Rock For Light LP and has worked with other punk bands throughout the years.
With a few exceptions ("Shake It Up" - "Don't Cha Stop") Cars songs are not danceable in the way most new wave tunes were. From the B-52s to Joe Jackson - seemingly everyone was cranking out music to which you could either dance to or just bounce around like a spazz. As set by the drums, the rhythms of Cars songs are mostly slow and awkward. Dancing to The Cars reminds me of how in the ‘70s white guys in rock clubs would dance to Led Zepplin in hopes of getting laid. Yes, there were rock dance clubs where "Another One Bites The Dust" was the only real dance number. One last gripe: The Car’s backup singing and electronic piano are over-produced and overly cute.
Exene Cervenka - Old Wive's Tales and Running Sacred (cassettes review) (Rhino): I heard when Exene Cervenka was being processed through Ellis Island they changed her name to Sally Smith. Play either of these solo records from 1989-90 for your punk friends and they'll never figure out who's singing. Exene's trying hard to be a country singer, and the results are as far away from her work with X as one can imagine. Any more twang in her voice and she'll be telling you to kiss her grits. Her band sounds like a group of professional pick-up musicians who lay down great tracks without going out on creative limbs. In other words, listening to this is pleasant tasting but as filling as celery.
Old Wive's Tales is the better of the two but that's not really a recommendation. Exene's solo work is harmless and that's about it. Her band creates nice little soundscapes but it's new age country you can two-step to (or jus' set a spell). The lyrics on Running Sacred are weak, a surprise considering Exene's formidable reputation. From "Slave Labor" comes the lines "Everybody has a boss/My boss is my heart/So you see that I can't ever quit my job/I don't wanna quit my job". Did you know Jeffrey Dahlmer wrote a country song? It was called "Shakey Bakey Heart".
- Script Of The Bridge (CD review): The
are a band I know of but don't know enough about to
say I know them. So, I picked up their 1983 debut LP
Script Of The Bridge
and started from there.
Even their fans seemingly can't describe them, or maybe they don't want to answer the question since they sound like many others that came before. They remind me of The Teardrop Explodes, Simple Minds, the Psychedelic Furs and Modern English. Others make completely different lists. Script of the Bridge is a good record, a deceptively good record, it's only flaw a lack of variety in tempo. Every song except the last is the same mid-tempo, and the closer is even slower.
I'd be surprised if they didn't have a song on a John Hughes soundtrack. It has that ‘80s, Valley Girl, New Wave Two-Step, It's-Goth-If-I-Can-Stare-At-Myself-While-I-Dance feel.
I remember "I Don't Fall" and "Up The Down Escalator" being hits. "Here Today" utilizes a didgeridoo, which I only mention because I'm amazed I remembered that's what they're called. It also has a sweet Spanish guitar sound also found on "Pleasure and Pain". I'm stumped as to why they open "Monkeyland" with the same sound used by the English Beat in "Dream Home In NZ".
All the songs are decent on their own, but as a full-length it drags a bit. Each song got better each time I listened but I lost the desire to listen to it all the way through. All because they have the same tempo. I never could dance the New Wave Two-Step anyhoo.
Harry Chapin - Sniper And Other Love Songs (LP review) (Elektra): I want to tell you something, and you should understand I’m serious about this -- Harry Chapin may have been a hippie folk singer but he was more punk than you'll ever be, no matter how many tattoos you have on your neck, the color of your hair or how many stupid @ symbols you've spray-painted to make your neighborhood look like a slum. You see, chances are you're a pathetic fuggwad who uses hatred and violence to show the world you hate yourself for your own ignorance and worthlessness. Harry wrote sentimental and quaint folk songs your parents may still remember fondly. He also wrote about some of the saddest, loneliest, craziest, self-hating, self-destructive and pathetic individuals ever to grace vinyl, but he did it with depth, subtlety and understanding. Harry played half his concerts either for free of for charity, and his devotion to the cause of world hunger made him so well known that when he died in a car wreck in 1981 on the Long Island Expressway, members of congress stopped the business of government to speak on the floor about a man they admired and respected.
Sniper And Other Love Songs came out in 1972, and it's the first record I can point to that steered me toward my present day love of weird music. I didn't come into punk from the fashion or paranoid Us vs. Them angle, it was from the melancholy of Harry Chapin, the storytelling of The Who, the street grit of the Rolling Stones, the geekiness of The Kinks, the amateurishness of Lou Reed and the twisted rock glam of David Bowie. Getting back to Sniper And Other Love Songs, "Burning Herself", a song about a woman who burns herself with cigarettes, didn't make me punk. Nor was it "A Better Place To Be", about an ugly man who decides to go home and screw an even uglier bartender after telling his tale of one fleeting night with a beautiful woman. Nope, it was "Sniper", a 9:50 minute retelling of the summer day in 1966 when Charles Joseph Whitman killed fifteen people from atop a tower at the U. of Texas.
All of Chapin's legendary storytelling skills are on fire, from the intro "It is an early Sunday morning, the sun is becoming bright on the land. No one is watching, as he comes walking, two bulky suitcases hang from his hands... He looks at the city, where no one had known him. He looks at the sky where no one looks down. He looks at his life and what it had shown him. He looks for his shadow. It cannot be found..." to the middle, "He laid out the rifles, he loaded his shotgun. He stacked up the cartridges along the wall. He knew he would need them for his conversation. If it went as he planned he might use them all. He said listen you people. I've got a question. You won't pay attention but I'll ask anyhow. I've got a way that will get me an answer. I've been waiting to ask you 'til now. Right now!” to the killings, "The first words he spoke took the town by surprise. One got Mrs. Gibbins above her right eye. It blew her through the window, wedged her against the door. Reality poured from her face staining the floor. He was kinda creepy. Sort of a dunce. Met him at a corner bar. I only dated the poor boy once. Just once. That was all. Bill Wedon was questioned as he stepped from his car. Tom Scott ran across the street but he never got that far. The police were there in minutes, they set up barricades. But he spoke right on over them, in a half mile circle in that dumbstruck city his pointed questions were sprayed. He knocked over Danny Tison as he ran toward the noise, and just about then the answers started coming sweet, sweet joy! Thudding in the clockface, whining off the walls. Reaching up to where he sat, their answering calls. Thirty seven people got his message so far. Yes he was reaching them right where they are" to the end, "As the copter dropped the gas, he shouted 'who cares!' They could hear him laughing as they started up the stairs. They stormed out of the doorway, blinking at the sun. With one final fusillade their answer had come..."
What stands out most about this song is the intelligence, the shifts of perspective and the intense drama. Punk is known for its simplicity, but often it’s a code word for dumb. Take Harry Chapin's other popular songs, "Taxi", "Cat's In the Cradle" and "W.O.L.D". All songs of failure, broken hearts, wasted lives and dismal futures. Harry was an optimist who wrote songs of sadness. He wrote stories about real people. He didn't write about attitudes, he wrote about personalities. He didn't write slogans, he wrote about life. Sure, Harry Chapin is an old dead hippie to you, but he's more punk than you'll ever pretend to be.
Here's a segment from an obituary written by Washington Post writer Tony Kornheiser: "I remember me telling him that it was about time he stopped trying to save the world and started selling out so he could become a rock star. And I remember exactly what he said about that. He said, "Being a rock star is pointless. It's garbage. It's the most self-indulgent thing I can think of. I've got nothing against selling out. But let me sell out for something that counts. Not so Harry Chapin can be No. 1 with a bullet, but so I can leave here thinking I mattered."
Cherry Poppin' Daddies - Zoot Suit Riot (CD review): Yahoo lists this band as punk. Did I miss that memo? A fad is a trend that fizzles out so quickly it becomes the subject of ridicule and self-denial. Knowing what would happen from day one I watched The Macarena go from new to oblivion in a few months. It was a fad waiting to be heaved on top of the Lambada, the Forbidden Dance that was supposed to transform the nation into perpetual dry humpers. I don't begrudge the fun people have with fads but I do think you shouldn't waste a lot of money on something you'll be pretending didn't a few months from now.
The swing revival is a fad because it's based on a false and borrowed nostalgia. Every era has its hardships and the swing era is no exception. Drawing neat-o conclusions from old movies is common but not too bright. Rockabilly and ska are not fads because of their longevity and for the fact they at least come from relatively recent experiences. Rock and Roll was a product of country music played fast and furious, and ska had a major role in the histories of punk and reggae. Maybe a lot of people get into rockabilly and ska as a personal fad, but the styles have established roots deep enough to ensure their survival well into the future. They said punk was a fad but time has proved otherwise. Punk is a genre, and "Is Punk Dead?" just a rhetorical question.
Swing can be fun but The Cherry Poppin' Daddies are generic and don't add much edge to the material. Zoot Suit Riot was professionally and enthusiastically recorded but it lacks excitement. Your grandpa might find this interesting but he'll tell you they ain’t got that swing. Hey, when's spending hours at cheap buffets with senior citizens going to be hip? When that happens I'll be the coolest cat in town. Skee-dat-bop-pow -- Yeah!!!!
Cherry Vanilla - The Punk (7" review) (RCA): This is an interesting footnote in punk history. Cherry was a publicist for David Bowie in the ‘70s, and even wrote what is known as the "Bowie Diaries", which appeared in Mirabelle magazine. She fabricated a daily dairy and ascribed it to Bowie. She was also a player in Andy Warhol's freak show and made the scene at Max's Kansas City. She left her Bowie job to start her own band, releasing two albums, Bad Girl (1977?) and Venus d'Vinyl (1979). "The Punk" is the song people remember most and it's actually pretty good.
"The Punk" is ripped directly from Mott The Hoople's pub rock textbook. If you don't see Mott's "All The Way From Memphis" in Cherry's song you are aurally blind. The boogie woogie piano is fierce. Cherry's singing is strong and emotive, hitting vocal lows and aggressive highs with confidence and power. She sings like a less eccentric Lene Lovich. Check out these all-too-true lyrics: "Black leather jacket and his cycle slut/ Big sun glasses and a new hair cut/ Studs all up and down his faded jeans/ He says he's from the city, but he comes from Queens". The B-side, "Foxy Bitch", is a sleazy torch song that Jayne County probably encouraged her to do. It's ok but dated.
It says in Wayne County's biography that when Cherry Vanilla was in London with a production of Andy Warhol's play "Pork", she gave an interview to Rolling Stone while performing oral sex on a guy she'd just met. Boing!!!!!
Pete Chiacchieri - Sonya's Web (7" review) (Drunken Fish): Spoken word over weird background fuzz that sounds like the white noise of a real place you can't recall. Maybe where Eraserhead takes place. Pete talks so fast you don't have time to realize that while he may be saying it well, he's not saying much. The a-side is a standard rant against Los Angeles culture I'm sure makes the coffee house crowd click their fingers in quasi-literate recognition. The b-side is a slice-o-life of working class love and betrayal. It’s kind of noire but without a punchline to match the setup. This must be what “real” is. Not bad for the genre, but still, like, whatever. Spoken word should be heard live, if at all. I bet Pete tells everyone he cut a record, which is impressive until they find out it's only spoken word stuff. Geez, anybody can do that.
- Louden Up Fast (CD review):
Strike one is naming your band a punctuation mark repeated three times. Strike
one and a half is pronouncing it "chk chk chk". How can you say that without
being embarrassed? Someone brought to work a box of Yum Yum Donuts. Imagine
working the phone there and constantly chirping "Yum Yum!"
Strike two is cursing for no reason except to curse. This proves what exactly, if you're not fifteen years old? As politics it doesn't accomplish anything. And if you're so damn street why release an extra disc of clean versions? Strike two and a half is having this review written about you: "Rhythm is rebellion. From the first blasts of rhythm and blues to the beat generation right up to acid house, the simple act of dancing has constantly been sidelined by society as an extreme act of defiance." Wow, my pretentious-meter just blew up.
Strike three is playing white funk/disco/dub/reggae/no wave and singing like The Clash on "Rock The Cash Bar". Strike three and a half is resorting to endless electronic handclaps.
2004's Louden Up Fast came recommended since, with many caveats, I like Gang Of Four. It's more like Gang Of One plus a raver, a dubber and a weirdo. I give !!! credit for being clever electronic alchemists and for throwing in a few bizarre horn blurts, but disco sucks and white people shouldn't pretend they're black when it comes to funk. White people's hips don't have what it takes. The Talking Heads recorded underplayed white funk while GOF, before they loved a man in uniform, were too angry and spastic to get down to.
I listened to the whole thing. It's a mishmash style I can see it being popular, and if I didn't hate disco so much maybe I'd get into its finer points. A long time ago I got over the inclusive laziness of people who call everything they like "punk". I hold my ground on this: disco is not punk and it will never be. Asexual white funk is new wave, but James Brown is the King Of Soul and it's an insult to re-label what it is into something it is not.
- Under The Milky Way (Best Of) (CD review):
I know it's unfair to judge a band on a greatest hits CD when their most popular
song ("Under The Milky Way") sounds like any other song on a John Hughes
soundtrack. Sometimes the hits packages lean toward the big hit’s vibe as much
as possible. Still, half of this weighed down my eyelids, just like Echo & The
Bunnypersons, and I'm not sure if the songs I did like were good or if I
was just happy they were faster and louder. Nothing here is bad, yet I can't
imagine standing up to see a concert by The Church. I picture tables, toe
tapping and staring into space when the mood strikes. Maybe it's thrash muzak
Under the Milky Way: The Best of the Church collects seventeen tracks, and while I don't care enough to see if they're in chronological order I noticed the best tracks are in the middle. These are "Electric Lash", "A Month Of Sundays", "Shadow Cabinet" and "Myrrh". Vocalist Steve Kilbey sounds like Al Stewart. I don't mind Al Stewart but I never imagined anyone else had his voice, like a butch Tiny Tim.
Clem Snide - self-titled (7" review) (cardboard): Sure you can buy better singles from 1995 for 62 cents, but this one is packaged with a ripped piece of yellow paper with a two-color doodle stapled to the cover. On the back is printed "cover art 1 of 200 drawings by J. Glasser". I love the idea of individualized cover art - it's creative and one of those "why the fugg not?" commitments that come back to bite you on the tush once you realize how much work is involved.
Inside the nice package are four lo-fi guitar nuggets that transport you to a folk coffee house where you pay attention for about three minutes and then your mellow gets harshed because you can't hear what your friend on the couch next to your smelly old comfy chair is trying to say to you over her book of translated Bulgarian poetry. One song has a cool violin accompaniment. Fans of Sourdough, I mean Sebadoh, might like this. It's not bad but not anything to let your double-decaf mocha go cold over.
Colourfield - Virgins and Philistines (LP review) (Chrysalis): This is an embarrassment of embarrassments. Terry Hall started strong with The Specials then made an odd leap to Fun Boy Three, maybe a reaction to the violent and political scene he left behind. Then, at the height of that band's fame, he formed The Colourfield, who had a great single in "The Colourfield", then some crappy singles and this crappy LP.
Hall gathered up ex-Swinging Cat members Toby Lyons and Karl Shale for an adventure in failed faux-mod and pastoral Spanish guitar lounge music. Listen to "Thinking Of You" and try not to imagine it’s not 2AM at an airport bar in Newark, NJ. The overall effort runs parallel to XTC's work in the ‘80s, but not in a good way. Colourfield recorded some ear-curling pap.
Extra points off for the cover of The Roches' "Hammond Song", and for misspelling Margaret Roche's name on the credits. Find the "Colourfield" single and call it a day. Terry Hall can’t look any more precious than he does on the cover of this record.
Come On - The Come On Story: New York City 1976-1980 (CD review) (HeliOcentric): NY songwriter and musician George Elliott runs HeliOcentric Records as an outlet for what he's recorded and played on, including a Klaus Nomi single. He's released a CD of sixteen studio, demo and live tracks from his new wave band Come On, who haunted NY clubs years back. My friend Lou never heard of them, and he has a memory like flypaper. My excuse is Teenage Alzheimer’s. I found an obscure reference that makes a nice mention of their "Businessmen In Space" single.
According to the accompanying letter, mailed by Come On singer Jamie Kaufman, "David Byrne of Talking Heads was a supporter of ours and brought David Bowie and Brian Eno to CBGB to see us. Afterwards, a meeting with Eno held out the possibility of working with us. Other admirers included Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth and Klaus Nomi (the latter with whom two of our members went on to work); artists Dan Graham, Dennis Oppenheimer, Jeff Koons, actors Linda Hamilton, Willem Dafoe, Helena Kallianiotes, Ann Magnuson, author Michael Gross, photographer Harvey Wang..."
The trailing off at the end is Jamie's idea, to indicate the list goes on into next week. It's been a while since I've been name-checked so hard I lost a tooth. It's nice to see these guys dusting off old tapes and throwing their material back into the waters to see what bites.
The most obvious comparison is the Talking Heads, but they throw in equal parts Peru Ubu and mid-‘70s Devo into the mix, along with Wire, Gang of Four, Jonathan Richman and even XTC. Like the Talking Heads, Come On played arty, detached, alienated, asexual white soul dance music. Jamie's voice is a marvel to behold in how it alternates between Byrne, Thomas, Partridge and Mothersbaugh. "Mona Lisa" opens the CD and it's a classic. The riff reminds me both of Bowie's "Panic In Detroit" and Lou Reed's "Vicious". The aforementioned "Businessmen In Space" is great too, along with "Don't Walk On The Kitchen Floor", "See Me", "My neighbor Makes Noise", "Pills And Money", "Salt And Pepper" and "Disneyland", a song you have to love because of lyrics like: "I hate Disneyland/Mickey didn't shake my hand/He was taller than I thought/Wasn't friendly wouldn't talk/Mickey Mouse is a rat! Mickey Mouse is a rat!"
Overall, Come On were raw, quirky, arty and true to whatever muse drove them. The only scene today with the same vibe would be the coffee house lo-fi kids. I highly recommend The Come On Story to diehard Talking Heads fans and connie-sewers of jagged pop. No matter how much they sound like other bands of their time, I do hear something new and interesting every time I put this on. And that's a good thing.
Compound Red - Always A Pleasure (CD review) (De Soto): I don’t picture Milwaukee as a hotbed of sincere angst. I picture union guys who drink cheap beer and blow off an ear attempting suicide with a cheap handgun. The Promise Ring are also from Milwaukee. Compound Red, on their last album, are a good enough emo band but they lack The Promise Ring's songwriting skills. On most songs they attack the same mid-paced swirl of post-grunge sensitivity from a slightly different angle. Otherwise they tame it even more with plink-plunk acoustic guitars. If that rubs your ears' g-spot the right way, we're talking album of the year. We all have our favorite forms of sameness that mystify others. I can listen to any three songs on Always A Pleasure at one time and enjoy it, but more than that and my mind's skeedaddled to Tahiti. Maybe it's the emo lyrics, but I don’t pay attention to emo lyrics. Compound Red is a little better than average.
Comsat Angels - Waiting For A Miracle (LP review) (Polydor): If you didn't know the Comsat Angels formed in 1978 and their debut was released in 1980, you'd consider this Sheffield, UK outfit just another decent band swimming in the wake of Joy Division, The Cure and (especially) Tears For Fears. The Comsat Angels came a year after Joy Division, the same time as The Cure and about a fist's worth of years before Tears For Tears, who borrowed the Comsat Angel's act lock, stock and two smoking barrels. In context, Waiting For A Miracle is a landmark debut LP from a band who couldn't catch a break in a record industry filled with dimwits who made it up as they went alone. They put out a few goodalbums, sold out to get along in the mid ‘80s and then surprised the world with one more solid release in 1992.
Waiting For A Miracle is filled with synth-wave gems, and while it does create atmosphere it's happier in tone than what came after. Comparisons with Joy Division can only be made in terms of the mood of the lyrics and electronic backbone. The album's pop sensibility is in ways similar to The Cure, but nothing is being copied. The only and best comparison I can make is with Tears For Fears, including if not especially the singing.
At the time they recorded their first EP in 1979 the band members went by the names Even Steven, The Jazz Orange, Dresden and Michael Spencer Farquahar. The Comsat Angels were inspired by Pere Ubu's mastery of their instruments and the avant garde as organic inspiration. They forwarded a copy of their self-released EP to influential BBC DJ John Peel, whose support often translated into sales and media interest. Gang Of Four's Andy Gill championed the band in ‘79 and the Angels toured with GOF in 1982.
Every track on Waiting For A Miracle is worthy of note. Farfisa organ makes its way here and there, and as we all know, no song with farfisa organ can be that bad. "Independence Day" made a slight dent in the charts, and it reminds me a of The Fixx's “Red Skies”. No matter where the needle drops, you'll find something worthwhile.
The Comsat Angels - Sleep No More (CD review) (RPM): The second studio album from one of the most under-valued bands in post-punk history. I'm listening to "Be Brave" and wondering why these guys aren't given their due. They're almost as good as Joy Division and Wire (their most direct influences). It finally hit me that the singing reminds me of Wire Train. Glad that's over with. The songs are generally slower than on their debut, but the Angels create gloomy moods with tribal drumming, pounding bass guitar, cutting guitars and lyrics dripping with despair. Maybe too many slow songs are strung together, but none fail to create the right feel of quiet tension. "Our Secret" is another killer track.
The CD-reissue contains extra tracks, mostly faster and louder than the LP and well worth owning. "Another World" dabbles in dub.
This is the perfect soundtrack for staring at yourself in the mirror while twirling around chasing your own hands in the mist of a fog machine. It’s the goth equivalent of grooving to the Grateful Dead.
Stewart Copeland - The Equalizer & Other Cliff Hangers (CD review) (IRS): The Police’s former drummer is talented but it did help having a relative who owned IRS Records. Stewie, one-man-band supreme, focused on soundtrack work while waiting for Sting to call about that long overdue reunion tour. This 1988 release contains ten songs of his work for the TV show The Equalizer, a great revenge drama starring a senior citizen. It took place in New York and featured Edward Woodward as a former British intelligence agent and weapons expert who helps people in trouble. The show was like "Murder, She Wrote" except Woodward kicked ass every week. I liked it, but I like all revenge scenarios. The work Stewie does here is actually pretty decent. His songs tend to repeat themselves without shame. Listen to what he wrote for the Police and his first side project, Klark Kent, and you'll find a distinctive sound - quirky, goofy and played on every part of his massive drum kit. These are all instrumentals, which means if you sing along you’re schizophrenic. Soundtracks are cute the first few times but they often become background music for when you clean the house or shave the cat. Think of this as aggressive new age music that might appeal to your classical music friends who think you're a cretin for being so damn punk.
Elvis Costello - My Aim Is True (CD review) (Rykodisc): Elvis Costello is the single most important figure in new wave history. He’s so eclectic and complex it's hard to pin him down if your collection is even a few albums short. Not everything he's done is worth a second listen but the man's almost as important as Bob Dylan to the history of modern rock. Instead of trying to draw any conclusions about his career I'll start with his debut album and lob in some other thoughts.
Rykodisc, with extreme like if not love, re-released much of Costello’s back catalog, and in typical fashion each disc is supplemented with demos and B-sides, which Elvis packed on his 7”s like a fat man adds cheese to nachos.
Elvis Costello was never punk. His influences were rockabilly, R&B, a little doo wop, soul, pop, and almost especially country. He turns phrases with unmatched cleverness. An original Stiff Records artist, he was a pub rocker whose stance as Angry Young Man set him apart and helped usher in the danceable nerd rock that was new wave. The cover shot on My Aim Is True is deceiving. It presents Elvis as a short, skinny geek. He may have looked like a geek but I met Elvis around '86 and he's tall and bulky. Did Stiff manipulate his image on purpose?
1977's My Aim Is True is a classic. 1979's Armed Forces was his only authentic new wave album, so don't listen to My Aim Is True expecting Haircut 100 or The Vapors. Imagine Buddy Holly as a pissed off social retard and that's Elvis Costello on his first disc. "Watching The Detectives", a reggae number, lent diversity to what otherwise was consistently a modern, aggressive R&B and country release. The extra tracks on the Rykodisc CD show that Elvis wrote country music in the style of Hank Williams and George Jones.
I don't always get into him, but Elvis Costello is god.
- Blood & Chocolate (CD review): By my
Blood & Chocolate
was Elvis Costello's last hoorah before trailing off into a career more Burt
Bacharach than Patsy Kline. Backed by The Attractions and produced by Nick Lowe,
Blood & Chocolate retains the anger of This Year's Model but throws in some of
the raw pep of Get Happy! and some soul from Punch The Clock - along with the
usual tunes that could be performed by either Burt Bacharach or Patsy Kline. The
new element in the mix is some wiggy psychedelic guitar. All in all it's a great
My favorite tracks are of course the fast ones ("Tokyo Storm Warning", "Honey Are You Straight Or Are You Blind", "Seven Day Weekend" and "Blue Chair" (the faster version!). The slower "Blue Chair" and "Battered Old Bird" also work for me. I'm a sucker for the farfisa organ and a strong bass line, and The Attractions never let me down.
This is the third paragraph where I sum it up and try to be witty.................How'd I do?
Elvis Costello & Richard Harvey - G.B.H.: Original Music From The Channel Four Series (CD review) (Rykodisc): Rykodisc is like Rhino Records except they have no sense of humor and charge too much. The liner notes to G.B.H. say the music was composed by Richard Harvey & Elvis Costello, the reverse of what it reads on front, so I imagine Mr. Harvey did most of the work while Elvis lent his name and mumbled advice like "that's very nice". There's 22 bits of incidental music of little consequence. The instruments are violin, viola, cello, double bass, flute, baritone sax, clarinet, horn, trombone, sax, and keyboards you can barely hear. New Age music is more interesting than this. I know the music was created for a lowly TV program but there's no central theme and little mood is generated. The description of the TV series is dull too, "He calls a 24-hour protest strike hoping to generate publicity. No one goes to work except for one man - Jim Nelson (Michael Palin), the much-loved headmaster of a school for disturbed children. He steals the limelight from Michael Murray and becomes the hero of the day." My British friend Doug says the TV series was great and based on a real socialist politician who lived like a fat capitalist. You mean some socialists are more equal than others? No….
- The Original Sin (LP review) (Virgin):
It's amazing what you can find for 75 cents. I've seen this album
for-frigging-ever in dollar bins. Ah, the smell of moldy cardboard, second only
lasted for about two years, with this 1979 LP arriving in the middle. They're
remembered as an electronic pop group, which is wrong. It’s the same false
designation given many bands, especially Devo for most of their career. They had
a keyboard player like everyone else. It was no more important in the mix than
the drummer or guitarists. I wish more reviewers were able to distinguish
between pop and electronic. Later in their career they were said to be moving
toward dance music, but as far as I know by then they stopped recording. Lead
singer Ken Lockie went on to Dominatrix, but that's a whole other project.
Cowboys International were a great pop band in the mid-70's sense, but updated. You won't find a finer example of post-punk neo-pop than what's on The Original Sin. Lockie singing evokes both The Human League and David Bowie. The songs take on various styles of pop and new wave, each with its own quirky personality and nice touches. The cover art is more fey than the songs within.
I'd say their contemporaries would be Aztec Camera, The Bluebells, Orange Juice and Squeeze -- but not really. There's an eccentricity that makes them less commercial and therefore better. No two songs are alike but they come from the same sensibility. It's a shame records like this are left to languish.
Terry Chimes was the original drummer for The Clash, given the name Tory Crimes. He went on to play for Johnny Thunders, Generation X, Hanoi Rocks and Black Sabbath (?!). Lockie's pal Keith Levine (PIL) appears on the album. It's said Lockie was a member of the old Sex Pistols' original gaggle of fellow travelers. Good for him (I say as I put my pointing finger in my closed mouth to make a popping sound as I snap it out on the side).
Crazy Mary - She Comes In Waves (CD review) (Humsting): NYC's Crazy Mary hired a publicist, which is how I wound up with this. This means they must have decent day jobs! Ariel Publicity is at www.arielpublicity.com. Crazy Mary has a site at www.crazymary.com.
The press kit and web site were of no help as far as the band's influences. I have my own theories but I like to see if I'm right as far as the rest of the world goes. Of course I always say I'm correct, but it's less of a lie when I get outside confirmation. The Velvet Underground is the basis of what is by design an eccentric band. Ah, how I miss eccentricity. Now it's all about attitude, which is bought, not developed. Crazy Mary is also a lo-fi band, even with TWO electric guitars, bass and drums.
Founding members Richard Morbid, Charles Kibel, George Kerezman and Nick Raisz added a female singer to the mix some time down the road, and Sophia Jackson is now featured on their CD covers and promotional materials. I only bring this up because at first I thought she was "Crazy Mary", these were her songs, and the guys backed her up. Nope.
Crazy Mary evokes the more playful side of the Velvet Underground, as when Moe Tucker sang "I'm Sticking With You". The fun side of the VU is rarely discussed, especially in the face of their great art statements of noise. The slight country and psychedelic feel on some of these thirteen tracks are within what The Velvets recorded. I give Crazy Mary credit for understanding and so faithfully replicating the feel of the best music to come out of NYC thirty years ago.
Sophia and Richard sing in slightly off-key harmonies that take some getting used to, but as a fan of lo-fi bands I soon stopped thinking about it and tacked on extra points for their vocal dischord. Sophia's sings like Moe Tucker, especially her high notes.
"Shot By Bullets" is backed by a lo-fi garage ZZ Top guitar riff, which made me laugh, but not in a bad way. "Paris (1944)" uses a slightly Hawaiian sounding slide guitar and contains an oft-repeated lyric "And the children cried, when David Bowie died". "Consider" references Andy Warhol. All in all this is an excellent CD. Some of its charms are hidden, while others are obscure homages to a scene and esthetic long gone. This is probably considered alternative folk by college radio stations but it’s punk enough if you're old like me or know what Andy Warhol’s scene was about.
Crazy Mary - Burning Into The Spirit World (CD review) (Humsting Records): More indie garage dub beatnik psychedelic folk from NYC. More fun stuff from harmless eccentrics with day jobs and a good publicist. The press kit compares Crazy Mary to Pylon, The B-52's and The Mekons. There's nothing earth shattering about Crazy Mary but they do write some great songs along with a bunch of decent ones. Fifteen years ago they would have fit comfortably on Hoboken's Coyote Records. Today they're a bit of an anachronism with a great set list of songs to dance to at various small clubs in the NY area.
"Voices Of Freedom" is or should be the single. Their live shows must be a treat, with everyone dancing and enjoying themselves immensely. Visit www.crazymary.com to download a live video.
Marshall Crenshaw - self-titled LP (review) (Warner Bros.): Think of Marshall Crenshaw as either a less successful Elvis Costello, an equally successful Warren Zevon, or Nick Lowe's American cousin. His debut album came out in ‘82 and it takes you back to the early days of England's Stiff Records, then back even more to Buddy Holly in the ‘50s. Crenshaw was a major contributor to Robert Gordon's career, writing "Something's Gonna Happen", "Someday, Someway", "Wasting My Time", "She's Not Mine Anymore" and "But, But (It's Only A Movie)".
Crenshaw was influenced by Buddy Holly, Buddy Knox, Gene Vincent, Sun Sessions-Elvis, Motown, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Bo Diddley, Duane Eddy, Chuck Berry, Phil Spector, Les Paul, Al Green and Marvin Gaye. A number of artists recorded his "You're My Favorite Waste Of Time". Crenshaw's tunes are marketable because they're simple, hummable and have that Donnie and Marie quality of a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll. Crenshaw manages to be minimalist and over-produced at the same time, and this might be the secret of his success and the roots of his limitations. Robert Gordon made "Something's Gonna Happen" a real barn burner. Something tells me Marshall doesn't have it in him.
Despite overly commercial elements (especially "Girls..." that sounds like Hall & Oates), this record is a find. "Cynical Girl" may borrow from Buddy Holly's "Peggy Sue" but it's still a great song. "Rockin' Around In N.Y.C." is also a keeper. Marshall Crenshaw misses a hard edge but it's something you can turn your mom onto as proof you're not yet a lost cause.
Marshall grew up in Detroit and relocated to NY to be a John Lennon understudy in a road production of "Beatlemania". He's compiled records for esoteric record labels, scored for TV shows, acted in "Peggy Sue Got Married" and played Buddy Holly in "La Bamba". He's a working musician who still hustles to pay the bills. One must respect that.
Cynica - Dork Rock! (CD review) (MP3): This twelve song CD arrived via MP3.com in San Diego on behalf of Jason Surguine and his two-man band Cynica, out of Scottsdale, AZ. The CD sells for $5.99, but with tax and mailing it set back Mr. Surguine $8.94. I don't even have an e-mail address for the band. The MP3 guestbook for Cynica has this message, "I think you are a nice guy and I think randy is too, you guys should write a song about monkeys because they are funny." This must be the future. Upload your band's CD to MP3.com, set up a page there and MP3.com acts as press and shipper. The cover and inside art were provided by the band and the songs are listed on the back.
You can check it out at http://artists.mp3s.com/artists/36/cynic.html. Jason describes songs on the CD, and it’s always fun to see how artists explain their work. Worthy of note are "fast punk tune about trying everything to tell someone that you love them... but they still don't seem to get it", and "really good tune about accepting the fact that life blows." The singing is as dorky as can be, and the silliness is also dorky. Jason is either King Dork or cool. Who knows? The first track, "Sorry I broke Your Toilet Seat", is punky folk, but the rest is like They Might Be Giants - "Don't Let's Start" to be specific. There’s too many variations on "Don't Let's Start" but I like that song so I've listened to this a few times. It’s a guilty pleasure I can't support with logic or reason.
DIY in the internet age. Easy as Pi. If you know Jason Surguine, tell him thanks and the review is up.
Dalek I Love You - Dalek I Love You (7" review) (Back Door): Dalek I (as they were called in short) not only made some fine electronic pop, they're an interesting piece of the early UK new wave puzzle. Liverpool bands of the mid ‘70s, at least those who wanted to avoid references to The Beatles, followed a Roxy-inflected group by the name of Deaf School. Then punk hit the UK and a May ‘77 Clash concert set everyone off into spasms of D.I.Y. creativity. The Sex Pistols may have inspired as many synth bands as they did straight ahead punk ones. From this scene also came The Teardrop Explodes, Echo And the Bunnymen, and OMD, all claiming former members of Dalek I Love You.
Dalek I formed in Dec 1977 and released this first single in August, 1979. The name on the sleeve was shortened to "Dalek I" by the record label without the band's knowledge or consent. One member wanted to call the band The Daleks, after the recurring Doctor Who characters. Another preferred Darling I Love You, which is a dumb name. The resulting compromise was Dalek I Love You.
Dalek I released some singles but fell apart by the time of their full-length in 1980, Compass Kumpas. A 1983 follow-up LP was recorded by a group with no original members. Alan Gill, who moved on to The Teardrop Explodes, started releasing cassette compilations to die-hard fans in 1985.
"Dalek I love You" is a great single. It's a direct influence on OMD and Tears For Fears. A strong Roxy Music lushness comes through, along with a tangible warmth and friendliness in the electronics - a contrast to Gary Numan's drones of alienation. It's also similar to what Devo was recording in their basement before making it big, with odd angles and shifts of tone and sound. Excellent and nearly forgotten.
- Is Vic There? (CD review): In the future,
every band will have their fifteen minutes of
There are two CD collections of Department S tunes, the longer one with live
this one -
Is Vic There? The
is worth reading as an example of the spirit of the
day - especially the spirit of Stiff Records.
good post-mortem interview with guitarist Mike Herbage. I'd take the swindle
aspects of their tale with a shaker of salt because everyone's filled to the
hat-line with poo.
Department S are best known for their 1980 single "Is Vic There?", but I remember 1981's "Going Left Right" being just as popular were I was standing. Hearing this collection it's obvious they did most things right but did drift into the shallower end of the new wave pool, culminating with band members wanting to copy ABC. They cut their loses just in time. Is Vic There? collects the twelve tracks from the recorded but non-released album Sub-Stance and adds single b-sides. The album tracks start with post-punk new wave and drifts into funky dance numbers. The best songs are front-loaded but the last two tracks are solid. The b-sides go left right too.
At their best you can compare them to The Teardrop Explodes, The Psychedelic Furs and Wall Of Voodoo. Herbage's guitar is killer but I still prefer WOV's Marc Moreland. At their weakest they're Haircut 100, Duran Duran and Bow Wow Wow. As a low-point they blow disco whistles on "Somewhere Between Heaven And Tesco's".
Department S deserve more recognition than they probably get, and for fans of post-punk I highly recommend this. The keeper tracks are fairly mandatory.
Depeche Mode - Speak & Spell (LP review) (Sire): When Speak and Spell came out I thought Depeche Mode was electronic pop's answer to The Village People. In 1981 they were part of the new romance movement that killed new wave, but at least on this album they wrote a few decent synth new wave dance tunes, making them cousins of Our Daughter's Wedding, the Human League - even the silly Silicon Teens. Their later trademark gloom and doom are mostly absent on a record that adds textures to simple keyboard progressions. The album's disco hit was "Just Can't Get Enough" and there's enough electro-disco to curdle milk, but some great songs shine through. "New Life" and "Dreaming Of Me" are classics. "Any Second Now" is a slice of lite industrial moodiness that brings to mind OMD at their best. The guilty pleasure of the album is "What's Your Name?", a Beach Boys-inspired ode to pretty boys.
Devo (review) - Akron, Ohio is the quintessential post-industrial city - massive tire factories combining our nation's burgeoning mechanical ingenuity with the grit, smell and hazardous haze once only found near coal mines. From this utopia in 1970 arose five pimple-faced, pencil-necked "spud boys" driven to fame and fortune through music, performance, video, rotating lines of synthetic clothing and accessories, and a part intellectual, mostly batpoop worldview they called De-evolution, where science and commercial culture combine to reverse the evolution process, reverting humans back into apes. Hence, the name DEVO. 1978 saw their overnight success after an appearance on Saturday Night Live (their robotic version of "Satisfaction" for a time made dinosaur rock irrelevant). They released three great albums (Q: Are We Not Men..., Duty Now For The Future, and Freedom Of Choice), one decent record (New Traditionalists), then with each subsequent release they stunk a little bit more until they ceased to exist. Until recently, when Devo released the CD-ROM The Adventures Of The Smart Patrol, panned by critics as being both boring and technically outdated. Oh well, there's always the past...
When Devo were good, they were great. Quirky, jerky new wave dance hits manufactured right here in the good old U.S.A. They created a myth from whole cloth and never stopped selling it. When Devo was bad, wowsers did they stink! “Disco Dancer”? Hello? Widely considered a synthesizer band, Devo for half of their run sported a live drummer and electric guitars. Devo is one of the most influential bands in new wave and punk. They should have quit after "Beautiful World", but I forgive them because the meds I take are working full stop.
ALBUMS OF NOTE:
Q: ARE WE NOT MEN? A: WE ARE DEVO (1978) - The yellow radiation jumpsuit era. De-evolution explained. The correct combo of Devo's mid 70's bizarre musical doodlings and solid new wave dance rhythms. If you don't know this album by heart you're not whatever it is you're pretending to be. Clawhammer redid this album song-for-song in 1990. Produced by Brian Eno.
DUTY NOW FOR THE FUTURE (1979) - Considered a step back at the time, Devo seemed rushed into this release, recording songs from what sounds like two years earlier. "Secret Agent Man" was a hit for its novelty-remake value, but repeated listenings uncover a few gems like "S.I.B. (Swelling Itching Brain)" and "Mr. DNA".
FREEDOM OF CHOICE (1980) - The red flowerpot era. "Whip It" is just another track on a consistently excellent album. It became a hit because of the ambiguous lyrics, but it was written by Mark as an ode to his father’s positive mental attitude sayings. The epitome of new wave, yet some of the songs can (and have) been made into hardcore punk tunes with little effort.
DEV-O LIVE (1981) - a quickie six-song 12" released to capitalize on the success of Freedom Of Choice. A must because the musicianship is very aggressive, especially the drumming. You'll never think of Devo as just a synthesizer band again. "Be Stiff" is the best track, a welcome facelift given to a once dull, plodding song.
NEW TRADITIONALISTS(1981) - The plastic JFK pompadour hair era. The beginning of the end. "Through Being Cool" seemed aimed at children. The songs are ok but the Q: Are We Not Men?.. era is long gone and the hits are few and far between. However, "Beautiful World" is the best (and one of the last) pure new wave dance song ever recorded.
E-Z LISTENING DISC (1987) - muzak versions of old Devo hits. Great background noise for any surreal occasion.
HARDCORE DEVO VOLS. 1&2 (1990) - Songs recorded between 1974-77 in a basement four-track studio. Everything from early versions of "Mongoloid" to spaced-out white funk. Some of the dirtiest lyrics you'll ever hear. Vol. 2 worth it for "Fountain Of Filth" alone, one of those songs that make you want to dance naked down the street knocking over strangers and falling into fountains.
Devo - Something For Everybody (cd review): At the end of this I swear I'll get to the actual review. More important for now and for ever is context and career commentary. Can the phrase "Don't taze me Bro" destroy the credibility of an entire album? It can and does with Devo's latest self-described product, Something For Everybody, an often lightly entertaining yet frustratingly soulless missed opportunity for the spud boys to show they still have it beyond the ability to cobble together digital sounds in their corporate commercial laboratory called Mutato Muzika. One fan raves "It's their best album since Oh No! It's Devo", their last good one only in that it had three good songs, the too-little-too-late and childishly titled single "Peek-A-Boo!" and the throwbacks "That's Good" and "Big Mess". It also had "Speed Racer", which led to the career crashing low-points of Shout, Total Devo and Smooth Noodle Maps. Total Devo yielded the disaster "Disco Dancer", which you shouldn't listen to directly as it burns the ears, but here's the commentary track for the video with Mark Mothersbaugh and Jerry Casale. Keep in mind that no matter how small a check was given by Enigma to Devo to make this video the sound it made as it was ripped out of the checkbook was that of a giant toilet flushing. I'll get to Casale immediately, but honestly, who wants a Devo album to be as good as Oh No! It's Devo?
For a change I didn't want to trash Jerry in a review, but after reading his recent interview with The Onion it needs to be repeated he's the most bitter, impotent and pretentiously childish figure in modern music history, torn between his boorish art student ego and a insecure fat kid mentality that resentfully needs to fit in. His "experiment" this time around was to sell out as hard as he could. Please. Everything with Jerry is part of the plan, even the failures. His musings on Devo 2.0 are precious and bring up the commercially creative ying and yang of Money vs. Talent. Jerry is Talent, often a creative machine suffering from insecurities and chemical imbalances both psychological and pharmacological. Money lets Talent think whatever they want as long as they produce. Jerry thinks everyone else is an idiot. His tombstone will read "I Get The Last Word. De-Evolution Is Real". Sure it is Jerry, but that commercial for toothpaste we're paying you for is due by Friday. Here's another Onion interview where Professor Jerry lays it all out with grit teeth and balled up widdle fists of futile.
Jerry's experiment is a conceptual mess. They had fans vote on which of sixteen tracks should make the twelve song cut - making no sense in the digital era when it all can fit on one disc anyway. The extra songs are available on the web-only deluxe version. The fans voted on a set list, immediately nixed by Warners and notated by Devo as being "88% focus group approved", rendering Jerry's art 44% more nuanced. They brought in outside producers to make a few songs more hipster-craptic, and on that level they might have succeeded. How is this not a sell-out and an admission of floundering for acceptance? I figured by now Mothersbaugh kept the cutting edge in his own pocket to use only when needed to fill a client order. I guess not.
Here's Devo performing the single "Fresh" on the telly, and it's the same spontaneity-free festival gig performance they've been doing for years.
The band performs in front of a massive video screen rolling synchronized segments of moving wallpaper, which might be subversive somewhere within the 8th layer of simple obviousness. Drumming studio pro Josh Freese is only a problem in that he's not a creative force in the band like Alan Meyers was, and while Bob Mothersbaugh is still given ample opportunity to shine he doesn't stand out as the most obviously cool Devo member like he once did, here in 1980 when Devo where at their peak somewhere between punk and the new wave they helped create:
The double-secret foundation of the original Devo were Bob and Alan Meyers, the latter famously tossed aside as obsolete when Mark and Jerry decided a drum machine was preferred over an organic element out of their control. If Bob wasn't family I doubt he'd still be around. Ultimately this new collection will serve only only as documentation of what they've added to their tour list. The best thing they've done since they've come back is 2001's "Twist 'N' Launch" as The Wipeouters:
This new Devo album should have looked back to a happy medium between Are We Not Men? and Freedom Of Choice, the first a nod to their Hardcore Devo, written mainly for live drums and Bob's guitar, and the second a cornerstone of the original commercial new wave not neutered by new romance. They should have then toured smaller venues, proving they still have it instead of still making a living at it. Maybe Jerry's still trying to prove he was right with "Disco Dancer". Something For Everybody is a missed opportunity. They'll have another chance some day and should take it.
ALBUM REVIEW, FINALLY: "Fresh" - it's better heard than seen if only because Mark's rehearsed hand motions are annoying. As a single it's great for its directness and simplicity. The lyrics are meaningless, which doesn't bother me, but strangely on the whole the disc doesn't say anything, and it does so with a lot of words. "What We Do" - the faux-disco funk and half-hearted robotic singing don't add up to much. The lyrics don't get any more insightful than "What we do is what we do" and "Eeny, meeny, miny, moe". "Please Baby Please" - it gives Bob a chance to flex his guitar but once again the lyrics are meaningless. It's laid over an Ant Music beat, so at least that's interesting. "Don't Shoot (I'm The Man)" - don't taze me Bro! A good song except for that unfortunate phrase that shows Devo's finger on the zeitgeist is really up their noses pulling out gray hairs. "Mind Games" - video game analog bleeps lead into a few choruses of "Love is - Mind Games". Musically it's interesting. "Human Rocket" - a fast and loud one with simple lyrics. Pretty good.
"Sumthin'" - finally, Devo's big political statement! The Decider Of Hope has something for everybody but bankers, psycho pundits, and Al Qaeda & The Taliban, who are fundamentally way out of hand, stand in their way. It's 2010's "We're Through Being Cool". "Step Up" - for Devo a hard stomping and shiny dance song. Not bad. "Cameo" - Let's compare this to Duran Duran's "Rio" - "Her name is Rio and she dances on the sand. Just like that river twisting through a dusty land. And when she shines she really shows you all she can. Oh Rio Rio dance across the Rio Grande." And "He said his name was Cameo. He danced a nasty funk-style retro. He drove a bright red '67 GTO. He liked to let his Elvis-style hair grow." "Later Is Now" - it sounds like "It Doesn't Matter To Me", but since that song only appears on the live Now It Can Be Told they might deserve a pass.
"No Place Is Home" - the most radical deviation in Devo's career, it features acoustic piano, strings, Mike Oldfield guitar and crooning. The glowing allmusic review considers these last two songs as sequels to "Beautiful World", one of the two last great and pure new wave singles (the other is Joe Jackson's "Steppin' Out"). I can see it for "No Place Is Home" if I squint, but it still pales a tiny bit by definition. Devo brought on a second guitarist for this record, and I wonder is it's for the guitar work on this song. "March On" - by this point the "All Devoids To The Dance Floor" beats are becoming a chore. There's a nice melody under it all but I hate disco and all it's bastard children.
Deluxe Tracks: Maybe it's best they were kept off the disc, with the exception of "Signal Ready", which could have replaced something like "Mind Games". "Watch Us Work It" - I have no take on this. It just exists. "Signal Ready" - this would have been great on the regular disc as the closest they get to the desired state of Hardcore Devo. "Let's Get To It" - not bad but more of the same. "Knock Boots" - Devo's solitary yet standard clumsy sex reference mixes a line from "Going Under" with a rant against the tabloid media and proving Devo is still relevant. It manages to say a lot and nothing at the same time, as does pretty much all of Something For Everybody.
Within the few weeks I've had this Something For Everybody has already grown old. The highly produced dance tracks are a candy confection and for Devo dates them to a time in their career when they were making bad choices on the way down. The funniest things I've read from fans and lazy journalists are statements about how they're still proving their gimmick was truth. On one of the tracks Gerald adds something like "How many of you still think de-evolution is real?", which is as cringe-worthy as 65 year old Rod Stewart asking his audience "Do you still think I'm sexy?" Lyrically the disc says nothing and musically they've outsourced what Mark should be able to do in breaks of writing cartoon background music.
Devo - Pioneers Who Got Scalped (2 CDs review) (Rhino): All in all I love Devo but they should have called it quits after Oh No, It's Devo!, and I'm being mighty generous at that. It's 4 AM and I'm listening to this while driving through the desert, and it starts off great with early "Booji Boy" versions of "We're All Devo", "Mongoloid" and "Jocko Homo", followed by a few tracks from each album, and all is good with the world as I sing along with my voice that can crystallize cheese, and then a sense of dread washes over me because I know the end of their listenable period is coming up and there's many tracks left. Then the "Here To Go" go-mix version, whatever the disco hell that is, comes on and the headphones fly off my head and I reach under the seat to see if there's anything to wash away the bad taste in my mouth. Why the hell is Rhino trying to redeem a part of a band's career that should be forgotten, if not referenced too only by mumbling and trailing off? Haven't enough Devo greatest hits packages been released over the years? Did recording the "Theme From Doctor Detroit" lead to a movie soundtrack meltdown, leading to this version of "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini"? Now I’m all pissy.
I live in a Devo-filled world so I imagine most spuds in the market to buy something like this must own at least one of the greatest hits things, if not the first few albums. I also can't imagine there's too many people who like, or could ever like, both the early (good) and later (bad) stuff at the same time. "Too Much Paranoias" and "Disco Doll" as a set? No way.
In 2000 Rhino put out a limited edition Devo two disc set of rarities called Recombo DNA, limited to 500 copies. Now that should have been released in large quantities. Pioneers Who Got Scalped was the wrong move. The 1990 Warner Bros. hits CD is cheaper, better and it won't make you wince.
Dogs Die In Hot Cars
- Please Describe Yourself (CD review):
Perfect Pop Song Alert! “Apples & Oranges” is a perfect power pop song. It’s
driven by a
progression derived from
and evokes the best of XTC from
on. Any horn sound I can’t identify I call a flugelhorn. The song makes me want
to run and dance at the same time. If only it were possible to dance The Pony at
Dogs Die In Hot Cars hail from Scotland. Please Describe Yourself was produced by Clive Langer & Alan Winstanley, who recorded Dexy's Midnight Runners, Madness, The Smiths and David Bowie. Many bands are cited as influences, even the Talking Heads. I don’t hear the Heads. Sure there are influences, but at their core Dogs Die In Hot Cars are a talented, eclectic power pop band who wear their influences on their sleeves yet follow nobody. They don’t throw everything against the wall to see what sticks like other bands but augment their songs with clever diversions and instrumentations. They don’t steal but frequently sound like, which is in no way unoriginal when the results are impressive.
The band they follow most is XTC. There’s a bit of Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Big Country, and even some New Order guitar. “Paul Newman’s Eyes” opens with what sounds like the beginning of Janis Joplin’s “Mercedes Benz” (“Oh lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz ?”) There’s also an energy and musical set-up and pay-off you find in melodic emo. The core is 70’s Power Pop, which ran from mild to fierce. New Wave wasn’t new as much as it was an updated kind of old. The Jags and The Romantics were pure power pop bands that were interesting and peppy enough to make it as new wave bands. The Buzzcocks and early XTC were pop bands but too jagged and manic to be power pop. Dogs Die In Hot Cars are neither jagged nor boring. They get a lot accomplished in the middle area that requires good songwriting to be noticed.
“I love You Cause I Have Too” is not a ska song. It has ska guitar riffs but it’s not ska. Third Wave ruined ska but it’s still a fun sound and should always be appreciated when used well.
The only weakness I found is in some of the lyrics. Paul Newman is random name-dropping of someone even I barely remember as relevant. “Celebrity Sanctum” sounds great but why do they think Lucy Liu, Angelina Jolie and Catherine Zeta-Jones are names that will stand the test of time? Sam Raimi dressed Bruce Campbell for the Evil Dead movies in brown corduroy pants, a blue shirt and earth shoes because he thought they’d always look modern. Oy.
Dogs Die In Hot Cars - Pop Nonsense (cd review): Lazy (or eccentric) and probably retired Scottish post-new wavers Dogs Die In Hot Cars most likely haven't yet officially released their last project, titled Dogs Die In Hot Cars Is Making Pop Nonsense, once available free on-line to anyone who wanted to create their own versions of the songs, then considered creative ideas for their next album. What I have has to be the originals offered for pillaging, so I'll review them as studio demos.
Dogs Die hit #24 on the UK singles charts in 2004 with "Godhopping", which owed a cash debt to fellow Scots Big Country. The ska-peppy "I Love You 'Cause I Have To" was more my style but along with most of the cd it was pop candy with a short shelf life. The XTC-inspired "Apples & Oranges" is a perfect pop song that'll never age or lose its charm. The new one is good and has further potential, but it's hard to tell in its present form. At seventeen tracks it's tossing the kitchen sink and overstaying its welcome, but pruned down I like it and will do more so in the future.
The picture I get listening to Pop Nonsense is of most of the band sitting on tall stools strumming acoustic guitars with long strokes. That'd be a nice change of pace live. The new "Godhopping" would be "Pop Nonsense" as it seems to be pushing the same buttons. My favored tracks are "Something For The Good Boys", "Real", "Like Music To My Ears" (my favorite), "Beauty US", "Bloke In The Toilet", "To Get Love Returned" and "Plutonic Dancing". That's seven songs right there. Toss in "Pop Nonsense", add its cousin "Squeeze", inject cheese whiz for filler and there you have a record worth owning. On top of their standard issue indie pop leanings I also hear XTC and world music influences.
I await the official release, which I'm sure is forthcoming forthwith.
Thomas Dolby - The Golden Age of Wireless (LP review)(EMI): Thomas Dolby is the Warren Zevon of electronic new wave, a studio, production and songwriting savant who successfully worked with popular acts while his own career offered more valleys than peaks. Dolby's collaborated with Lene Lovich, Foreigner, Joan Armatrading, Thompson Twins, Whodini, Herbie Hancock, Howard Jones, Stevie Wonder, Belinda Carlisle, Joni Mitchell and George Clinton. His initial success penning Lovich's "New Toy" set him up as a force in new music and he delivered with 1982's The Golden Age of Wireless. Best known for the robotic and funky "She Blinded Me With Science", whose video played in heavy rotation on MTV, this record contains amazing slices of non-disco new wave - possibly the best of the genre when you consider "Flying North", "Radio Science" and "Europa And The Pirate Twins" are all on the same record.
Dolby carefully cultivated his image of Boy Scientist and the music he created in his studio lab demonstrated a mastery of acoustic and electronic production. More "human" than the Human League and Howard Jones, a soul courses through The Golden Age of Wireless. I doubt Stevie Wonder would have worked if him otherwise. The alienation of "One Of Our Submarines" doesn't come from Dolby singing in a robotic monotone but from the soulfulness of both his voice and music.
The Flat Earth came out in ‘84 and yielded the hit single "Hyperactive". As his work for others increased his own took a back seat and what he did create wasn't worth much notice. His last solo album came out in ‘92 and the world yawned. He started a software company and scored for the films Gothic and Howard The Duck. The last thing I heard was the music for a 1994 collection of computer animated films called The Gate To The Mind's Eye. The film is visually stunning but Dolby's score is hack commercial electronics.
Try to find this album. Avoid the track that became an MTV classic video and enjoy the many pleasures found within. If the other synth bands of the era had an ounce of Thomas Dolby's talents maybe the genre would have been credited with more depth.
Thomas Dolby - The Flat Earth (CD review) (Capitol): It takes a few listens to get into this 1984 follow up to The Golden Age Of Wireless, but what you have is a generally satisfying set of expertly produced studio tracks that sound like a movie soundtrack album which gets less interesting as you go along. Dolby recorded The Flat Earth while working for others as a producer and songwriter so there's a good chance some of these were written originally for others, or actual soundtracks. The tracks touch on a number of other band's styles but are connected by the swaying, lushly romantic influence of Roxy Music. "Dissidents" is an intricate web of minimal funk elements a la The Talking Heads. "The Flat Earth" relies on a Kraftwerk keyboard riff to provide mood. "Screen Kiss" soars like new age music. "White City" recaptures some of the energy of his last record but isn't more than an album track. "Mulu The Rain Forest" starts off disjointed but evolves into a nice piece of synth-pop, to only once again become horribly disjointed.
Dolby comes across sometimes like Joe Jackson on a bad day. "I Scare Myself" is something from an off-Broadway musical, back-up singers in red sequin dresses and everything. Not too interesting. "Hyperactive" was a hit and reached #17 in the UK. It's too commercial for me. Dolby followed this up with soundtracks for both Gothic and Howard The Duck, and then the crime against nature known as Aliens Ate My Buick, which was spit out of my CD player faster than a vegetable out of Al Bundy's mouth.
Thomas Dolby- Aliens Ate My Buick (CD review) (EMI): If I could put into words how bad this is - how sophomoric, how over-produced, how utterly embarrassing this is - the words would make women sterile and grown men cry. I forced myself to listen to this 1988 clunker (which helped sink Dolby's career) and the whole time I was moaning "ouch....ouch". When Dolby's not trying to out-swing Joe Jackson's Jumping Jive he's thinking Prince's funk-lite is still cutting edge. If I ever hear "May The Cube Be With You" again, I swear, I'm going to do something everyone else will regret more than I do. It's too late for me -- I've been exposed to this sonic virus -- but you, my friends, can save your very souls by promising never to gaze upon this frisbee from hell! The horror...the horror..... I'm torn between keeping this in the reviews archive and burning my computer.
Echo & The Bunnymen
- Songs To Learn & Sing (review): I can't
think of a more uninteresting popular and influential new wave band than
Echo & The Bunnymen. Often times you don't notice creativity and musical depth
in groups you're not big on, and when
came out in 1980 I was underwhelmed. I preferred
former pre-Echo associate Julian Cope's
The Teardrop Explodes.
I also thought visually
was simply a less extreme
One was enough.
Listening to their 1985 hits collection Songs To Learn & Sing I've concluded there's very little "there" there when it comes to Echo & The Bunnymen. It's lacking in their most popular songs so I doubt it lurks on the b-sides. Sure they had some hits but oh my how shallow they were, repeating themselves and lacking cleverness and surprises. However a song starts is how it pretty much middles and ends. There's also an awkwardness to some of the rhythms.
On the high end you can lump them in with Simple Minds and The Psychedelic Furs, but Echo & The Bunnymen often give little more than Orange Juice and Aztec Camera. Ouch.
- The Back Room (CD review): Hey, a band
from that British city Johnny Rotten sang about with the woman who terminated
her pregnancy and then it screamed "I'm not an animal!", just like the Elephant
Man did, whose real name was John too.
Editors are so much like Interpol you can make a mixed CD of their music and nobody would know the difference. If I wasn't such a sucker for this modern and mostly peppy take on Joy Division I'd deride someone's (anyone's) lack of originality, but as it is I'm happy the extra product is out there. What the Editors add to the equation is a tad more New Order and guitar like U2's The Edge.
Most of the eleven tracks on The Back Room start me up nicely, "Munich"and "Bullets" my favorites. The bass guitar steps up and drives the songs like lead guitar usually does. This earns extra e-points with me. Their EPs are also great. The lead singer's favorite color might be blue. I'll update this review if the pope ever gets back to me.
Egoslavia - self-titled 12" EP (9 1/2 X 16 Records review): If I didn't live in Washington, DC in 1982 and didn't see Egoslavia live, I never would have found this record. The film Man On The Moon was inspired fairly exclusively by the R.E.M. song of the same name. In other words, no R.E.M. song, no Jim Carrey film. Egoslavia was originally called R.E.M., but were forced to change it to anything else because of the emerging fame of that other R.E.M. " Egoslavia" is also what they call the country Fran Drescher visits in the barely comedic The Beautician And The Beast. Ah, the tidbits of knowledge you can learn with a good search engine.
Egoslavia were followers of Gang Of Four. If you remember The Plastics and Pylon you'll know what these guys were doing. Side two is a little too funky for me but "Lost Song", "Read Palms" and "Twist Face" are classics of the asexual post-punk funk genre. Gregg Strzempka dropped a "g" from his name and later formed Raging Slab, a southern boogie band with punk and metal influences. Drummer Sally Ven-Yu Berg appeared in the 1985 Richard Kern short film Agony & Ecstasy, also starring Lydia Lunch and Henry Rollins' neck. Pam Lewis (Keyboards, vocals) and Christopher Anderson (bass) could be anywhere so beware and take care. Pam and Sally were beautiful enough to be supermodels. I remember being very distracted watching them play live eighteen years ago.
Elastica- self-titled (CD review) (DGC): When this came out in 1995 I read they sounded like old new wave, which in major label terms usually runs the gamut of The Bangles to Boy George. Happily Elastica borrows from earlier, better sources like Wire and The Stranglers, so much so that both groups brought legal action against the band for stealing riffs. Well, not really. The opening tune, "Line Up", sounds like Wire's "I Am The Fly". Everybody steals ideas but the big question is if they do a good job at whatever it is they’re doing. With Elastica I'd say yes. The opening track has a great effect throughout of someone retching . The CD drags a bit in the middle but there's enough fuzzy thrash guitar, pounding Go-Go's drumming and strong female vocals to make this a keeper. The CD has enough non-commercial qualities to earn my respect, if not my dollars.
The English Beat - I Just Can't Stop It (LP review) (Sire): Second wave ska's reputation as the most fun music in the world comes directly from The English Beat, whose 1980 debut made up for lack of variety with infectious beats and hooks galore. A dance record from start to finish, I Just Can't Stop It and The Specials first album were the bookends of the late ‘70s ska revival - The Specials the serious political band and The Beat the happy face of ranking full stop. The English Beat could also be political but they packaged it in subversive dance numbers like "Two Swords" and "Stand Down Margaret".
Forming in '78, The Beat was fronted by alternating singers Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger, and featured the elderly Saxa on saxophone. Saxa played with ‘60’s ska legends Prince Buster and Desmond Dekker. The Beat’s first hit was a remake of Smokey Robinson's "Tears Of A Clown", and I Just Can't Help It scored well with the American new wave crowd who were suckers for anything they could dance to.
Around 1982 I worked security at an English Beat concert in an old 4,000-5,000 capacity basketball arena in Maryland. The place was packed and I swear to you every single person was up and dancing. It’s a site I will never see again. People had to be escorted out due to exhaustion. There were no fights, amazing all things considered. Did this make The English Beat a wimpy band? No way - they managed to be caustic and endearing at the same time. That's a talent to be admired if not held up in awe.
Brian Eno - Desert Island Selection (CD review) (Astralwerks): I'm not that qualified to write about music. All I've ever done is listen to it. I have opinions, I do a little research, slap something together with snot & bubble gum - but mostly I stare blankly at my own words on the monitor while drool forms a puddle on the floor. Until I picked up this hits package from ‘73-‘78 all I knew about Brian Eno was what he's done with Roxy Music, The Talking Heads and David Bowie. The CD sounds like the Moody Blues without the layered harmonies, and Eno only hints at his fascination with electronics and world music.
Eccentrics are a dime a dozen, from Phil Spector to The Residents to Frank Zappa to Todd Rundgren. Eno takes the cake. He doesn't even consider himself a musician, and, to quote the All-Music Guide, "Determining his creative pathways with the aid of a deck of instructional, tarot-like cards called Oblique Strategies, Eno championed theory over practice, serendipity over forethought, and texture over craft; in the process, he forever altered the ways in which music is approached, composed, performed and perceived, and everything from punk to techno to new age bears his unmistakable influence."
There's no disputing that. As Bowie kick-started the careers of Iggy Pop, Ian Hunter and Lou Reed, Eno ensconced Bowie in a Berlin studio and created Low, Heroes and Lodger, cornerstones of modern etheral and alternative music. He theorized music was a natural element, along with light and color, and his holistic view of a universal theory led to works both intriguing and sometimes deathly dull. His Music For Airports was an experiment in musak designed to calm air travelers. Some people only see the big picture while others dwell amongst the minutia of atoms. Eno's mind commutes between the 4th and 8th dimensions. Maybe he's an anomaly of nature, totally removed from the limitations of normality and insanity.
My favorite piece on the CD is "St. Elmo's Fire", featuring Robert Fripp on guitar, whose style is distinctive and controlled. It's hard rock guitar but the sounds that come out are electronic tones. Fans of Mike Oldfield, progressive rock, world music, minimalism and any of the bands mentioned above should find out more Brian Eno. This disc is as good a place to start as any. There's an eleven disc anthology but nobody should take out a second mortgage just for something to hum along to in the car.
Brian Eno - Ambient 1: Music For Airports (LP review) (EG): The first time I listened to this was last month at an airport, and as I boarded my flight with my Walkperson the new age music piped through the plane might as well have been the mono to the stereo wafting from my headphones. Peaceful, tranquil, plane no crash, calm, nice, smile, sleepy yum yum, nice, plane crashing, flesh burning, oh.... o... k.... niiiiiice.
Eno, or as his mom christened him, Brian Peter George St. Baptiste de la Salle Eno, coined the term Ambient in the mid ‘70s. He’s a pillar of new age music but his approach was from prog rock, and his brilliant, innate sense of weirdness that informs all his work. Music For Airports was specifically designed to soothe the nervousness of fearful flyers but Eno's interest was mind control, not the healing powers of wind chimes. Music For Airports is what you'll hear from here to next Tuesday at The Nature Store, but when Eno's playing you can at least walk away with the twisted satisfaction of knowing he's trying to screw with your mind, not just distract you as you're being fed into the Soylent Green machine.
1979's Music For Airports was a piece in Eno's ongoing work in ambient music begun in earnest with 1975's Discreet Music and fully realized in 1978 with Music For Films. The focus is on texture and not composition. The sounds originate from environmental elements and electronic emulation of angelic choirs. The four tracks are listed as "1/1", "2/1", "1/2", and "2/2". The music exists to either be noticed or not. Either way it's effective on whatever level you perceive it. On each track, an almost random series of simple note progressions are calmly set into motion on Zen excursions. Song lengths are meaningless and time stands still while you're listening. The work is minimalist and there are patterns if you look closely enough, but it lacks the cyclical aspects of Philip Glass and his ilk. If you’re not in the mood for this you’ll think each track is too long by at least half.
If Brian Eno wasn't Brian Eno I wouldn't review Music For Airports, but the guy's a legend partly responsible for a good portion of whatever it is interesting people are listening to.
Brian Eno & David Byrne - My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts (LP review) (Sire): All-round genius Brian Eno said of this 1981 collaboration, "It's almost collage music, like grafting a piece of one culture onto a piece of another onto a piece of another, and trying to make them work as a coherent musical idea, and also trying to make something you can dance to." As world music it's not something white folks can shake their groove tushies to without dislocating a hip, but My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts is a great and highly influential example of multicultural plagiarism in the name of finding the next big dance wave. At times ambient and others hypnotic it's not something that keeps me interested for more than a few minutes, but I marvel at how seamlessly Eno and Byrne combine primal rhythms and cutting edge technology.
Peter Gabriel started down the same path in 1980 on his third album. Eno produced The Talking Head's popular 1980 Remain In Light, which led to this more experimental release. Recording and production started earlier and spanned eighteen months and five studios from NY to CA. Paul Simon soon jumped the same train, but let's not go there. The idea of sampling "found" media tracks over repetitive layers of music wasn't new - Steve Reich mastered that in the ‘60s. Eno and Bryne simply used their clout and creative talents to bring it to a wider audience.
The release of the album was delayed further to obtain proper clearances for the samples, which include preachers, radio talk show callers, an exorcist and Muslim prayers. This last one raised the specter of a jihad and "Qu'ran" was replaced on later pressings.
My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts is said to have been highly influential in the evolution of ambient music. I'll try to hold back my bitter tears on that one. I know for a fact an Eno collaberation makes the other person look like gold.
- Stop the Future & The Epoxies (CD review):
have their own line of
and invite visitors to their site to promote them in a street team. Something
tells me they want to be famous.
Stop the Future
is their second full-length, and it's a great slice of aggressive new wave dance
Keyboardist/vocalist FM Static was in the killer snot-pop-punk garage band The Automatics. This is a whole new gig. What I'm reminded of when I listen to The Epoxies are Kim Wilde, Flock Of Seagulls, The Go-Gos, Servotron and the first album by The Anniversary. The beats are new wave but the energy and drive are from this new century. The theramin-feel on some of the keyboards is also new.
Roxy Epoxy's voice is powerful and distinctive yet I feel I should be placing it elsewhere. Her look is inspired by Toyah Willcox, and maybe the voice too. No matter how many reviewers say it there is no Blondie or Devo influence on this disc.
Every song is melodically fast and every instrument works overtime to defeat dead air. There's a recurring sci-fi theme and "Robot Man" is a Scorpions cover done equally well by The Vindictives. Stop the Future is a fun record and there's a real punk energy to songs that aren’t punk. Loosen up and have some fun for a change. And tuck your shirt in.
6/26 update: I just listened to their debut CD, The Epoxies. It's more straight ahead casio punk than the follow up, and the insistent speed of The Automatics comes through more, but it's a great recording and also worth having. Throughout both CDs I keep on wanting to sing the line "We're the kids of America".
Ex-Girl - Big When Far, Small When Close (CD review) (Kiki-Poo): May I say this is scaring the crap out of me (in a good way) as I listen to it for the first time? It's PIL, Tetes Noire, Nina Hagen, Klaus Nomi, Laurie Anderson, and the weirder end of the Ralph Records catalog all wrapped into one. These three women from Japan record extremely complicated and challenging music. This is genius. It’s nonsense that reveals a depth of understanding way beyond what looks to be their years.
Being from Japan their shtick translates strangely. They claim to be from planet Kero! Kero!, ruled by a giant frog, and they wear flower pot dresses and large rubber wigs. This being their a-cappella record, the instruments played are Floor Tom, Cymbal, Gram Pot, Tom Tom, Tuba, Trombone, Trumpet, Clarinet, Wood Block, along with lots of hand-clapping and "stepping".
If not for how good the songs are I would write this off as a novelty record. It’s bizarre to comic extremes yet as rich and textured as the mind can imagine. Talent like this really does scare me in a good way. This is for Renaldo And The Loaf fans, and I know where all four of you are locked away.
Ex-Girl - Back To The Mono Kero! (CD review) (Ipecac): My favorite eccentric Japanese band is back with a more mainstream collection of songs you still have to be touched in the head to appreciate. On the opening track alone, "Waving Scientist @ Frog King", the three-piece from Planet Kero! Kero! evoke The Roches, Manhattan Transfer, Servotron, NoMeansNo, Klaus Nomi and Nina Hagen. If you're into lyrics, how about "Let's get excrements of dog, marshmallow stuck to the side of red shoe / High purity heroin and the atom heart mother / What is the last one?" What does it mean? Nothing, just shut up and dance.
Chihiro (vocals, guitars, sitar), Kirilo (vocals, bass, casiotone) and Fuzuki (vocals, percussion, drums) are supplemented by "Asshole box, scum tape from garbage, slide geisha, metal and Glam Pal." I think it says "glam pal". They make their own wild plastic outfits, and if this was 1980 or so I'd say The Plastics had some competition. These women might not have gone potty by themselves back in 1980. They've created some weird fiction about themselves involving frog kings and strange planets and something or other. Japan is the land of Hello Kitty and lunchtime schoolgirl prostitution so nothing surprises me. They formed in 1997 with no prior music experience and by 1998 they had toured America and won the heart of a San Francisco college station, who beat their music into the area's collective consciousness. It seems wherever they played they won over people with their endearingly bizarre shows. They'll be coming to L.A. in August, and even if I die before then my ghost will be there to see it. (I was lazy and didn’t go)
It’s not taking the easy way out and compare Ex-Girl to the B-52's. They work on the same level of silliness, but while the B-52's were, at least in the beginning, a minimalist surf-wave outfit, Ex-Girl are a mix of many things weird and wonderful, in the following loose order of relevance: NoMeansNo, 1980-era XTC, Servotron, "Pink Pussycat" Devo, Klaus Nomi, Nina Hagen and Bow Wow Wow. Zappa and Residents fans might also get into this, but Ex-Girl plays music you can dance to - half the time. Otherwise the music seems to compel the listener to stare and wonder what the hell they're doing and how the hell they're doing it. These are complex songs that often veer from obvious choices into regions rarely explored. They’re obviously very creative and strange. I wonder why their cover of "Pop Musik" is so devoid of originality. This was a great chance to deconstruct a classic and instead they tuned their instruments and got it over with quick. It’s just there, which is something I'd never thought I'd say about anything Ex-Girl.
Fabulous Poodles - Mirror Stars (LP review) (1978) (Epic): This was the Poodles first and best album. They were a pub rock band who found a market in the new wave. Nobody under 35 remembers them now, but back in time this was an instant classic. Imagine the Kinks if they were more on their game in the ‘70s. I think I'm the only person who actually loved such Kink's monstrosities as Schoolboys in Disgrace and Soap Opera. Total piffle but quaint in a small way. The Poodles were the Kinks as a new wave band. "Roll Your Own" is literally about the advantages of rolling your own. "Tit Photographer Blues" is a first person slice of life of a skin-rag scumbag. "Mirror Star" and "Mr. Mike" were the hits. I'm sure you can find this for a buck somewhere. Buy it. Parasites are selling the out of print cd for ungodly prices.
Jason Falkner - Miracle Medicine (2x7"s review) (Sub Pop): In my never-ending quest to buy 49 cent singles and write about them, I bring you Jason Falkner and his four songs on two singles. One song on each side - that's a lot of running around just to hear four songs. The sound is Beatle-ish but not too bad. Some of the hooks remind me of later-period XTC or Sugar played by a standard folk rock band. Nobody's working up a sweat but this could have been a lot more psychedelic and annoying. I'll file this under "F" for Falkner and move on to the next 49 cent bargain-bin single. I hope you appreciate what I do for you kids, getting up four times and everything.
Feelies (review) - The Feelies were a NYC-area cult band when they released Crazy Rhythms in 1980, their first album on Stiff Records. A "feelie" is a movie that stimulates the senses of sight, hearing and touch, taken from the book Brave New World. Dressed like uber-nerds and hailing from bee-oot-y-full Haledon, New Jersey, The Feelies appropriated the sounds of Television, The Velvet Underground, The Modern Lovers, and Neil Young, and recorded what might be the first modern alternative music. Folky, drony, abrasive, melodic, shoe-gazing detached - they had R.E.M. beat by a generation. Peter Buck of R.E.M.acknowledged a debt to The Feelies by helping produce their great 1986 record The Good Earth.
Formed in 1977, The Feelies were fronted by guitarists Glenn Mercer and Bill Million. Before breaking up in 1991, when Million moved to Florida without notice to work as a locksmith, the band formed and reformed under different names and formats. The Trypes, The Willies, Yung Wu - they all contained members of the Feelies and their live shows were good for a Feelies song or two. Neither making money nor achieving fame, early on they were known for playing live on national holidays and setting up their own equipment disguised under baseball caps. The Feelies had a number of members over thee years, the most famous an early appearance by Anton Fier, who went on to two other bands nobody remembers either, The Golden Palominos and punk-jazz pioneers The Lounge Lizards.
What was the Feelies sound? Dueling guitars droning notes to great hypnotic, slightly psychedelic effect. Vocals recorded low in the mix. Slow minimalism that built to frenetic whirling dervishes of tribal drumming and crazy percussion on the tom-toms, claves, temple block, castanets, maracas, bell, shoes, sleigh bells, can, tambourine, sandpaper, pipe, shaker, cow bell and coat rack. Maybe it’s gyrating folk rock for post-punks.
Their recording history began with an aborted single, a 7" on Rough Trade in ‘79 ("Fe Ce La"/”Raised Eyebrows”), and demo versions of their album to come. This early single sounds like old Devo, a compliment. Rolling Stone judged Crazy Rhythms the 49th most important record of the ‘80s. Crazy Rhythms is amazing and I can't say what I like more - the pounding geometric drumming, the interplay of the guitars, that the words are no more than a mumbled afterthought, or the interjection of nutty percussion from a coat rack and sandpaper.
The Feelies didn't record again for six years but kept busy in other bands that drew from the same pool. They recorded music for the 1982 film Smithereens and appeared as a high school reunion band in Jonathan Demme's 1986 Something Wild, performing parts of five songs, including "I'm A Believer" and a painful rendition of Bowie's "Fame". Peter Buck of R.E.M. took them under his famous wing as co-producer of The Good Earth. While not as interesting as Crazy Rhythms in that super-geek-record-store-clerk way, The Good Earth starts each song off and running and works from there. Trading in found object weirdness for a more accessible sound, The Feelies once again tear it up and produce a rich record of Feelies goodness. A four-song 12" followed with a straight rendition of the Beatle's "She Said, She Said" and a rip-snorting take on Neil Young's "Sedan Delivery".
1988's Only Life saw a newer, more subdued approach. For the first time vocals are turned up and creative aggression is tapered down. The songs retain the same pounding drum intensity but the songs follow Lou Reed's more rocking Velvet Underground songs. The guitars are there but not as biting and interesting. Their last album, 1991's Time For A Witness, especially on the title track, looks back to Bob Dylan for inspiration. For the most part it's standard alterna-rock with few surprises or reasons to get up and move your feet.
I saw the Feelies a few times in the mid ‘80s, each show better than the last. The crowd danced, twirled and just stared ahead in a trance. That was the power of The Feelies you get on the first two albums.
The Feelies - Here Before (cd review): Not since 1991 have The Feelies decided the record as again as said Feelies, and the city of Hoboken, NJ awakens from its drunken stupor to grimace at the annoying mid-day sun and yell "Hazzah!" through vomit-flecked teeth. The hillbilly pastoral cover with no band members in sight is a bit of a surprise considering The Feelies are associated with the urban and the urbane, with a sound pilfered from The Velvet Underground and Television. The REM kinship is either a false lead or hidden truth. They pulled the same disconnect for the covers of The Good Earth and Only Life. The Feelies album cover of record is 1980's Crazy Rhythms.
All things considered, 2011's Here Before is the exact and best set of songs to expect from The Feelies. Crazy Rhythms is The Poop but the line-up was different and gosh-a-rooney it was over thirty years ago when four pencil thin boys with perpetual nervousness played only on national holidays and added the following percussion instruments to their mix: tom-toms, claves, temple block, castanets, maracas, bell, shoes, sleigh bells, can, tambourine, sandpaper, pipe, shaker, cow bell and coat rack.
Here Before is firmly grounded in the second and third albums, with a newish love of long stroke electrified-acoustic guitar strums and a rich studio production. The thirteen tracks offer slow, mid-paced and fast songs expertly sequenced to grab and keep your interest. For me a lot of that means they put the slower songs at the end and mix in the loudest and most aggressive track ("Time Is Right"), but every track is a keeper. The songs and production will appeal to REM fans as much as Feelies fans, which is not a sell-out as The Feelies were a direct influence on Peter Buck and there's nothing un-Feelie about Here Before.
Mission Of Burma's revival was a failure to me because they either tried too hard to recapture the lightning in a bottle of songs like "This Is Not A Photograph" or quickly fell back to the off-Broadway hippie-crap political lecturing of their side projects. The Feelies offer songs that say this is who we are now, and by the way we sound a lot like we used to.
Here Before is best heard with headphones as the separation and interplay of the guitars is a major part of the band's appeal. In concert they'll lose a little something when one of them has to switch to lead solo mode. Lyrically the Feelies write words that don't add up to much, and here is no exception. Reviews grab onto the opening lines of "Nobody Knows" because it's the exception to the rule of generalities ("Is it too late / to do it again / or should we wait / another ten?"). The focus with The Feelies has always been the hypnotic pounding of the drums and drones of the guitars, and you should allow yourself to get lost in it whenever given the opportunity. One fellow on Amazon complained about the low vocal mix, which is hysterical as it's hysterical screaming when compared to when they started out.
Here Before by The Feelies. Ask for it by name, or catalog number BRN-CD-201. Sadly they've not yet toured nationally. I saw them a few times "back in the day" (© copyright oldpunkswebzinecorp) and they had people in a strange yet pleasant trance.
Feine Trinkers Bei Pinkels Daheim- Mother/Son/The Holy Trinity (7" review) (Vinyl Communications): Not since Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music have I heard so much random static. Lou’s two record set was an aural screw you to his record company. Is this called ambient noise or something? It sounds more like leftovers from the Eraserhead soundtrack. I can only imagine how intense these guys must think they are, with their Throbbing Gristle cassette collections and a hamper full of black clothes. The only time these guys smile is not from joy but gas.
This was recorded in 1995 in Germany and released on a small label in San Diego. What’s the market for intentionally scratchy and aimless sets of random electronic white noises and machine drones? This music has always screamed "Dysfunction!" to me. It's a sign, like killing small animals as a child. You can't dance or sing to it, and if you have sex to this, tenderness isn't on the menu. This totally inhumane representation of the industrial revolution is supposed to be scary but the only thing creepy about it is the inner turmoil of anyone who would listen to this more than once. This is what the mind of a serial killer must sound like. Maybe that's the point. 99.99% of the world can listen to this and write it off as noise, which it is, but what if that other percentile looking for a signal to rampage will listen, nod slightly, and then get busy? Does that make it cool? I guess so, if your self-hatred is so perverse that you think the world should pay for your failures and suffering.
Fingerprintz - The Very Dab (LP review) (Virgin): If you live long enough you'll buy a record, eventually sell it back to a store for credit, and then buy another copy years later. I had this back in ‘82 and sold it when my collection was getting too big to move from apartment to apartment. As I've recently become obsessed with old new wave records that aren't pretty boy disco crap smears I had to pick this up again. Scottish-born Jimmie O'Neill's band suffered their share of underachievement and never broke out as even a one hit wonder, but this now sounds super edgy and innovative. Though they share little in common musically I put Fingerprintz in the same category as Wall Of Voodoo. O'Neill and Stan Ridgeway share a love for noire, and the guitar work seems to come from similar mindsets. Other bands coming mind are The Undertones, Marshall Crenshaw, The Jags and especially The Payolas.
I'm happy I found this again. Fingerprintz were not a great band, but they had their charms. Jimmy found later success with The Silencers.
Fingerprintz - Beat Noir (LP review) (Stiff): Everyone who remembers Fingerprintz has the same reaction. They smile, think back to ‘79-‘81 with fond nostalgia, wonder why they weren’t bigger than they were, then come up with reasons why they were never bigger. An endearing new wave band if there ever was one, you rooted for them but never believed they'd succeed. They were poppy, noir, offbeat, eccentric, maybe a little off-putting but easy enough to love. Beat Noir leans toward funk, and my tolerance for that is limited. They strike a balance between Prince and early Talking Heads that anyone who does have a tolerance for funky new wave should enjoy. The last track, "Going Going Gone", is pure new wave dance music at its best, up there with the Jag's "Back Of My Hand". "Changing" has a nice throbbing rhythm and sticks in the mind long after the song ends.
I saw Fingerprintz play around 1981 at a college cafeteria. Not all the songs hit home but I danced a lot and had a great time. After Beat Noir, lead finger Jimmie O'Neill formed The Silencers and found a bit more success. Find an old new wave fan and ask if he or she remembers Fingerprintz. If they do, I guarantee you'll see a smile and a far away look in their eyes.
- Codex Teenage Premonition (CD review):
Live from the men's room at the Edinburgh, Scotland Holiday Inn, it's Fire
Engines! As I was listening to this repetitive set of repetitive songs I was
thinking it may have been somehow worthwhile around 1980, but not today.
Codex Teenage Premonition
was released in 2005 but it's demos and live tracks
from around 1980, so one point to them. I'll take somebody's word for it that
Fire Engines were a great band, but this CD seems like a fanatic's only affair.
They came from the same scene as Josef K and Orange Juice, which doesn't bode well for those who like, respectively, coherent songs and staying awake. A fan on Amazon notes: "their modus operandi was NO BAR CHORDS, an approach that gave their kinetic dance-punk a wire-thin guitar sound perfectly complimented by cowbell percussion and funky, clunky drumbeats."
I'm a fan of asymmetrical, jagged, asexual funk as long as the funk comes last, and the CD opens well enough with "Sympathetic Anaesthetic". It got into fifth gear right away and never varied, making it to me a swell piece of math rock. But, most of the tracks not only sounded like the first, they held no surprises at all after the first six seconds. "The Untitled One" mixed it up a bit and "Discord" was decent, but the onslaught of sameness wore me down and I barely sampled the second half.
I'd give Fire Engines more credit for being noisy if they didn't play the same song over and over again. I see how Pussy Galore might have been influenced by them. It's an interesting aesthetic that soon works more like an anesthetic.
Fischer-Z -- "Wax Dolls"/"Angry Brigade" (7" review) (UA): I don't own anything else by this defunct British band, but this single from their debut 1979 LP Word Salad is a classic example of quirky jerky-new wave, the stuff I go for like a fly to poop. These two songs remind me, giddily, of early recordings by Oingo Boingo, XTC, Devo, The Stranglers, Altered Images and Klaus Nomi (vocals only I guess). Fischer-Z is something I equate with the old IRS and Virgin Records sound.
The energy is manic to the point where I imagine the musicians were jumping up and down while playing - especially the organ player. John Watts' singing is the most elastic, theatrical, bizarrely emotional thing I've ever heard. Watts recently appeared on the British stage in Treasure Island. The show must go on and rent must be paid. The major comparison to another band would be Oingo Boingo but not as heavily influenced by circus music. "Angry Brigade" shares the same riff as Altered Images' "I Could Be Happy", which came a few years later.
What a great single. Now I need to find the record. As a point of trivia, the name "Fischer-Z" is pronounced in a British way to sound like "Fish's Head". You just learned something new for today, so you can go home now.
Five Iron Frenzy - Upbeats And Beatdowns (CD review) (Sarabellum Records): I picked this up used for $1.99 but there’s so much to discuss it’s this week’s feature. This is a ska CD but the cover art screams “Techno Rave! Wooooo!!” There’s a bright blue background, five bubbles of other bright colors, lettering straight out of Ren & Stimpy and a retro-logo I can only describe as early ‘60s suburban space-age art deco. Ska is black and white, checkered patterns, and mod suits. This is the marketing blunder of the year because this is great ska. Ska kids look for CDs that denote ska in all its stereotyped glory. Maybe Five Iron Frenzy deliberately chose another route, but they did so at their own financial peril. I only picked it up because the store adorned it with a little sticker that read “ska”.
I didn’t notice until I stared at the lyrics, but FIF is a christian ska band, something I never knew existed. Better ska than hardcore - that’s preachy enough without some dude with a blue mohawk shrieking scripture. Thankfully FIF are not bible-thumping fanatics. The lyric sheet footnotes “Old West” with, “Today I see street corner preachers screaming at passers-by, while the amount of Neo-Nazi hate crimes are escalating every day. All of this under the blanket name of Christianity. Read your Bible. Jesus never beat people into believing him…” Listening to the song you might think they were actually anti-religion. You get that impression on a few songs actually. The credits do end, though, with, “To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you his glorious presence without fault and great joy - to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power, and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forever! Amen”, which reminds me of the Holy Hand Grenade speech from Monty Python And The Holy Grail, but it’s no worse than anything Shelter gets away with.
I’m a devout agnostic so I try not to get too involved, but here’s my thoughts: I detest being preached to like I’m some kind of newborn half-wit ripe for plucking. Straight Edge does that with a vengeance, but in a secular, personal politics way I find only as annoying as the bald prick doing the screaming. There’s a lot of atheism going on in punk, and atheism is a religion too (a faith based on science), so don’t kid yourself. When a religion or political party proselytizes I head for the hills. The Spanish Inquisition was not an act of christian love and what Stalin and Mao did in the name of godless socialism was horrific. Will listening to Five Iron Frenzy convert you to Christ? I didn’t even know about their leanings until I studied the lyrics sheet. Sure, you hear the words “Jesus” and “Christ” in their songs, but who pays attention? You hear a lot of references to Christ in punk music - usually with negative intent, so after a while it just doesn’t register. Punk is the only music where words are often more important than the music itself. I will say that the name “Five Iron Frenzy” makes me think of a yuppie on a killing spree, not a positive christian image. Here’s an atheist having an orgasm: "Oh, yeah, oh yeah, OH SCIENCE I'M COMING!!"
This is supposed to be a record review, so here goes - Upbeats And Beatdowns is a very, very good ska record. Here’s the skinny on ska in one sentence: ‘60s Jamaican dance hall music based on American R&B and Caribbean music, featuring horn sections -- stripped down for punks by The Specials in the ‘70s – barely kept alive by regional ska bands with tendencies towards large horn sections - stripped down for the hardcore kids by Operation Ivy in 1988 - now the dominant force in the punk scene. Five Iron Frenzy combine elements of The Specials, The English Beat, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Operation Ivy in ways that work every time. The musicianship is excellent and the songs kept me interested throughout. I love ska but I can only handle it for about twenty minutes at a pop. Punk, old ska, new ska, mosh and even emo elements are effortlessly integrated in a way that’s professional without being overly commercial. “Cool Enough For You” is the best ska song I’ve heard in years. “Milestone” kicks pagan booty too. “Beautiful America” nicely integrates the old “I want to live in America” bit from West Side Story as an ironic comment on life here. “Combat Chuck” is about a guy they know from the christian music scene. I did an internet search and what came up first? A page dedicated to Stryper, the Twisted Sister of bad ‘80s christian heavy metal. Yikes!!! The CD advised I visit the Electronic Lighthouse, and even though it’s a cool looking site they proudly listed a tribute album with bands doing Stryper covers. I immediately spent the next twenty minutes downloading smut to create a balance in my psyche.
Five Iron Frenzy - Our Newest Album Ever! (CD review) (Sarabellum): FIF's second album and the second I've heard from these Denver kids. It’s not as strong as 97's Upbeats And Beatdowns, and the standard inherent limitations of a second album come through, along with enough proof Scott Kerr and Dennis Culp can write catchy music in their sleep. I'm no expert on third-wave ska and don't care to be, but I was obsessed with ska before you were born, and I know what I like.
Our Newest Album Ever! is a decent second album. In "Superpowers" Roper sings "Sometimes we have a deadline, for writing our songs. Five minutes left to write this one." Like a stand-up comic who writes jokes about hotel rooms and airports because that's all he knows, sometimes bands get stuck writing about life in a stinky van. Or driving to Canada, the Maple Leaf State, Canada, oh Canada it's great! FIF's strengths are creativity, occasional hardcore power, great chord progressions and Roper's distinctive vocals. The only weakness on the disc are the horns, which can either sound under-rehearsed or under-written (especially "Where Is Micah?", also more proof the band was short on ideas). They were more assertive and confident on the first CD.
I like FIF. They make me happy.
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