Friday, November 30, 2007

Chilliwack - Wanna Be A Star

You’ve never heard of Chilliwack?
That doesn’t surprise me; a lot of us had no idea who they were even back when they were an active, hard-working rock outfit from Canada. And to be honest, I had very little knowledge of the band until I went to my very first high school dance.
Yes, my appreciation for Chilliwack is entirely nostalgic. I don’t expect anyone to run out and pick up a Chilliwack album after reading this. Hell, even I didn’t run out and buy a Chilliwack album. From what I understand, most of their output is out of print and, indeed, the copy that I downloaded for this review is riddled with surface noise, scratches, and even a place where the record skips.
In other words, it’s perfect for such a nostalgic consideration.
As a Freshman in high school, the idea of the Homecoming dance was a little discouraging for a newbie student. By the time of the dance (early October), the upperclassmen had already started to cherry-pick the chicks from our class (“Freshman=Freshmeat” read some graffiti in the library) and leave the majority of the male ninth graders with little opportunity for any middling with the opposite sex.
We were, however, fairly resilient, and we kept our plans and made our way (via shoe leather express and strategically distanced drop off points by Mom and Dad) into the high school gymnasium for our first taste of how high-schoolers boogie down.
Understand that we, meaning us guys, had no real experience with dances or, indeed, dancing. Sure, there were dances in Middle School, but we usually tried to get high on shitty weed beforehand and then socialize among our peers until a chick came up and asked us to slow dance.
Dancing to a song that wasn’t a ballad was completely forbidden.
But then I made my way into the Homecoming dance doorway and started to look for other friends. I saw a circle of them at one corner of the basketball court and proceeded over.
The song that was playing was Chilliwack’s “My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone),” at the time (1981) a minor hit because of its new-wave sheen, catchy fingersnaps, and the line “A-gone-gone-gone she been gone so long/She been gone-gone-gone so long” repeated over and over with a reverb soaked baritone voice. It was a neat little piece of top 40 pop rock, and it was the soundtrack playing when I walked across the gymnasium. My memory plays it like a movie, with the gym’s only lights coming from the colored gels hovering on an overhead rig and the obligatory mirror ball.
People were dancing to it. That didn’t surprise me. What did surprise me was that dudes were dancing to it. And they were dancing to any song that was playing, occasionally stopping to get their dates a tasty beverage, but nonetheless, they were dancing.
I scanned the dance floor and saw the quarterback of our school’s football team, fresh from their Homecoming victory against the rival Fort Madison Bloodhounds, dancing to this Chilliwack tune with his old lady.
I believe that both were also the Homecoming King and Queen, which makes the scene more like Carrie than you can even imagine.
It dawned on me: rather than hanging around in a circle with dudes my own age, talking about Atari games, we should swallow our pride, start dancing, and then we’d have a better chance at making out with the chicks.
By this time, the DJ had moved on to a slow song, and the quarterback put both of his banana hands on his girlfriend’s ass and began to slip his tongue in her mouth.
The proof was now undisputable; we had to boogie.
So I associate the band Chilliwack with this epiphany, but not to the point where I recognized it until a few weeks ago when I searched for the album that originally held “My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone).”
That album, Wanna Be A Star, is actually a concept album that’s storyline is essentially a hardworking band that’s trying to make a name for themselves. The plot itself isn’t very intrusive and there’s relatively little, aside from the first few songs, that actually attempt to hold the plot together.
Musically, Chilliwack moves from hard rock numbers into polished and intricately arranged pop rock numbers with layers of synthesizers and biting guitar solos. Almost immediately, I thought of comparing them to another Canuck band, Loverboy, if Loverboy had decided to become a lightly progressive outfit instead of a red leather pants wearing rock band.
Wanna Be A Star is a fairly enjoyable effort, but one that could provide a variety of different opinions depending on the listener. As far as this listener is concerned, I’ve had to come up with a rating that would have been higher if I’d let my own nostalgia take over completely.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

'Scuze Me While I Kiss This Guy...

Jimi Hendrix was probably the first rock artist that I developed emotional relationship towards. I was not fully aware of Hendrix until after he died, at which time I was three years old. My Father was a high school teacher in Shenandoah, Iowa, a small town in the southwestern section of the state. Shenandoah is where the Everly Brothers started their career, as they were quite an attraction on the town’s radio station.
One of Dad’s students was so moved by Hendrix’s death that he made a very simple and subtle screen print of the guitarist’s profile. Underneath the lofty afro, the artist had blocked out the letters “Jimi,” just in case the viewer was unfamiliar with Jimi’s freak-flag mane.
I was so enamored with this display of artistic praise that I started to ask my Father about this character named Jimi. He explained that the subject was a famous guitarist that was so good that he could play guitar behind his back and with his teeth. He went on to explain, in no great detail, that the guitar player had just died and that the teenager wanted to express his memory of the musician.
The picture, which is much more amateurish than what you’re probably envisioning right now, held court on the walls of my bedroom for at least a decade after I asked Dad if I could have the print.
With my first piece of rock memorabilia now on my bedroom wall, I bugged the old man enough times that he bought me the Reprise Records’ “Back to Back Hits” single of “Purple Haze” and “Foxy Lady.”
That led that led to Are You Experienced? and, well sir, I was pretty much done from then on. The elaborate psychedelic cover, the stark black and white photo on the back cover, the slowed down voice on “Third Stone From The Sun,” it all freaked my four year old mind out.
About the same time, my parents decided that they should test my Hendrix attraction by introducing a kid’s acoustic guitar for Christmas. Immediately, I picked it up, left-handed, and attempted to play it. I was immediately corrected and shown the proper way to hold the guitar.
It didn’t matter; Jimi was so far in my head that he’d fucked with my circuitry. To this day, I write with my right hand while instinctively play guitar with my left hand. This has made any idea of professional instruction worthless; any chords that I do know were made from plain-old dicking around.
The tragedy about Hendrix’s death is the potential that he had and the relatively little output that he released during his lifetime. Curiously, he was notoriously documented and I continue to be a relentless collector of these endless posthumous releases. Occasionally, I’ll come across something new to add to the regal regard that I already have for him. More often, it’s just a side effect of hero-worship and the illogical need to possess every single recorded piece of his legacy.
James Marshall Hendrix would have turned 65 years old today,

Monday, November 26, 2007

Kevin DuBrow R.I.P.

Kevin Dubrow was found dead in his home in Las Vegas yesterday at the age of 52. Like many other high school kids, I was enthralled with Quiet Riot’s breakaway album Metal Health; it was one of those albums that seemed to be in everyone’s tape case.
The hysteria also prompted me to check out the band on the Metal Health tour that ended up just a few miles from my home. Although I was more impressed with the openers, Axe, I remember a few things about the headliners.
The drummer put on the infamous mask featured on the cover of Metal Health. Guitarist Carlos Cavazo did an extended guitar solo (“Battle Axe”) that seemed to go on forever. And Kevin DuBrow provided an obligatory soliloquy to original guitarist Randy Rhodes immediately before the band went into “Thunderbird.”
Ten years later, Quiet Riot again came near my hometown, only this time in a small-town bar that barely held 100 people. It represents how low the band had gotten in terms of respectability…and it shows how relentless DuBrow was in terms of making sure his career remained as the lead singer of a hard rock band.
For all the shit that he’s received (and admittedly, DuBrow was himself to blame for a lot of it), you’ve got to hand it to a guy that did everything, from playing in front of a nudist camp to playing in a tiny bar in Fort Madison, Iowa, to keep his dream alive. I’m sure that, like most of us, DuBrow would try to change things a bit to try a prolong Quiet Riot’s sales streak, but I’m fairly sure the guy died knowing that his day job, regardless of the venue, certainly was a helluva lot more awesome than the day job you’re in now.
The video below is almost verbatim like the show I saw them do in ’83, including the annoying DuBrow banter.
Inspriational Verse: “Wanna kiss your lips/Not the ones on your face”

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Amy Winehouse - Back To Black

This is God’s Honest Truth here: I didn’t know Jack Shit about Amy Winehouse until I started to hear about her irresponsible exploits. It was a good read, and it prompted me to consider “Why the fuck should I give a shit about Amy Winehouse?”

And after listening to Back To Black, it’s apparent that there are plenty of reasons why I should give a shit about Amy Winehouse.
She has the potential to become one of the greatest soul singers of her generation (yes, that statement is based entirely on my time with one album) while managing to be entirely oblivious to that fact.

Straight up: Back To Black mines the best part of 60’s soul with a subtle modern twist. It’s a timeless album and one that rightfully places Winehouse directly in the spotlight. How she chooses to deal with her sudden notoriety is her choice, but Goddamn, you must be thinking about the records still to come if she can keep herself relatively safe.

That’s right. Relatively safe; part of the appeal of Back To Black and Winehouse in general is the fact that she’s a naughty girl, in that continually tipsy kind of way.

I mean, fuck, it led me to seek her out, so I’d say it’s a good marketing campaign, in a sick kind of way.

Plus, a lot of the album’s lyrical motivation is based entirely on the drink, the herb, and the myriad of illegal substances that she pursues. To be honest, some of the shit she utters is nothing to be proud of, but it is consistent with someone who does make some bad choices and, besides, her incredible voice makes any complaint forgettable.

Again, I’m not lost in my praise for this album. It’s something that I’d be proud to place next to Lady Soul or Tell Mama and it’s a record that will be around for years to come.
If Amy Winehouse herself will be around for years to come is still up for debate.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Eric Carr & Freddie Mercury

Kiss’ second drummer, Eric Carr, passed away on this day in 1991. For shear press coverage purchases, Eric chose the wrong day to pass on; as Freddie Mercury also claimed to have November 24th as the day he went to the other side.
Press coverage aside, most reputable music publications would have at least found enough space to cover both Mercury and Carr’s death.
But one notable music magazine failed to mention anything regarding the death of Eric Carr.
This upset Gene Simmons and he wrote a nasty mail to Jenn Wenner chastising him for not reporting a word on the drummer who, by that time, had logged enough time behind the kit to surpass the more recognizable Peter Criss.
Apparently, Mr. Wenner did not follow the travails of Kiss and Mr. Simmons made the mistake of considering Rolling Stone to be a “reputable” music publication.
To be honest, I don’t remember them doing an extended piece on Freddy Mercury either. Not that it mattered much to me; my fascination with Queen ended with the Flash Gordon movie (“Flash! Ah! Savior of the universe!”). I will acknowledge that the band’s performance on “Live Aid” ruled and managed to rekindle a little bit of enthusiasm. That enthusiasm quickly diminished as soon as A Kind Of Magic was released.
Queen had just signed a fairly lucrative deal with Hollywood Records around the time of Freddie’s death and some consider the band’s first album for that label, Innuendo, a return to form.
Again, I didn’t notice as the band had produced just as many years of forgettable albums as they did classic ones by that time.
So now maybe its time to acknowledge a few good things about both of these artists, so here goes:
First of all, Queen released some pretty stellar albums. I especially liked the News Of The World album and everyone and their dog seemed to have the shiny silver copy of The Game in their collection.
And Eric Carr? Well, that drum sound on “I Love It Loud” is pretty awesome and I will acknowledge that he is an infinitely better percussionist that the member he replaced.
So there you are: a double shot of rock and roll deaths on this day and neither of their deaths were very, for lack of a better word, exciting. We kind of knew something was up with Freddie, but Eric’s came out of the blue as the Kiss camp seemed to put a pretty tight lid on their drummer’s illness.
So here’s a rare tip of the hat, without the usual amount of cyncism, for a couple of musicians that both found out that their tour ended on November 24th, 1991.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

"White Meat...Dark Meat...All Will Be Carved."

A little Alice’s Restaurant for Thanksgiving?
Why not.
After all, there’s not too many songs that manage to namecheck Thanksgiving anyway, and Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant Massacre” is quirky enough to fit the bill and stand up to repeated listenings, that is, if you only have to listen to it once a year.
Classic rock stations would play it on this day, as they tried to build some kind of enthusiasm for a holiday that doesn’t exactly scream classic rock.
And the funny thing is, “Alice’s Restaurant” isn’t even a real classic rock song. It plods along with the same width as “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” and has enough hippie storytelling to hold your attention for a quarter-hour.
At the same time, I’ve heard it enough times that I’m not going to get worked up on Thanksgiving to the point where I’m digging out my old vinyl version and plugging the turntable in to actually hear it again.
At the time of this posting, I’ll be doing the obligatory holiday traveling, checking on relatives and playing the part of the family man. I’ll be able to lobby enough to get the Packers/Lions game on television, but alas, none of the places I’ll be picks up VH1 Classic.
And on VH1 Classic, my friends, it’s an entire fucking day of Bob Dylan.
That’s right: No Direction Home, Don’t Look Back, a concert….I guess you could say if I ruled the world, I wouldn’t be packing up the wife and kids to drag them around Southeast Iowa.
No sir: My ass would be planted firmly in front of the TV watching Bob.
Screw the turkey.
Screw Alice’s Restaurant.
But I don’t rule the world, so that means that I’m visiting relatives.
How does it feel?
Well, for starters, it doesn’t feel like a holiday.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Say It Ain't So! Joe Walsh Turns 60

I’m done keeping track of rockers that have now surpassed the 60 year mark and, to be honest, rockers that continue to rock past the age of 65 creep me out a little. Then I remember that old timers like John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters were singing about poontang well into their golden years, so I guess it’s cool if Mick Jagger wants to do the same.
Joe Walsh turns 60 today which doesn’t quite place him in the creepy category but it is hard for me to consider since the first image I ever had of Joe Walsh was the long, greasy haired kid sitting on a motorcycle in the black and white photo of the James Gang on their Rides Again album.
And the album secured his position as acknowledged badass in my mind.
That is, until I saw another black and white photo of Mr. Walsh. This one was the washed and styled coif that he wore sitting cross-legged with the rest of the Eagles on the gatefold shot in The Long Run.
From then on, I was through with Joe Walsh, even when a few friends got worked up for his The Confessor album.
“Fuck Joe Walsh.” I thought. “He was in the Eagles.”
But Goddamnit: Rides Again, In Concert, and bits of Yer Album and Thirds are stunning enough for you to get pissed that he could walk away (pun intended) from a band as awesome as the James Gang.
I vaguely remember The Smoker You Get and Barnstormer solo albums (for some reason, my old man was a fan, but then again, he thinks The Eagles are the shit) as being fairly good but it’s been years, scratch that, decades since I’ve heard either one of those albums.
But it’s only been a few weeks since I listened to Rides Again and it’s something that you should listen to today.
If you don’t, you’re liable to remember Joe Walsh as the cokehead/drunkard guitarist from that mellow rock outfit that sells their shit at Wal-Mart.
Say it ain’t so, Joe.
Say it ain’t so.
Anyway, here’s an awesome clip of Joe and the rest of the boys from Cleveland doing “Walk Away.”
I so wanted House of Large Sizes to cover this song during their heyday.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Free As A Bird

It seems like a lifetime ago, but on this day some twelve years ago, yours truly was working in radio. We actually played the records, or cds, back then. And we actually got excited about cds back then too.
There was hardly anything more exciting in 1995 than the idea of a new Beatles song. At first, it was thought to be some lost track, perhaps something from their early archives, that was recently discovered and going to be placed on the band's first collection of outtake/rare material called Anthology.
Westwood One, a radio network that fed the station various music content, announced that they would be the first network to provide the radio world premier of "Free As A Bird," the first "new" Beatles song in decades.
The satellite feed came during the evening, well after my afternoon-drive shift ended at six. As a Beatles fan, it seemed that I was required by Jesus to stay and capture the feed so that the station could begin broadcasting the track until we received a proper cd copy of it the following week. It was, essentially, a perfectly planned leak that was intended to build a buzz about the new Beatles track.
The new Beatles track called "Free As A Bird."
Surely, you must remember it, as it's frequently cited next to longstanding classics like "Hey Jude" and "Norwegian Wood."
Still drawing a blank?
Well count your blessings as "Free As A Bird," and it's companion "Real Love," are notable for the fact that they're stunningly mediocre and completely pointless.
But there I was, staying late with no possibility of overtime, monitoring the levels of a touchy satellite feed. While the song was playing, I kept thinking there was something wrong with the transmission as Lennon's voice sounded curiously brittle.
As I found out, it was becuase "Free As A Bird" isn't even a fucking Beatles song!
The idea that Lennon had left a poorly recorded and weakly performed track to have the rest of the band finish up while he was away is completely ludacris. Yet this is how they built hype around an album that really didn't need hyped to begin with.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The End Groove

Something I never considered today: Over at Leftsetz, a site that I frequent and check often, particularly when fueling my fear of how my method of listening to music is quickly becoming irrelevant, the discussion turned to a topic that is frequently on the author’s mind. Namely, that I should stop whining about the already happened digital revolution and admit that my method of listening to music is, for the most part, irrelevant.
While that’s a hugely big concept for me to swallow, there was something that he wrote which made me think. “There were no albums before 33 1/3 records. The medium begat the artform.” And this is true. This doesn’t negate the fact that I’ve never lived in a time when there wasn’t this thing called an album and I don’t think I want to be a music fan in a world that’s solely focused on singles…or tracks...or files…or whatever the fuck they’re called now.
Change is always a difficult thing, but it’s even more exacerbated when it involves something that’s vital important to one’s core. And music is surely a part of my DNA by now, to the point where if you start fucking with it, I get a little antsy.
At the same time, it is important to consider that while artists took albums to another art form, they also had a hand in totally dismantling its importance too.
Take the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ album Bloodsugarsexmagic, probably the first album in which I felt “These guys could have easily whittled this thing down to a manageable 40 minute long effort and had an undisputed classic.”
I haven’t purchased a Chili Peppers album since Bloodsugar and, when you consider how irritating the filler was on that effort, it must have been enough for me to think, “You know what? I think I’m done with buying Red Hot Chili Peppers’ albums.”
I never felt that way about Freaky Styley, or Mother’s Milk or The Uplift Mofo Party Plan.
It’s not just the Chili Peppers that are guilty of pointlessly maximizing every square inch of the cd format, God knows rap music is unforgivably guilty of it consider every retarded skit or track called “Interlude.” They merely represent a time when I discovered there was something about an album that clocked in between thirty and forty-five minutes.
Besides, anything beyond that made it tough to put on cassette.
The point is, for all of this, is that I now need to start considering a time when not only is my delivery method of getting new music is completely different, but so it the very way in which they are conceived. Meaning: are we about to see a time in which the idea of the concept album, sequencing, flow, and all of that shit are completely gone. It won’t be long until it’s purged to a relic that decreasingly considered and only nominally supported by aging music fans, like me, that find themselves lost in an era that does not intend to slow down.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Happy Birthday: Gordon Lightfoot

I had no idea that Gordon Lightfoot was that old.
I mean, older than Dio old.
Yet this Canadian troubadour keeps touring his wares, even though I can’t think of a single album he’s done since Summertime Dream, and that’s gotta be over thirty years old.
When that album came out, it freaked the fuck out of one of my parent’s friends who happened to be in the Coast Guard stationed in K-Town. As ironic as it may seem, he was indeed transferred later on to a point off the big lake they call “Gitche Gumee.”
So I did a little bit of research after learning that the dude was pushing seventy and found that, holy shit, Gordon Lightfoot released a bunch of albums after I stopped caring and after he fell off the radar completely.
And I learned the dude was in a coma for a couple of months a few years ago.
And her suffered from Bell’s Palsy in ’72, which left his face partially paralyzed (it got better).
Clearly, there’s a bunch about Gordon Lightfoot that I needed to learn.
But then I realized that “The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald,” “Sundown” and maybe “Carefree Highway” is probably all I need to know about ol’ Gordo.
Still, the coma thing is pretty cool.

Gordon Lightfoot was born on November 17, 1938

Thursday, November 15, 2007

OCD Chronicles: Straightjacket Fits "So Long, Marianne"

I never quite understood all the fuss about Leonard Cohen. I’m sure he’s a perfectly capable songwriter and, to a substantial audience, he’s considered a genius. I’m not about to argue that distinction, primarily because I haven’t heard enough of Cohen’s oeuvre to make a decent argument against him. My entire opinion of the man is based on one album, I’m Your Man. From what I’ve been told, that’s not the best example of Cohen’s work; it’s fraught with cheesy synthesizers and curious arrangements that distracted me from what I was supposed to focus on: the lyrics.
Yes, Cohen’s a songwriter. I got that. But the only line I can remember distinctly from The Future was the “give me crack and anal sex” verse which only made me giggle instead of allude to a darker imagery as was probably intended.
It seems that I prefer my Leonard Cohen when it’s performed by another individual. Jeff Buckley’s version of “Hallelujah” stands out, and there’s a badass version of “Bird On A Wire” on Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen album. But lately, my obsessive/compulsive ear has been fixated on an obscure band from New Zealand who picked “So Long, Marianne” as one of the songs for their debut. The band, Straightjacket Fits, was part of the infamous Flying Nun collective and, while the rest of the world was discovering Leonard Cohen for the first time in 1988, I was deeply entrenched with discovering some of the great power pop bands from New Zealand that were starting to get recognized in the states.
Not only did Cohen have a new album to promote, he had many supporters covering his songs via the compilation I’m Your Fan that brought some interest towards him. Straightjacket Fits weren’t part of I’m Your Fan. Instead, they brought their chimey and wonderfully harmonized version of “So Long, Marianne” directly to the first album Hail which had the unfortunately luck to be released via Rough Trade records here in the states. Rough Trade, if you didn’t know, ran into a huge mess of financial issues around 1990 and took a lot of great bands down the shitter with them as they tumbled into legal limbo and out-of-print catalogs.
Straightjacket Fits were able to rebound briefly and sign to Arista records for one album before being dropped and, for the most part, forgotten. But I haven’t forgotten about them. As a matter of fact, I’m thinking about them fairly regularly and how they managed to take a wonderful little Leonard Cohen song and lodge it firmly in between my ears.
The video below isn’t “So Long, Marianne,” but it gives a pretty good glimpse into the band’s sound and how shitty the video production budget was for up-and-coming bands in the late 80’s.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Monstrance - Monstrance

For those of you who thought that Andy Partridge had simply gone the route of “closet cleaning” with the release of last year’s vast Fuzzy Warbles: Collector’s Album box set, his latest project wants to assure you that he isn’t ready to reside on the merits of his history just yet.
Monstrance finds Andy partnering up with Shriekback members Barry Andrews and Martyn Barker for a two-disc exercise in improvisational exchange. Andrews, you might recall, was a member of the original XTC line-up before leaving to form Shriekback, but be warned: Monstrance sounds nothing like either of those bands.
So what does it sound like? Pretty much what you’d expect from an album with liner notes that read “There was no rehearsal or discussion about key, tempo or feel and no overdubbing. It just came out this way.”
Before you’ve completely written off this project, consider who’s in the mix here and remind yourself that a lot of your favorite bands perform this exact same experiment every time they begin feeling around for new material. Hell, The Church have a released a couple albums of nothing but their improvisational rehearsals and The Grateful Dead performed nightly explorations under the “Drums/Space” title, live in front of thousands of fans. Of course most of them were baked…so ok…bad example there.
I guess what I’m asking you to do is to admire the cahunas that it takes to consider releasing a project like this; either Andrews/Barker/Partridge are enormously talented and the recording reflects this or they’re extremely pretentious to think that fans would want to hear ninety minutes of them (essentially) dicking around the studio.
I used the Church/Dead analogies purposefully, as Monstrance sounds similar to both the Aussie’s Bastard Universe limited edition disc and the live Dead’s “time to spark a joint” psychedelic forays.
Each disc starts with some fairly worthless directions before, occasionally, a groove, a pattern or an intriguing phrase finally takes root. Clearly, a double disc of this type of thing is unwarranted; there’s several minutes of head-scratching that can be found throughout the record as the musicians seems to be waiting for someone else to take the lead and burn a path towards something concrete to build upon.
I certainly don’t want to discourage Partridge from working with Andrews again, particularly since Colin Moulding seems to have retired from music, thereby retiring the XTC moniker in the process. But then again, I don’t feel inclined to support a project that is better served to remain in the vaults or used as a starting point for something more linear.
Besides, I think that fans deserve a little more effort from Partridge as of late; we’ve spend a few years now shelling out for his unreleased material and endless Apple Venus editions. So isn’t it time for him to buckle down and provide us something tangible?
Monstrance is merely Partridge back-filling his recent house cleaning with some additional clutter that should have stayed in the closet.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise

Friday, November 9, 2007

XTC & Everclear

I firmly believe that Andy Partridge is one of rock’s elite statesmen. The type of dude that’s a genius, yet you wonder why he isn’t filthy rich or, at least fully compensated for everything because he’s a national treasure.
He unfortunately isn’t, but his sporadic output over the past few decades and decidedly uncommercial projects seems to point to a lifestyle that’s comfortable and undemanding. And as long as he can muster up the next rewarding material, I’m cool with whatever life has afforded him.
In high school, one my summer rituals was to participate in the drama program’s summer musical. It was a great way to meet girls and interact with some interesting people. I think it says something about a person’s character if they’re willing to stand up and humiliate themselves onstage in front of an audience. These are the people you want in the trenches with you when the shit goes down.
One of the guys that I met was inexplicably transplanted from Louisiana for the summer, and even more inexplicably, managed to negotiate his way into the summer musical program. He was semi-privileged and carried an air of college town swagger with him.
He also carried a pretty decent record collection and he would bring examples of it to the dressing rooms of our town’s lone performance theatre, The Grand. He shared the local’s occasional tastes of left-of-center material, tolerated our affection of pop-metal favorites, and seamless transitioned into our regular pothead drama troupe.
He went on and on about two records: Ultravox Vienna and XTC’s Black Sea. I never really got the appeal of the Ultravox album, but man oh man, did I absolutely love Black Sea. Still do; drop whatever your doing and buy it right now. It’s full of awesomely smart pop rock with killer drum sounds and punchy fucking geetars.
And Black Sea, as I later discovered, wasn’t even Andy Partridge’s first example of brilliance.
There were other examples of it though (English Settlement, Skylarking, and the Dukes of Stratosphere sideproject) and even more examples of near-brilliance (Oranges & Lemons, Apple Venus, Nonesuch, Go 2), but there’s a tremendous segment of well-minded rock fans who have little reference of Andy’s output of three decades.
So, you understand, I’m indebted to that kid from Louisiana, who mysteriously left for college after the summer and never maintained contact with any of us when he left. A good explanation for his silent departure: the last time I saw him was during the cast party after the last performance of the drama department’s production of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum. He made some cool party invitations that quoted A Clockwork Orange and he threw in some bucks to get a keg for the event. We had it at my best friend’s place; he had a pool, so the idea was to get the chicks loosey-goosey and into their bathing suits. From what I learned, those kids in Louisiana don’t drink like we did in Iowa. Before Midnight, he was missing, only to be found alone in a darken bathroom, silently passed out on the floor. He had also vomited all over himself and the bathroom, Vomit streaked down the walls, which also showed evidence of damage as he’d ripped down all the towel racks before blacking out.
As we lifted his drunken body and attempted to take him outside, our grip on him would slip from the slick vomit that covered his arms. We managed to get him into a wheelbarrow that we found in the garage. From there, we wheeled him next to a garden hose and cleaned him up with some cold tap water. He thrashed a bit, yet remained incoherent. We then found his car, drove him to his parents house, parked the car in the garage and left him there to suffer the consequences with his parents in the morning.
I remember thinking that his status within our little group had diminished because of the babysitting he put us through. And, I remember mentioning to him on several occasions to take it easy on the Everclear-fueled punch that we had concocted for the ladies.
But now I’m thinking that all the hassles encountered from mystery Delta boy’s drunken shenanigans were all worth it. I mean, fuck, the dude introduced me to the genius of Andy Partridge.Plus, it gave "Respectable Street" an familiar relevance.
Andy Partridge was born on November 10, 1953.
Photo by Dan Fellini

Monday, November 5, 2007

PJ Harvey - Rid Of Me

I came across an old comment on Mark Prindle’s, the one where he finally got away from trying to promote his latest cdr and updated his site.
The topic was/is PJ Harvey’s Rid Of Me, an album I deemed as a “perfect ten” back in the day, but that was before I knew better….or in other words, about 8 or 9 years ago.
I’m stealing my comments back and lazily calling it a review, which it essentially is, on the merits that I like the references, including a little swipe at Exene Cervenka for whatever reason.
The “fuck spin” lines comes as Prindle references Spin’s Alternative Record Guide review book which is funny when you consider anyone would actually own a book that collected Spin reviews. Apparently, Spin gave Rid Of Me a perfect ten, and I guess I was trying to assert a distance between myself and Spin magazine. Whatever.
I have no idea what I meant by “dad’s beaver shots” and I’m pretty sure that’s for the best.
And I knocked a half point off the overall review because of that stupid “Man Size Sextet” bullshit.
Anyways…here t’is:
Fuck Spin and those who subscribe to it. I'll take dad's beaver shots any day of the week over that shit and I'll take this album over any that Polly's done, with Dry a close second. And anyone who has the balls to call Albini a producer should stand clear of him if he offers to light your cigarette: He uses a blowtorch. In the studio, he uses vintage mics and magnetic tape, just the way papa Sam Phillips recorded el pees back in the day. It's 1993 folks, and what got everyone's attention in the mainstream press was the fact that the last time we heard someone without testicles bitch, moan, and yell with this much vitriol was when Chrissie declared she wasn't the kind she used to be. Meanwhile, around that same time, Exene was chirpin' about the "burnin' house of love." Whatever. Polly just fucking blows the house up.
My point is, we had reached an era of music in which there was a huge void for females around this time who actually strapped on some machismo and reminded us that rock has relatively little to do with male genitalia. Then the douchebags at Rolling Stone and Spin start taking notice and then praise it hoping that they've fooled you with the idea that they "broke" the artist into the mainstream. And this is by far a mainstream record. Sure, the music is so basic that even I learned the guitar part for "Missed" in about two minutes, and that's saying something especially if you've ever heard me "play" guitar. But isn't that what rock music is all about in the first place? So don't give me this jive about this album not being musically challenging: neither was a lot of Howlin Wolf's shit. What both Howling Wolf and Polly Harvey have in common (at least on this release) is the unbelievable dynamics of the music, how even the most simplistic musicianship sometimes kicks the shit out of virtuosity and the passion of their respective lyrical subject matter. The biggest difference, of course, is that The Wolf just wants to fuck while Polly is tired of getting fucked over. A perfect ten for those of us who get it and for those who disagree, sit down and watch those old Happy Days episodes featuring Leather Tuscadero rocking your balls off.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Black Flag - Damaged

A recent review of The Dirty Projectors got me thinking about its inspiration: Black Flag’s Damaged.
In fact, The Dirty Projectors' Rise Above is shitty enough that I actually needed to go back to Damaged and listen to it repeatedly, to get the shitty taste out of my mouth that Rise Above left behind.
I can tell you about the time when I first heard Damaged and the impact it had on me. But you probably have your own experiences and mine wouldn’t come near the one’s you already hold dear.
So let’s just say that Damaged was good enough for me to tolerate a lot of later-year bullshit that Black Flag managed to put out. Don’t try to convince me that The Process Of Weeding Out is anywhere near the caliber of Damaged. There’s nothing you can do to make me believe that Loose Nut needs to be in my collection.
The Flags released a lot of shit in their day and Damaged remains the album that is required listening for everyone, and I mean everyone, who considers themselves to be a fan of rock ‘n roll.
There are two critical keys to the album’s importance. The first is the total chaos of Greg Ginn’s guitar playing. At first glance, Ginn appears to be barely capable. But upon closer examination, Ginn has not only come up with some classic riffs hidden behind ADHD excitement and police state oppression. Ginn sounds like he needed to get these songs out in a hurry, because the authorities he encountered at the time always seemed to be pulling the plug on the band every time they made a note. There was no time for a second take when you’re always on the lookout for the man.
The other thing to listen for in Ginn’s off-kilter solos is how they slyly distract you from considering that Greg is a hippie deep down. Worshipping at the alter of Garcia would be too easy, in fact, it would have been disastrous. Ginn wisely chooses to match his solos with jazz inspirations and improvisation.
And then there’s Henry Rollins who was not only a recent transplant to SoCal at the time of the record, but he was also a newly christened member, put in a position that garnered the most attention outside of Ginn’s antics. You can hear Rollins deliver each razorblade vocal take with equal parts nervous energy and admiration; Hank got the gig after being making himself present at Flag shows when they went through his hometown of D.C. A quick take on the microphone one night proved to be prophetic as Ginn and Dez Cadena later offered the role to Rollins after singer Cadena moved to guitar.
While not fully developed with the persona that we know today, this is Hank at his most vulnerable. Oh sure, he’s not singing love songs here and his bile is totally believable throughout Damaged, we do see Rollins actually trying to impress his bandmates with his ability while attempting to make the songs his own, even after other singers prefaced the material before him.
It works; the chaos, the spontaneity, the anger, it’s all here and it’s all believable.
At first, you notice the “novelty” songs (“T.V. Party,” “Six Pack”) and the “anthems” (“Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie,” “Police Story”) before realizing that the vast majority of this album is dark, claustrophobic, and fueled by unchecked rage. It’s the work of a group of poverty-stricken individuals who still believe they have a shot in life (“We are born with a chance/And I am gonna have my chance!”- “Rise Above”) even while they’re reminded daily by the cops, the neighbors and their wallets that there’s little chance that they’ll rise above anything (“It’s hard to survive/Don’t know if I can do it”-“Room 13”)
Damaged brought the band enough notoriety that they could essentially tour nonstop and be provided with enough cash to get to the next gig. But the road also brought about changes to the bands style, attitude, and lineup. Dez was edged out, the barrage of abuse hurled at Rollins turned him into a very humorless person, the audience expectations of the band made Ginn consider other genres, some of which (metal) alienated the paying crowds who came to hear “T.V. Party” and “Six Pack.” Damaged seemingly defined American hardcore as quickly as it tried to distance itself from it with the follow-up (and last great Flag studio effort) My War.
The version I remember is the Roadrunner version that had a different version of “TV Party” and “Louie Louie” at the end. The black and white cover was cooler too.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Death To Liner Notes

I haven’t bought a cd in weeks and I’m jonesing. The last one I purchased was that Spoon album, and I waited until around the time it was released, to help the cause, so to speak. I used one of those Best Buy Reward Zone coupons for an extra $5 too. Yeah, I know: buying music at Best Buy ain’t helping the cause, particularly as Best Buy was part of the problem when the record industry kissed their (and Wal Mart) ass, thereby shunning the indies and cutting into their profits. The thing was, Best Buy had a lot of what we all looked for in a record store: large selection and attractive prices, so what am I going to do. Fuck dude, I love music, what can I say? I like it when I get a chance to buy more music with my dollar. So sue me.
But now I’ve noticed that Best Buy has cut out a large chunk of music’s square footage and replaced it with a bunch of shit that doesn’t interest me. A Boost mobile phone? No thank you. I’m here to get the new Spoon album.
And for real: that was the only thing I bought there. I did contemplate getting the Death Proof dvd until I questioned why they didn’t have the other half of Grindhouse out unless, like those cocksuckers at the studios are likely to do, they plan on releasing some deluxe edition down the road with nifty packaging and bonus shit.
I passed on the movie and stuck with the Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga.
And end though I’m not completely tickled with the new Spoon album, I’m not opposed to it. I played it a bunch of times and I’m not sorry I spent money on it. Why? Well, the whole purchase cost me about $8 with tax after they applied the coupon. That seems fair enough.
To think that, had the record companies considered what’s “fair enough” when pricing cds, well, maybe they wouldn’t be in as much shit as they are now. I remember the excuse in the early 80’s was that all the cd manufacturers were overseas, which is why cd prices were so outrageous. The lie was that cd prices would get in line as soon as more domestic manufacturers opened up. Of course, that never happened. So its poetic justice that they’re now reeling after music fans have found resourceful ways to get the music they want at the price they want…which is nothing.
I think that’s fair; MP3s don’t have a value to me either. But cds, with the artwork, the overall sound and, most importantly, the experience still has a value in my mind. The trouble is, I haven’t had that experience in a while and I miss it.
My primary music listening is reduced to opening up those MP3 files, slapping on a pair of headphones and trying to provide it with a suitable amount of attention in the middle of a fairly hectic life. While not the most ideal of environments, it’s all I’ve got in some cases.
Back in the day, I was able to devote my entire attention to a piece of music’s entire piece. I’d listen to it all the way through, absorbing the liner notes and artwork in the process, to the point where I’d be able to identify the album’s key tracks.
I miss that. It happens too rarely now, and it will become even more rarer if I continue down the path of harddrive collecting.