Wednesday, May 23, 2012

My Amazon Reviews: Phil Seymour "Phil Seymour Archives 2"

Double Trouble
3 Out Of 5 Stars

Two years after his solo debut, Phil Seymour delivered another power-poptastic album, the unimaginatively titled 2, complete with a double image of Seymour dressed in stripes against a juicyfruit kind of backdrop. Similarities to the first album were more than intentional. The original album contained a mix by Val Garay ("Bette Davis Eyes," a lot of Linda Ronstadt) that has been scrapped for this reissue, along with Seymour's cover of Twilley's "Looking for The Magic," which has been moved to the reissue of Seymour's debut.

Which is something I have to admit, I didn't notice. The vinyl version of PS2 left my collection decades ago, so my memories of the original Boardwalk issue/mix are fuzzy at best. On the other hand, something that did stay with me and carries over is that PS2 was not as stellar an album as the debut. There's no song here that matches the perfection of "Precious To Me," although the Cowsills (!!!) penned "Dancing a Dream" comes closest. Phil also nicked a good unreleased Tom Petty song, "Surrender." There's plenty of jangle guitars ("Better to Me Than You") and heartache pop. Good stuff, albeit with thin production by Richard Polodor/Bill Cooper.

The gems are the previously unreleased tracks. In particular, they do a fine job on The Plimsouls' "Now" while not topping it, and beat Pam Tillis to "Maybe it was Memphis" (a top ten country hit for her) by almost a decade. One of my fave New Wave bands, 20/20, finds there song "Chemistry" in the bonuses, and a Textones song (PS was a member) "Gotta Get The Feeling Back" shows up here in what I assume is the original version. So I can certainly recommend PS2 to die hard power-poppers and Dwight Twilley fans, but the debut aces this disc by a pretty wide margin.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

My Amazon Reviews: Dr John "Locked Down"

Steaming in the Swamp
4 Out Of 5 Stars

This is one heck of a comeback album for Dr John. Produced by Black Key Dan Auerbach, it combines the Keys' garage esthetic with John's Gumbo New Orleans funk. That may serve as both recommendation and warning; if you dig on the Keys' wall of noise sounds, you'll probably like this more than older Dr John fans might. The production is dirty and swampy, with minor key horns and wailing back-up singers piling on some serious blues.

Meanwhile, the Good Doctor uses the opportunity to rail against politics, to throw down a little old time religion, and to bump and grind like it's after closing time and the streets are empty except for you and some old friends with a piano. "Locked Down" is no excessive cheap nostalgia, it's a modern record with everyday concerns. Like the latest Tom Waits album, "Bad As Me," "Locked Down" lets the man Mac Rebennack, and the persona, Dr John, come together and use the character's strengths for superior purposes. As the Dr prowls through "Ice Age" or storms across Auerbach's guitars in the title track, he sounds like a man unleashed.

That retro-groove is astonishing, only letting down on the syrupy "God's Sure God." However, there hasn't been a record this greasy from Dr John for a couple of decades, and there are no covers/standards that seem to have been his stock-in-trade for too long. "Locked Down" is the return of The Night Tripper, and as such, makes this the best Dr John album in near 20 years.


Monday, May 21, 2012

My Amazon Reviews: Magnetic Fields "Love At The Bottom Of The Sea"

Voyage to See What's On The Bottom
3 Out of 5 Stars

Stephin Merritt tries to pop out with synth songs that stay short, have two vocal dimensions (squeaky voice or grumble drone), and run hot or cold. At least he ditched the constrains of 'concept' that made his other albums struggles to get through. However, "Love At The Bottom of The Sea" suffers from songs that sounds like they were tossed off. The opening one-two punch preps you for the big comeback, then things teeter-totter for the rest of the disc.

For starters, "God Wants Us To Wait" is a funny kick at opponents of gay marriage (although it mat not be a crime in our state...god wants us to wait). This is one of the high squeaky songs and it picks the album up right at the start. Then comes the highlight and first single, "Andrew In Drag," an unrequited love song for the 'girl' he can never have. Or more to the point:

"The moment that he hot the stage
my tail began to wag
like a little wiener dog
for Andrew in Drag."

Problem is, after that, nothing comes out as sublime or as funny. ("Only Boy In Town" is the next great song here.) The rest are lyrically uninteresting and do the back'n'forth between squeaky and droney with little to distinguish one from the other. MF fans will enjoy, but Merritt has done better work.


Friday, May 18, 2012

My Amazon Reviews: The Tubes "The Completion Backwards Principle"

"We're Here Because You're There"
4 Out Of 5 Stars

That quote was part of the original album's liner notes, and it pretty much sums up The Tubes' general attitude. They were irreverent and shocking, with enough playing chops to keep those in the know interested in the music. Put that with the live show that get them banned from numerous venues (in their early days), and you had a band that seemed to be perennially on the brink of making it big. But The Tubes also spent just a little too much time being weird to climb all the way to chartland. "The Completion Backward Principle" saw them almost making it yet again, as David Foster did his best to smooth out the jarring edges and polish the band even more than Todd Rundgren did on "Remote Control." The Tubes did their part by writing some tunes that sounded absolutely Toto-ish, if Toto ever contemplated amnesia, schizophrenia and late night B-Movies as song fodder.

The buff job paid off, with The Tubes' first across the board Album Radio hit, the tough strutting but uncharacteristic "Talk To You Later." The band then hit late night TV and began showing up in swim flippers performing "Sushi Girl" in a wading pool from the stage of the Tonight Show. Radio took notice and the ballad "Don't Want To Wait Anymore" snuck into the lower reaches of the Top 40. Fortunately, Foster wasn't completely able to tame these yahoos. "Attack Of The Fifty Foot Woman" was sci-fi silly in a manner that only The Tubes could make credible, and the punchy "Mr. Hate" was the confrontation of a shattering personality that the band executed perfectly on stage. "TCBWP" is likely The Tubes' most consistent album musically, but misses five stars because it was too slickly over produced, and the band never regained their experimental edge after this (unless you count the second half of "Love Bomb").


Monday, May 14, 2012

My Amazon Reviews: Rufus Wainwright "Out Of The Game"

Rufus Rediscovers Pop
4 Out Of 5 Stars

This is near as perfect a match between artist and producer as 2012 has seen. Mark Ronson nudges Rufus Wainwright into Ronson's retro-world just as Rufus writes his most melodic material since his wonderful "Want One." The end result, "Out Of The Game," is just as it's title states; Rufus has reined in his last couple CD's worth of extravagance into a listenable and highly enjoyable album.

He's also as unconventional as ever. "Look at you, suckers," he snorts at the newly out character on the title track, with soul-backing singers. It sounds like conventional pop-soul, but that dark streak subverts the meaning. Same with songs that are self referential ("Rashida," "Barbara"), yet the swirling ABBA synths of "Montauk" change the game completely. Rufus sings to his new daughter about her two dads, in a sly and somber hopeful song about her future, along with a bittersweet, heartfelt verse about his late mother and growing older without her. It's easily the best and most reflective song he's written since "Poses," and made me a fan of Rufus once again.

I have to admit, his last few albums had left me cold; the redo of Judy Garland, the overt arty "All Nights are Days" and I was feeling "Release The Stars" was the artist reaching past his grasp. "Out Of The Game" proves me wrong. Despite all the diversions - and the way he now draws upon them for this album - Wainwright has kept his touch as a masterful singer-songwriter. That's something I wasn't expecting to say, but I'm more than happy to eat my words this time around.


Friday, May 11, 2012

My Amazon Reviews: Angels and Airwaves "Love Parts 1 & 2"

All You Needs Is....
3 Out Of 5 Stars

When Tom DeLonge stepped away from Blink 182 and formed Angels and Airwaves, it was obvious from the first album that he wanted to make mature music. "Love" (parts one and two) is as epic as it comes. DeLonge wants to make anthems. Big music, like U2, Simple Minds, Muse, et al, to form a soundtrack for the modern world (or at least the independent feature film he executive produced of the same name). While it may not hit the heights he obviously is aiming for, "Love" is a sprawling, ambitious record. Not necessarily Smashing Pumpkins, but maybe 30 Seconds to Mars.

There are a lot of Edge-Worthy guitar sounds and a whole lotta emoting. That may make you sound big, but it doesn't mean you're amazing. DeLonge has a one-dimensional singing style that holds the album back. The music, though, is broad and cinematic, ready to minor-key itself to the Twilight crowd. Plenty of grandiose imagery and profound attempts at lyricism (the opener, "Flight of Apollo," in particular). Producer/Mixer Tom Lord Alge brings up the orchestral boom, while the band plays it sharp and tight. "Love" may not be "How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb," but as modern rock is concerned, it holds it's own.


Monday, May 7, 2012

My Amazon Reviews: Elvis Costello "The Spectacular Spinning Songbook - Live!"

One raucous and noisy show from Napoleon Dynamite
3 Out Of 5 Stars 

On his latest live excessive exercise, Elvis Costello and his Imposters (Steve Nieve, Pete Thomas and Davey Faragher) haul out The Spectacular Spinning Songbook. Costello has done variations of this format before, where an audience member spins the wheel and a random song will come up (or when I saw it, the pulled and 'arrow' from a broken heart that had a song attached), and the band tears into the random selections. It makes for a fun show, with oddities appearing, some of Costello's favorite oldies (in this show, Nick Lowe's "Heart of The City" and The Rolling Stones' "Out of Time") making appearances. Even better, for me, anyhow, is Costello going all torch singer on "God Give Me Strength."

Problem is, it makes for performances of varying quality. In this case, the sound was the victim. The concert is a noisy, raucous affair with the distorted sound of a decent bootleg. While this may annoy many audiophiles, it just makes the show more fun to me. In my opinion, the quality of "Songbook" betters that of the classic "El Macambo" set from the late 70's that many hold to be classic. Just a mater of tastes, and in my taste, hearing Susanna Hoffs come up to knock out the Bangles' version of EC's "Doll Revolution" made this worth the cost.