Monday, February 24, 2014

Ghost - Opus Eponymous

I discovered Ghost with the second album, Infestissumam, a regrettable decision that was made in haste and nearly derailed any additional interest in the band. Take it from me, don't make the same mistake: begin your exploration of this Swedish sextet with their debut, Opus Eponymous.

If it weren't for the band's wonderful religious imagery and their incessant praising of Satan, chances are good that I would have probably ignored Ghost completely from that moment on.

Call it the devil's work or blame it on some subconscious backwards masking, but there was something compelling to me about a band working with an image that is most associated with aggression, volume and lots of testosterone while using an abundance of pop and melody in their quest to acquire your soul for the underworld.

The dichotomy was addictive, and the more I immersed myself in discovering Ghost, the more I began to appreciate their unique mission statement.

You have to understand that I grew up during a time where any association with the devil was viewed negatively. Sure, it may have been a little titillating to have a hint of Satanic imagery to gain interest in your music, but if you had any desire of financial success or commercial intent, you had to suppress the pentagrams and play nice. And part of "playing nice" meant making sure your product was acceptable to the record buyers of Sam Walton's joint and the God-fearing local business owners who made Motley Crue turn in their barely visible pentagram for the cover of Shout At The Devil into a boring quartet of photos of the band in garish make up.

Things were so bad that even televangelist Jim Bakker's network in the early 80's gave an hour a week to a show devoted entirely to "outing" bands with Satanic references and other suggestive evil matters. When the devil material got light, they would often spend an inordinate amount of time looking for backward masking on records and other issues of concern like sex, drugs, and doing drugs that may lead to sex. If it wasn't for this show, I would have never known the message "It's fun to smoke marijuana" could be heard if you played Queen's "Another One Bites The Dust" backwards.

My point is this: had the band Ghost tried any of this Satanic jive back in the day, they would have been crucified (ha!) by religious leaders and other do-gooders who didn't see the band's over-the-top theatrics as anything but a complete threat to our nation's youth.

I mean, you've seen Paradise Lost, right?

By 2010, the world was ready for a confirmed group of devil worshippers, at least not the kind that burn historic churches and eat the brain splatter of a fellow band member's successful shotgun suicide. No, Ghost are the palatable devil worshippers, the kind where their look oozes irony and their lyrics read like make believe Latin and lazy memories of the Anglican Book of Common Prayers.  Fronted by Papa Emeritus, a Pope-like religious figure in skull make-up and supported by 5 masked and anonymous musicians known as "nameless ghouls," Ghost slightly suggest some elements of evil on a visual scale, but the shear audacity of their bold religious image is hard to accept as anything more than an ironic statement of our world's curious history with Christianity and evil.

This is all confirmed within moments of Opus Eponymous, the band's debut album. They're from Sweden, which also contributes to their lack of possessing any real threat against humanity, particularly since some of the band's initial seed money came from art grants divvied out by the Swedish government .

But the real nicety is found not within the band's peripheral image or religious doctrine, it's in the music itself. While undeniably a hard rock record, Opus Eponymous noticeably light on the aggressiveness. The keyboards are mixed as high as the guitars, leaving Papa Emeritus with plenty of room to sing without the aid of any cliched metal effects whatsoever.

Opus Eponymous reveals hints of Blue Oyster Cult's more accessible moments as well as hints of late 80's prog metal favorites Voivod, if they'd pointed their songs towards the bowels of hell instead of outer space.

"Lucifer, we are here/For your praise, evil one" sings Emeritus, showing neither much conviction in the topic itself, or much concern for intimidating the listener. His ambivalence towards metal's notorious history of nutswinging machismo is unsettling at first, but positively refreshing after repeated listens. And thanks to the record's good melodic sense and abundant parade of hooks, it is quite possible that Opus will amass more listens than you probably should admit to.

The guitars are impeccably appropriate, closely following warm, retro tones and vintage appointments. Besides tactful organs which are used abundantly throughout Opus, Ghost have enough smarts to let the bassist-again, listed as another "Nameless Ghoul"- tackle the low end without letting it be ruined by endless drop-D tuning strategies. Everything is wonderfully recorded in what sounds like a very analog environment. The performances are clever and tactfully restrained, representing a very respectful tribute to the era of music that it is obviously indebted to.

The impeccable musicianship makes it so much easier to sing and quietly giggle along with Emeritus' constant praises of Satan ("The Devil's power is the greatest one"), usually bordering on Cliffs Notes edition of religious phrases ("Hear our Satan prayer/The anti-Nicene Creed") with the occasional songs about Elizabeth Bathory, a royal Hungarian 17th century serial killer ("Her acts of cruelty/Her lust for blood/Makes her one of us").

Opus Eponymous is perfectly suited for vinyl, with its tidy running time and its cheesy Gothic cover art. As with any bit of seventies worship, Opus comes complete with the album's lyrics found inside its gatefold sleeve, written in some impossible read font that's as fun as shit to follow along to while you're giving it a spin. You'll be able to confirm the lyrics online if needed, and certain sites even provide song meanings as supplied by fans and devoted listeners of the record. The site that I visited listed "It's about Satan" as the explanation of every song on Opus Eponymous, and that explanation is entirely correct.

Not that it matters. You'll be able to recite every single ridiculous chorus, particularly since they're so infectious and enormously fun to sing along with. It was suggested that I failed to notice that important element -"fun" - in my review of Ghost's second album, and I suppose that criticism is somewhat fair. But it works better here on the band's debut, because the record's focus is so tightly centered on one topic (Satan) and the band's blueprint is based entirely on spreading the message of evil in the guise of a very entertaining thirty-five minute long package.

The pop elements, the strong performances, and the band's theatrics all combine perfectly to create a refreshing and unique approach that works surprisingly well in today's ADHD culture. For me, I think that the appeal was discovering a band that focused on something beyond the walls of reality, right out of the gate to the point where I relished the idea that Ghost isn't content with modest intentions. Ghost seems to be arena-ready from the start, a goal that is practically unheard of since hair metal got buried with Nevermind's ascension over two decades ago.

Maybe it's taken that long to be ready for such blatant attempt at lofty desires. Or maybe it's taken such the dramatic appearance of a make-believe Pope and his Darth Vader masked minions to make this kind of yearning to be acceptable again.

One thing is for sure:  if you sit down and put on the second side of Opus, you'll find that it's damn near perfect- that is, if that corn cob of pretentiousness that's lodged in your ass isn't too out of reach. It's a great blend of hard rock's mid-70's worship with a very legitimate attempt to recreate some similar magic for today's rock and roll virgins. Because - I don't know if you've noticed - hard rock isn't what it used to be, and its lack of eye-catching excitement probably has something to do with it no longer being the bond of our youth. And while I'm certainly not suggesting the death of hard rock/heavy metal's is here or even imminent, I do notice a decline in its influence among our youth.

To correct this, I see nothing wrong with eliciting the help of Satan himself to make sure the impressionable ears of our youth at least give hard rock a chance. Perhaps that's achieved with a band working something that's bigger in scope that what their garage or basement can provide or what their laptop can help create.

Perhaps that's achieved through the efforts of a Pope, his evil minions, and a few songs about the devil.

And that's fine by me too, because everyone knows that Hell's got all the good bands anyway.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Peter Criss - Out Of Control

Pretend for a moment that you're the drummer for America's most popular rock band. Despite not being a very accomplished drummer and an even less talented singer, you've managed to score a Top 10 single that propels your group to superstardom and your limited drumming skills are still recognized enough to be considered "influential," albeit mostly for appearance rather than ability.

Is all of this enough to cash out and go solo?

Some may claim it was Peter Criss' ego that led him to quit KISS, while others may cite the drugs, pressure or the sheer displeasure of having to work with Gene Simmons. Whatever the reason, if Criss' first solo record from 1978 was any indication that embarking on a solo career was the wrong career direction entirely, his second offering Out Of Control confirms it.

Teaming up again with longtime collaborator Stan Penridge, a friend from his pre-KISS days who co-wrote "Beth" and is all over that 1978 solo monstrosity, Out Of Control was supposed to serve as Criss' first foray into post-KISS independence. And like the solo record before this, life on his own seems to be a very challenging place for Criss as it resides in the middle of his hard-rock persona and his obvious comfort with more standard rock fare.

"Looks like this time I'm on my own/Starting over again" Criss muses with the syrup-laden opener "By Myself," an obligatory nod to the obvious. But whatever all by myself jive that Criss tries to impose from the get-go is nothing but baloney, particularly when the second song reaches into KISS' own limited arsenal of hooks and lifts straight from nemesis Simmons' hit "Calling Dr. Love" for "In Trouble Again." In fact, the rest of Out Of Control is so dismal that you almost wish Simmons' would have sued Criss for copyright infringement, thereby preventing it from ever obtaining a release date.

It is the work of mere obligation instead of any real inspiration. Out Of Control is a lazy recording of two mildly talented buddies pissing away one man's lottery winnings on the misguided notion that there is an audience for a old top cat who has used up his nine lives already.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Chelsea - Chelsea

Let's say you're like me, a masochist, and you set out to review the first Peter Criss solo album from 1978, released as part of the band's solo record project where all four members released their own solo record simultaneously, but as KISS.

Follow me?

Anyway, during the course of reading about why that record was such a piece of shit you discover that Criss drummed for another band called Chelsea, and they actually released a record for Decca several years before KISS had ever formed.

And as a masochist you dig deeper, to the point where you actually go and check out this lone Chelsea record, because you are curious: "Just how bad can this band be?"

I suppose it depends on what you consider to be "bad," but the short answer is "pretty bad" with the asterisk by the overall rating indicating that it "has some weird vibe" to it that qualifies Chelsea as a worthy garage sale find, if not for the fact that it contains Peter Cris(s)' first recorded offering, but because it is a slice of how clueless record companies were in 1970, seemingly signing bands with such blind (and deaf) reasoning that an album like this was even considered.

But here are the things that make Chelsea weirdly alluring:

  1. It was produced by the same dude that produced Van Morrison's Astral Weeks and Moondance.
  2. That same dude also produced John Cale's Vintage Violence album.
  3. John Cale performs viola on Chelsea for two tracks.
  4. One of the tracks features him with oodles of reverb, giving the performance a very droney and weird vibe.
  5. The lone track composed by the entire band, "Polly Von," is clearly designed to be the band's "epic" and is somewhat intriguing. It comes complete with strings and an endless guitar solo on one channel while a reverb-laden one is found on the other.
  6. More reverb.
There are many more things that make Chelsea less alluring, primarily:

  1. Chelsea-the band-never seem to discover what kind of band they are. One moment they're folk, another they're a trippy psychedelic band, sometimes they get a little bluesy, and others they want to rock out.
  2. The singer is devoid of personality and an awful songwriter.
  3. Peter Criss' drumming is notably shitty.
The best that frontman Peter Shepley can come up with is along the lines of "It's a long long river/So just let it run/It's a long long journey/But there's only one" ("Long River"), which was probably heavy as fuck at the time, given the amount of drugs these N.Y.C. hippies were ingesting. The worst would have to be the line "hard rock music" repeated over and over ("Hard Rock Music") while Criss inexplicitly bangs on some bongos.

Squint hard enough and you can hear some kindred spirits with the Velvet Underground, particularly with Cale's brief cameo. But such squinting can also make a migraine, which is ultimately ill-advised since Chelsea can produce enough of a headache on its own thanks to the band's endless parade of indecision and meanderings.

In other words, Chelsea is much better than Criss' 1978 solo offering and, to be completely honest, it's better than a bunch of titles in KISS' catalog. But other than the novelty of serving as a footnote to KISS' pre-makeup history...excuse me, kisstory...there is very little need to seek out Chelsea.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

KISS - Peter Criss

When the members of KISS decided to take advantage of their stardom by releasing four records simultaneously, the decision merely accentuated the reality that the band's real talents were noticeably restricted to just a few members - and even then, the talent was either in short supply or frustratingly sporadic.

With Peter Criss, there was at least a sliver of potential since the drummer of "the hottest band in the land" was the only member to actually have a major label deal with a record company prior to his cat makeup, albeit briefly with the one-record offering of his previous band Chelsea.

The band imploded while recording their second album, which is not saying a lot since they were never really that good to begin with. So why on Earth would Criss return to leftover material from Chelsea's second album when it came time to slop together songs for his first solo record after being blessed with KISS' golden ticket success?

Chock it up to drugs, pressure, or that aforementioned talent void, because Peter Criss not only ranks as the worst offering in KISS' misguided solo project venture, it quite possibly be one of the worst records ever presented with a platinum disc for sales exceeding 1,000,000 units.

Dreadfully overproduced and rigidly performed to the point where any passion has been sucked dry from the performance, Peter Criss is a mirror of the excess that began to infiltrate the KISS line-up. It's also a testament to the KISS Army for how much they were willing to endure for the logo and the band members who facilitated mediocrity.

Criss peppers his solo album with weak and misguided attempts at what can only be described as jazz/disco/soft rock blend, propelled by his tepid drumming and his Chelsea cohort Stan Penridge's anonymous guitar work. Female backing vocalists are added to sweeten the mix while horns pop up on several tracks, making some songs sound like outtakes from the jingle factory. A pointless cover of "Tossin' & Turnin'" is added as a nod to Criss' youth, while side two finds him giving up the percussion duties entirely to a session player, giving him more time to focus on his vocal abilities. Admittedly, the vocals probably deserved a session player more than the drums

Clocking in at a mere 35 minutes, Peter Criss could be viewed as a bold attempt to distance the artist from the choreographed bombast of his more notable group offerings, or at least a glimpse at the kind of music Criss really enjoys outside of the make-up and pyrotechnics. But that would require at least a hint of some fundamental ability or at least a desire to create something somewhat memorable.

There is no evidence of either on this record. Instead, Peter Criss marks the first KISS record that confirms every single critic's complaint about this band while gutting their credibility entirely.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Funky Drummer (Part III)

"The name of this tune is 'The Funky Drummer'" I told my son as we left the parking lot of Target. He came with me to pick up a few needed items for dinner that night, mainly because he was driving his Mother crazy at home, the result of some serious cabin fever for both of our children because of the never-ending winter we seem to be experiencing this year in the Midwest.

I pushed play and James Brown began to count off the song, a seven-minute long classic that would easily make its way into my "greatest songs of all time" list, if I ever thought I could compile one. The only reason "The Funky Drummer" made its way into the stereo of our minivan this evening was because I thought it would be perfectly timed from our journey from Target to back home, hopefully ending with Brown's naming ceremony at the end of the song as soon as we pulled into our driveway.

My son tolerates such impromptu music lessons, because if I don't occasionally target a few of these acknowledged classics for him, his musical knowledge would be dictated by the playlist of our city's Top 40 station, and influence he listens to nearly every night when he goes to bed.

I suppose I did the same thing at his age, but my upbringing was a lot more musically adventurous that what he currently displays. He loves music to some extent and even sings in his school's chorus, but there is little evidence that he has the same passion for music that his father has, and every now and then some tutoring is needed.

"This is one of the most sampled songs in history." I explained, immediately remembering that he probably has no idea what sampling is. The explanation is going nowhere, but then he asks something that hints at being remotely interested in what I'm telling him.

"When was this song recorded?" he asks.

"1969." I answer affirmatively.

"No it wasn't!" He corrects, even though I know he has no idea what the hell he's talking about. I take my Rock & Roll history somewhat seriously, primarily out of necessity of self-preservation rather than attempting to be a trivia snob trying to assert authority. Considering this, I retort with the commanding "E, you don't know anything about James Brown, so how do you think you know when 'The Funky Drummer' was recorded?"

I swear to God, this is how I interact with my son. With that being said, his historical knowledge of professional wrestling is impressive. He even reminded me once that Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka may have killed his girlfriend in 1983.

"James Brown?" replies my son. "I thought you were talking about Chris Brown!"

It's true: "The Funky Drummer" will turn 45 this year, and the drum break that inspired Mr. Brown's last minute song title has been the foundation for untold numbers of rap and R&B tracks during the last three decades, continues to inspire countless artists and listeners with its infectious beat.

If sheet music exists for "The Funky Drummer," it probably only takes a page. The basic pattern of the song would run a full measure before the instruction on the next measure read "Vamp til ready" and then ended.

Each member of The James Brown Orchestra gets a nod, punctuated by Brown's own verbal observations and direction. He enthusiastically yells "Bring on the juice!" before saxophonist St. Clair Pinckney starts his solo. When Pinckney gets near the end of his spot, Brown affirms "Still good!" allowing the horn player to blow for a few more measures. When things really begin to cook, it prompts a few "Good God!" and "I got to holler!" a few times throughout the rest of the song's seven minutes.

By the fifth minute of the track, we had pulled on to the last street leading to our home. There was no way that I would disrespect the Godfather of Soul by ending "The Funky Drummer" early, particularly if it's because of my inaccurate travel time calculations.

We would simply drive around the block.

This of course led to the inevitable chorus of "Are we going around the block?" and "Why are we going around the block?" almost overshadowing Brown's notice of what his band was up to.

"Fellas! One more time. I want to give the drummer some of this funky soul here." James interrupts. "You don't have to do no soloin' brother. Just keep what you got!" he instructs the man keeping such an impeccable ass-shaking groove. Clyde Stubblefield probably made $40 for his work on November 20th, 1969, possibly earning enough for a decent Thanksgiving meal for his family. I'll leave it to you to ponder if this is sufficient compensation for a drum pattern that ended up being used on million sellers and providing other artists with much more financial security.

"Don't turn it loose...'cause it's a mother!" James advises Stubblefield, before telling the rest of the band, "When I count to four I want everybody to lay out and let the drummer go. When I count to four I want you to come back in."

And just like that, Stubblefield is left alone with his spontaneous spark of genius. For eight full bars, Clyde delivers his groundbreaking drum pattern unaccompanied, becoming the focal point and namesake of the song itself.

By the time Brown counts off the second time, we've made our way around the block and I hit the garage door opener to the faded refrains of "The funky drummer...The funky drummer" "So! Wasn't that one of the best songs you ever heard in your entire life?" I ask my son as we slow into the garage, sure of what the answer will be.

"It was OK." he responds, completely lacking anything resembling enthusiasm.

He's on his way inside while I stay seated, jaw dropped that he didn't have the same kind of visceral reaction that I did when I first heard "The Funky Drummer."

"Cut off the lights." I mutter to myself as I kill the headlamps on the minivan.

 "And call the law."

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Squeeze - Argy Bargy

In high school, I worked as a lifeguard for the municipal pool during the summer months. The managers were usually a few years older than the guard staff, so every year they would come back from college during summer break and tell us how awesome university was while tempting us with their driver’s licenses and breaking out some bullshit pool hierarchy whenever we underage drinkers asked for a hand in buying some booze.

One of the things that they did share with us was the occasional mix tape featuring “college music” and other tracks from what students supposedly listened to while they were away from home, their cabinets filled with plastic Chinet plates, Graffix bongs, and copious amounts of Everclear grain alcohol.

Their music taught me that my concept of college life was completely off. I mean, how can you explain one manager’s love of Phil Collins and Supertramp? There was obviously nothing remotely smokeable coming from that dude’s dorm room and nothing to indicate that he was actually putting that collegiate independence to good use.

But another manager did have a few challenging tapes that he would bring to the pool, some of which actually fell outside of the idea of “mainstream.”

One afternoon, he popped in a cassette in the pool’s primitive stereo system that pumped music over the weatherproof speakers and provided customers with the hourly routine pool checks, where we would force everyone out of the pool at the top of the hour and see if we missed any dead bodies sinking to the bottom of the pool.

Playing a personal cassette over the p.a. system was a big no no. We were under some vague instructions to leave the radio tuned to the local top 40 station as it was enjoyed by more customers. But hear me when I say that after an afternoon, twirling your whistle in 90-degree Iowa humidity, the last thing you wanted to hear was Michael Sembello‘s “Maniac” four times during your shift.

So it was a great relief to hear a foreign, yet familiar sound of a Beatlesque guitar coming from the tinny fidelity of the pool’s all-weather speaker. It was hard to make out the words, but the voice sounded similar to that of John Lennon’s, singing about “Squinting faces at the sky / A Harold Robbins paperback.”

The record—Squeeze‘s Argy Bargy—continues to serve as one of my own musical clarions to announce the summer solstice. It is the closest that the band got to their well-deserved Fab comparisons while managing to point to a direction that may have ultimately transcended those lazy associations.

The song I heard that day, “Pulling Mussels From The Shell,” and the track that kicked off side two, “If I Didn’t Love You,” are the two most recognized gems from Squeeze’s primary songwriters, Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrookn. They may have been college radio favorites at the time they were released, prompting my manager to tape a copy of Argy Bargy for his own collection, but the rest of the record was full of wonderfully smart pop songs that the manager agreed to let me tape with his dual cassette dubbing unit.

The source tape was his TDK SA90 cassette, which I used as well for my copy. It was a little more expensive than the cheap blank cassettes that I used, but I figured that the dude was in college, so he must know that chrome-oxide tapes sounded better than those normal bias ones.

The second-generation tape hiss wasn’t too bad, and I attributed it to the bitchin’ high-bias tape I bought and the treble-killing Dolby B noise reduction that I used during the high speed dubbing process. Upon playback, I noticed something weird during the awesome song “Vicki Verky,” a great slice of up-tempo acoustic Beatlemania towards the end of the album. In the middle of the song, the Squeeze composition suddenly dropped out and I could hear the familiar refrains of a Beatles song playing backwards for about 15 seconds. Always up for a game of Beatles trivia, I determined the vocal part of the chorus was none other than George Harrison and the song in question was “Love You To” from Revolver. How it ended up on my tape is unknown and why it plays the segment backwards is one of life’s mysteries.

But it gave my dub copy of Argy Bargy character and I kept that cassette even after I properly got my own copy on CD many years later.

What isn’t mysterious was how Argy Bargy managed to cross-generational boundaries. A few years later, I became one of the managers of that municipal pool, and one of my first acts as a big shot was to put in that tape of Argy Bargy, just like old times. Years later, one of the female lifeguards remembered that tape, and evidently inquired about it after I played it. She got the annunciation wrong, but I understood her perfectly when she asked if I could make her a copy of that “Argee Bargee” album that I used to play at the pool during the summer.

There was also my own father, who became a fan of Squeeze after allowing me the opportunity to play Argy Bargy in the car on our way to a short getaway one summer. To get through an entire album without my father advising, “Let’s listen to something else now,” was a rare event, but it was even rarer to have him request, “Put in that Squeeze tape!” when we ended up on the beach off a lake where my aunt and uncle lived in Illinois. Maybe the Fab melodies got to him, or maybe it was just the after effects of the lake that cooled the nuclear power plant nearby.

I think it’s the melodies; they’re as fresh today as they were thirty years ago. The melodies are the reason you’ll still catch a one of their most popular classics while shopping for groceries. In fact, “Pulling Mussels From A Shell” came up the other day while the iPod was on shuffle as I was cooking dinner.

“That’s where I’ve heard this song from!” my wife announced, explaining that the song would frequently play at her store’s music channel, causing her to break into a spontaneous, “And I feel like William Tell,” in front of her co-workers who weren’t as familiar with the work of Squeeze.

The truth is, everyone should be a bit familiar with them, and I hope with additional spins of Argy Bargy my wife won’t begin to think of her place of employment the next time she hears their songs.

Because Argy Bargy is great enough that it should be honored with worthy memories. In fact, the band themselves point that out during “If I Didn’t Love You” with a line that has pretty much served as the Cliff Notes of my own musical obsession: “Singles remind me of kisses / Albums remind me of plans.”

A lot of both were created with this frequently overlooked gem.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Talk Talk - Spirit Of Eden

I’ve told the story of how I stumbled upon Talk Talk‘s Spirit Of Eden before, but that story doesn’t illustrate much into how jaw-dropping brilliant the album is and how because of that it can inspire other bands to make like-minded epic statements.

To start with, we need to go back twenty years ago…the year that Spirit Of Eden was made…and try to convey how completely unexpected it was. Leader Mark Hollis had made a few Talk Talk albums up to that point that were literal definitions of New Wave music. In fact, he made good New Wave albums, the kind you weren’t necessarily ashamed of, but nothing that demonstrated that they were capable of much beyond the genre they were originally attached to.

They were successful at it, scoring a few hits here stateside (“It’s My Life” and “Life’s What You Make It”) and probably even a few more in their native England. To try to deviate from their proven method was probably met with enormous resistance from band members, record company executives and fans alike. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it…and Talk Talk seemed to be pushing ahead just fine. Why Hollis then chose to create album number four with such a huge gulf compared to his previous work is curious. It only becomes clearer the moment you hear Spirit Of Eden for yourself: it’s because Mark Hollis was channeling something much more than sheer muse itself. It was as if there was indeed a higher power manning the controls of Hollis’ pen and the studio control room.

You hear it immediately: organic instruments, horns, strings, choirs; these are major steps away from Talk Talk’s previous synthesizer tinkering. Hollis’ voice also seems to be channeling cathartic powers as he muses on such themes as addiction and loss. There’s a moment on “I Believe In You,” a song about the perils of heroin, where Hollis musters a defiant “Enough! Ain’t it enough, crippled world?” that brings tears to my eyes two decades after first hearing it.

With six tracks clocking in at forty minutes, Talk Talk cleverly place jazz-like arrangements underneath wide melodramatic atmospheres. It’s slowly paced (the first hint of “rock” takes seventeen-and-a-half minutes to appear) but never boring. The drama that Spirit Of Eden creates keeps you glued to it for that entire forty minutes and will stay with you for years afterwards.

This post originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Mirror Travel - Mexico

Formerly known as Follow That Bird! Austin, Texas' Mirror Travel have grown to become a local favorite, while national notoriety has become somewhat more eluding, thanks to the label nonsense holding their debut hostage for some time and the cement block of their previous band name holding them back some too.

You can almost hear the band's rebirth in Mexico, as the recording of the debut transpired in Marfa, Texas-a progressive high desert community of 2,000 people. The isolation afforded Mirror Travel to focus on their arrangements, and what's finally offered is well worth the wait and well suited for a larger listen.

The extra focus is critical as Mirror Travel mine dreamy shoegaze soundscapes with an honest link to their psychedelic grandfathers. What follows often begins with a few measures of garage rehearsal before opening up the garage doors to pay homage to vast array of desert stars with extended moments of textured jams.

The gnarlier basement blasts are found towards the front, particularly with the rapid-fire "I Want You To Know" and the three-chord/two-thirty title track. By the time you've made it to side two, the tracks start edging past the five minute mark and the additional time unleashes a completely new identity for Mirror Travel.

With "Pinholes," Mirror Travel have made the leap to dream pop bliss even before they double-time everything around the two minute mark and really make it purr. Around minute five, it feels like they might be ready to wrap things up, but then drummer Tiffanie Lanmon puts a little extra umph in her ride cymbal and starts the whole thing up again, until it finally crumbles to a close about a minute later.

Lanmon is a wonderfully intuitive drummer, providing nuances that would have been lost with a heavier hand. Her touch contributes greatly to the airy bounce that compliments the ever-present reverb found on Lauren Green's vocals.

While lacking in noticeable range, Green's voice does offer Mexico a very distinct personality. But it's her guitar performance that is the record's biggest surprise and most impressive contribution. As a power trio, there is a rather large void to fill in the required dynamics of any rock band, particularly one that navigates with such dream pop intentions. And since Mirror Travel rely on matters like distortion very conservatively, Green doubles up her guitar duties with some textured picking that's pretty intricate at times. It's two very distinct personalities when she takes on this role, and it seems to suggest that she's able to adapt her playing, offering a range that isn't noticeable in her vocal abilities.

On "Young Gold" they break out the old "So You Want To Be A Rock and Roll Star" one-two and reprise the whole garage biography before unleashing the album closer "Stoner." Again, there's little beyond a few chords and a questionable beat, but that's enough to muster up some pretty awesome dramatics captured in this West Texas studio.

Mexico resembles the long drive that begins at dawn and ends in the middle of nowhere, perhaps a dangerous spot in Mexico where there's a chance you may not have the necessary means to get back into safe hands. As the record clearly demonstrates, the road leading to this drama is both strangely compelling and infectiously mysterious.

It's no wonder why I kept making repeat journeys with this alluring soundtrack.

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Baker's Dozen Best Recorded Mistakes In Rock History

Now that practically everyone can piece together a digital workstation that enables musician to have unlimited tracks and unlimited editing capabilities, you'd think that recorded music would be completely devoid of any noticeable mistakes, either performance wise or from the actual recording itself.

But what about the idea that there's nothing wrong with a warts-and-all document? Have we completely moved to a point in our recorded history where everything must be perfect? Do we auto-tune those vocals that are a tad sharp in one spot? Do we punch in a better drum pattern when the drummer speeds up during the second chorus? Do we wipe away the scratchy guitar cable in the middle of a solo and replace it with a better take?

While there is still a group of musicians who relish the idea of documenting a performance rather than record one, the notion that we can "fix it in the mix" has become more of the norm than simply leaving well enough alone. There are lots of recorded examples of bands, producers and engineers who just decided "Fuck it" and left their noticeable mistakes on the final mix for us to hear, catch and wonder "Why didn't they fix that?"

The short answer has got to be "money," as a lot of these selections were probably recorded under tight deadlines and financial restrictions that prevented the band or artist to stop and give it another shot.

Another plausable reason is that some of the engineers might have thought that 99% of the listeners wouldn't even catch the mistakes, creating a climate where it wasn't even worth addressing since only the obsessive would catch it. To prove this point, consider how many of the following titles you've hear multiple times from the list below only to be surprised that there's a mistake at all.

And then there's my favorite reason of all: the artist just doesn't care. They wear the mistake like a badge of integrity, reminding us that rock and roll is a product of passion more than technical prowess. By its very definition, rock music should not get so bloated that a proficient performer gets top billing over a novice who's bottled magic within their three chords and naughty rhythms.

Rock music does a pretty good job of reminding us about this about every decade or so, but here are 13 of the best examples of when mistakes were left on the final takes and inspirations on letting the tape roll on and allowing listeners to hear that rock and roll isn't supposed to be perfect all the time.

1.) The Kingsmen – “Louie Louie”

“Louie Louie” by The Kingsmen is arguably the greatest rock and roll song in the history of the genre because it represents the art form to perfection. The story begins when a group of teenagers from Portland, Oregon notice their peers getting up to dance to Rockin’ Robin Roberts’ version of the song every time the song plays on the jukebox. They decide that they need to cover the tune, with the hopes that they can elicit a similar reaction from their audience. They rehearse the song for a whopping hour-and-a-half, entirely by ear, rushing the tempo without even realizing it. The next day, the five members pool together $36 for an hour-long session at a local recording studio. The studio only had three microphones, with the third one serving as merely an open mic, rigged from the ceiling. Jack Ely, vocalist for The Kingsmen, had to yell above the din just to be heard. On the first take, Ely came in on the third verse a bit too early. “No problem,” he thought, “this is just a run-through. We’ll do another take.” But no another take was ever committed to tape, and to The Kingsmen’s chagrin, the first and only take of “Louie Louie,” a song they had just learned how to play, was used as their debut record. Because of the primitive recording technique, and because Ely had a mouth full of braces, the lyrics were widely interpreted to be offensive. “I smell the rose in her hair” suddenly became “I shot my load in her hair” among other ridiculous examples of mondegreen. Ultimately, The Kingsmen’s version of “Louie Louie” – warts and all-shot up to #2 on the charts, surpassing any other version of the song. Ely’s mushmouth delivery and pre-mature third verse, made no difference, and may have even added to the song’s raw glory, further spurring the dreams of garage bands across the country that anything is possible, even on the first take.

2.) Syd Barrett – “She Took A Long Cold Look” > “Feel” > “If It’s In You”

Recorded on the last day of a marathon session (for Syd) in a make-or-break effort to fill out an album’s worth of material for Barrett’s debut solo album after being kicked out of Pink Floyd. This trios of songs were placed towards the end of the record in an almost audio-verite document of the artists declining mental health. The songs feature Syd with only an acoustic guitar, the songs barely rehearsed and obviously still in progress. It’s high drama some forty years after they were recorded, and it must have been even more shocking when it was first released. You can hear Barrett fumble with a notebook as he reads the lyrics for “Long Cold Look,” one hand still strumming the guitar while the other turns the page. At the end, he knows that it won’t be enough for his two hard-nosed producers, David Gilmore and Roger Waters, hired with the sole intention of getting something, anything, out of this crumbling genius to widen The Madcap Laughs running time. “’Bout short” he sighs, knowing that he still needs to provide more material. He struggles through one take of “Feel,” trying to find the chords and, perhaps finding meaning in the words “Away/Far too empty/Oh so alone/I want to go home/Oh find me inside a nocturne.” By the time he tackles “If It’s In You,” he’s had it. He struggles with the high note before telling the control room “I’ll start it again…I’ll start it again.” There are moments of banter between Syd and the control room before he pleads for them to just let him get through the song. It’s a challenge. He rushes it, hitting a verse too early before giving up entirely, reducing the words to gibberish (“Yummy yam yum yum”). As the song reaches its tense ending, you can hear Barrett mutter something, perhaps his plans for escape and a life of seclusion.

3.) The Beatles – “I’m Looking Through You” (US Version)

Capitol Records, the label most associated with The Beatles’ early U.S. releases, would notoriously cherry pick through the bands recordings, add a bunch of reverb to them and then repackage them to unsuspecting American fans. As stupid as this strategy sounds, these treated masters were what most of the band’s fans ever knew, until their catalog was corrected and unified in 1987, when all of the titles were released on compact disc. Then a strange thing happened. A lot of people (including myself, who grew up listening to and who practically learned how to talk to such titles as Meet The Beatles, Yesterday…And Today! and Beatles VI) missed those blasphemous mixes. Since Capitol Records is in the business of selling the same shit to you over and over again, they re-introduced some of the Beatles Capitol albums and mixes in two box sets (still waiting on Volume 3, fellas). Within minutes, Beatles fanatics knew that something was afoul with the mix for the American version of Rubber Soul. Not only did the record have a different track listing and sequence, it also featured a brief flub by George Harrison at the beginning of “I’m Looking Through You.” For some reason, the mistake only appeared on the American version of that album, and fans who spend their every waking moment noticing things like that suddenly wondered why the mistake was nowhere to be found on the mono mix of the song. You read right, the error was only noticed on the mono version of the song (The Capitol Albums, Volume 2 featured both stereo and mono mixes). It was discovered then that Capitol had inadvertently included a “fold-down” mono version of the record instead of the true mono mix. These created a shit storm among Beatlemaniacs who demanded an explanation as well as a new copy of the mono mix. Harrison’s flub is, literally, a few seconds, but to Beatle fans, it was the principle. Of course, Capitol Records offered a full swap if you sent the offending disc back to their pressing plant in Jacksonville, Illinois-something that I took advantage of. Between you and me: I wouldn’t have even noticed the difference until someone else had a conniption. The irony of all of this is that Capitol Records created another rarity with this error of an error, and I’ll bet you $100 there are plenty of Beatles fans out there with both copies in their collection, probably even sealed.

4.) The Rolling Stones – “Gimme Shelter”

If I’m going to put the Beatles on this list of mistakes, I’ve got to make room for their Satanic counterparts, The Rolling Stones. This one was easy, and is probably a song that everyone reading this has heard a million times without even noticing the mistake. And the reason why you don’t even notice the mistake is because the mistake is so fucking awesome. If you’ll recall, the Rolling Stones were just the second album into their unbelievable run of records. The year was 1969, and Let It Bleed perfectly mirrored the horrific events of the day. With the Vietnam War in full swing and America’s penchant for assassinating anyone that seemed to be trying to change the course of things, it was perfectly understandable that our world seemed destined for annihilation. Stones vocalist Mick Jagger penned the appropriately titled “Gimme Shelter” for the record and knew he needed to have a duet partner with extra-ordinary abilities to help him with the track. At first, the Stones wanted to have vocalist Bonnie Bramlett sing it, but she was ill and not able to perform. Legendary soul and gospel singer Merry Clayton was solicited next and she arrived at the studio with not only an impressive resume, but also with an unborn baby inside of her. The tape rolls and the two go at it, building with the song’s tension until Merry’s voice breaks during the second refrain of “It’s just a shot away.” Immediately after this line, she pushes further, until her voice completely gives out during the third and final refrain of “Rape! Murder!” The emotional delivery causes Mick to yell “Wooo!” which is audible in the final mix of Let It Bleed. The mistake and Jagger’s reaction to it was left on the track because it transformed “Gimme Shelter” into one of the greatest songs in rock history, but the cost of the performance had an awful price: Merry had a miscarriage of her unborn child after she returned home from the recording session. Here's an unbelievable isolated track of the the vocals:

5.) Motorhead – “We Are The Road Crew”

Part of what makes Motorhead so awesome is their fuck all attitude, and that attitude is in full display on “We Are The Road Crew,” the band’s three minute ode to their roadies. Like practically everything else the band did, the song is a breakneck juggernaut, more than likely fueled by copious amounts of speed and an unrelenting sense of economy. For example, the song features not one, but two blistering guitar solos by “Fast” Eddie Clarke, with the second one featuring him going apeshit on his wah-wah pedal. At about the 2:22 mark, Clarke loses his balance in the studio and falls to the floor, causing his guitar to feedback uncontrollably. The tape continues to roll, and Eddie takes about 10 seconds to get back on his feet, the guitar continuing to squeal the entire time. Fully stabilized and completely unfazed by the incident, he then continues to solo through the song’s remaining half-minute fade out. The fall remained on the final mix of the track for their classic Ace Of Spades release, and its attitude is what makes the record as vital today as it was when Eddie first took the plunge onto the studio floor.

6.) Steely Dan – “Aja”

Steely Dan constants Donald Fagen and Walter Becker are notorious perfectionists and, as far as albums are concerned, their 1977 release Aja is about as perfect of a recording as you’ll ever hear. Hell, for the song “Peg,” the two nitpickers made guitarist Jay Graydon perform take after take of solos until they found one to be satisfactory. All of this perfection came before the idea of Pro Tools was even created, so that meant that either 1.) you had to redo a live performance until you got the performance right or 2.) you had a swift producer who was able to “punch in” certain performances into a complete take, a strategy that really only works for easy issues with vocals or, occasionally, instruments. But what if you’re in the middle of a complex, eight-minute long title track with tons of Mingus-style chord progressions, and even a few complex tempo changes thrown in for good measure, when your drummer suddenly fucks up in the middle of a drum solo? If your drummer is legendary jazz percussionist Steve Gadd, and the offending mistake is a very audible click of his sticks, you play it off legit! For nearly twenty years, jazz scholars praised the offending “click” as an intentional and brilliant break, before Gadd admitted in an interview once that he fucked up. Fagen and Becker may be perfectionists, but they are far from stupid. Gadd simply crushes the rest of the song, and since the offending mating of his drum sticks is miraculously in time and in the middle of an incredible solo, let wisely left it on the final take.

7.) Dusty Springfield – “Son Of A Preacher Man”

Dusty Springfield was both a perfectionist and very insecure about her abilities. When she arrived in Memphis, Tennessee in November of 1968, she met with legendary producers Jerry Wexler, Arif Mardin and Tom Down to record an album that was designed to match Dusty with the same creative team in which her own idol, Aretha Franklin, had found success with. They even presented her with “Son Of A Preacher Man,” a song that The Queen of Soul had originally rejected, but they felt it still had potential. Dusty fell in love with the track, but she struggled with her vocal takes, citing that she felt uneasy about not being able to match the same level of talent of the artists that graced the studio before her. Perhaps she should have listened a little more closely to Memphis Cats’ bassist Tommy Cogbill, who is far from perfect in his low end delivery. At around the 1:25 mark, Cogbill returns to an A note a bit early, but it’s so brief (and his performance is so smooth and sultry throughout the rest of the song) that the mistake stayed on, and “Son Of A Preacher Man” reached the top 10 in the States. As far as Dusty was concerned, she ended up scrapping all of her vocal takes in Memphis and recorded her parts in New York City. The irony of this story is that when Aretha heard Dusty’s version of the same song she passed on, she went and recorded it for her This Girl’s In Love With You album. When Dusty caught wind of Aretha’s version, she demurred to the Queen of Soul and began adopting her phrasing whenever she performed it live. And speaking of bassists and Dusty Springfield: while recording in New York City, Dusty stopped by Atlantic Records’ headquarters and told the top brass that they should sign her old bassist’s new band. That bassist’s name was John Paul Jones.

8.) Led Zeppelin – “Immigrant Song”

So how do you make skinny little, open-shirted Robert Plant sound like a conquering Viking? You put a bunch of echo behind his voice as he yells “Ahhhhahhhhhhhaaaaa!” The trouble is, studio equipment-like echo machines-were very primitive back in 1970, and if you’re Jimmy Pages, putting together tracks for your band’s latest record while touring, you tend to forget things like, oh, I dunno, like TURNING DOWN THE POT TO THE ECHO UNIT AS YOU BEGIN ROLLING TAPE! Hammer of the Gods, my ass! The echo unit starts to pick up the ambience of the tape hiss, it reproduces the hiss, making it grow louder and louder with each passing cycle until you’ve got a bunch of it inadvertently counting off the first track of your third record. But like the waves crashing against those massive Viking vessels, the mistake worked and was left on.

9.) David Bowie – “The Jean Genie”

While vocal mistakes are much more noticeable, have pity on the lowly bass player who not only seems to be a recurring offender in this Baker’s Dozen list, but probably gets a ton of grief for stuff that nobody notices, except maybe other band members. Trevor Bolder was the bassist for David Bowie’s band during the Hunky Dory/Ziggy Stardust years, so his place in rock music is secure. Bolder just passed away in May of this year (2013), but you might say that he first died forty years when his boss caught him fucking up a bass part and chastised him on record, leaving a permanent reminder of his error. “The Jean Genie” was Bowie attempting to channel New York City, while guitarist Mick Ronson was obviously trying to channel Bo Diddley. Meanwhile, poor Trevor was just trying to channel a basic 4/4 time structure, hitting the notes designated for the chorus a measure too early and causing his boss to exclaim “Get back on it!” Life after Bowie for Bolder consisted of following fellow bassist John Wetton, stepping into his role for both Uriah Heep and Wishbone Ash when Wetton departed. Of course, for me at least, fucking up “The Jean Genie” still ranks higher than any one of Bolder’s later projects.

10.) Mamas & the Papas – “I Saw Her Again”

Written by John Phillips the morning after a blackout night, one in which he woke up naked in bed next to daughter Mackenzie Phillips (too soon?), “I Saw Her Again” was another one of those harmonic, sunshine pop songs that the Mamas & the Papas were notorious for. The origin of the song is actually just as drama-filled as my lame attempt at humor: Papa Denny Doherty co-wrote the song with Phillips after having a brief affair with John’s wife, Michelle. The result of the affair led to Michelle getting temporarily fired from the band while giving the quartet another Top 5 hit in the summer of 1966. At the start of the third verse, you can hear Doherty come in a measure early with “I saw her…” before stopping and then picking up again at the proper point. You’d think that someone would have the sense to simply erase the offending mistake, but it actually was created during the mixing process. Bones Howe, the engineer of “I Saw Her Again” attempted to punch in the vocals for the final verse (so much for thinking everything recorded in the 60’s was live), but did so a tad early. He quickly rewound the tape and lined up the verse perfectly. Trouble was, he forgot to erase his mistake, so when producer Lou Adler heard the mix he also heard Howe’s error. Surprisingly, he thought it was cool and told Howe to leave it. From that point out, they acted like the mistake was intentional but even Paul McCartney wasn’t fooled. “That has to be a mistake.” he told the group. “Nobody’s that clever.”

11.) T-Rex – “Get It On”

Producer Tony Visconti is known as a man with impeccable precision and the pallet of a classical arranger. But put a couple of pretty boys in front of him and add a few joints to the control room and watch him let those rock and rollers walk all over his perfection. For Marc Bolan’s only U.S. Top 40 hit, “Get It On”, Visconti let Bolan add Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman to the final mix by adding only a piano glissando to the tune. Then, he let Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan from the Turtles-known to you and I as “Flo and Eddie”- join as background vocalist. At around 3:20, one of the two tried to add another “Get it on” before the guitar breakdown, realizing at the word “on” that they had overstepped the break. A quick laugh, and all is forgotten as Bolan probably told Visconti to leave the mistake in the final mix. Meanwhile, I’m still thinkin’ that Chuck Berry wouldn’t have allowed it.

12.) Rod Stewart – “Every Picture Tells A Story”

I swear to god, one of the first comments I saw on You Tube while listening to this song was this: “This dumbass son of a bitch sold his soul around 1976, but GODDAMN this tune is unreal.” The sins of Rod Stewart are enormous, but the vitriol like that commenter accurately points out is deserved when you hear how awesome Stewart was before he squandered his talents for commercial tripe. “Every Picture Tells A Story” is one of the best examples of how good Stewart could be, even when he screws up the timing. Not that it matters much as the song is a musical mess. It’s sloppy, drummer Micky Waller doesn’t always keep perfect time, and everything sounds like it was recorded on the first take. In other words, it’s perfect. But what makes “Every Picture Tells A Story” a work of art is Rod Stewart and Maggie Bell singing off each other. There’s no rhythmic meter in their delivery, but they seem to be singing in unison. Except for when Rod rushes the line “Look how wrong you can be.” You can hear him start the verse, but stop as soon as he realizes that Maggie isn’t alongside with him. If only Rod would have headed those words, he may have saved us from such later garbage like “Young Turks.”

13.) The Byrds – “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better”

One of Gene Clark’s standouts, “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better” originally found its home as the flip to “All I Really Want To Do,” but because it’s so awesome, enough dj’s played Clark’s side to have it reach #103 on the charts. During the last verse, bassist Chris Hillman flubbed the bass line during the “I’m not gonna play your games anymore” part. This has caused me to wince every time I hear this beautiful song, because everything else in its 2:35 wake is perfect. This mistake has bugged me for so long that it became the entire reason for this list. And while other mistakes are far more noteworthy, Hillman’s flat note continues to be the one that bothers me the most.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Green Day - Dookie

To be quite honest, considering the 20th anniversary of Green Day's third album, Dookie, was not something I had written down on the calender.

Then I began noticing a lot of attention last week around this record, some of it very passionate accounts of fans who were around the age of puberty when Dookie hit. I point out the age of these writers because it's relevant here. Those are the same years where the emotional bonds with music really begin to take hold. You're suddenly aware of music's ability to adhere with a memory, how the melody can change a mood, and how a lyric can perfectly express the way you feel.

And when you consider how the record's spastic rhythms perfectly matched the Mountain Dew pace of a 13 year-old boy, its punky guitar 'n bass also came with a sugar coating and Billy Joe Armstrong's lyrics could easily be lifted from a Ritalin-gobbling freshman journal penned by any number of rejected weirdos just trying not to be singled out.

Call it the first masterpiece of the ADHD generation, but lets not kid ourselves and put an asterisk by that praise and point out that Dookie's success would not even be possible without the wake that Nevermind created.

There's also a very distinct similarity between these two records, a pair of widely popular efforts that helped define the 90's. They are both indebted to punk rock and have a blatant love of the pop formula, but Cobain's muse feels a bit more natural and certainly more darker than Armstrong's.

To put it bluntly, there's not a thing on Dookie that could pass for pure genius and even at its most basic level, the subject matters discussed throughout the record are little more than the complaints of a chemically imbalanced young American male-a white one at that-who had the advantage of an industry willing to try anything to get a handle on its young audience.

And since Green Day runs on an equal amount of coffee, cream and sugar, the end result was a perfectly positioned package of radio favorites that struck 12-year old ears for the first time. The ones is our area were provided with radio edits of "Longview" that featured special effect noises in place of words like "masturbation" and "fucking," ensuring that it would be another 5 years before the kids would figure out what the song was really about.

Sure, Armstrong manages to sneak in a few moments of personal introspection: "Coming Clean" is a legitimate coming out story written with honesty and braveness and "In The End" is another example of Armstrong addressing deeper emotional matters. But the reality is that the vast majority of Dookie centers around trivial  little dramas, highlighting a new population of  over-medicated teenage boys, addicted to immediate gratification and always opening up about their feelings instead of trying to address the root cause of their discontent first.
Don't ask where Burt is hiding.

Because this all came packaged in a faux punk rock cover (mine still has the Ernie doll on the back) and because there were millions of disinfranchised kids who related to and ate this candy bar up, Dookie became hugely successful and, by default, incredibly influential.

This all boils down to the fact that Dookie is, at its best, a three-star record, but because it now serves as ground zero for a huge segment of the record-buying public and their exposure to "punk" rock, this rating had to go up a notch.

What prevents it from being a five-star record? Its sheer laziness for one. The band cherry picked its riffs, postures and attitudes from the much braver souls before them, and in return they provided a grand statement of so much entitled narcissism that its closer to that turd on the cover than the diamond it received from its sales figures.

Dookie continues to be relevant to the novices that embraced it and related to its made-up dramas, while failing to provide any real incentive to check out the streets in which they came from. You always knew the Ramones were from N.Y.C. You understood that the Sex Pistols were very much a part of London. But with Green Day, the spotlight of the band's former address of 924 Gilman Street has turned into an insular examination of Armstrong's own headspace.

You have to wonder, had they represented their origins with a bit more dignity, wouldn't more of us be celebrating the 20th anniversary of Dookie alongside the folks that cite it as an important element to their punk rock diplomas?

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Rickolus - Troubadour

A double, spread over two discs with designated titles ("Roads" and "Towns"), Rickolus' Troubadour is either the work of a self-obsessed singer-songwriter with a much needed editor or an artist with a creative burst so massive that an editor would only corrupt the musician's artistic intent.

Take your pick, really, because there's evidence of both floating around these two dozen cuts, penned by Richard Colado in a massive ode to his wife. But love makes us do crazy shit, and I suppose parlaying the muse into a double isn't that bad, particularly if the results are worthwhile.

They are, most of the time, straddling the line of romantic intentions and a fair amount of processed cheese if you dwell too much on easy journal details like "We drank to much on Halloween/But ended up under your sheets/With glitter on our lips and hands" which, while I'm sure was a wonderful memory for Colado, has no practical frame of reference for the rest of us trying to find a connection to the song.

The other issue-and this is a complaint throughout the "Roads" selections-is how it blatantly channels the In The Aeroplane Over The Sea and makes very little attempt to either add or differentiate from it. So be warned,  half of Troubadour requires listeners face the unenviable task of having to wade through Colado's devotional to his better half using tired Jeff Mangum strategies. It's enough to make you want to throw in the towel and cuddle up with  good book, say perhaps, The Diary Of Anne Frank.

The good news is that the approach used on the "Roads" disc aren't repeated for "Towns." The difference is apparent immediately on the decidedly more rhythmic half of Troubadour, beginning with the low budget electronic grit of "Hobby Horse" and continuing through the course of a dozen more similarly appointed offerings.

The songs still revolve around Colado's relationship, but there's almost a feeling that he's working from a completely different palate and writing from more relatable events. The bargain priced electronics give "Roads" a more experimental feel in some instances, but this is counterbalanced with Colado's voice which takes on a more emotive and melodic feel against the second hand beats.

"Most Of Us" nicely mines that moment when you're young, but confined to an adult world and you get a brief moment outside of your grown up obligations to go out, just like you did in the old days. You suddenly realize that you're not really missing much by staying home instead of going out. "Most Of Us" documents Colado's moment of clarity coming home and finding the porch light on, reflecting a simple act of kindness but also illuminating the notion that perhaps life is happening right in front of you, and you just need to remove those blinders of self-pity to see it.

At a mere 2:13, "Dreamzzz" hints at the possibility that Rickolus could sneak a hit out of left field one of these days, and it'd probably be more of a surprise for him than the rest of us. With little more than three chords, a primitive beat and a simple chorus of "Do you want to be in my dreams/You know I really want you to," Rickolus could easily tweak up the charm and ear candy here and find himself with a lot more ears paying attention than his obligatory cult artist status provides him now.

Closing cut "Whatever Etc." reminds us "I won't find the meaning of life this weekend," which might be a good thing considering how his significant other prompted such a long-winded exercise in this two-fer. Hopefully, weightier topics won't prompt another burst of creative excess, or at least the kind that forces the listener to whittle down the end result rather than to leave them wanting more.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

U2 - Under A Blood Red Sky

When I began this review, it initially came with a lower rating.

In fact, the text to the actual review was more than a little harsh, to the point where I knew something was eating at me. "I used to love this album when it first came out," I thought, "so why all of a sudden am I gunning just to knock these guys down?" I knew there was something more to my sudden distaste for Under A Blood Red Sky, a stop-gap extended play released less than a year after their third album War and bargain priced just before Christmas of '83.

So why the dramatic shift in opinion after 30 years. It is true that tastes change, but if anything, time has confirmed a lot more positive aspects of music I enjoyed as a teenager and young adult, particularly records that I specifically remember listening to a lot.

And Under A Blood Red Sky was a record that I listened to a lot.

I know what you're thinking, and you're right. A lot on my changing opinion of this record and the band in general, all centers around that self-righteous fuck Bono whose mere image evokes a strong negative reaction from me.

I suppose you could make the argument that those very abhorrent qualities in Bono were already visible three decades ago, but I'm sticking with the idea that the first real evidence of oversaturation didn't really come until The Joshua Tree blew up. And even that was a record in which you said, "Man, this fucker is going to blow up" because it was one of those albums where everything just aligns up for a band, and you know it's their time.

And you know there's nothing you can do about it. If they were your band for a moment, they became everyone's band afterwards.

But The Joshua Tree wasn't the record that forced me to reconcile with the fact that U2 had become too big to hold on to.

That record for me was Under A Blood Red Sky.

Which leads me to the other, much larger reason why I was so hellbent on ripping out a mean and snarky review of it, despite the fact that:

1.) being mean and snarky about U2 is the fucking norm today, man, what's point of spending any amount of time just to be a redundant voice of the obvious?

2.) I hadn't actually listened to the record in over 20 years, probably, and it seemed cheap to pen a mean-spirited review without giving the record a complimentary listen again.

3.) I knew that I actually still loved Under A Blood Red sky after all.

There is another reason why I got a bit aggressive with this review's first draft, and it takes place in the Fall of 1984, prior to the release of U2's fourth studio effort, The Unforgettable Fire. I had been invited to escort a very lovely young lady to the homecoming dance at her Catholic high school. The school shared a bit of a rivalry with the local public school that I attended, mainly because the Catholic high school's boys basketball team were really good. They were state ranked and could really put it to our squad when we had the obligatory tip off between each other, and that created a little bit of drama in the community at times.

But, you know, I don't sweat such nonsense. Plus, the chick was super hot and only a moron would put some silly school rivalry in front of going on a date with such a fine looking young woman, am I right?

I had this swell '68 Plymouth Fury III coupe in which me, my special lady friend and another couple arrived at the dance at the Catholic high school. I parked in the school's parking lot which was lit and featured a city cop car in front as a certain deterrent.

We went inside, danced a bit, and at one point a group of guys who had graduated the year prior showed up in the gymnasium a bit tipsy. They completely ignored their dates, most of whom seemed to be fine with the idea that they were going to their high school homecoming dance with a college guy, regardless of how little he interacted with her. Regardless of the fact that he was acting more immature than his younger counterparts.

The smug fucks made their way up to the d.j. and one of them pulled out a cassette tape from their pocket. Shortly afterwards, the spoken introduction of "This song is not a rebel song..." came over the portable Peavey loudspeakers and, from that moment on, took on a completely different meaning for me.

The graduates joined forces and began air drumming, playing air guitar or acting like Bono, raising their fists and high-fiving each other's performance.

Nobody acted like Adam Clayton.

I remember that feeling - the resentment building inside of me. Somehow, U2 had slipped out of my hands and into these wealthy suburban Catholic boys.

What makes this all the more ridiculous was the fact that War was already a popular record in my school. Not in the same league as 1999 or Pyromania, but big enough to find its way into multiple car stereos while cruising around on the weekends.

So in reality, it was less about U2 being discovered by more people, but the issue was that I felt they were being discovered by the wrong people. I glared as I watched of this preppy cracker mouthing "How long must we sing this song" into his clenched fist, burning with anger that this group of douchebags were totally ruining one of my favorite bands.

Suddenly, a teacher/chaperone/whatever comes walking hurriedly into the gym and heads to the cop that's supposed to be acting as security. He'd been standing by the refreshment table for as long as we'd been there, watching the pretty girls dance and trying to look authoritative around the boys.

The guy approaches the cop and I can make out two words: tires and slashed. The word spreads quickly and we all follow the authority figures out to the parking lot to investigate.

It's at this point where we see the damage. Not all, but well over a dozen cars had one or two tires slashed. There were a lot of angry words tossed around and a few more event sponsors circled around the cop as he called for backup. It was clear by the number of vehicles vandalized that there were probably several people involved and that they probably took some time completing it.

One of the rear tires on my Plymouth featured a prominent hole in the sidewall.

I was pissed. If it had been some kind of inter-school retaliation then I felt that I deserved a pass at any vandalism resulting from the hand of a fellow alumni. My Plymouth was a unique car, relatively well know around my peers, and I'm an amiable guy with very few real enemies that would target my tires simply because they were in the parking lot of an opposing school.

We all went back inside and gave our information for the official police report. I questioned out loud why a cop was hired for dance security if there wasn't any real security being provided. That got the cop's attention. He looked at me sternly and asked "What more do you want me to do?"

"I dunno. Maybe leave the soda and cookies long enough to check the parking lot once in a while."

The crime was later solved and I learned that it all resulted because one of the main instigators had an old girlfriend that had moved on from the relationship and asked a new boy to the dance with her. I knew one of the parties involved and confronted him about it several months after he had successfully avoided me. When we finally did have words together, he told me that he was drunk, wasn't actually a part of the tire slashing and had stayed in the car with the others took to the damage. He apologized for being a part of the events and admitted that it was a stupid. When it became clear that I wasn't so easy to forgive him, even after the cost of the damages were settled and he and the rest of his crew had paid their debt to society.

"What more do you want me to do?" he asked.

U2 could have asked the same question. They were not responsible for my miserable evening. They couldn't control the mass fame that was resulting from their music and they certainly didn't deserve the personal vendetta that I felt was owed because of all of this personal drama.

Because Under A Blood Red Sky is a very good live document, deserving of the same praise that is held for such titles like Live At Leeds or any other notable rock and roll concert recording.

Unlike the video version which features nothing but the band's Red Rocks Amphitheatre performance, the audio version pulls from three separate concerts. A few of the tracks are from the Colorado dates, but all of the second side comes from a gig in Germany-including the version of "Sunday Bloody Sunday" which features the infamous "not a rebel song" intro from our most hated frontman.

Speaking of, the Red Rocks video version is clearly the most visually superior document, perfectly suited for the format. Watching Bono connect among rocks, rain and flames was unlike anything else from that decade, and it marked one of the first examples of a band that was initially part of something beneath the mainstream being clearly able to connect with a large audience.

In other words, you saw Under A Blood Red Sky and wondered, "Why isn't everyone getting this?"

And when they did, I got mad. Go figure.

The audio document is nothing more than a well-cherry picked collection, designed to sound like a band that was much bigger than their sales receipts would suggest. In other words, Under A Blood Red Sky was a perfectly constructed marketing tool, helping to create a reality where even venues like Red Rocks would become too small for the band to perform in.

What results from the extended play record is something that prompts novices who are drawn to the visual grandiosity to explore into the band's catalog further. This is something that a good live record should be able to do. The 8 song set lifts the obvious catalog highlights like "I Will Follow," "Gloria," and "New Years Day" while hitting a few deep cuts in the process, all of which pass for first-class material. It suggests to listeners that the band was consistent in their execution, and with the exception of their album October, they really were.

Under A Blood Red Sky not only suggests this, it manages to exceed the originals in many instances. "Sunday Bloody Sunday" is the obvious example of this, but "The Electric Co." really shines and the closer "40," with it's epic outro of the entire crowd singing "How long to sing this song..." made getting to the next U2 show a high priority.

Speaking of "The Electric Co.," the original version of Under A Blood Red Sky contained a moment where the band gets quieter and Bono breaks out a spontaneous taste of "Send In The Clowns." This portion was removed when I bought UABRS on compact disc, the result of a copyright issue. As silly as it may seem, I would try to find a copy with this extra half-minute of banter because it provides another example of how Bono was able to create these memorable moments of connection. It's literally a moment that was repeated for other shows, but put aside how contrived this passage may have been and consider how awesome it must have been to hear a band come across with such sincere intention that moments like this were seen as special.

Listening to it again, it continues to resonate. I'm confident that anyone approaching this band with new ears will find Under A Blood Red Sky as a passionate and memorable statement. What helps is how the band still sounds like they're trying to prove something, and you can hear on another stop-gap live offering a few years later (Wide Awake In America) how much the band had moved from spontaneous moments of emotion to more carefully constructed drama.

The move certainly may have assisted with escalating the cynicism towards U2, but even with decades of the band's frontman slowly eroding their credibility, Under A Blood Red Sky remains as good as a live document as you'll find for these superstars. It captures U2's ability on stage during the end of the band's first creative era and suggests that moving away from that style was a brave one, regardless of how much the move contributed to the lead vocalist's inflated self-worth and how much you want to forget how of their popularity was based on the reality that U2 was once a hungry band who worked very hard at building the sanctimonious stage they walk on now.