Friday, February 29, 2008

OCD Chronicles: Sophie B. Hawkins "Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover"

What the fuck happened to Sophie B. Hawkins? “Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover” was the jam back in 1992, and I mean that with the utmost sincerity. It was one of those songs that came out of nowhere and hinted at something promising. Another hit followed a year later (“As I Lay Me Down”), preventing Ms. Hawkins from the “dreaded” one hit wonder label, but then she was gone.
There was some rumbling about creative differences with the label, but by that time we’d forgotten about her.
Of course, we played the single version at the radio station, but I preferred the full-length album version, the one that starts with the N.Y.C. ambience at the beginning. Then, the sexy drum loops and gentle synthesizer begin and Sophie coos “That old dog has chained you up alright.”
Is it about a dude? Another chick? Is it about domestic abuse? Fuck if I know. The only thing I know is that it’s damn sexy and it’s perfect mirror of longing after something that isn’t really isn’t yours to have….at that moment anyway.
I love the song’s hints at the object of her infatuation, and how said infatuation is stuck in a dead-end relationship with a lifeless companion (“Sleep beside an empty rage”) and how her pussy is the drug that’s addicting (“Come inside my jungle book”).
In reality, the thing that’s really addicting is how it all comes together and creates this wonderful pop masterpiece from the early 90’s that’s going through my head as of late.
Sophie never created another track as good as this one, but then again, with a track this good she didn’t need to.
Here's the original banned version of "Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover." I think you'll agree that 1.) The video version that was released was much better than this artsy "fuck me" come on and 2.) Someone needs to turn off the fucking fan.

So just...give up

The last time I cried during a song? That’s easy. A pair of Aimee Mann songs turns on the waterworks every fucking time.
“Deathly” and “Wise Up”
And if I’m watching that scene in Magnolia, the one where all the characters sing “Wise Up” along with the song, well fucking pass the Puffs immediately.
I’m holding back tears just thinking about it.
I’m going on a limb here and declaring that it may not have been the first time that Aimee Mann has made me feel a little, um, sentimental.
Let’s see. There’s that ending to “Voices Carry” where she says with complete contempt “He said ‘Shut Up! Oh God can’t you keep it down?!’” before she reaches that defeated, resigned line “I wish he would let me talk” right when the song fades out.
And remember kids, this was a top ten hit.
Then there’s that lesser known ‘Til Tuesday song “(Believed You Were) Lucky” from the third album, where an in love Aimee sweetly sings how life “would be fucking great” if her man (Jules Shear) would just figure out that they were one of those pairs put together by fate.
Then you get older and understand that “fate” is just one of those bullshit terms that those one-in-a-million couples use to make the rest of us think is possible.
Just like those fucking Powerball winners.
“(Believed) You Were Lucky” is just so goddamn sweet ‘n full of love that it practically brings you to tears because you want to hit Jules upside the head and go “Douchebag! She’s perfect for you!”
But nothing, I mean nothing, can prepare you for those two tracks that Aimee did for Magnolia that arrive with a jaw-dropping thud the first time you hear them.
“You mean, that’s the same chick from ‘Til Tuesday?”
Fuckin’ A.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got something in my eye…

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Miles Away

I never knew that Buddy Miles was a member of the California Raisins. I learned this immediately after I learned that Buddy had passed away today while listening to N.P.R. on yet another snow covered commute home from work.
He was only sixty, which means that he was barely twenty-one when he joined Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys, which means that he was twenty when he played in Electric Flag with Mike Bloomfield and that puts him at a mere nineteen during his tenure with Wilson Pickett.
Buddy Miles was the kind of dude that rub shoulders with more cool people before the age of twenty-five than you or I ever hope to meet in our entire lifetime.
There was a time when I would have pegged Miles as Hendrix’s best drummer ever, particularly after hearing “Machine Gun,” perhaps my favorite Jimi song. Mitch Mitchell is a fine, jazzy drummer who keeps ups and keeps busy with the greatest guitar player ever, but Buddy fucking nails “Machine Gun” to the point where you know that any other drummer would just take away from the song’s power.
Ultimately, I understand why Miles only worked on one album and that’s the same reason why Buddy only managed to work with Bloomfield on one album.
And Carlos Santana.
And John McLaughlin.
Buddy Miles sat behind the kit, behind the rest of the band, but his heart and his ego always wanted to be out in front.
Hell, even his afro commanded your attention!
I owned Buddy’s A Message To The People when I was a kid, but I didn’t listen to it that much. To be honest, I was more entranced with the cover: a huge fro’d Buddy blowing out a stream of lava that contained naked black ladies that oozed all the way to the back cover.
The last I heard about him was on the documentary I bought on the Band of Gypsys. He seemed larger than life (including his head, figuratively this time as the afro was gone!) but genuinely humbled by the opportunity to have worked with Hendrix, albeit briefly.
And every time I hear “Machine Gun,” I know exactly why Jimi wanted to work with him too.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Meet The New Boss (Same As The Old Boss)

Glam-Racket reached somewhat of a milestone today: it was banned at work. For some reason, the site was tagged by the IT department so that now every time I try to access it, I get a nasty message indicating that it is banned by the “administrator.”
While I don’t troll around at my own site at all hours of the day, I occasionally will transpose a Word document or two with the idea that I’ll be able to finish my thoughts later, without interruption. It’s not that big of a deal; I can always just send the item to my email addy, but it is nice to get the formatting shit started while on the company dime.
Besides, they’ve changed my lunch schedule so I don’t have anyone cool to chill with in the cafeteria so I just hang in my cubicle and surf the net with my delicious ham, turkey, and havarti sandwich, Cheese Its, and whatever little bag of cookies that I swipe from the kids (this week has been Dora the Explorer animal crackers).
So now, the site has joined the ranks of MySpace, Facebook, Hotmail, and Cum Fiesta. It’s a proud moment here.
In other news:
I passed a test that I originally flunked at word (poor study habits) which means something, but I can’t really figure out what. I learned some shit about annuities, which has no bearing on my job whatsoever.
The little man E apparently does not enjoy going to the Episcopal Church. I dragged his ass there last Sunday (he refers to it as the “Halloween” church because of all the stained glass depictions of Peter Murphy in the windows. He’d rather stay home and watch Yo Gabba Gabba, but who wouldn’t? Oh yeah, we had to enroll him into kindergarten, which is mind-blowing.
Speaking of: Calli is ready to fucking walk (already!), is getting in her teeth (cute!) and is starting to get a little attitude (fuck!). She enjoys wrestling around, kissing the boys at daycare, and chewing on everything. She also has a penchant for dancing (she especially likes the Juno soundtrack and crawling around naked.
The wife is good. I enjoy having sex with her.
Life is pretty swell.
It’s kind of a drag that I don’t have a helluva lot of time to do all the reviews I want to or devote a ton of time listening to music like I used to.
Priorities, baby.
At the same time, I’m thoroughly enjoying going back and searching for those off-the-wall albums that I remember owning at one point in time before mysteriously losing it or (even worse) selling it. It’s fun being able to remember the words to some of this shit, even when it may have been in upwards of three decades since I last heard it.
For real: I spun Jethro Tull’s Heavy Horses the other night after everyone went to be and remembered every fucking word to “The Mouse Police Never Sleep” even after it’s been decades removed from any playback machine.
And fuck you: Jethro Tull had a few decent jams back in the day.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Happy Birthday-George Harrison

George Harrison’s birthday today reminds me of a few things. First of all, it reminds me that I really need to pick up my two favorite Harrison solo albums (All Things Must Pass and Spirits In The Material World). It also reminds me of a Beatles tribute band that I saw in Beloit, Wisconsin one summer. They were surprisingly good, performing two sets that evening: one featuring the “fab” version circa ’63-’65 and the other featuring the “artsy” version circa’66-’68.
The guy that played George had unbelievably large teeth, which seemed to become more prominent after ingesting a couple of white Russians and MS Contin tablets. I was forced to retreat back to the hotel room and smoke pot to get the image removed from my head.
Getting back to the Spirits In The Material World album: the gatefold vinyl version featured a very colorful picture of Krishna. He looked very feminine and his skin was a deeper shade of blue as compared to other images. He was decked out in an almost warrior motif and was playing a flute upon a white stallion. Consider that I am basing this off a memory from nearly thirty years ago, so forgive me if this is all incorrect. I haven’t actually listened to that album in that amount of time either, so it could be a complete piece of shit.
In the eyes of an 8 year old, this was a very powerful image, and I asked my Father more pointed questions about the blue dude and what he represents. Since my old man wasn’t well versed in Hinduism, the questions like “What special powers does Krishna have?” and “How did he turn blue?” went unanswered.
They still are, come to think of it, but I did come to discover that his name does (roughly) translate as “attractive” and, indeed, the guy in the gatefold of Harrison’s Material World album was pretty hot looking.
I hope that the fact that I thought Krishna was attractive to me at the age of eight doesn’t offend anyone.
If it does, well then, blame George Harrison.
Like I said, I haven’t spun a Harrison solo album in some time now, so I’d probably start (and end with) those two aforementioned albums that I used to enjoy as a kid.
His other efforts are questionable to me: I did get a few singles in lieu of actual albums (I was a kid with a very fixed income, you understand) and the last true l.p. of George’s that I actually got would have been Somewhere In England, which was incredibly lame.
And then there’s the entire late-80’s comeback albums which were riddled with Jeff Lynne’s overproduction and then there was the embarrassing “feud” with Oasis in the mid-90’s where George weighed in on his opinions of the Gallagher brothers for no apparent reason.
I expect better from a Beatle, particularly a cool one like George.
Now, such matters seem a little trivial, particularly after a retarded murder attempt followed by a battle with cancer, a battle that he would subsequently lose.
George would have turned 65 today.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Ringo Starr - Liverpool 8

I don’t think I’m alone in the assessment that Ringo Starr’s best solo work (Goodnight Vienna, Ringo) are fine works that, while not entirely vital, are worthy documents when considering the Fab Four’s post-Beatle output. With that being said, much of Starr’s solo output, essentially everything since Goodnight Vienna is fairly worthless, and some of that is even downright embarrassing (Ringo The 4th, anyone?).
And I’m sorry, but I’ve always viewed those All Starr Band tours with the same reverence as a county-fair tour, shamefully led by a guy who just happened to be the drummer for the greatest band of all time.
Therefore, to call Liverpool 8 the best Ringo Starr album since Goodnight Vienna isn’t really saying much. But being overly critical of Ringo is a kind of like sucker punching your Grandfather: it doesn’t take much to lay him out, but you’re not really proving much.
Besides, at the end of the day, he’s a likeable guy regardless of his prior indiscretions and he’s a fucking Beatle, so back off, boogaloo and leave the heavy criticism to Paul.
Who’s come off a good album himself, come to think of it, so it’s downright admirable that the drummer of the greatest rock & roll band ever has also managed to mount a comeback of sorts with Liverpool 8.
Yes, it’s a happy day for Beatle fans and baby boomers, the two market segments that will find immense joy in this effort while the rest of us may find Ringo’s nostalgia as sweet as a bottle of Karo corn syrup with plenty of eye-rolling lyrics.
Nowhere is this more prevalent than with the album-opening title track where Starr provides us with a five-minute rundown of a six-decade life. By the time he gets to the money shot, a recollection of the fab-four, all Ringo can manage is the obvious (“In the U.S.A./When we played Shea/We were number one/Man it was fun”) before ending it with a repetitive “Liverpool!” over Sgt. Pepper arrangements. While Starr’s songwriting abilities leave something to be desired, you have to hand it to him for understanding who he needs to be pandering to at this point.
As weak as some of the lyrics can be, the story arc concerning the development of Liverpool 8 is also a little embarrassing. Originally, Starr started working with Mark Hudson (yes, one of the Hudson Brothers if you’re old enough to remember them) for the last few years and the two had a falling out shortly after Liverpool 8 was in the final stages of completion. Because Ringo is a former Beatle, he has a Rolodex filled with names of people with former glories who would be tickled at the prospect of working with a former Beatle. The name Dave Stewart came up and the ex-Eurythmics member finished the work that Hudson had started.
The collaboration must have worked: Either the final mix was good enough to land the record on Capitol Records, or the label was pissed that they lost the cute Beatle to a fucking coffee shop label. Whatever the case, Liverpool 8 is the kind of record that a major could easily market, if Ringo doesn’t single-handedly sabotage the campaign.
Which would be a shame as we’re now down to a pair of Beatles that are both deserving of their proper media attention that should be afforded to every rock & roll elder statesmen. And regardless of how low our expectations may be of Ringo at this point, he’s delivered a charming and effectual album that’s perfectly suited for Beatle completists and A.A.R.P. members.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Paul McCartney - Memory Almost Full

I know I already addressed the latest McCartney effort last Summer, but whatever. I namechecked McCartney II so much in that review that I decided to re-visit it the album and then decided to re-post the Memory Almost Full review here, because I don't expect you to follow me around on he internets.So the focus on solo Beatle stuff continues. Read on if you're somewhat intrested.

The review below originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

There were many people who sang the praises of Paul McCartney’s last outing, Chaos And Creation In The Backyard, but I wasn’t one of them. While Paul may have found some newfound lyrical inspiration, I thought the album sounded like a tepid Middle-Of-The-Road offering without the grandiose swells that I expected from collaborating with producer Nigel Godrich. It was another example of why I’ve stopped believing the hype around the occasional McCartney album that gets labeled as “his best album since…”
Besides, I’ve been around long enough to know that Paul is never going to regain his pinnacle achievements with The Beatles and he’s probably not going to top such recognized post-fab material like Ram or Band On The Run.
At the same time, Paul McCartney still has the ability to surprise me and he’s done exactly that with his latest effort Memory Almost Full.
If you’re as cynical as I am, I’m not expecting you to believe me. Truth be told: I’m still having a hard time believing it myself and I will confess that I ignored Paul’s personal plea on Amazon to “click the button” and buy the album. Instead, I acquired my copy of Memory through “other” distribution points. I justified this because I still think Paul owes me for shelling out my hard earned allowance money for that piece of shit called Back To The Egg.
So as you can see, I’m not only cynical about Paul McCartney, but a little bitter as well.
Upon first listen, I was met with the friendly sounds of a strummed mandolin while McCartney gleefully sang a moronic ditty about dancing tonight and everybody feeling all right as a result of it. The funny thing is: I didn’t care. For a dude that told us to let ‘em in, that we could let this whole damn thing work out, and keenfully observed that the keys on a piano were black and white, I’ve come to expect some stupid lyrics to come out of him. What was different about “Dance Tonight” was how off-the-cuff and intentionally simple it appeared to be. It sounds like it was conceived, arranged, and recorded in the span of an hour or two and I can’t express how positively wonderful that is for a Paul McCartney album.
What’s even more refreshing is how the rest of the album continues with that feeling of immediacy and combines it with some themes that McCartney finally sounds comfortable with addressing: his well-publicized age and the realization that there are more years behind him than ahead (“I hope it isn’t too late/Searching for the time that is gone so fast/The time that I thought would last” -“My Ever Present Past”). In typical Paul McCartney fashion, he remains sanguine about such daunting topics, never bitching about the aches and pains and not once feeling sorry for himself.
All of this is packaged in an almost homespun, art-rock album not seen from him since 1980’s McCartney II album. And for the record, Memory Almost Full is substantially better than that release.
It meanders skillfully between the melodic expertise that we’d expect from Paul with an off-kilter approach that he’s hasn’t mined in years. Wisely placing the more accessible material towards the front, McCartney presents the final six songs as a mini-suite. It collimates (sort of) with “The End Of The End,” a piano and string ensemble in which he asks that bells be rung and songs be played on the day of his death. “At the end of the end/It’s the start of the journey/To a much better place” he admits while, literally, whistling as he ponders what awaits him in the afterlife.
Just when you think the album’s going to end on a somber note, he wraps up Memory with “Nod Your Head,” a noisy romp with distorted guitars and horns that, again, shows Paul thinking about the end of the road in a very carefree fashion (“If you think the life you’re leading/Is better than the life you led...Better nod your head!”)
Memory Almost Full may be the first McCartney album I’ve heard in decades (the all-covers effort Run Devil Run doesn’t count) that hasn’t left me resenting how he’s lazily allowed his talents to languish. So while I’ve promised that I wouldn’t use the “best album since” comparison, I can tell you that Memory Almost Full is the best album from Paul McCartney since we had to start counting how consistently shitty his albums have been. If the idea of death has finally shaken him from his creative slumber, then here’s to hoping that he’ll make more efforts like this as he moves towards his final act.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Paul McCartney - McCartney II

It’s 1980 and Paul McCartney has finally worked his influence to the point where he convinced the Japanese government to overlook his past pot discretions and let ‘em in (get it?) to do a quick tour with his band, Wings.
So what’s McCartney, a fairly intelligent man, decide to do? For starters, he packs over two hundred grams of weed along with his Hofner bass only to be busted at the airport in Tokyo.
It’s important to remember this as five months after this incident he released McCartney II, his second solo album. And why it’s important to remember this is because McCartney II is an album featuring him playing virtually every instrument under the influence of over two hundred grams of weed.
It’s an annoying album when you’re sober, which probably explains why I hated it when I first bought it. But I’ve smoked enough pot since 1980 to fully appreciate the album’s “I’m totally going to go home and fuck around with some synthesizers as soon as I get out of this Japanese jail” attitude. He even returned the favor by calling one of the songs, a lighthearted instrumental synth ditty, “Frozen Jap.”
And to add to the joke, the album went all the way to #3 in the U.S. after it was released.
When McCartney isn’t fucking around with synthesizers on McCartney II, he’s laying down some half-assed blues (“On The Way”), sleepwalking through another adult contemporary ballad (“Waterfalls”), phony nostalgia (“Bogey Music”) or messing around with a mellotron (“Summers Day Song”) that he must have rediscovered while looking for some rolling papers.
Even the album’s most notorious single, “Coming Up,” isn’t really the version that people are familiar with. The version that reached #1 is actually a live version featuring Wings as the full backing band while the version on McCartney II is Paul’s own solo effort that sounds strangely disjointed.
All of these veritable missteps are exactly why I enjoy McCartney II so much; he’s either too stoned to give a shit what people might’ve thought or completely brave at allowing the release of an album that was so uncharacteristic of the rest of his catalog.
Whatever the reason for the release, it was the last time we really have to hear what happens when you put a Beatle in a makeshift studio with a bunch of instruments and many half-baked ideas.
And I mean “half-baked” in the most affectionate sense of the word.

Monday, February 18, 2008

OCD Chronicles: They Might Be Giants "Snowball In Hell"

I don’t think you could have gone to college in the late 80’s (or, at the very least, listen to college radio) and not have some kind of exposure to They Might Be Giants. Sidenote: I did a quick search of TMBG and discovered that the band actually scored a pair of gold records, one for their early 90’s release Flood and the other for a kids album they did a few years ago, Here Comes The ABC’s.
I had no idea that They Might Be Giants were doing children’s albums; I get the fact that they made the transition (it’s logical, particularly when you look at them), but it points to the fact that it’s been a while since I’ve even thought about them.
It was a cassette sampler that Bar/None records put out that is responsible for my current OCD moment, for it contained the song “Snowball In Hell.” I was familiar with “Don’t Let’s Start” single and the flip side “We’re The Replacements,” but to be honest, I always put TMBG in the category of novelty act, which is a polite way of suggesting that I never really gave them a fair shot.
But “Snowball In Hell” from Lincoln seemed to speak directly to me:

“Side effect or drug trip
Don't tease me with all of your might
Side effect or drug trip
My panacea's in a xerox shop
Have a nice day
You want it when?
Have a nice day
Have a nice day”

I’ve never worked in a xerox shop, but I’ve manned a enough hours in retail to know those phoney words of goodwill. And it was reassuring that a band like They Might Be Giants, virtual stars on MTV’s 120 Minutes, were forced to work at mind-numbing day jobs after their two hours of fame on Sunday nights.

The money shot, however, was a spoken word section lifted from a tape called "How to Manage Your Time Effectively," which Bill Krauss gave to John Flansburgh for his birthday

“I didn't expect to find a salesman drinking coffee this late in the
morning...How long you been here, Joe?
Oh, I don't know, I guess thirty, forty-five minutes maybe. Why do you
You must be making a lot of sales, piling up good income.
Oh....Uh...I'm doing all right. I could do better, but...Oh, I get it Paul.
Back on that old “time is money” kick, right?
Not back on it, Joe…Still on it.”

Brilliant. I used it on more than one occasion with a few salespeople when I was a sales manager. Not to prove a point, but merely to confuse the fuck out of them. Usually, I’d just take the first line and get a response like “What are you talking about? I’m not drinking coffee.”

Fuck you: Coffee is for closers, and believe me, I’ve worked with more than enough pieces of fucking wood in my day to build a bridge. Sales shouldn’t require a babysitter, which is what I found myself doing most of the time in that position.

On the other hand, I know all about being employed and feeling apathetic about it.

Sales is not the place for that type of behavior.

I’m not in that position anymore, but I do on occasion fight the strong urge to call in sick for the day and do nothing but listen to They Might Be Giants.

Avalanche or roadblock
I was a snowball in hell.

Here's a video for it that I found on YouTube that has nothing to do with the band, but is fairly cute.

Friday, February 15, 2008

High On Fire - Death Is This Communion

More than anything, you have to admire High On Fire frontman Matt Pike’s stoic dedication to the stoner metal ethos. His work within this Oakland power trio essentially is a continuation of the formula he already helped perfect during Sleep, a band who’s sludge is revered enough that they’re rightfully cited as one of the most important metal bands in the past quarter century.
Add that body of work along with the four albums he’s done with High On Fire, and you’ve got nearly two decades of fairly devoted shit-hot magma rock.
Don’t think for a moment that Pike is a dimwitted stoner still trying to work the mojo of a genre that’s not too kind towards middle ground or middle aged. Instead, he’s tackled his mid-thirties with an almost religious devotion to his craft and a keen eye on maintaining an underground credibility. There’s something very calculated about hiring Steve Albini man the boards for their last album, Blessed Black Wings, while tapping legendary Seattleite Jack Endino to direct their latest effort.
But when you think about it, Endino may have been the best choice ever when they started making Death Is This Communion. He’s helped harness some of the best Sabbath worshippers in the Northwest and it wouldn’t surprise me if Pike has a lot of Endino produced records in his own collection.
So yeah, the match-up delivers: Endino’s work on Death Is This Communion is a great compliment to the band’s musicianship and vision. It’s the band’s finest document, and one in which newcomers should begin with.
At the same time, the pairing also serves as a reminder to an era when there were at least a dozen or so bands that mined the same sludge fields. High On Fire has the luxury of having a fairly substantial grip on the whole smart man’s larghetto rock, so it stands out to an extent. But for those who remember grunge’s halcyon days, you can probably name about five or six bands that sounded strikingly similar to High On Fire, with one obvious difference: Page’s outfit is refined, intentional, and occasionally unmemorable.
Even though the land that they navigate is full of additional exploration, H.O.F. focus all of their implements on plowing through Saint Vitus grooves with a top soil of Celtic Frost lyricism. This isn’t a bad thing, but it’s certainly been done before and it certainly won’t win them an audience much wider than what Saint Vitus or Celtic Frost experienced during their own formative years.
On rare occasions, namely the first minute of “Cyclopian Scape” and the entire two-and-a-half minute passage “Khanrad’s Wall,” in which Pike uses a Middle Eastern chord progression to create a nifty acoustic landscape, the band displays brief hints of growth and experimentation. “DII” even puts a mellotron to good use underneath the relentless ‘chug-chug-chug’ of Pike’s guitar.
But these diversions are the exceptions and not the rule, which is a polite way of saying that it’s another High On Fire album when it could have been a High On Fire statement, one that shakes the genre from its constraints just like Pike did with Sleep’s Dopesmoker.
The riffage is incredible and it’s mixed high enough that you can almost overlook the fact that Pike’s vocal duties carry an enormous weight but very little in terms of real power. Think Lemmy Kilminster with, perhaps, even fewer fluctuations in his register, and you then get an idea of how fatigued I felt after listening to Death Is This Communion from start to finish.
Ok. We get it. High On Fire is as primal and devoted as ever, but usually by the fourth album we’re seeing some evidence of growth and challenge. It’s time for them to breathe some new life into drop-D deconstructionism because there are moments when Death Is This Communion sound like rigor mortis is setting in.

High On Fire is appearing at The Picador Monday, February 18th. Be there. Bring earplugs.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Lou Reed - Mistrial

I bought Mistrial the first week it was released on the notion that it was a Lou Reed record, and weren't all Lou Reed records supposed to be, at the very least, listenable. Mistrial is far from listenable, but it is certainly criminal.

For some reason, Reed seems to embrace nearly everything that is wrong about the 80's: from the flaccid drum beats to the woefully gated and sterile production, to Reed's own attempt at rapping ("The Original Wrapper"), it is the first glimpse of Lou sounding his age and becoming just as embarassing as a dad picking up their kid at middle school in a mini-van with Sheena Easton's "Sugar Walls" blaring out of the windows.

Strangely, RCA record decided that Mistrial was commerically viable enough to pump enough money into it for not one, but two piece of shit videos, with the second one being produced by Godley and Creme, which means nothing to you kids now, but back then, we all thought any video directed by Godley and Creme was automatically good, just like we thought Lou Reed albums were.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Lou Reed - The Bells

For some strange reason, I went through a heavy Lou Reed phase my first year of high school. It started after rummaging through a few of my uncle’s albums that were left behind at my Grandparent’s house and there, in between a copy of Frank Zappa’s Weasels Ripped My Flesh and The Who’s Meaty Beaty Big & Bouncy was a copy of The Best of Lou Reed.
Later on, that same Uncle left a cassette copy of Lou Reed’s Sally Can’t Dance in his car, a Renault Le Car if you remember those, and he lent me the keys so I could sit inside and listen to it on the car stereo. Don’t ask, I was young, and it was cooler to listen to it in his car rather than bring the tape in and listen to it on my own stereo.
I liked both albums, but I absolutely loved Reed’s Transformer album after a friend put it on the back of a Maxell cassette, which housed Never Mind The Bullocks on the other side. I don’t need to tell you that I wore that cassette out as the pair of albums proved to be hugely influential and were played incessantly.
And while the Pistols’ catalog pretty much dropped off after Bullocks, there was plenty to discover with Reed and with his former band, The Velvet Underground. I got The Blue Mask from a friend who bought it on a whim, hated it, and sold it to me for a buck. I bought the 8-Track….yes you heard right…of Sally Can’t Dance for a quarter at a pawn shop. It was brand new and I made a cassette copy of the 8-Track (minus the program changes) which made the fidelity pretty awful. I also found a cassette copy of Lou Reed’s The Bells at a different pawn shop for a buck and immediately bought it with no idea as to what I was buying.
Because, and you need to know this about Lou Reed, one can never be too careful when examining his solo work. I’ll post a review, actually, it’s a comment that I posted on Prindle’s website several years ago, that alludes to this fact but I originally discovered this with The Bells.
For reasons unknown to me know, I remember liking this album at the time. I seriously think it’s because I forced myself to spend some time with it. I didn’t have a lot of disposable income back then, so when I bought an album, even if it was only a buck, I spent a great amount of time listening to it, repeatedly, before shelving it. If you didn’t like an album, there’d better be a goddamn good reason why you didn’t like it because you can’t just piss money away.
And I do remember playing it to the point where the felt thing that pushed the tape against the tape head, eventually fell off, creating weird aural effects in the process.
Listening to The Bells now, I wonder if I was just completely drugged up in my original assessment.
Because I had such fond memories of this 1979 release from Lou, I put it on my Amazon wish list and contemplated spending money on getting a new copy of it. Don’t ever do that, particularly with any Lou Reed album.
Trust me, because a reprised review of The Bells proved to be an example of “What was I thinking” to the point where I really considered that I may have been going through a period of manic depression to actually enjoy an album of such torture.
You will hear Reedphiles claim that The Bells is actually a high point in Lou’s catalogue and one of his best albums of the 70’s. These people are insane. Do not listen to them.
The Bells is nothing more than a completely out-of-tune-and-completely-not-giving-a-shit-about-it Lou over a curious jazz-fusion arrangement lovingly captured by horrifically dated production values. And if that written explanation isn’t enough to scare you away, your first encounters with listening to The Bells will most certainly be enough to frighten you.
Grab a friend or loved one and go to and play a brief sample of the opening track “Stupid Man.” Watch their face as they cringe while Lou sings off-key, matching the word “man” phonetically with “Saskatchewan.” After the 30 second sample is over, ask them what they thought; it’s like your own little version of an auditorium test. If you’re loved one’s reaction is anything like my wife’s, you’ll get a scowl followed by the television volume increasing. I’m willing to bet you’ll have similar results and, here’s the thing, “Stupid Man” is one of the better songs on the album.
“City Lights” is Lou’s homage to Charlie Chaplin, and in the hands of a better singer, it might be a pretty good song. Reed, however, sings it in a key too low for him (think the “Elvira” dude from the Oak Ridge Boys) to the point where even the saxophone that tweeters around the song sounds like even its out of tune.
Then there’s “All Through The Night,” a track that finds Reed inexplicitly incorporating banter between the band members throughout the song, thereby distracting any chance of the listener following either the lyrics or the musicians.
Who happen to be notable, by the way: legendary jazz man Don Cherry plays a key role and even Nils Lofgren helps with several other meticulous session players that can’t do a damn thing to help make The Bells somewhat accessible to people with hearing.
Because of this, I’m still strangely drawn to it. For example, I went around the house singing “Stupid Man” to the wife (who immediately asked “What are you saying?” after I did it) in my best, off-key Lou Reed voice. I did the same thing for “City Lights,” but that was usually in the car with no one around.
I also think the throwaway, “Disco Mystic,” is actually pretty good and would consider throwing it on a mix tape.
But the pinnacle is the title track, a nine-minute tour de force exploration of free jazz and Reed’s whiney upper register, barking out “Here comes the bells!” It’s one of Reed’s strangest tracks ever, and it hints that Lou can be capable of surprises, even when he’s coked out of his mind and completely incapable of holding down a linear thought.
This is, at the end of it, the only lasting appeal of The Bells. The fact that it is so blatantly tuneless and uncommercial is amazing, as it was originally released on Clive Davis’ Arista Records. Clive is notorious for associating commercial success with greatness, so I find it amusing that Clive and his minions must have had to sit around and listen to this thing when Reed delivered it to them, desperately looking for some sentiment of a “hit” within the album.
In reality, The Bells is a one star album for anyone besides Lou Reed fans. Trust me, you’ll hate it. And I’m a Lou Reed fan, so I’m rating it a little higher. The only reason why is because there are some moments on The Bells in which I do find curious and will probably return to on occasion. If anything, I’ll listen to see if I can find that illusive reason why I found it so endearing when I was younger. Or I’ll finally discover that I was just stupid, man.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The 50th Annual Grammy Awards

I caught Grammy Fever!

Which means that I took a few Excederin, ironed a few clothes and watched The Wire instead of the Grammy Awards. Have the Grammys ever been able to top Charlie Rich lighting the envelope that held John Denver’s “Best Country Artist” win that year? I don’t think so. Those were the days when drunk badasses with nicknames like The Silver Fox got airtime. Now, the Grammys are so sedated that it looks as out of touch as the record companies it attempts to pander to.
Looky! Looky! We’re still relevant!
Not so much.
But even though the Grammy Awards have never been, how do we say, hip, there used to be this strong urge to watch the masturbation, only to be disappointed when bands like the Starland Vocal Band win the award for “Best New Artist” while my rock bands left empty-handed. By the time Christopher Cross won his award, I understood that the voting group consisted of 60 year-old white males who probably still considered guitar bands like The Beatles as “on the way out.”
Now it’s the major label formula of accounting practices that are “on the way out” which means that it was going to be looking forward to a segment that used to be the low-point of every Grammy Awards telecast: the message from the President/CEO of the Recording Academy. Neil Portnow’s remarks this year essentially served as the pre-requisite back patting on how they are preserving the heritage of the recording industry.
Portnow curiously sidestepped the entire “illegal” downloading debate, focusing instead on the enormous plague of artists not being compensated when their music is played on the radio.

“We advocate for the rights of our music community in Washington, D.C., and all
across the country. This year, we will fight to pass legislation to once and for
all ensure that, just like in every other developed country in the world, all
music creators are compensated for their performances when played on traditional

I wasn’t aware that people listened to radio anymore, but more power to ya, Neil.

So the money shot turned out to be the awards. But the problem was that the big winner, Amy Winehouse, had to phone in her performance because we don’t let crackheads into our country. Just think of how awesome it would have been had they let her in and gave her a full bar to rehearse to.

Again, I totally vetoed the Grammys, but the internets told me who won what:

Record Of The Year
Amy Winehouse

Well duh….

Album Of The Year
River: The Joni Letters
Herbie Hancock

Wow…I had no idea Herbie Hancock even released a record this year. Christ, I had no idea he’s released an album since Future Shock, the one with “Rockit” on it.

Song Of The Year
Amy Winehouse

It probably should’ve gone to “Before He Cheats.” Seriously, stop by any karaoke night and you will see at least one version of this with an entire chorus of women around the bar singing along too.

Best New Artist
Amy Winehouse

You knew this one was coming. Fiest fans need not worry: the “Best New Artist” category is usually the “Kiss Of Death” category….

Best Female Pop Vocal Performance
Amy Winehouse


Best Male Pop Vocal Performance
”What Goes Around...Comes Around”
Justin Timberlake

This shit was the jam….seriously.

Best Pop Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals
“(You Want To) Make A Memory”
Bon Jovi
Track from: Lost Highway

Track from: My Penis In Your Daughter

“Makes Me Wonder”
Maroon 5
Track from: It Won't Be Soon Before Long

“Hey There Delilah”
Plain White T's
Track from: Every Second Counts

“Window In The Skies”
Track from: U218 - Singles

I have never heard any of those songs. Maroon 5 won, if you give a shit...

Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals

”Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On)”
Robert Plant & Alison Krauss

No shit, Shirlock….

Best Pop Vocal Album
Back To Black
Amy Winehouse

The correct pick….

Best Electronic/Dance Album
We Are The Night
The Chemical Brothers

Should’ve been Sound of Silver…..

Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance
“Radio Nowhere”
Bruce Springsteen
Track from: Magic

I would’ve picked Paul McCartney on this one….lots more challenging that Springsteen’s.

Best Rock Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals
”Icky Thump”
The White Stripes
Track from: Icky Thump

If you would’ve seen the other nominees, you would have thanked the academy for choosing the Stripes here….

Best Hard Rock Performance
”The Pretender”
Foo Fighters

I stopped giving a shit about these guys well over a decade ago, around the same time when I started to figure out that every fucking Foo Fighters song sounds just like the last one. Note to Dave Grohl: you can leave now. Should’ve gone to Queens Of The Stone Age.

Best Metal Performance
”Final Six”
Track from: Christ Illusion

I was secretly hoping that King Diamond would have won this one….

Best Rock Instrumental Performance
”Once Upon A Time In The West”
Bruce Springsteen
Track from: We All Love Ennio Morricone

This was about as retarded as Jethro Tull winning the “Best Metal” record. The category is typically used for metal/hard rock acts that throw down a shredding instrumental. Steve Vai and Joe Satriani are common nominees. But this year, Rush’s “Malignant Narcissism” was the clear winner….And they gave it to Springsteen.
Best Rock Song
”Radio Nowhere”
Bruce Springsteen
Track from: Magic

A safe choice here. The White Stripes’ “Icky Thump” should have won because it ruled.

Best Rock Album
Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace
Foo Fighters

Note to Dave Grohl: you can shut the fuck up now. I’m surprised that Wilco didn’t win here, as Sky Blue Sky is an album that even your Dad likes.

Best Alternative Music Album
Icky Thump
The White Stripes

Nope. It was Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible, dumbasses.

So there you go, a complete rundown of the 50th Annual Grammy Awards without having to watch it and you got the benefit of who should have won, based on the shitty nominees. It’s not like you missed anything anyway and it’s not like the Grammy’s are going to be around for another 50 years either.
You’re welcome….

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Rites Of Spring - Rites Of Spring

I took the kid trick or treating around the neighborhood last Halloween and stopped by the house of one of the managers from work. His kid opened the door and was dressed in black lipstick, eyeliner, and strange clothing. He spoke in this fey voice, gave my kid some candy and we went on to the next house.
On the following day, I approached this manager and told him that we had stopped by and his son seemed to be dressed for the occasion.
The guy asked me was “Emo” was.
“I asked him what he was dressed as and he kept saying ‘I’m Emo. I’m Emo’….What’s Emo?”
I explained that it was a style of music typically enjoyed by kids in the drama club.”
With that description, he seemed to have a better understanding as to what prompted his 14 year old son to dress that way.”
Back when Rites Of Spring released their first and only album, there was no such thing as Emo. Instead, there was a legion of devoted fans that, because of the band’s limited existence, continued to share stories about their legendary live shows and their only recorded document.
I talked to one of those fans in college. I respected his opinion and I never heard him talk about an album with such intensity. He’d seen the shows, he experienced the D.C. devotion firsthand, and now he was encouraging me to pick up Rites of Spring to the point where he was becoming speechless with excitement at just thinking about the record.
What the hell, it’s on Dischord records and they were (at that time) $6 post paid.
On first spin, I didn’t hear it. Guy Picciotto’s voice didn’t have the required masculinity that I thought all hardcore bands should possess. Then I started to listen a little more intently, searching for what made my indie rock contact so enthusiastic.
The words, admittedly not filled with testosterone either, were similar to that emotive (there’s that word) structure that Husker Du opened, thereby enabling hardcore to reach a wider audience. It started to dawn on me that Rites Of Spring, specifically Picciotto’s lyrics, were a little deeper than traditional hardcore fare.

“I have learned sometimes a need can run too deep
And we throw away the things we most wanted to keep”

“And hope is just another rope to hand myself with
To tie myself down ‘til something real comes around”


On top of this, the band was shithot, delivering out complex guitar phrases and breakneck drum patterns that were a step up from hardcore’s traditional three-chord attack. It’s pretty incredible stuff and, despite Picciotto’s thin voice, it kept me coming back.
And the more I listened, the more I appreciated what Rites Of Spring were doing and missed having them around to see where they would go next.
Thankfully, half of the members joined with producer/ex-Minor Threat leader Ian MacKaye to form the equally consistent Fugazi. I suppose if you’re going to implode, you may as well do it with one remarkably awesome debut.

Monday, February 4, 2008

It's Just The Normal Noises In Here...

When I think of halftime shows, I think of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers.
Seriously: what the fuck?
In all fairness, Prince doesn’t necessarily conjure up violent contact sports either. At least he has that one-name superstar poise about him that says “I can rock a fucking stadium if need be.”
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers conjure up 5,000 seat arenas with little or no light show and pot smoke replacing the fog machines.
So forgive me if I felt a little under whelmed at this year’s halftime show selection. It’s not that I don’t like ‘em; they’re an American institution and I would consider myself a fan of their music. In addition, it’s not as if this was the worst selection either. Cracked did a rundown of the worst halftime shows ever and this year wouldn’t even rate on the list.
It’s merely a safe bet that’s sure to please that lucrative television market (read: adults with spending power) so that they’ll stay tuned and consider an ice cold SoBe the next time they head to the store. And it’s especially safe after such an awesome show last year.
The stage set up was pretty cool, even though I don’t remember T.P. using that particular logo after the debut, and I associate them with Rickenbackers instead of Flying V’s, but whatever, it looked good.
The song selection was as predictable as you could imagine with even a solo Petty track (“Free Fallin”) making the set, which would only bother a nitpicker like me, I suppose.
But then there’s the whole “Is that really The Heartbreakers” conspiracy theory that I was tossing around. Mike Campbell looked like Adam Duritz, Stan Lynch looked like a middle age black dude, Howie Epstein looked like Ron Blair, and Benmont Tench looked like Benmont Tench.
There was some other dude on stage sporting a guitar, but he may have been a roadie.
Speaking of, Petty still looks like roadie for the Allman Brothers, only better dressed.
Again, there was nothing wrong with the performance and those on the field looked like they were entertained. I’m sure there were many people watching that also felt satisfied with another rendition of the shit they hear on classic rock stations every fucking day of the week.
For me, it was as exciting as one of those TV timeouts.

As far as the ads were concerned:

I will never buy an Under Armor product because their ad on the Super Bowl was retarded. Congratulations, focus group.

Special consideration goes to I have no idea what you’re selling (Titties? Pussy?) but I’m pretty sure that I don’t need that because I’ve got that at home. Good work, retards.

Note to Anheuser-Busch: what the fuck happened to the Bud Bowl? It was so gloriously stupid that I now miss it. Surely it would have been cheaper to make than the stupid Clydesdale “Rocky” ad.

And the new Will Farrell movies looks about as good as Blades Of Glory which means that I’ll wait to rent it or until it comes on HBO in a few years. Nothing personal, I still think you’re funny and even Bill Murray coasted for a few years. Hell, Dan Ackroyd made a fucking career out of it.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

American Music Club - California

While working as a Music Director for the student radio station, I fielded weekly calls from record companies trying to push their products onto our playlist. Most of them were cool and a few were cooler than others were. One of the coolest was a person named Jay.
Jay worked at Frontier records, an independent label out of San Francisco best known for releasing Suicidal Tendencies’ first album. It sold enough to fund their operations for a few years and, along the way, signing a few good acts that were totally different from the label’s main source of income. Jay turned me on to a good Thin White Rope album (one that I am still looking for today, In The Spanish Cave) and I can never thank him enough for encouraging me to listen to American Music Club’s third album, California.
A lot of people are going to claim that they new American Music Club during their early days, but allow me to call bullshit on that. Nobody heard of American Music Club in the late 80’s, me included. In fact, if Jay had not been doing his job, I would have overlooked California, and from what I remember, there were a lot of college stations across the country that ignored Jay and did not bother to take it out of the shrink-wrap.
That’s a shame because almost instantaneously I could recognize that leader Mark Eitzel was doing something special with his words. Musically, it didn’t fit with anything being released in 1988, which may have contributed to the album’s ultimate demise. Pedal steels, acoustic guitars, and a gentle restraint abound throughout the record, which made it an anomaly among its peers.
All of this lends perfectly to one of the country’s best and overlooked songwriters. Eitzel’s light shines brightly here, perhaps never to be matched again, with “Somewhere,” “Lonely,” and “Blue And Grey Shirt” being the three cuts that we whittled down from the album and placed on the station’s playlist.
“Blue And Grey Shirt” was an unusual choice, but it’s the best song on the album. Eitzel sings of a friend’s final days after suffering from AIDS. Brilliantly subtle, the line “Where’s the compassion/To make your tired heart sing/’Cause I’m tired of being a spokesman/For every tired thing” speaks volume at the lack of empathy that the Reagan administration seemed to demonstrate towards the victims of this unfortunate disease.
Most of the songs on California fall into a category of slow to medium tempo, brooding folk-country, “Bad Liquor” breaks that mold and fails miserably. At less than two minutes, “Bad Liquor” sounds like a shitty song from a farm-league Replacements band, drunkenly barked through a megaphone and destroying the mood that California would have perfectly created otherwise. For whatever reason, Frontier records stupidly chose to promote this particular cut, sending radio stations with a pint of shitty peach schnapps with an American Music Club’s “Bad Liquor” label placed strategically over the original one on the bottle. Clever idea, I suppose, but this was not the track to be focusing on.
Aside from that awful detour, the rest of California is a haunting and overlooked gem that was quietly released to little fanfare. And if not for the dutiful efforts of one underpaid employee at the band’s record company, I would have completely missed it too.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Maybe He's A Leo

In December of last year, Russian President Vladimir V. Putin seemed to hint at naming a successor to his title in March. Dmitri A. Medvedev, a young protégé with no background in the state security services and virtually no power base in the Kremlin, is now poised to win the presidency this March thanks to Mr. Putin’s blessing.
It’s unclear whether Dmitri will merely be a figurehead that enables Putin to run the country from a self-ordained lifetime position behind the scenes. In fact, very little is known about Mr. Medvedev (who is a year older than yours truly) other than he is a former law professor and is a big Deep Purple fan.

I’ll let that sink in for a moment.

Without knowing a damn thing about Dmitri Medvedev’s political beliefs or how effective he will ultimately be as Russian president, I want an American president (or potential candidate) to come out and publicly declare their love for an English hard rock band like Deep Purple. And Cream doesn’t count; that band was merely a clusterfuck of jazz and blues virtuosos. No, I want the heavy shit.

“My name is Mitt Romney, and my favorite album is Whitesnake’s Slide It In.”

“And now, John McCain will discuss immigration and the discography of Uriah Heep.”

“Please welcome ‘The Man on the Silver Mountain,' Mike Huckabee!”

Medvedev is seen as a moderate, a progressive face in an environment of former Kremlin underwriters. But there’s nothing “moderate” about Deep Purple. Even Concerto for Group and Orchestra is heavy by “rock band playing with a symphony” standards, but it would be cool if someone asked Medvedev what Purple album he puts at the top of his list.

If he chooses Perfect Strangers, then we’re headed for another cold war.

Here's some footage when Deep Purple could anihilate any superpower.