Thursday, July 28, 2011

My Amazon Reviews: Ric Ocasek "This Side of Paradise"

This Side of ParadiseThis side of a decade
3 Out Of 5 Stars

Ric Ocasek released his second solo album, "This Side of Paradise," before the Cars' finale "Door to Door." It always sounded to me like The Cars were splintering when I heard this, because it has better songs than "Door to Door" did, and it sounds more Cars-ish than Ric's solo debut, the darker "Beatitude." It's also the only one of his solo albums to produce a top 20 single, "Emotion in Motion." (And only the late Ben Orr managed a solo hit in his out of Cars career.)

Overall, "This Side of Paradise" sounds dated. Like "Beatitude," Ocasek spend a great deal of time exploring his Roxy/Bowie fixations with a heavy reliance on that wavey-synth production so predominant in the late 80's. There's also a slew of period guests involved, including Tears for Fears, super bassist Tony Levin and his astounding Chapman Stick, Steve Stevens from Billy Idol's band, as well as Greg Hawkes, Elliott Easton and Orr. Hawkes even gets a co-writer credit on "Hello Darkness." The songs "Keep On Laughing," "True to You" and "PFJ" could have easily been Cars hits, and outshine anything on "Door to Door."

Which makes me wonder why this album came out as simply average. Had the production not been so date-stamped, Ocasek may have been able to fire up his solo career, which effectively stalled out after this (although I thought "Fireball Zone" was a better album, it didn't even crack the charts). "Heartbeat City" flirted with the same emotions and sound, but has aged much better, and "This Side of Paradise" is likely of interest to Cars completists or 80's heads only

 Nexterday Fireball Zone Beatitude Lace Move Like This The Cars

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

My Amazon Reviews: David Baerwald "Here Comes The New Folk Underground"

Here Comes the New Folk UndergroundDid You Have a Bad Dream?  
3 Out Of 5 Stars

After the split-up of David + David and the classic, cutting "Boomtown" album, David Baerwald took his time between albums. Like Donald Fagen or Tom Scholtz time. "Here Comes The New Folk Undergorund" was only his third solo album in 12 years. He'd also done some soundtrack work and played a part in the genesis of Sheryl Crow's debut, but for undiluted David, fans have to hold out for long stretches.

NFU was born out of a fans-only release (I think only 1,000 were made) double release titled "A Fine Mess" and indie label Lost Highway was one of the locations lucky enough to catch a copy. Baerwald had left Los Angeles for Austin, Texas, and the music reflects this. The trimmed down "Fine Mess" now echoes the kind of smart and sharp songwriting that he was always known for, but comes with the kind of heartland rock that fellow literate Texan James McMurtry is known for. Each song tells a little story in brittle terms, and characters are mostly unsavory, like the men and women that hung out in "Boomtown." Except this time they have a southern twang and the occasional accordion. Add to that a bit; an accordion with a switchblade in the keys.

There's also hints of Tom Waits or Randy Newman black humor hidden among the phrases. The brutal "Love 29" rolls along on a leisurely groove as Baerwald savages an ex-lover while turning the knife on himself, which is no small trick. There's also the hidden track "Little Fat Cowboy," which certainly sounds like an indictment of George Bush. Along with "If," these are my favorites in the CD. On the other hand, I sort of miss the pure vitriol of "Triage" or the finesse of "Bedtime Stories," but "Here Comes The New Folk Underground" still finds Baerwald in search of a Boomtown that welcomes him as its native tongue.

Bedtime Stories  Boomtown Can't Buy a Thrill The Royal Scam  Rain Dogs Small Change

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Six Months Later

Office Space (Special Edition with Flair!) [Blu-ray]Hit the six month unemployed marker this week. It's not something I am at all pleased with. Despite countless applications, I've had exactly two interviews since January. One was to sell cars at the local Ford Dealership. They never even bothered to call back afterwards. The second was last week, for a Security Company that specializes in - to be kind - rent-a-cops.

The Phone Interview went well enough, as did the in person one. Next up was the Pee test; passed that. Then I had to submit all sorts of info for a background check. While all this was going on, we discussed a potential full-time position, between $11/13 per hour, but three 12 hour shifts. Not thrilling, but got the usual lines about potential for advancement, benefits, etc. Then comes the acceptance call. Can you show up for orientation? Sure, but what are the specifics for the job?

Well, we can offer you weekends, part time, two twelve hour shifts at $10 an hour.

As you can see, nothing remotely similar to the original discussion other than the hideous 12 hour shifts. I asked them why the offer was so radically different from the earlier version, and was told that the part-time was all that was available. I kindly declined the offer but asked them to call should a full-time position open up.

So it's back to the drawing board. As well as counting down to Delta.

My Amazon Reviews: Styx "Icon II"

Icon 2: Styx A Solid, if Unnecessary, Release 
3 Out Of 5 Stars

As far as Band for the Buck is concerned, this 2 CD set of Styx songs from the A&M years is worth its price. It loads you up with 24 songs and gives it to you at a superb, budget price. It even brings back the original, top ten version of "Lady" from 1974, replacing the Tommy Shaw "Lady 95" from the greatest hits collection. It covers mainly the superstar years from "Equinox" to the Dennis DeYoung centric "End of The Century," with nothing after that album.

However, the packaging is minimal. The sole photo of the band is the back cover, from what looks like an alternate shot from "The Grand Illusion." The inner-sleeve is a listing of the songs and writing credits, production credits, but with no listing of dates or albums. I must add the the remastering sounds terrific and makes me wish for some deluxe versions of the original albums! If you don't already have "Styx: Gold" (2 discs and 35 songs) or the 1995 single disc Greatest Hits, this will suit you well. But this is likely best for the casual Styx fan.

 Icon 2 Icon Icon Icon Icon: Bryan Adams  Icon: Kiss

Monday, July 25, 2011

My Amazon Reviews: Paul McCartney "McCartney II"

McCartney II (Archive Collection)Probably better than you remember  
3 Out Of 5 Stars

Sometime Paul McCartney doesn't get the credit he deserves for separating himself from his past. As a Beatle, he all but defined what popular music is to this date. As a solo artist and Wings-man, he reinvented himself as the leader of a band and made a lot of substantial music under that name. And sometimes, he just wanted to do something that was in the way-out-o-sphere. Thirty years later, when you put "McCartney II" in sequence with albums he's done as "Thrillington" or "The Fireman," there's an experimental streak that becomes clear. "McCartney II," originally released in 1980, I remember a Rolling Stone review that was titled "McCartney Hits a New Low Again."

Granted, this is no "Ram" or "Band On The Run," it's not even "Pipes of Peace." However, with the burgeoning new wave movement surrounding him, Paul made the effort to see if he could rein things back and go minimalist. He did the one man band bit, and recorded the whole thing by plugging his mic right into the tape deck. He then proceeded to ape Devo on "Temporary Secretary," while "Coming Up" sounds like he was trying to write a Beatles song for Orchestral Maneuvers in The Dark. "One The Way" and "Nobody Knows" tilted towards blues and rockabilly, while the lovely "Waterfalls" and "One Of These Days" are the kind of earnest ballads it seems Paul can toss off in an afternoon.

What is telling is how much of "McCartney II" is devoted to electronic instrumentals. "Front Parlour," "Summer's Day Song" and "Frozen Jap" could easily be from his Fireman persona that he debuted in 1994. I don't think that these are the songs any McCartney fan would have in a heavy rotation, but they did show that, after years of being a rock idol, he was willing to go way outside his comfort zone. That still doesn't excuse "Bogey Music" and "Darkroom" or the album's overall this sound. The remaster does help a bit with that issue, though.

The bonus disc is a worthy addition, as it includes the USA hit version of "Coming Up (Live at Glasgow)" the considerably improves the song's qualities. Both "Blue Sway" and "Secret Friend" could have easily been a part of the original album without affecting its sound. The Christmas tune "Wonderful Chritsmastime" makes another appearance on CD, which is OK for those that haven't heard it enough already. The rest are experiments and songs that were left off for good reason. All together, not worth the scorn heaped on it when originally released. Makes me eager for coming reissues.

McCartney (Archive Collection)  Band On The Run (Archive Collection) Run Devil RunRam1962-1966 (Red) Remastered 1967-1970 (Blue) Remastered