Monday, February 28, 2011

My Amazon Reviews: Til Tuesday "Coming Up Close: A Retrospective"

Coming up Close: A RetrospectiveHe Wants Me, If Only Part of The Time 
4 Out Of 5 Stars

That brilliant line came from Til Tuesday's biggest hit, "Voices Carry," and is likely the song most folks recall the band by. It also launched both the band and their lead singer/songwriter, Aimee Mann. While Mann has since embarked on a critically acclaimed career as a solo singer/songwriter, "Coming Up Close: A Retrospective" both follows the breif, three album arc of Til Tuesday and shows Mann's evolution. "Voices Carry," both the single and first album, was typical of the MTV 80's. Synth and drum heavy, the photogenic Mann quickly struck a chord as the girl in the video to stand up in the opera scene to scream at her creep boyfriend. The songs "Love In A Vacuum" and "Looking Over My Shoulder" (which peaked at 61 on Billboard but oddly is left off this set) followed in the same vein.

While the band was set for a successful follow-up, Mann's songwriting had begun to shift into a more personal direction, as well as losing the funky new-wave style. "Welcome Home" was a great album, but lack of a "Voices Carry" clone lead many to peg the band as one-hit wonders. The stinging "What About Love" did manage to peak at 26, but the song "Coming Up Close," a terrific song about the twilight of a relationship, stalled at 59. There's also a taste of the quirkier points of her solo career with "Will She Just Fall Done," a poppy song about a dysfunctional girlfriend.

The rest of the band was feeling left out by the start of the third album, "Everything's Different Now." Only Mann and Drummer Michael Hausman with session players, it's basically Mann's first solo album and is partially about her breakup with songwriter Jules Shear (who co-wrote the title track). It included a collaboration with Elvis Costello on "The Other End of The Telescope" and Til Tuesday's last charting single, "Believed You Were Lucky" (a censored version, which completely changed the tome of the song) that peaked at 95. "Everything's Different Now" officially embarked Mann on her pop-folk voyage, as well as a legal battle that held up her solo recordings for another seven years.

"Coming Up Close" finishes out with an unreleased track by the original band called "Do It Again," with no other info about its origins. It's a pretty good song, but that was it for any reunions since Mann has been touring and recording steadily since. Overall, since only the debut remains in print, this retrospective is a worthy overview of a band whose output has been long overlooked.

I'm With Stupid Whatever @#%&*! Smilers Voices Carry Everything's Different Welcome Home

Sunday, February 27, 2011

My Amazon Reviews: The Posies "Blood/Candy"

Blood/CandyJuicy Bittersweet  
4 Out of 5 Stars

Now reunited for the new century and feeling like they are back to basics, Power Pop Maestros The Posies reconnect with "Blood Candy." Awash with glistening guitars, British Invasion harmonies and some exhilarating experiemnts, this album was a surprise to me after hearing of it from a friend. Had I grabbed it earlier, it could have easily made my favorites for 2010.

Main men Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow have constructed an album that combines the harmonies of The Hollies with guest appearances from Hugh Cornwell of The Stranglers. There are touches of REM mingled with John Lennon imitative vocals. You get the feeling that "Blood Candy" is something of a tribute to Alex Chilton, whom Auer and Stringfellow worked with often as Big Star sidemen. The haunted story that jangles amid "She's Coming Down Again" and the quirky "Accidental Architecture" would have fit in on a Big Star (or even a Cheap Trick) album, while "For The Ashes" and "Holiday Hours" are lovely in the same vein.

"Blood Candy" is likely none of the things I supposed of its creators, but as an addition to their already stellar catalog, it stands well. The Posies are still making stellar music long after their expiry date - and for those of us who find it, it's a treat.

Dream All Day: The Best of Posies Collapse Into Now Doolittle Keep An Eye On The Sky

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Friday night on ABC's 20/20, while doing a story about the typical psychotic people who murder that is their new stock-in-trade, they began to talk about a case in Texas. This was the sign they used as the "location shot":

Which begs the questions: Texas Dept of Highways; Really?
And ABC Network News: Were you trying to be ironic? Really?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

My Amazon Reviews: Various Artists "Come and Get It: The Best of Apple Records"

Come and Get It: The Best of Apple RecordsApple to The Core  
3.5 Stars Out Of 5

This delightful sampler of The Beatles' very own label is a lot of fun, if also loaded with plenty of trifles. It pulls a whole batch of lost 45's and gathers them onto one 21 songs salute. It's also a bit of a history lesson as to where The Beatles themselves thought music would head. They where often spot on, with the discovery of Badfinger (3 singles), James Taylor (the original version of "Carolina On My Mind") and Billy Preston (two singles). There's a few misses who should have been bigger (Mary Hopkin, with her classic "Those Were The Days") and Chris Hodge, whose near hit in the USA, "We're On Our Way" was one of the last Apple Singles.

Also plenty of fun stuff in the middle, like British Star Jackie Lomax's Harrison penned "Sour Milk Sea" and a novelty TV theme for a Brit Comedy "Thingumybob," written by McCartney and played by The Black Dyke Mills Band (allegedly the "most famous brass band in the world). The goofiest of these is the rarity "King of Fuh," by Brute Force, who was a member of The Tokens (of all groups!). Reportedly only 1,000 copies were ever pressed and its obscene double-entendre ("All hail the Fuh King") had factory workers at EMI refusing to handle it.

There's a handful of duds, as well. Hot Chocolate eventually became a hit-making pop band ("Emma" and "Every #1's a Miracle"), but their reggae-ed version of "Give Peace a Chance" is forgettable. Lennon's early foray into political singles, "God Save Us," is overbearing. "Golden Slumbers-Carry That Weight" by Trash was a sneak peak at The Beatles' "Abbey Road," and won't make you forget the more famous version. It's very telling to hear how many of these artists were "Applized," with different members of The Beatles writing, playing or producing these acts in their own image. Compare Taylor's Apple "Carolina On My Mind" to the more famous version; it's obvious he was being pushed to a sound that wasn't a completely natural fit.

Overall, however, "Come And Get It" is a treasure trove of lost singles that Pop History buffs will thrilled to have. Beatlemaniacs will find it a must own, and plenty of folks who'd listen to old AM radios will likely discover forgotten songs buried in the back of their aural memories.

Apple Records Box Set  James Taylor Straight Up Is This What You Want? Doris Troy Postcard

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

My Amazon Reviews: Cage The Elephant "Thank You Happy Birthday"

Thank You Happy BirthdayElephants Uncaged  
4 Out Of 5 Stars 

After the long slow climb of their debut album, Cage The Elephant finally get to release their second. "Thank You Happy Birthday" has allegedly been in the can for some time, but with the long arc of the debut's success, these songs have been laying in wait for almost a year. The difference between the two albums is striking. Where the first album seemed to be chasing Kings of Leon's brand of southern steamed Stones, "Thank You Happy Birthday" finds Cage The Elephant racing away from the straight up, greasy rock of album one and lunging headfirst into "Nevermind" with a serious dusting of Pixies dust.

Their worldview reamins the same, with plenty of Us V Them raging. "Indy Kidz" and "Sell Yourself" are broadsides that seemed oddly aimed at the kind of kids who'd dig the band anyway. "2024" has a raging punk propulsion driving its screaming guitar, yet the final song "Flow" plays like a jam band's kiss goodnight. Vocalist Matt Schultz has surprising rock range in that he manages both the punk-funk angst of "Sell Yourself," the whispery croon of "Flow" and the gravely rock of "Aberdeen" and "Shake Down" (in my opinion, the disc's two best songs).

The rest of the band is keeping right up with him. "Thank You Happy Birthday" is a reckless sophomore album that lurches from style to style with total abandon and little regard for cohesion. Cage The Elephant are fortunate in that their newness gives them enough edge to keep this disparate batch of songs from collapsing in on itself. There are moments ("Indy Kidz" and "Around My Head") where the contrivance gets too obvious, but the pluses here far outweigh the minuses. "Thank You Happy Birthday" finds Cage The Elephant whupping the sophomore slump with a sturdy, rocking records.

Cage the Elephant  Showroom Of Compassion Sigh No More

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

My Amazon Reviews: Cake "Showroom of Compassion"

Showroom Of CompassionFresh Cake 
4 Out of 5 Stars

While it's taken them almost 6 years to put together an album's worth of new material, the wait was worth it. Cake's "Showroom Of Compassion" is comforting, like a warm coat of familiarity. I've always enjoyed the fact that, unlike many of the other bands in the 'high irony' category of alt-rock (I'm thinking of Soul Coughing, The Eels, maybe King Missile), Cake kept plugging along with little change in sound without breaking up or (like The Eels) becoming a vehicle for the main brain in the group. (Insert disclaimer here, I really love all the aforementioned bands.)

There are a few additions, though. Main single "Sick of You" may be the most groove oriented song they've ever done and locks in your mind quickly. Instrumental "Teenage Pregnancy" is quite lovely, and lacks the band's usual irony. Singer John McCrea is becoming a more engaged vocalist, making the country leaning ballad "Bound Away" sound more authentic than sarcastic. After poking gentle fun at Frank Sinatra on "Prolonging The Magic," Cakes goes one step further by covering an obscure Sinatra song ("What's Now is Now") while still bending it to the Cake style.

What you love about the Cake sound is still there, as well. Vincent DiFiore's trumpet still lends the jazzy tone to much of the songs, along with his new wavey keyboards. The band still uses their call and response backing vocal style, with McCrea still feeling the need to yelp interjections throughout. I guess the consistency is something Cake fans have taken a liking to, because we were happy enough to snap this album up enough to not only make it Cake's first top ten album, but to take it to number one. Not bad for a band's sixth album.

Fashion Nugget  Motorcade of Generosity Comfort Eagle Prolonging the Magic Pressure Chief B Sides & Rarities