Thursday, December 31, 2009
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
A good percentage of the credit is due the The Revolution, Prince's groundbreaking multi-cultural/sexual/instrumental coconspirators, who managed to whip up his ideas into ravaging mixtures of guitar rock, funk and new wave without being completely of one genre. Songs like the Hedrixian "Purple Rain" or pstychedelic swirl of "Raspberry Beret" cross over effortlessly (Warren Zevon even took a good crack at "Raspberry") between styles. But he dismantled The Revolution over time, and while songs like "Thieves In The Temple" or "7" are brilliant, they don't have the electric verve of those earlier singles.
Be that as it may, Prince had long become a master-tunesmith by this point. Even his duff material (many of the b-sides on disc 3) has an indelible charm. This is the disc where you can find "Another Lonely Christmas" or "Erotic City" (a minor hit in its own right). The minor quibbles come on the basis of some edited single selections ("When Doves Cry" being a major violation), a non-chronological sequencing and the omission of some sizable hits (the #1 "Batdance" most notably). Still, this is the set to own, over both Ultimate Princeor The Very Best of Prince.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Dinner was at The 1729 (formally the Lamb Tavern) in Springfield, a fair place that has been aroud as long as its name implies. I had veal parm, Joel and Marc took on the home made meat loaf. We are all satisfied by meal's end, then sat around and chatted for another hour. It was pleasurable to get to interact with a friend outside the confines of work for a change.
Marc gets extra points in that Sophie cat likes him. And me, I really want a ride on his BMW Motorcycle.
4 Out of 5 Stars
Out of all the Stiff Records bands that cane out in the early 80's, Any Trouble was easily my favorite. While the label had plenty of delightful, idiosyncratic artists (like Elvis Costelloand Lene Lovich), Any Trouble were a band that seemingly came without the usual Stiff quirkiness. And while almost every other band/artist on the label appeared to snag an American deal just by association, Any Trouble was left dangling.
"Wheels In Motion" was the band's second proper album to get a stateside release, and it is just a touch below the excellence of the debut Where Are All the Nice Girls?. Lead singer and songwriter Clive Gregson had such a dry view of life and love that he often rated comparisons to Costello, and the songs here still merit such high praise. The album has a three stroke kick-off with "Trouble With Love," "Open Fire" and "As Lovers Do," all tremendous, great songs. The later is easily one of Gregson's best, with Any Trouble or in his solo career. (Once again, begging the Costello comparisons.)
After that, the album becomes a mixed bag. Producer Mike Howlett filled out the songs here more than on the debut (which was a bare-bones reading of the band as a four-piece new wave/pub act), which helps Any Trouble in the sound department. It also helps the songs that needed a bit more dynamic presentation ("Power Cut") or add to a song that wouldn't have done well in the original band format. The album's lone non-Gregson penned tune, Richard Thompson's "Dimming Of The Day" is the greatest benefactor in that department. (Thompson eventually returned the favor by making Gregson a regular member of his touring band through the late 80's.)
Gregson has since carved out the distinguished career of a critical/cult fave, and I would highly recommend both I Love This Town and his album with one-time partner Christine Collister, Love Is a Strange Hotel. He's become a wonderful folk artist on a par with Thompson, but "Wheels In Motion" and his other recordings with Any Trouble highlight the time in his life when he was bursting with new wave energy and still seemed bent on carving out a niche in the world of power-pop.
Sunday, December 27, 2009
It is that cathedral that provides the best moments on "Gaudi." The opening track is a near nine minute epic, "La Sagrada Familia." Then the finale, the instrumental "Paseo De Gracia" (Path of Grace), with Spanish guitar over lush orchestration, is vintage APP. Other than "Closer To Heaven, though, the remaining tracks do not seem to have much to tie them together thematically. The production values are still flawless, and the sound of this remaster is fantastic, but the album itself is weak.
The usual team provides highlights, with Wolfson, John Miles and Lenny Zakatek giving the solid vocals. On the rockier song, "Standing On Higher Ground," it's Geoff Barradale (who was the lead singer in cult faves Vitamin Z) who gives "Gaudi" its punchiest moment. The rough version of "Standing On Higher Ground" shows up as a bonus track with Wolfson showing an uncharacteristic silliness, along with a demo of "Too Late," where the vocal is just the melody song in la la la and do do do. Not exactly essential, but interesting. "Gaudi" also lacks the in-depth liner notes that the earlier re-issues had, like Parsons and Wolfson commenting on the demos and bonus material. Which makes this, the last of the Alan Parsons Project re-issues, one of the lesser in the pack.
Saturday, December 26, 2009
In the same vein as Pink Floyd, Nine Inch Nails rails against the world that makes him famous but fails to give unto him anything good. There's plenty of anxiety and anti-social attitude, plus Reznor's own dour perceptions. "The Fragile" not only attacks you with its blistering aural onslaught, it seeps into those demented cracks in your mind that you thought were closed off to this kind of manipulation.
A lot of that has to do with Reznor's studio acumen; the guy knows how to structure sound like few others. It is one of the reasons "The Fragile" is more a grower album than an instant classic. Lots of little bits of construction reveal themselves as time goes by. It's a candy-coated hand grenade that goes off with songs like "Star-bleepers Incorporated" (Reznor's poisoned rant at former friend Marilyn Manson) or "Into The Void" and its danceable beats. Those are the two most obvious songs here, but the bulk of "The Fragile" will twist into you and stay there, as long as you have the patience to treat it over time.
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Louisville Kentucky, 1999. There was snow on Christmas Eve. My first white Christmas in almost a decade. I remember a deep melancholy on that night, as I’d arrived in Louisville a after harrowing four day drive from Los Angeles, during which the SUV that had been donated to me by my best buddy Bert had blown its transmission and nearly left me stranded in the high mountains of California. It was only by sheer dumb luck that I broke-down near a junkyard/U-Haul dealer and the owner traded me the SUV title for a truck rental that I made it the rest of the way east. The U-Haul itself was almost hollow-empty in appearance; what few possessions I had left fit into the back of that Chevy Blazer and I’d started out with 500$ in my pocket. By the time I was approaching Kentucky, I was sacred to buy any food, lest I use the remaining $20 in my pocket and end up needing fuel.
Ronnie held me in the doorway that night, assuring me everything would be OK. But all I felt was defeated, lost and demoralized. I’d lost my home, my business, almost every possession I owned, and most devastatingly, my partner Peter in the previous 10 months leading to that night. And I was already careening towards a nervous breakdown that would have me hitting rock-bottom by the summer of 2001
Was the end of the century really 10 years ago?
In the interim, I have gone through four jobs, five cars, had four books published, been in a relationship that has entered its seventh year with a wonderful man. Two ex-lovers have passed, along with a mentor and many good friends. I lost a dog and gained a cat. I’ve done readings and been on author’s panels. I’ve acted in two movies. I sang on stage with Jill Sobule. I started my own website and picked up a blogging habit. I worked on a political campaign.
Many of my cousins, babies when I was a teen, have children of their own now. A few of them got married and the families all wanted Joel to be with us at the weddings. Joel's eldest daughter gacve birth to Shoham, making the two of us grandparents. We went to Europe together, and spent time in Israel with Joel's daughters and Shoham. My younger sister remarried. My older sister is estranged. My parents are still here and both retired.
I fell to a low-weight of 180 pounds while I was sick and now weigh a number I’m a bit embarrassed to admit to. It’s been ten years since I stood in that Kentucky doorway, crying. Almost nine since I popped open my pill bottles and gave up.
And even though Joel is Jewish and we don’t really do Christmas at our house, I can see the snow on the ground for White Christmas this year. It’s been ten years since I stood in that Kentucky doorway, crying. Almost nine since I popped open my pill bottles and gave up.
It’s almost 2010. I think I’m better now. Thanks to everyone who has been there with their support, encouragement and love.
"The Atlantic Years" covers The Lemonheads' four album tenure with that classic label, ignoring the punkier indie years and the albums Dando cut after he cleaned up. But it also ignores Lovey (the song "Ride With Me" is an acoustic remake), and only features two tracks from Car Button Cloth. Which means that, out of 12 songs, 9 come from the albums It's a Shame About Rayand Come on Feel the Lemonheads.
While these are Dando's best songs, there's obviously a lot of room for an expanded edition. The almost hit from "Come On Feel...., "Into Your Arms," is here, and no-one has ever rocked Paul Simon the way Dando did with the remake of "Mrs. Robinson." Dando's gal-pal Juliana Hatfield is a frequent guest vocalist. But given the somewhat lopsided division of songs, you'd be excused for just picking up "Ray" and waiting for a deluxe best of to inevitably arrive.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Arista Records smelled success and smoothed the band out a bit for the second album, "A Woman's Got The Power." It was easily as energetic as the debut while more sophisticated, and was partially produced by Nick Garvey of The Motors while Rick Chertoff did the rest. (Chertoff eventually became the producer of such stars as Cyndi Lauper.) The title track even managed a good bit of airplay, enough so to be on a few 80's compilation albums. Arista honcho Clive Davis even spoon-fed The A's a "hit" that the band allegedly hated ("When The Rebel Comes Home"). You could hear the band stretch out on "Heart Of America" - ya gotta dig that banjo! - that made me think of The Plimsouls.This was great stuff, but the world wasn't digging it.
Doesn't mean you can't catch up. The A's were one of the first New Wave bands to break out of Philadelphia, along with others that tried but failed (The Cats, Quincy, The Reds) and those that made it (The Hooters, the late Robert Hazard). We have waited long enough, so get this now.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Monday, December 21, 2009
Saturday, December 19, 2009
The theme this time is man's general self-centeredness and predatory nature, stated rather bluntly in the opening "Let's Talk About Me." But this time, the concept feels more contrived than previous albums that so masterfully fused their ideas (like Pyramid or Eye in the Sky). The musicianship and production is newly highlighted in the remaster, and APP's usual team of stalwart musicians and vocalists are on board. Saxophonist Richard Collte in particular adds depth to some of the songs here, especially on the de-rigueur instrumental, "Hawkeye."
"Vulture Culture" does have a few highlights. The ballad "Days are Numbers (The Traveller)" should have been the first single. Graced with a gorgeous chorus and a splendid vocal from Chris Rainbow, it rates with "Time" as one of the Project's finest songs. Surprisingly, one of the other high points comes from a bonus track, the previously unreleased "No Answers Only Questions." A gentle folk ballad that probes the concept's question of why mankind seems so bent on competing so aggressively against each other.
The late Eric Woolfson writes in the liner-notes that, at the time, he and Parsons didn't think the song fir into the overall theme of "Vulture Culture." Now featured as a bonus track, "No Answers Only Questions" strikes a nice coda to the original album and, with the passing of Woolfson in November 2009, posts an additional note on the legacy of what a gifted singer/composer he was. In my opinion, "Vulture Culture" is on a par with Eve in the canon of APP albums; not bad, but one that could be set aside for better works first.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
The debut album from Mika, Life in Cartoon Motion, was a splashy, colorful explosion of sugar pop that seemed to go to the top of every chart except the American ones. Mika himself is a chameleonic music swirl, parts Freddy Mercury, George Michael/Wham! and Elton John, capable of extreme catchiness yet artistically delirious at once. He's a guilty pleasure with bonus nutrients.
His sophomore album, the more seriously titled "The Boy Who Knew Too Much," races headlong down the same candy-land trail, but hints at a more tart center beneath all the frosting. The irresistible "Rain" makes you tap your dancing foot while asking if he should be happy. You'd be hard pressed to notice, because Mika is the kind of songwriter for whom over-the-top is a limit to be conquered as many times as possible. "Blame It On The Girls" and "We Are Golden" (the first two singles) are so flamboyantly effervescent that they'd make Elton and Mercury both proud - or at least make you wonder if Mika should just chuck it all, cover A-Ha's "Take On Me" and be done with it.
It's only on the song "Blue Eyes" that Mika finally tones it down a bit, moving into the kind of pop Paul Simon perfected with Graceland. That song is indicative of why The Boy Who Knew Too Much only rates as three stars; after awhile, there's only so much sweetness you can ingest before insulin shock starts to settle in. Mika proves again here that he can sling impeccable pop melodies with effortless ease, but "Blue Eyes" makes me wonder how much he could accomplish if he held back on the Andrew Lloyd Weber and maybe took some time studying up on the Paul McCartney.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
3 Out of 5 Stars
This was Angel's fifth album and their commercial high water mark, peaking at 55 on Billboard. It is just a bit slicker than On Earth As It Is In Heaven (my personal favorite Angel album), but shows that Angel wanted desperately to be a huge rock band along the lines of Kiss. They even dusted off a Rascals' cover as a Top 40 contender, "Ain't Gonna Eat My Heart Out Anymore." The strategy worked as far as sales were concerned, but it was Angel's last grab at the brass ring.
If you have a shelf full of 70's rock that leans heavy on the Styx, Queen or Kansas albums, "White Hot" will make you happy. The under-rated Punky Meadows lets fly with some great guitar and keyboardist Gregg Giuffria's great old school playing on "You Could Lose Me" or the opener, "Don't Leave Me Lonely." And before the term "Power Ballad" became a standard term for every MTV Hair Metal band, the great "Winter Song" and "Flying On Broken Wings" could have been hits had they shown up a decade later.
PS: For pure holiday glamrock cheese, Angel re-cut "Winter Song" as "Christmas Song" on Angel Antholgy.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
M. Brown yes
And the vote can NOT be put to a public referendum ala Prop 8.
Jack White must be terrified of entropy. His third "band" releases their debut album, and it's a wicked mix of the dirtiest White Stripes garage rock and Whites love of Devilish blues yowls. Alison Mosshart of the Kills steals his microphone and slurs her way into a surly temptress, snapping lyrics like "just because you caught me, does that make it a sin?" "Horehound" echoes like a band boozing it up as a bootlegger holds a recorder up to the window in an attempt to capture moonshine on a tapedeck. Sometimes it doesn't work, but when it does, it kicks you from one end of the building to the wall.
This is pretty raw stuff, sounding like the old school rock blues from the late seventies. "Hang You From The Heavens" has a fat, fuzzy guitar inflates a hades-bound Mosshart as she grabs that bad man in her life and threatens to "drag You to the devil." A ratty sounding organ pumps under "Cut Like a Buffalo." This is mountain quaking stuff. The sounds is appreciatively murky and Gothic, and White bashes the drums like mad. It hits more often than it doesn't, probably due to the speed which it came together (3 weeks from start to finish), but if you miss the days when rock albums were bashed out with more attention to feeling than finesse, "Horehound" is for you.
Monday, December 14, 2009
4 out of 5 Stars
Poor Aaron is having a bad day. He's on his last day of a lousy job. That crappy job has him hosting old ladies who "dress" like old movie stars to sites around Austin Texas that have been used in movie shoots. The new van driver is a creep. His company's boss is about to be revealed as a drug smuggler. The boss's henchmen are trying to kill him. Worse yet, his grandmother has decided she wants to toodle along in the van on Aaron's last day on the job. And things are about to get worse.
That's the setting for writer/producer/director Paul Bright's (Theft, Angora Ranch) new movie, the quirky crime caper "Aaron, Albeit a Sex Hero." Aaron (Matthew Charles Burnette) simply wants to finish a day's work so he can start a new job with a cruise line. Instead, he has to fight to escape drug runners, scorpions, rattlesnakes, spiders and Jessie, the new driver who is in on the trafficking. Oh yes, and to not embarrass himself in front of his grandmother...who is having a secret affair with one of the van travelers!
"Aaron..." dodges the usual gay-movie clichés in that Aaron is hunky but no James Bond. He's already come out, so there's no endless angst about "is he or isn't he?" Nobody here is a crazed interior decorator or show-tune queen. In fact, at just under 90 minutes, this movie moves at a rapid clip with little wasted space. Aaron has one night to make everything right, and maybe get his rocks off. "Aaron...Albeit a Sex Hero" is a fun watch, with both Matthew Charles Burnette and Rafiel Soto (who plays Jessie and is one hunky bad guy) are solid in their leads and make the best of this low-budget treat.
PS. I have a very small (2 lines) part...look for me. And watch the credits for an extra reveal.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
5 out of 5 Stars
It's almost worth giving this best of Badfinger five stars on the merits of the band's tragic history. Badfinger was probably the best, most talented band that the hapless Apple Records discovered. Paul McCartney was their guardian angel, handing them "Come and Get It." George Harrison was so awed by the song "Day After Day" that he volunteered his lead guitar skills. The late Harry Nilsson scooped up "Without You" and made it his signature song. Both power-pop and classic rock lovers have embraced Badfinger's best with equal devotion.
Yet the band became the victims of unscrupulous management. Money earned in the 70's while scoring top ten records vanished in litigation and alleged thievery. All the while, the band made great albums for Apple and Warners, all but defining what would be called power-pop. With this best of CD leading off with a triple score of "No Matter What," "Day After Day" and "Baby Blue," it's tough to argue against how amazing Badfinger was. Containing three superb songwriters in Pete Ham, Joey Molland and Tom Evans, they were able and willing to make songs that encompassed all the group's voices. It makes such lesser known tracks like "Maybe Tomorrow" or the free-wheeling "Rock of All Ages" stand out, as well.
Broke and despondent, Pete Ham finally gave up and committed suicide in 1975, Evans followed in 1983. Molland was reduced to laying carpet for a living in the mid-70's even as their music was played on classic rock stations. And it's obvious; these guys were classicists in the best sense. The remastering on this CD makes the sounds crisp and clear, bringing out the fine harmonies Badfinger had, as well as the tight song structures that made the songs so appealing. Even the late stuff, like "Love Time" or "When I Say" have the uniquely Beatlesque feel about them (and practically beg for rediscovery). A unique band with a heartbreaking story, and a stunning musical legacy, "The Best Of Badfinger" is an essential celebration of music that maintains its greatness once the final scene had been recorded.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
I go for the pre-surgical exam Dec 30th, then the first hospital visit with an overnighter January 7. Just how I wanted to kick off the 2010 New Year's Action. About the only good thing about this will be that the major irritation that this itty-bitty sore spot has been causing me since the end of summer will finally be gone. And that the rest of 2010 can only go up from this.
4 Out of 5 Stars
AKA The Best of the Warner Years. Elvis Costello managed to crank out 6 albums of unnerving diversity (even for his fans) during his tenure at the home of Bugs Bunny. From the angry Elvis we all love of "Brutal Youth" to the chamber music experiments of "The Juliet Letters" to his pondering thoughtfulness of "All This Useless Beauty," Elvis took on so many tangents that I am sure his label could only scratch their collective heads and wonder (not to mention withhold "Kojak Variety" for five years).
Since confounding our expectations has always been a hallmark of getting a new EC record, "Extreme Honey" is given the responsibility of collecting the better of those discs. It does so fairly well, and throws in a haunting new song, "The Bridge I Burned," which even features a semi-rapped part. The X-Files obscurity with Brian Eno, "My Dark Life," is better. In Eno's usual minimalist but spooky manner, "My Dark Life" is the kind of song you would have expected from the X-Files. That is said as a compliment.
"Extreme Honey" also provides proof that Elvis still has his moments of genius. "I Want To Vanish" is the obvious precursor to his collaborations with Burt Bacharach. "The Other Side Of Summer" has a deceptively cynical lyric riding a wave of Beach Boys harmony. "Veronica" and "So Like Candy" gave some spunk to a moribund Paul McCartney. "Hurry Down Doomsday" roars with all the weirdness that "The Birds Will Still be Singing" carried on the lopsided opposite of the scale. "Tramp The Dirt Down" is probably the angriest song Elvis has ever written, with one of the most gorgeous arrangements. And if you want the blood and guts Elvis, "13 Steps Lead Down" has all the snarling ferocity of his earliest work.
I won't bemoan the lack of a few personal favorites. I will say a wish a track or two from "Kojak Variety" had snuck in, though. What "Extreme Honey" does present us with is that, even in his third decade, Elvis Costello remains one of the premiere songwriters of our times. Worth the price if you don't already have the originals.
Friday, December 11, 2009
4 Out of 5 Stars
Australian singer-songwriter Brett Every brings his second effort (after his excellent Camping Out) and further cements his standing as an artist deserving of attention across the musical spectrum. Even better than the debut, "Fairy Godmother's Gone To Vegas" is the voice of a lost soul wandering the after hours streets after the bars have closed, the lights have gone out and the plastic facades are shown for the false promises they really are. There hasn't been a singer this gloriously bare-boned glum since Mark Eitzel.
The lyrics here nay come off as manic-depressive, but they often underscore the stinging wit you'd expect with a title like "Fairy Godmother's Gone To Vegas." Lines like
Is it coincidence he's saying
just what your last two exes said
before they walked out
together through the swinging door?"
Brett also take a pair of covers and claims them. Kate McGarrigle's "Come a Long Way" gets a solo guitar/voice take to close the album, but it's his version of Bette Midler's "Come Back Jimmy Dean" that strikes home. I'm finding myself liking Brett's longingly beautiful version more than the original. If you could imagine Tom Waits at his most melodic tackling show tunes, then you'll love what Brett does with one of Midler's signature songs.
Which kind of sums up for me why I am smitten by "Fairy Godmother's Gone to Vegas." Having someone who can draw a favorable comparison to Midler, Waits or maybe even Leonard Cohen is pretty remarkable to me. Brett Every is on a par with these folks and is up among my favorite out performers like Mark Weigle.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
4 out of 5 Stars
Adam Lambert is the real thing. He is charismatic, flamboyant and sings his @ss off. He isn't here to make you like him, he's here to make you pay attention. That over-the-top AMA performance wasn't just there to shock you, it was there to make 100% certain that he was all everyone talked about afterwards. And they did. For days. Lambert laid it all on the table; from his sexuality to his theater background, all so you'd take notice. There hasn't been someone so blatantly lunging fists first at rock stardom since Billy Corgan smashed his pumpkins.
The eagerly anticipated "For Your Entertainment" could only be anti-climactic after all the hype. But to a great extent, Lambert succeeds in making an album that cuts the crap and gets right to the core of the issue. As he said in the interviews after the AMA show, he's not here to babysit. He's here for your entertainment. As the slinky title track hooks you in, you understand. His flirty, wink-wink taunting is on a par with Queen's "Let Me Entertain You" for sheer audacity. With his soaring falsetto, Lambert keeps up with Freddy Mercury sly tease for tease.
My guess is that Lambert had more than his share of Queen and Bowie posters on his childhood wall, because this album is the equivalent of a walking "Velvet Goldmine" audition. Even the cover, which harkens back to 70's androgyny as portrayed by the best of Bowie or Bolan, howls of fascination with kinky songs and catchy kitchiness. "For Your Entertainment" delivers on both counts. The songs are almost all outsider written, from Justin Hawkins of The Darkness (the opener "Music Again") to modern dress-up Queen Lady Gaga (the steamy "Fever"), tailored to Lambert's style. Even "Soaked," by Muse's Matt Bellamy, finds Lambert slipping into the skin of arena power ballads. Add the 2012 big movie ballad, "Time For Miracles," and you've again got the complete package.
However, at times, this works against the album. When you cram EuroDisco ("If I Had You") next to Weezer Pop (the Rivers Cuomo penned "Pick U Up") and the screaming glam rock of the title track, "For Your Entertainment" seems over-thought. There were too many cooks in this kitchen, when all anyone really needed to do was let Adam be Adam. His personality makes up for the odd fumble, and I get the feeling that, after he gets enough success to command some authority, Lambert could be the American Idol graduate to sustain a rock star career. At least I hope he's not the new Jobriath.