Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Fall-The Complete Peel Sessions

Oh happy day. The mailman brings a collection of new releases and among them is a collection that I’ve been obsessing about since it was issued at the end of June. The Fall’s box set “The Complete Peel Sessions 1978-2004” compiles every single Fall session on John Peel’s radio broadcast. The good. The bad. The ugly: Mark E. Smith.
Peel and Smith had a very strange relationship. One would automatically think the two would be chummy in some romantic notion of a pair of English gentlemen talking tunes over tea. The fact was, by Smith’s own admission in explaining why he wasn’t present for Peel’s funeral, the two barely knew each other. Peel, perhaps knowing well enough not to break the wall of fanboy, stayed out of The Fall’s way and remained their most notorious supporter. From that point, it’s safe to say that you would look pretty cool by having a Fall album or two in your collection.
Or six: “The Complete Peel Sessions” span over a quarter century of sessions, tracks, personnel. Does a newcomer really need six discs of tracks from a radio broadcast to become familiarized with The Fall? They’d probably be better served with last year’s “50,000 Fall Fans Can’t Be Wrong” best of compilation. But you know what? I’d recommend the investment in this box set over any single disc set in a heartbeat. It has everything you need to hear to get an understanding of what kind of band they are (feisty, snotty, well read, primitive, unconventional, blah blah, wolf wolf) and it contains shit you don’t need to hear. Truly, this is the first compilation/retrospective that I’ve ever seen acknowledge some of the sessions were shitty. That being said, the shitty are few in numbers: there’s at least three dozen really great versions and about three dozen really good versions in this package. Do the math and that’s a better return on my investment than my Jimi Hendrix box set.

Out of the “really great ones,” disc two wins in my cd player. It contains my favorite broadcast (session six) from March 23, 1983, the period right around the Perverted By Language release, which ain’t even my favorite Fall album. Nope, that album The Frenz Experiment managed to produce another great session (eleven) from May 19,1987.
Here’s the thing: when Smith started to realize a degree of complacency in the band (read: proficiency) he would immediately rebuild the band with new members thereby forcing a continual feel of tension. When shown in such a large context, you begin to see the method to his madness. It plays like an audio rollercoaster and Mark E. keeps getting back on the ride.
Packaged in a simplistic brown box, the liner notes are well written and the sessions clearly identified and critiqued. Relevant pictures capturing the radio experience are throughout the booklet, including one of the only pictures I’ve ever seen of Mark E. Smith smiling…standing right next to Peel himself.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Death Cab For Cutie-Drive Well, Sleep Carefully

As if signing to Atlantic Records wasn’t bad enough, rock stalwarts Death Cab For Cutie greenlighted a full-length documentary that reminds other rock stalwarts to wait until they have a story before greenlighting a full-length documentary. In both cases, major label signing and celluloid images, a fan like me begs the question: “Why?”
I’m not losing a lot of sleep over the signing; I don’t see Death Cab poised for much more than the fervent fan base that indie Barsuk has provided them already. But I’ll be damned if I’ll sit by and expect a mutual fan shell out $20 on a film that provides no real insight in their creative process or highlights their musical prowess. Of course some will and, out of those, most may take any sort of negative feedback like mine as somehow attacking the performers. So let me again state my love for “We Have The Facts And We’re Voting Yes” and “Transatlanticism” before panning their documentary film “Drive Well, Sleep Carefully.”

It states early on how the film is essentially an anatomy of a band touring. Unfortunately, the band pretty much sums their feelings about touring (it sucks) and this admission really does nothing for promoting the idea of having this be the premise for the movie. They’re polite and downright boring behind the scenes. Instead of any semblance of decadence, we find out that watching reruns of “The Office” keeps them going. It does for me too, but you don’t see a film crew following my boring ass around town.
In addition to wanting bassist Nick Harmer to shut the hell up, I wanted these guys to start drinking heavily in a big way. The behind the scenes glimpses showed a group of hard working guys that, after 7 years of touring, finally understand that it doesn’t get any easier. Guitarist Chris Walla at one point whines about having to do 27 shows in a row, which completely falls on deaf ears with me; I’ve heard Black Flag stories that make statements like this seem downright silly. Unlike the Flag, however, Death Cab isn’t a punk band. As a matter of fact, by their own admission, the closest thing to punk they are is in being “punctual.” Hardly an arc worth exploring let alone filming.
If you’re looking for a glimpse in the monotony of touring, you’ll get dialogue about it, but no real visual sense of it. The interviews are set in rooms and location sites, not in buses. The shows are filmed in similar fashion, so you do get a sense of the venues blending in to each other, but no feel of the “What state are we in?” phenomenon. To top it off, the band doesn’t really lend themselves to memorable live performances. Album cuts that sounded sure and momentous sound tired and mundane live. When we hear the original version of “Transatlanticism,” Gibbard’s line “So come on! Come on!” sound like a desparate plea. On stage, it’s a plea for them to get the thing over with.
Vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Ben Gibbard is a very well spoken and fairly interesting subject. The insight he provides is nice fodder for fans, but little more. Guitarist/producer Walla also provides the viewer with some fans-only trivia, but we’re never in a position to see him creating soundscapes or studio magic. Instead, we see him returning to the band’s studio to essentially install a piece of hardware to the mixing board.
I understand that not every tour documentary needs to come off like a Kiss concert, and I don’t necessarily need to have a band work the camera for my amusement. The film’s producer also had a hand in the wonderful Wilco documentary “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart,” so expectations for this film may be a little lofty. I’m a little miffed why the filmmakers didn’t hand out a little longer and examine the band’s decision to move to a major and document the origins of their first Atlantic Records release. It is, by most accounts, a move to a new musical direction too and I think some fans would have an interest in this and the timing of it. On the other hand, we already have an hour and a half of relatively boring footage. Why add to it with negotiations and discussions on the merit of “artistic freedom.” This same freedom ok’d the release of “Drive Well, Sleep Carefully” and fans are better suited to freely save their money with this non-essential dvd. Arguing about whether the band “sold out” by signing to a major label is a helluva lot more exciting than this release.

Friday, September 2, 2005

Katrina & The Waves

Holy shit, it’s been a while since I’ve posted, so a catch up is in order. What prompted me was the influx of comments this blog received, all of them confusing.
First came the introduction of some retarded automated comment generator which, if you’ll look to the comments posted on mid August’s posting essentially tries to sell something utilizing the comment section of a private blog. Great marketing! I’m sure tons of investors come to Worpswede’s blog for financial advice. After all, I’m working for a company that’s going bankrupt. Hell, we were even delisted, bitches!
Then a few chuckleheads decide to post on shit written months ago and come up sounding retarded. Whatever dude, unless that one thing was an attempt to quote a Big Black song or something. If that was the case, then you’re pretty cool. If it wasn’t, then you’re amazingly creepy. Whatever turns you on, baby.
I will now show you a very high level photo of the inside of where I work. Since it looks as though I may have landed a new gig elsewhere, I will share this confidential photo of a highly secured area of my current employer. I present to you, the Juniper Router. It has something to do with computers, I’m told. I've got dibs on using 'Juniper Router' as a band name, btw...
Everyone’s all weepy about the possibility that we may be moving to a smaller facility, one without a cafeteria. Fuck me, no more flap jack days! I’ve got to have one of those (assumedly) tasty suckers before they close up the café. The new owners (read: the bank) have cut about 10% of the workforce, which means that about five dozen support positions were eliminated because, well, we’re broke. My position is cool for now, it’s the headache from beating my head against the wall that’s prompting me to consider other opportunities.
It’s fairly cool to have someone call you to see if you’re interested in working for them. It’s even better when your current employer is going through a financial toilet.
For a change of pace, a friend invited me to the drag races and I took up the offer. I’m sure the SLF didn’t like the idea of fuelers, funny cars, and quarter mile wheelies, but sometimes a guy needs to see other guys racing in a straight line to see who can get to the end the fastest. It wasn’t just any drag race, it was the world series of drag racing. And these just weren’t your typical redneck crowds, these were crowds that probably change the oil in their own vehicles every three months. One thing we all shared together was a mutual love for a guy that thinks putting an F-4 jet engine on the back of a car is a good thing. It was, and I highly recommend the experience.
After noticing that the SLF was not having the time of her young life, we left before the other 3,000 participants decided they had seen enough too. Truth be told, if there was a remote chance that I could have gotten an autograph from legend Big Daddy Don Gartlis. She would simply need to understand that he was the drag race king. He didn’t show, but a jet powered train did. Fucking awesome.
Then New Orleans sank, and I became worried about the fate of Fats Domino. They found Allen Toussaint in the Superdome, so I didn’t need to remind you that he was the guy that wrote “Southern Nights” before people thought Glen Campbell wrote it.
The New Orleans story:
When I started getting boners on a regular frequency and figured out how to handle such dilemmas, the family took our Dodge station wagon down to Bourbon Street. It was a good time, and even better for my parents who used the locale as a reason to drink and take in the decadence of the city. We ate a lot of shellfish and went to see the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, which was fucking cool.
One night, my parents decided to partake in a little bit of Pat O’Brien Hurricane action and left me at the hotel on Bourbon Street with the key to the room. For some fucked up reason, I decided to leave the confines of the Holiday Inn and seek out a pack of cigarettes. I took to the mythical street and witnessed my first homosexual couple walking with their arms around each other. They looked so Village People-esque, or maybe that was just my youth talking as the only experience I had with homosexuals at that point was an ill-advised purchase of the Village People album “In The Navy.” I think there were like six songs on that fucking album and, even in my youth, I understood that Casablanca Records was in the business of ripping people off.
So I head to a sidestreet of Bourbon with the thought that I could find a cigarette machine in the front of some restaurant. I went down a dark street and found a Greek café getting ready to close for the night with a cancer stick machine in the foyer of the restaurant. As I begin to feed change to the machine, one of the Greek employees, presumably the owner, approached me to ask in broken English what I was doing. Beginning to explain, the guy decided he didn’t have time to listen to the words of some thirteen year old Iowa boy and proceeded to throw me out of his shitty little food place. I was immediately met on the dark corner of the street by a female figure, dark skinned and dressed provocatively, whispering “Psst! Hey! Come here!” She repeated and I immediately knew what line of profession she was in. I looked around the street and found myself alone in a town that eats curious Iowa boys for lunch and spits their rotting corpses in a dumpster.
I ran. I ran like a little schoolgirl away from that dark street and that dark prostitute. For years afterwards I spent a lot of time trying to correct my virginity problem and to think if I’d only borrowed a twenty from the old man that night before he left, I could have beaten nearly everyone in my class in the poontang department. How I would have explained the burning sensation afterwards would have been a little awkward, but hey, now you’re a man. A man man man.

Soundtrack sounds to this New Orleans trip:
Aldo Nova-“Fantasy”
Gap Band-“You Dropped A Bomb On Me”
At least that’s all I remember. And that I was really intrigued by a chain of quick, shitty Chinese restaurants throughout the Quarter called “Takee Outee.” Nothing says yummy N’Orleans cuisine like deep fried Chinese egg rolls under a warm heatlamp. We never ate there, but I distinctly remember wanting to.
New Orleans also marks the first time I ever drank coffee and liked it.
The Dodge broke down around Cape Gerardo, Missouri on the way back.
I eventually bought both Aldo Nova’s first album and The Gap Band “IV” when we got back home. I still think that Gap Band album rules…

The Cure-Pornography

A story about what I remember about “Pornography.”
Myself, another guy named Todd, and a dude who changed his name to Che Guevera (swear to God) took my Buick Skylark down to Iowa City to see Sonic Youth in support of their “Sister” album. In my pocket was 10 hits of acid, but that’s another story. In between flicking off motorists with Reagan/Bush bumper stickers we talked about stuff. You know, stuff like who you were fucking, why Bauhaus was so fucking cool, and how you were leaning towards supporting Jesse Jackson during the caucus. One of the topics centered on “What’s the best Cure album out today?” Which sounds retarded, but I swear that this discussion took place. Of course, I immediately sided with “The Head On the Door” because that album is so fucking bitching, but Che started ranting about how much better “Pornography” was. His name might have been retarded, but I think he may have a point about that Cure album.
Hey, it’s Todd’s 20th year class reunion, so let’s package up some old shit, throw on some bonus tracks, and watch the old fucker buy it again. Rhino records: you know me too well.
Anyone who thinks that Robert Smith looks retarded now, needs to understand that the little fucker came from a pretty nifty dark place at one time, and “Pornography” is perhaps the highlight of Bob’s decadence. There’s nothing as depressing as this in the entire Cure arsenal, and it’s begins as soon as the album begins when Smith matter-of-factly deadpans “It doesn’t matter if we all die.”
The liner notes talk some about how they picked Phil Thornalley to produce the album because of his “dig drum sound” from an earlier Psychedelic Furs album. Make no mistake: this album has no “big drum sound” and my major complaint about “Pornography” is the same now as it was back in the 80’s: the production values are devoid of beans or franks. As we all know, this issue changed dramatically over their ensuing years and was completed perfected by the time of “Disintegration,” the greatest album of all time.
“One Hundred Years” gets the mood in place with stand-out nods going to “The Hanging Garden” (lead-off single), “The Figurehead,” and “Siamese Twins” (“Sing out loud: ‘We all DIE!’”…fabulous!).
For 8 tracks, the goth with a capital “G” doesn’t stop and even when the album’s title track finally rolls around after 38 minutes of dark eyeliner, Bob finally admits “one more day like today and I’ll kill you.” None. More. Black.
This album caused the brief breakup of the band, and it did nothing to secure my friendship with the guy name Che. He was, after all, a left wing poseur with a few too many Goth albums in his collection. Robert Smith, particularly with “Pornography,” proved he wasn’t posing at all. The black hair, white skin and eyeliner were all part of a genuine apathy, copied ad-nauseum throughout the Regan eighties and right into present tense.

Since the “Pornography” re-issue is a double bummer, people approach me on a daily basis and ask me about the collection of rarities in this collection. While nifty and informative for Cure fans, let’s be honest here: We will listen to the second disc three times and then never reach for it again. It’s a status symbol (“Have you ever heard the demo for “Temptation?” I have.”) as Bob’s original sketches once again point to how the final production sounds like it was the mastermind of a typical English pansy.
Nonetheless, if you’ve ever considered suicide as a viable option, buy this expanded edition as a prep tool and wallow in your discontent. Wonder why we still love a tubby middle aged guy with smeared lipstick? It’s all because of this album.