Saturday, February 27, 2010

Golden Silvers - True Romance

We should be preparing for the grunge revival right about now, so what’s with the influx of bands during the past few years that seem to focus their gaze on the New Romantic glow of the early 80’s. More importantly, what’s with these bands actually doing it with more accuracy, intelligence, and hooks than, well, since the early 80’s.
The Golden Silvers is yet another entry into the arena with limited guitars, layers of keyboards, and ass moving disco beats. These cats are so legit at their approach that it wouldn’t surprise me if they documented the making of True Romance on fucking Betamax.
For a trio, these Londoners have quite a complex pallet going on throughout their debut. Harmonies are effortless, melodies abound, and the lyrics are surprisingly refined. In “My Love Is A Seed That Doesn’t Grow,” frontman Gwilym Gold laments his relationship inadequacies with impressive metaphors, comparing the rush of love with a tsunami: “I turn within the tidal wave/to greet it face to face/but a burning, broken burning bridal veil/is there within its place.”
Yes, True Romance is named in irony as most of the subject matter is based in love lost, love forlorn, and love unrequited. But there are moments of playfulness: “Queen of the 21st Century” takes a swipe at the paparazzi culture, where every hair must be in place, and every piece of clothing sponsored by a brand-name designer. “Gonna make myself into a painting” Gold declares, “A masterpiece of lies that can pose.” It was written well before the incident, but I immediately visualized the emaciated Ralph Lauren Photoshop as of late. What begins as a playful character study suddenly turns dark at the end of the song, when the lead character realizes that he needs to “take my razor blade and carve away the years.” When the finality of his vanity is in sight and “the blade is blunt and won’t cut any deeper” Gold coldly deadpans that he’ll “push so hard that all I do is bleed…Gonna cut til there’s nothing left of me,” The morbid delivery then meets up with a three-part harmony of “Oooo oooo oooo” and the upbeat tempo resumes.
What’s missing from bands of similar nostalgia is the idea of a song-cycle within a full-length release. There are many bands of late that adequately capture the feel of the key tracks of their influences, while failing to examine how many of those bands also released some pretty complete albums too. For example: as good as ABC’s “Poison Arrow” or “The Look of Love” is, the album its housed on (The Lexicon of Love) is even better.
The Golden Silvers seem to understand this, and they’ve created a debut that’s filled with singular moments pancaked between album tracks of equally high caliber.
The result is that True Romance is not only one of the best pop albums you’ll hear all year, but one of the best offerings you’ll hear since the era it’s aligned to.
If bands like Golden Silvers can deliver records as good as this, then I have no problem if the guitars and flannel stay in storage for a few years longer.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Richard Hawley - Truelove's Gutter

I think a good way to determine if you’d enjoy Richard Hawley’s Truelove’s Gutter, the former Pulp guitarist’s fifth solo release, is to recall the “candy colored clown” scene from David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. In it, Frank Booth visits his crime partner, the suave dandy and heavily made-up Ben. After getting down to business, Frank insists that Ben lip-synchs Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” in a form of celebration. The emotional swell of the performance causes Frank to feel vulnerable, to which he immediately stops the music and demands “Let’s hit the fucking road!”
If you feel moved by the haunting atmosphere of Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams,” and take comfort in reflective crooning that owes an obvious debt to mid-twentieth century pop songs, then you will be drawn to Truelove’s Gutter.
The rest of you, however, may feel bogged down by the album’s relentless snails pace; it is deliberate and admirably detailed, but it is also extremely susceptible to the listener’s overall mood. This is not the album to play on Saturday night, Sunday morning, or when you’re on the outs with your old lady. Truelove’s Gutter is mope music to the highest degree, but it’s one that elevates pathos to near genius.
Hawley vocal talents are nowhere near the level of his obvious muse, Roy Orbison, but they in no way try to sound like them. Where Roy’s tenor was an instrument of unmatched beauty, Hawley utilizes a mellow baritone and it blankets the sparse arrangements with a mysterious fog.
In “Don’t Get Hung Up On Your Soul,” one of the album’s finest moments, Hawley competes with a musical saw. For “Remorse Code,” he weaves a two-chord pattern for over nine minutes with an echo-laded hollowbody accompaniment. By the time of the closer, “Don’t You Cry,” he brings in an array of exotic instruments to sustain the atmosphere for nearly eleven minutes.
During “For The Lover Give Some Time,” Hawley presents a love song to his wife with such unchecked affection that it can be uncomfortable to witness. “Maybe I will drink a little less” he promises her, “Come home early and not complain about the day/And give you flowers from the graveyard, now and then.” These are words of devotion that most men would only say in private-if at all-and the fact that Hawley is secure enough to utter them on an album is strangely compelling.
Compelling and uneasy at times, just like Dean Stockwell’s performance as Ben in Blue Velvet. If you got through that scene and could handle the weight of its crumbling beauty, then Truelove’s Gutter is definitely worth seeking. If it made you feel at all uneasy, then Richard Hawley’s elegant homage to lush, retro pop vocalists will have you longing for a joyride.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Jack Penate - Everything Is New

The title is bullshit-this is straight up UK pop that would fit snuggly in between your ABC and Paul Young singles, albeit with a less refined take on pale white soul. But give the boy a little time-he was just a gleam in his dad’s eye when Young’s No Parlez was released-and give him a few more records to fill out his collection, because Penate is eating up influences like Andy Clark ate a shitload of sandwiches for lunch in The Breakfast Club.
Everything Is New is Penate’s second effort, and he is already taking listeners to places that even he has never explored. Sounds of Cuba, Brazil, Nigeria, even regions of the U.S. are visited within the nine tracks, and don’t believe for a minute that this youngster went into these sessions with such a worldview in mind. If anything, credit this travel itinerary to producer Paul Epworth.
But Penate does manage to take each musical postcard and weave his sensitive heart around each new beat, texture, and culture. Jack Penate may not have been the inspiration for this new direction, but it’s clear that he was inspired by it.
What’s even more impressive is the place Penate was at just two years ago. The debut Matinee was roundly crucified for its Housemartins-lite reprise singles and endless videos, which always seemed to find Jack running after lost loves and pledge devotion to fictitious women.
Women and relationships still seem to be the focus of Penate’s lyrics and you begin to wonder why all of these simple professions of love are dressed up with passport stamps.
Instead, all of this world-pop fuss is merely about the heartache and pathos of one young white boy who’s found out what it’s like to lose their cherry to the British music press.
Ironically, Everything Is New is just as nostalgic as its predecessor, but the difference is how comfortable Penate sounds in this new direction and how authentic Paul Epworth makes him sound in it. The album may offer him a reprieve from the vitriolic press but it’s also good enough that it should offer more attention for changing course towards a challenging new direction.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Polvo - In Prism

Just when you think that Polvo would forever be delegated to a world of indie-rock obscurity, along comes Explosions In The Sky to remind the rest of you how great this Chapel Hill band was. But leave it to the band themselves to demonstrate how great they continue to be, a full twelve years after releasing their last platter and calling it a day.
To be honest, the stakes were probably higher than you realize. That last effort (Shapes) sounded like a swan song. It was a nice nod to the classic rock origins entertained the band’s Far East indulgences. As alienating as that album was, for me, it was a perfect way for a band who practically strangled nearly every last novel sound a human could make with an electric guitar to end their career.
So I approached In Prism with the required amount of hesitancy and with the drama that is my own personal history with this band. Even with both of these cynical inclinations, I couldn’t be happier with what I’m hearing and with what I’d expect to be a long shelf life of future plays.
There are noticeable differences between Polvo then and now. Most obvious is in terms of fidelity; this is simply the best sounding Polvo album ever released and I’m sure it has everything to do with how technology has afforded everyone the opportunity to glean state-of-the-art recordings for a penance. The band enlisted noted producer Brian Paulson to frame this reunion together, and part of In Prism’s success is definitely the result of his efforts.
But the other is the band themselves, who now take a different approach to their guitar deconstruction. Whereas tone and obtuse chords were the rule of old Polvo, the band now obviously relishes the ability to play together again. Guitarists Ash Bowie and Dave Brylawski weave in, out, and over each other with such potency that even the most quiet of interplay comes out as mindblowing.
The progressive noodling may be off-putting to some, but it is a logical extension of getting older with the guitar and getting better at navigating it. While Exploded Drawing and Shapes may be exercises in what sounds can be extracted from an amplifier, In Prism shows the band looking at what sounds can come about before the signal even leaves the guitar cable.
This new direction completely plays to the band’s inherent strength, because one of their weaknesses has always been in their lyrics. Not surprisingly, the prose is nothing short of mediocre with more than a few eye-rolling moments (“The peddler arrived on a cold day/with no one to call on/And nowhere to stay”).
You won’t notice them though, because you’ll be too enthralled with the fretwork to keep track of what’s being uttered over the mic. While Shapes may have been a nice way to end Polvo, it is In Prism that renders it obsolete in terms of an exit strategy. More importantly, it’s good enough for me to hope the band never considers leaving again.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Monday, February 22, 2010

INXS - Underneath The Colours

My obsession with INXS ran so deep that I actively sought out other items, up to and including high-priced items of their back catalog. In case you’re wondering, those earlier releases weren’t as good their more famous counterparts and if I would have just waited, I would have gotten those less-than-stellar releases in their domestic re-release configurations and saved a buck or two.
But here it is, an import Aussie copy of INXS’ second full-length, Underneath The Colors, which shows some movement towards a tighter sound, while still wallowing in the unfocused spin of new wave pop.
“Stay Young” sounds like a precursor to “To Look At You” from their next album at first, until you get the chorus. Then you realize why Shabooh Shoobah was the breakthrough-they worked until the songs worked from start to finish.
The title track shows promise and a few other tracks hint at the greatness to come. But hadn’t it been for album three, four, and five, no one would have given two shits about Underneath The Colours and that’s the honest truth.
And if you do give two shits about INXS, you certainly have to agree that this is indeed an album of transition-a band who were lucky enough to document themselves growing into a tight and slightly funky outfit, even though they came from the very white confines of New Wave pop in a location that wasn’t fully discovered.
Even though Underneath the Colours needs to be prefaced with all of this, there’s no need to invest much time in observing a band discovering who they really are and who they’ll eventually come to be.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Church Announce 30th Anniversay North American Tour

Last year I had the chance to see the Church on their supporting tour of Untitled #23. Now comes word that the band will embark on their 30th Anniversary tour here in North America.

From the Second Motion Records press release:

After three decades together, the church return to North America for a special 30th anniversary acoustic tour throughout April and May 2010. “An Intimate Space” will include songs that span the length of the church’s epic creative trip from their debut in 1980 to their latest critically acclaimed 2009 album Untitled # 23.

In a unique and unusual execution, the band will choose one song from each of their considerable album releases and perform them in reverse chronological order. This original show will have the audience gliding softly down through the years, opening with a track from Untitled #23 before embarking on a fantastic voyage through time ultimately arriving at their first Australian album, Of Skins And Heart where it all began.

This engaging and rare performance is not to be missed.

To make these shows even more special, every ticket holder will receive a free copy of Deadman’s Hand, the third EP from the Untitled #23 album. This EP will include the title track and unreleased tracks from the band’s secret vault. A must have.

Dates confirmed as follows with more to be added in the coming weeks..

The Church
An Intimate Space 30th Anniversary
North American Tour 2010

2 – San Juan Capistrano, CA – Coach House
4 – San Diego, CA – Anthology
5 – Los Angeles, CA – The Roxy
6 – San Francisco, CA – Great American Music Hall
8 – Portland, OR – Mississippi Studios
9 – Seattle, WA – The Showbox
13 – Minneapolis, MN – Fine Line Music Café
14 – Madison, WI – Majestic Theatre
15 – Chicago, IL – Park West
17 – Cleveland, OH – The Winchester Tavern and Music Hall
18 – Ferndale, MI – The Magic Bag Theatre
19 – Pittsburgh, PA – Club Café
21 – Boston, MA - TBC
22 – NYC – City Winery
23 – Bay Shore, NY (Long Island) - Boulton Center for the Performing Arts
24 – Sellersville, PA (Philadelphia) - Sellersville Theatre
25 – Falls Church, VA (DC) - State Theatre
27 – Annapolis, MD – Rams Head On Stage

1 – Atlanta, GA – Center Stage

Saturday, February 20, 2010

30 Years After The Death Of Bon Scott

I’ve spoken about Bon Scott’s death before and am re-working another Back In Black piece from year’s prior, but I can’t ignore the 30th anniversary of Bon’s passing without saying something.

Has it been that long?

My cousin and I are fixated on his passing and with the subsequent album Back In Black. More recently-on the completely unreliable Blabbermouth comment section-several people alluded to the fact that UFO knew about some of the foul play involved with Bon’s passing.

To bring you up to speed, the official story went like this:

Bon Scott had spent the first few weeks of February, 1980, writing songs for the next AC/DC album On February 19, he went to AC/DC’s tour manager Ian Jeffrey’s house for dinner and left around 6:30pm. He was to meet UFO’s Phil Mogg and Pete Way at the Music Machine, a venue in London. They never arrived. Bon continued drinking-reportedly consuming at least seven double whiskeys at the bar until it closed around 3:00 am on the morning of the 20th. A long-time friend, Alistar Kinnear, was with Scott at the time and offered to drive him home.

When they reached Scott’s apartment, Bon had passed out and Kinnear was unable to move him. Kinnear proceeded on to his own home where he went inside to retrieve a blanket. He went back out to the car, reclined the seat (bad move) covered up his still passed-out friend and retired into his home. He put a note on the blanket with his address and phone number, in case Scott woke up disoriented in these unusual surroundings.

Fifteen hours later, he left his flat and saw Scott still in the car and totally unresponsive. Kinnear freaked and drove the body to King’s College Hospital where they determined that Scott had inhaled some of his own vomit while passed out in the car.

And we all know you can’t really dust for vomit.

Much has been raised about the nature of his death-it was a very cold night in London and others (including Ozzy Osbourne) have speculated that he passed from hypothermia. Others questioned why Kinnear chose to leave Bon outside in the cold and even a few suggested foul play. It didn’t help that the local press misspelled Kinnear’s name, fueling conspiracy theories and suggesting that Scott didn’t really die at all.

Bon Scott doesn’t seem like someone who would go to any lengths to construct his own disappearance. As a man rooted in blue collar upbringing, he was doing what he loved best with AC/DC and all of his/their hard work was starting to pay off at the time of his passing.

And to blame Kinnear for his death is unnecessary. I’m sure the man was plagued with guilt the moment he saw Scott’s cold body still in his car. Scott was an adult with a drinking problem, and to think that someone was supposed to babysit him after he chose to overindulge is not fair. I look back on my own life and I recall more than one occasion where someone was left in their car to sleep it off, based entirely on the fact that lifting a grown man up some stairs while trying to get them into a residence just wasn’t about to happen.

One Blabbermouth commenter suggested “They (UFO) have a good idea what happened but refuse to talk about it.” Another commenter suggests that UFO were also around The Pretenders’ James Honeyman-Scott on the night that he passed.

Weird. Any insight to either of these would be appreciated.

But the real story for my cousin and I is what happened after Scott died. There were reports that members of Albert Productions-AC/DC production company-later visited Scott’s flat and exited with some personal belongings, namely a notepad with lyrics and song ideas. The only proof to this is how quickly the band developed Back In Black after Bon died, with a new singer who has gone on record to suggest that songwriting is not his strongest suit and that he has a particularly difficult time composing material with his new bandmates for Back In Black.

When you look at the songwriting credits after Back In Black, you’ll notice that Brian Johnston’s name suddenly evaporates, and on the tracks that he does receive compositional credits on, they’re worthless. No where near the level of Bon’s material and not even close to the songs that appeared on Back In Black.

It’s been suggested that Back In Black was, for the most part, completed and ready to record when Bon died. After all, Scott was using his time in London to finish up some songwriting duties.

There’s also speculation that there is demo material which contains songs from Back In Black featuring Bon Scott on lead vocals. The Young brothers deny this and have yet to produce any recorded evidence of it, and why should they? Back In Black is one of the world’s most successful albums and to admit that most of it was created with Bon still in the band would mean they’d have to correct the songwriting credits and provide the estate of Bon Scott with a huge windfall of royalty checks.

I’m not suggesting foul play, but Back In Black does sound like the work of a new band following the same pattern as their former frontman. And after a few albums in with Brian at the helm, they sound like a completely different band (lyrically) again, admittedly not one with the same level of lyrics that they’d managed before. Of course, some suggest that the band continued lifting from Scott’s notebook all the way to Flick Of The Switch before completely running out of material, forcing them to come up with things on their own.

And what did they come up with? “Sink The Pink.”

Nothing would change if the truth did come out or if these accusations were systematically dismantled by the band (Maybe they have been; provide links in the comment section if you know), but I’d sure like to hear how these songs sounded with Bon up front, even in their skeletal form. It’s selfish, I know, but it’s also selfish to keep Scott out of the picture of one of the most successful albums of all times if he indeed had a hand in creating it.

Adding to the drama? Alister Kinnear went missing at sea over three years ago and was just recently listed as officially declared dead.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Flash Mob At Iowa City Hy-Vee

There were more than friendly smiles in every aisle at the Hy-Vee on First Avenue in Iowa City. A buttload of City High kids all got together last Saturday morning at did a nifty flash mob while shoppers looked on in terror.

Meanwhile, at the Hy-Vee where I shop at in C.R., they gave us free samples of Ugli fruit and had blood oranges on sale.

Doug Fieger R.I.P.

It was the summer of 1979 and my family and I were traveling to Michigan for vacation. As we were driving, the AM radio in our Dodge Aspen station wagon was tuned to the only tolerable station with enough watts to make it through most of the entire journey. The old man hated fiddling with the controls while driving-it was a job that he later delegated to me, but because I was only twelve years old at the time; he didn’t trust me enough to let me make the decisions.
WLS in Chicago was a Top 40 station back then, and by “top 40” I mean that they truly seemed to play just 40 songs over and over. It was designed for commuters, not for long distance travelers. And if your band was fortunate enough to have a hit in the top 10, then you were guaranteed that your song would be played enough times that it would be permanently engrained into the minds of station listeners.
There was one song in particular that captured my attention during that trip, not just because it was played every two-and-a-half hours, but also because it was so downright infectious. Early on in the trip, my Dad acknowledged that it was pretty awesome and my Mom could be seen in the back seat (she actually liked the back seat better so she could read magazines, thereby allowing me to be closer to the radio’s monophonic speaker that was hidden in the top of the dash) singing the chorus. By the end of the trip, both of them were sick of the song, and I vaguely recall one of the WLS DJs commenting that they were playing the song far too often.
“My Sharona” was the kind of hit that you just don’t see today. It was written by Doug Fieger, a guy that sweated through a bunch of anonymous L.A. bands for years before meeting up with three session players with similar talents. Something clicked, the quartet changed their name to The Knack and they found themselves with a massive hit that others would kill for.
It was so massive that “My Sharona” ended up killing them.
How do you repeat a success like “My Sharona?” You don’t, but you should be able to maintain a bit of its popularity for a while. The misconception is that The Knack were one hit wonders. They actually had a pretty big follow up with the awesome “Good Girls Don’t” and their follow-up contained “Baby Talks Dirty,” a complete re-write of “My Sharona” that managed to hit the top 20. Heck, there was even a song from their third album that reached the lower tiers of the top 40.
It wasn’t that Doug Fieger couldn’t write another hit song, it’s just that no one wanted to hear another hit song written by Doug Fieger. Much of the criticism the band faced during the fallout of The Knack was completely unfounded and undeserving, but Fieger did little to try to counter it. His silence was perceived as conceitedness, and when he did talk to the press, he sometimes came across as an asshole. The rock press wanted Fieger to come across as more grateful than he seemed, never mind that the band's newfound success was about a half-dozen years in the making.
It didn’t help that he was also a decade older than the rest of the New Wave crowd he was typecast with. And it was a bit creepy that the boners he got from “the touch of the younger kind” was something that most fellows his age wouldn’t be bragging about, let alone writing about in tight, three-and-a-half minute power pop songs.
In short, he was old enough to know better.
But he was also old enough to know that by continually playing, The Knack would get good. And they were beyond good-particularly on that first record-they were great.
I think the most telling thing about Doug Fieger’s character was that I never read an article where he seemed bitter about not being able to follow up “My Sharona” with the same amount of success. He seemed resigned to the fact that he knew “My Sharona” would be the only song people remembered him/The Knack by and that he’d spend the rest of his life playing that song to smaller venues and during countless nostalgia packages. It didn’t stop him from playing it well either; he was a professional musician before “My Sharona” and each gig was treated as a chance to demonstrate that.
Many people were surprised at how good that he and The Knack were during their performance on Hit Me Baby One More Time, but please, a talent like Fieger could knock out a rendition of Jet’s “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” in his sleep.
Shortly after turning heads on that television competition, Fieger began a five-year long battle with cancer. He sadly lost that battle yesterday, but it’s fitting that the horn dog decided to pass on Valentine’s Day.
He was 57.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

She Fell In Love With A Drummer

Nothing says “Happy Valentine’s Day” like a creepy picture of Ginger Baker.

I remember my initial attraction to Ginger came at the hands of my father, admittedly not the best authority of drumming. He continually referenced the drum solo in “Toad” as the reason for his opinion.
It wasn’t until I got older and had a good idea of what constituted excellent drumming ability before I realized that maybe Ginger wasn’t all he was cracked up to be. He’s got a lumbering presence when he plays, and I think his playing in Cream actually distracts from the frenetic pace that Clapton and Bruce undertake while trying to outdo each other.
When he played on Masters Of Reality’s Sunrise On The Sufferbus, I began to re-appreciate him.
I still think “Toad” is a piece of shit, but looking at Baker’s contorting face while playing it live makes up for it a bit.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Birth Of Heavy Metal

It may not mean anything to you, but today is a very important day to any fan of heavy metal. On this day, forty years ago Black Sabbath released their debut album and with it, invented the genre itself.
Black Sabbath may not be metal’s finest hour and it’s arguably not even the band’s best moment. But when you’re considering groundbreaking achievements and you realize that everything before it were mere building blocks, then you certainly must admire the house that these four young men from Birmingham, England managed to create with Black Sabbath.
When you reside in a dead-end town, the reminders of your limitation become a daily occurrence. Thanks to The Beatles, Black Sabbath discovered that their one chance to escape might come with music. Unfortunately for them, they weren’t very talented and even less good looking. But the Beatles planted a seed of possibility, and that’s all they really needed to get things started.
So after tasting what their future would probably look like while working at local factories (except Ozzy, who would prove to be unemployable), the four young men got together to work out their frustrations of the day through music.
Unfortunately, their music was merely a weak attempt at the blues chords they picked up here and their. It was so pedestrian that people barely took notice.
Until bassist Geezer Butler noticed how the lines at the theatre got a little bit longer whenever they showed horror movies. What if they incorporated some of those very same spooky elements into their music? It was worth a shot and, luckily for the rest of the band, Geezer himself had an affection for black magic, movie monsters, and the dark forests of English mythology.
Also helping the band was a tragic accident involving guitarist Tony Iommi while he was working at the factory. He cut off the tips of two of his fingers, which caused him to approach the guitar a little bit differently. For the first two Sabbath albums, he used a lighter gauge strings to assist with his injury and then eventually began loosening the strings to a lower tuning, giving the guitar a menacing bite.
He remembered a chord progression that he’d heard in church one, applied it to his Gibson SG and created “the devil’s interval,” a musical tritone that they applied to their signature tune, “Black Sabbath.”
All of this talk of things that went bump in the night appealed to Ozzy, who suddenly began to find a muse in Geezer’s dark book collection. Meanwhile, drummer Bill Ward found all of this newfound inspiration as a great excuse to beat the shit out of his drum kit, hitting the skins like they were the skulls of every boss who belittled him, every teacher who said he’d amount to nothing, and every asshole in Birmingham who commented on his haphazard appearance.
I’m sure they didn’t even realize what they’d done after the album was released. Not only were the members of Black Sabbath not the smartest lads on the block, they were immediately met with critical disdain and a bit of dismissal from their own peers.
Lester Bangs strongly panned the effort, incorrectly associating the debut as a mediocre version of Cream. He’d later see the light-or darkness, as it were-but his review began a tradition of making fun of Black Sabbath’s perceived dimness and the fans that flocked in droves to bear witness. The fact is, Black Sabbath were probably awful students, but history has proven their instincts to be a much more worthy counterbalance to anyone with a higher education.
Black Sabbath is the first chapter in metal’s collegiate textbook. It was released on Friday the 13th in 1970 as a simpleton joke created by some “clever” record executive, but its vitality was clearly beyond the grasp of those who saw a quick buck when it was released. Forty years later, it still sounds heavy. More importantly, it still inspires. Not with just those who align themselves with metal’s dark aggression, but to anyone who dreams of escaping a dead end job, a limited town, or the elite oppressors who feel lineage prevents others from obtaining similar opportunities.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

That'll Be The Day We Let You Out Of Your Contract

What a find. Thanks to our man in France-Perry Leopard-for finding this fascinating recording of Buddy Holly history.
In it, Holly uses a bit of aw-shucks passive aggressiveness when contacting his former record label (Decca) to confirm that he is indeed a former member of their roster and to see if he could take the half-dozen or so songs they passed on and use them as he saw fit.
Seems logical enough, until the label president Paul Cohen points out that the tunes are the property of Decca, based on the merits that the label helped fund the recording session.
Holly then offers compensation to reimburse the label for the cost of those sessions, to which Cohen refuses.
Throughout all of the conversation, Holly peppers his dialogue with a respectful tone, voicing his displeasure with the company with such politeness that Cohen offers a half-assed commitment to listen to whatever new material that Holly is working on with the remote possibility to release it.
One of those songs that Buddy was trying to get back from Decca was “That’ll Be The Day.”
Recorded half an octave higher than the version that became a hit, Holly managed to weasel around the restrictive Decca contract by releasing it under The Crickets.
The best part of the story is how it resembles the more notorious Wilco story several decades later: The Crickets were signed to Brunswick Records, a subsidiary to Decca. In another bit of sticking it to the man, Holly signed a solo contract with Coral Records-another Decca subsidiary.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Worst Super Bowl Party Ever is The Best Super Bowl Ad Ever

I thought the Betty White ad was hilarious.
I felt the “Don’t touch my Mom or my Doritos” ad was cute.
But it was the Letterman, Oprah, Leno ad that made me look for my wife.
I had to tell her, but I’m not sure if she understood the enormity of it. The fact that two former friends, sidetracked by the politics and ridiculousness of network television, could come together for comedic purposes is amazing. The ad was only 15 seconds long and now we’re discovering the logistics involved in producing such an “event.”
Keep in mind, it’s going to be a matter of weeks before Leno and Letterman are at each other again-squaring off in the ratings wars just as it was a year ago.
I’d like to think that this spot-and Letterman’s karma in general-will prove Dave to be the decisive victor in that war. But I have no idea what prompts Americans to align themselves with things like Jay Leno, George W. Bush, C.S.I. Miami, and Taylor Swift.
However, I think all Americans can agree: the promo spot featuring those three celebrities is hilarious.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Who's Halftime Super Bowl Performance

I had a strange feeling when I heard The Who would be halftime performers for this year’s Super Bowl. A band that presented diametrically different possibilities: on one hand, they were a band that at their prime would have utterly destroyed a gig like that one Sunday night. On the other hand, half of the band’s driving force is no longer with us, rendering the band as a brand name instead of a virile machine.
There is another factor to the equation of if they would be a worthy performer, and it was immediately pointed out by wife, who sat down on the couch next to me and went “Pfft! They’re old.”
They are indeed old. Daltry can no longer hit “the note,” Townshend’s windmill looks like he’s nursing a torn rotator cuff, and their credibility seems incredibly tiny as-like I stated before-over half of the band’s driving force is….
You get the idea.
I was immediately drawn to Zac Starkey. The dude is a handsome bastard and that kit he was playing-clear acrylic shells with Who bull’s-eye cymbals-was awesome eye candy.
And the light show was fantastic. I remembered a similar feeling when I saw this same line up a few years ago; how far have we come where the lighting/art director has become a critical component in the Who’s live attack?
Meet the new Boss.
Now meet his Technical Director.
The band didn’t embarrass themselves-they just embarrassed their heritage. This certainly wasn’t the band they originally envisioned, was it? And I have a strong feeling their younger selves would have shuddered at the thought of someone older than their parents would be singing about a teenage wasteland.
It was a tidy set, limited by design to allow for any danger. You don’t know how much I was gunning for a quick guitar smash from Pete at the end-just a quick acknowledgement of the chaos of their earlier years, the cherry on top to all of the Mod imagery swirling around the lights.
But it was not to be. A post performance rub down was not part of the contract terms, I guess.
As a spectacle-a successful halftime show-I’d give it a passing grade. It was well behind the stunning Prince performance from a few years ago, but ahead of Tom Petty’s tepid medley.
But as a fan, one who wants younger generations to understand that The Who for many years were the best band working, their halftime performance was an utter failure. It didn’t motivate anyone to examine the band long play statements, and it did nothing to hint at their live prowess.
I suppose it’s too much given their age, but you’d think that they’d want to retire in front of the biggest audience of their career the same way they entered it: dangerously.
Won’t get fooled again.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band Soundtrack

I’m beginning what I’ll call the Mother-In-Law series, which is merely a handful of long-players that she brought to me because she knows that I like music.
Evidently, this is a common phenomenon; I’ve heard that my cousin’s in-laws also hand over the occasional vinyl album and my father is also a fan of the “Here’s some scratchy old albums that you beat to hell when you were little” gift.
“I remembered that you liked The Beatles,” she said as she handed over the records.
As I noticed the familiar cover of the Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Soundtrack and chuckled a little.
It was this album that ignited a passionate hatred for the Bee Gees, Peter Frampton and Alice Cooper and it caused me to think that Aerosmith may indeed have a problem with drugs.
Understand that I liked all of them up until that album-hell, I even tolerated the shitty I’m In You for Frampton-and now he does this to me?!
The movie is awful, but the soundtrack is just as bad with Aerosmith throwing out a decent cover of “Come Together” and Earth Wind & Fire offering a nice version of “Got To Get You Into My Life.”
These have proven to be the only two good tracks on the album,
Did I mention it’s a double?
Every thing else is just awful and with George Martin’s name on the project, it’s an embarrassment.
What I don’t understand is how even at that young of an age (12) I knew this thing was going to be a bust. So how did a group of smart adults let this thing get started?
Who knows? But Robert Stigwood dropped a fortune on this thing to the tune of “bankrupt” almost immediately after people started to notice that this thing smelled like a turd.
It worked for a moment; the album reference, Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, and that wild and crazy guy Steve Martin got us all excited to see the movie. The trouble was, nobody could remember what the hell the film was about only five minutes after we left the theatre.
I wish I could say the same thing for the soundtrack.

Monday, February 1, 2010

And Of Course Harry The Horse Who Dances The Waltz

My daughter and I share some eerie similarities. She’s four months shy of her third birthday and I’ve noticed some of the very same patterns that I displayed when I was her age: a fascination of water towers, a perverse sense of humor, and an obsession with music.
The boy, who’ll be seven in four months himself, is more of a sensitive cat with more of a “help me with this level of Mario Bros” kind of attitude. He too has an attraction for music, but he’s more of a ham and likes putting on a little show for everyone.
And while they’re both social animals, the girl does enjoy going up to her room alone sitting at her desk and playing music.
Unfortunately for me, her music consists of two cds: the aforementioned original cast to Hairspray, a children’s cd with a bunch of kiddy songs like “The Itsy Bitsy Spider,” and a substantial children’s playlist in both my and my wife’s IPod.
There is no “Itsy Bitsy Spider” on those, but there is a couple of Laurie Berkner songs, a few tracks from Yo Gabba Gabba and-gulp-a Hanna Montana song, or as the baby describes it “Hantana.”
Even though it was my credit card used to buy that Miley Cyrus gem, I’m still trying to assert my influence with the other tracks on the playlist and with a recent even spurred by my own memories as a child.
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was in constant rotation in my 3-year-old bedroom, along with Jesus Christ Superstar and the Original Case Recording of Hair. My folks should have probably hidden both from me as Hair is way inappropriate for a three-year old (even though they don’t know about cunnilingus or fellatio) and Superstar just for the fact that the 39 lashes part freaked my shit.

But Sgt. Pepper’s?
Hell, I practically learned how to talk with that album.
Thanks to last year’s remasters, I now have two cd copies of Sgt. Pepper’s, so what better time than to give my daughter her very own copy of the album just like my parent’s did for me. The difference is that I really think my folks used music as a way to not have to deal with me whereas I’m using it as a way to turn my kinds into music obsessive weirdoes.
After all, it’s so much easier to walk around with a chip on your shoulder because of a Smiths’ song instead of any real life event.
I give her the disc and she looks at the cover.
“Is this yours, Daddy?” she asks inquisitively.
“Yes, but you can have it now.”
“Here you go, Daddy.” she says, trying to hand the disc back to me. She doesn’t understand what a rare event it is to have me give a part of my collection to someone.
After she figures out that she can keep my 1987 copy of Sgt. Pepper’s, she goes to her room to give it a spin. I hear her through the baby monitor the familiar words “It was twenty years ago today” and smile, thinking that I have done something meaningful.
Suddenly, before you can say “Billy Shears,” the song stops and I hear her fumbling with the cd player. She runs back into my bedroom and tries to give the disc back to me.
“Here you go, Daddy.” she offers. “I don’t like the Beatle bugs.”
I plead with her, explaining that there is more than one track to listen to. I tell her that “For The Benefit Of Mister Kite” is about a fun circus, suggest that the sitar in “Within Without You” is actually a kitty cat singing, and remind her that Ethan thinks “When I’m Sixty-Four” is a great song.
“I don’t like the Beatle bugs!” she repeats again, growing frustrated that I’m not taking her criticism seriously.
Finally, we compromise. I suggest that she keeps Sgt Pepper’s because “One day, you might like it.” I put it under her other two cds so that it doesn’t distract her from her true favorites and within moments I hear the familiar refrain “Good morning, Baltimore!” as she spins the Hairspray soundtrack for the millionth time.
At least I know that a splendid time is guaranteed for all when she’s ready for it.