Sunday, March 31, 2013

My Amazon Reviews: The The "Infected"

4 Out Of 5 Stars

By far the best of Matt Johnson's The The albums, "Infected" is like an apocalyptic disco, a nightmarish whirl of dance beats, visions of doom and a cynical view of Johnson's Britain in the late 80's. "I'm a man without a soul," he proclaims on "Out Of the Blue," and Johnson portrays everything around him as going straight to Hell. Into Johnson's musical combat zone are rant's that the UK is just "the 51'st state of the USA" and how easily we slip into war mentality ("Angels Of Deception"). It's not easy listening.

The funny thing is, "Infected" is a high polished album. Compared to the synth pop that dominated "Soul Mining" and the rawness of "Mind Bomb," the albums that bookended "Infected," it's Saturday Night Fever in Dante's Inferno. There's plenty of angry lyricism and plenty of cynicism; after all, this was the Thatcher era of England. Everything from Religion to Love is suspect in Johnson's mind, even when he tries to get sweet with his honey on the "Slow Train To Dawn." There's plenty of energy here, but it's covered with dance horns, electric drums, and Johnson's unique voice. There weren't too many of his contemporaries that dared to make a whole concept album about love and death and political diatribes, but with "Infected," The The created an album that still sounds as powerful now as it did upon its release.


Friday, March 29, 2013

The Improbable Reunion
3 Out Of 5 Stars

"Just for the record, we never broke up. We just took a fourteen year vacation."

With those words, the Eagles kicked off their first concert in over a decade for an MTV broadcast special titled "Hell Freezes Over." The band took it all in stride, playing a tight set, leaning heavily on their most popular album (5 of 11 live tracks are from "Hotel California"), and adding four new songs to the disc as a bonus. The best of those four, "Get Over It," is the hardest rocking song the band has ever produced. Based on a Chuck Berry riff and Don Henley's annoyance with "a whole lot of people saying don't blame me," it's an epic rant.

But no one is fooled by the new material. It's the classics they came to hear, and Eagles bests are as good as classic rock gets. The band does keep it mostly mellow, with favorites "Tequila Sunrise," "I Can't Tell You Why" and "Wasted Time" all being mid-tempo to downright slowpoke, while it isn't till the end that the electric guitars come out for "Take It Easy" and "Life In The Fast Lane." In fact. there is little straying from the original arrangements. The exception is the Spanish guitar version of "Hotel California," which significantly alters the opening of that song.

But throughout, the Eagles are in fine voice, with the ever so pristine harmonies fully intact. They turn Henley's solo song "New York Minute" into an Eagles song and the longing of the closing "Desperado" sounds as good as it did in 1973. Henley remains the band's dominant voice, singing the bulk of the material and two of the four new songs. That matters little to the audience, who cheer enthusiastically after classic after classic. Pretty much a souvenir of the band's unlikely reunion and subsequent tour, "Hell Freezes Over" is a polished document of that new beginning.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

My Amazon Reviews: Franz Ferdinand "Tonight: Franz Ferdinand"

Tonight and the Morning After
3 Out Of 5 Stars

Alleged to be a concept album about a hard party of a night and the following morning, Franz Ferdinand attempt to shift direction on their third album. "You're never going home," they belt on the opening salvo, "Ulysses." Offering their usual angular guitar attack on top of some squiggly synth lines, it's their call to being ready to party. They try to pick up the ladies ("No You Girls"), get a spot on the dance floor (the electronically extended "Lucid Dreams") and realize that it's all been a waste of time ("Katherine Kiss Me," which sounds like an apology to "No You Girls"). It's Franz Ferdinand's most ambitious album so far.

It's not just a boy's night out, as the longing for "Katherine" shoes. They switch to the ladies' point of view for disco-fied "What She Came For." Franz frontman Alex Kapranos lets go of the hedonist inside to let the woman try and hit on him, then lets loose with a kicking deceivingly not-disco guitar solo. That doesn't stop the band from nudging the dance floor, especially on the following track "Live Alone." The big switch is that the crunchy guitars that made "Take Me Out" or "Do You Want To" from the previous album are strapped to throbbing basses and slinky keyboards.

Not every band gets to try this bold a maneuver, but the Ferds pull it off neatly. Fans of the group's guitar based albums might be put off, but repeat listens reward the patient. "Tonight: Franz Ferdinand" makes the case the FF remain a band to pay attention to.


Sunday, March 24, 2013

My Amazon Reviews: The Rascals "Time Peace; The Rascals' Greatest Hits"

Time and place.
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Craftily mixing the best of the British Invasion energy to Blue Eyed Soul, The Rascals ran up a string of terrific hit singles in the 60's and early seventies. "Time Peace" mixes those singles with a few choice album selections (many of them covers) to prove that vocalist Eddie Brigati, keyboardist/vocalist Felix Cavaliere, guitarist Gene Cornish, and drummer Dino Danelli were more than just a singles act, even if their albums were frequently spotty affairs. After all, who can't resist the infectious joy of "Good Lovin'" or the relaxed flow of "Groovin'?"

You'll also find the singles "You Better Run" (later a hit for Pat Benatar) and "How Can I Be Sure" (covered by of all improbable people, David Cassidy), but misses one of their most important singles of their career, "People Got To Be Free." Some of the earlier singles ("I Ain't Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore" being a major offender) are of a primitive recording quality and labor under dated production effects (switching the vocals from stereo left to stereo right in "Mustang Sally"), but this was the mid-sixties. Forgive those things and you have a document of The Rascals that holds together better than most bands of the same period.


Saturday, March 23, 2013

My Amazon Reviews: David Bowie "The Next Day"

Hungover Heroes
4 Out Of 5 Stars
Like the willfully annoying cover art, David Bowie continues confounding his audience with his first album in 10 years. "The Next Day" finds the former recluse coming out with a bang, teasing with samples from his storied past. There are touches of "Heroes" here, along with "Station To Station" and a few of the stronger moments of the underrated "Hours." And he can't seem to stay away from the space thing, with the best song on the album being the mesmerizing "The Stars Are Out Tonight."

Or, for that matter, the minor odyssey of "Dancing in Outer Space." Which is one of the songs he actually sings on. Many of the songs are barked in a staccato fire method, including the blasting opener of the title song. Bowie is not edging into is older years quietly, but still challenging his own work. The anger in the war protest "I'd Rather Be High" contrasts to the weird doo-wop of "How Does The Grass Grow?" Finally, there's the mysterious closer, "Heat," which floats on a muted guitar and ominous cushion of electronics as Bowie murmurs a lyric whose odd reveal is "My father ran the prison" and "I tell myself I don't know who I am." Musical chameleon that he's always been, David Bowie is still, pushing 70, happy to play around with the perception of who we think he is.

As for the bonus tracks, the instrumental "Plan" is a dud. Why "So She" missed the cut is odd, as it has one of the prettier melodies on "The Next Day." The same speculation could be applied to "I'll Take You There," which rocks more than most of the album. You might as well buy the deluxe version as two of the three bonus cuts rival anything on the proper disc.


Friday, March 22, 2013

My Amazon Reviews: 20/20 "20/20 - Look Out"

Perfect Vison
4 Out Of 5 Stars

20/20 were one of those millions of pop bands that was springing up around the same time as Motels, Plimsouls, The Knack and the whole high-energy scene. This two-fer finally re-invites the folks who didn't get the Oglio version a few years back (and was fetching outrageous prices) to hear one of the best of the Los Angeles bands from that era all over again. Adding a pair of B-Sides from the "Look Out" period, and this is essentially every song 20/20 released during their tenure on Portrait/Epic records.

The calling card of their first album remains the nervous wind-up of "Yellow Pills," which picked up plenty of airplay on Alternative Rockers like KROQ and still makes Power Pop compilations today. Ron Flynt and Steve Allen were Tulsa transplants that had worked themselves into a formidable songwriting team, which leaves such undiscovered gems like "Ride The Lightning" or "Cheri" overshadowed by the more famous songs. But 20/20 had the same worldview as fellow Okies Dwight Twilley and Phil Seymour in that a Midwestern sound filled with energy and a love of British pop could carry a good song a long distance. Add a new-wave synth or two and you were getting some power-pop brilliance.

According to the liner notes, "20/20" was recorded in a matter of weeks. The followup, "Look Out," took over a year. It also marked some changes for the band, with original drummer Mike Gallo out and Joel Turrisi in, the sound was also shifting. The energy was still there but a more American outlook was entering. The harmonies were even tighter and the lyrical content was taking on a darker tone. I was fortunate enough to interview Steve Allen when the album was released and he pointed out that the death of John Lennon and world turmoil informed the mood of the album.

Produced by Richard Polodor (who was helming some great bands in this period), there was no mistaking that the band had tightened up. "Nuclear Boy" and "Beat City" were vibrant looks at the world, while "Mobile Unit 245" and "The Night I Heard a Scream" looked towards life's tragic moments. While the nervous energy that fueled the first album was tempered, the songs were way more gripping and (like "American Dream") more experimental. They'd matured rapidly into their power-pop shoes. I still think it's a better album than the debut, though there are some who will disagree.

Together, however, "20/20-Look Out" would please any fan of Shoes, Motels, Plimsouls and bands of their ilk. From the label Real Gone Music, who recently issued the Shoes anthology, these guys took care to master the disc well and get liner notes from Steve Allen, Ron Flynt and Chris Silagyi, along with some cool blast from the past artwork and pictures. Now if only The Producers' two Portrait albums could get the same treatment, I'd be in Power Pop heaven.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

My Amazon DVD Reviews: The History of The Eagles

A Quintessential American Band
5 Out Of 5 Stars

Love them or hate them, The Eagles are a band that ran up a string of hits through the seventies that defined much of the decade. They've been accused of being narcissistic, overtly mellow, egotistical, and other things not all that complimentary. "The History Of The Eagles" spells all this out in detail, which makes it almost indispensable for fans of the bands or for folks who wonder how a seventies band made it though the music industry.

While the band was centered around the songwriting axis of Glenn Frey and Don Henley, every band member, past and present, gets a say. It's a warts and all approach, often unflattering but frequently compelling. Managers, producers, album cover artists and fellow musicians (Bob Seger, Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne and more) get their say. The music drives the narrative, sticking closely to the evolution of tha band as they release their consecutive albums, up to the acrimonious split around 1980.

However, the movie is broken into two parts, and the second half details the members as they seek separate careers and the reunion that takes place 14 years later. Again, the footage is not always flattering to the band (Don Felder gets so frustrated that he walks out of one of his segments), but the Eagles get, As Henley puts it, "that rarest of things in America, a second act." This covers the period from "Hell Freezes Over" to the independently released "Long Road Out Of Eden." The whole deal clocks in at 3hrs and 15 mins, making the documentary as exhaustive as can be.

Loaded with plenty of vintage (those seventies haircuts!) and never before seen clips to add to the attitude of the movie. And as you watch these men, now elder statesmen of classic rock, make their case for the importance of the Eagles, you get the feeling that attitude (along with plenty of the big three, sex and drugs and rock and roll) fueled the Eagles through the run that continues to this day. Some will find it bloated and unwatchable, the rest of us, with memories of where the Eagles were in our lives, will find this invaluable.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

My Amazon Reviews: The Apples In Stereo "#1 Hits Explosion"

Pop Tunes From An Alternate Universe
3 Out Of 5 Stars


Imagine a world where a skinny-tie synth-band from the mid 80's decided that their lodestones would be The Beach Boys, the psychedelic period of The Beatles, and just about every other pop-singles masters from the 60's. That would net you The Apples In Stereo, who dream of pop nirvana via homemade recordings of catchy, sweet singles with hooks as big as Montana.

This is a "Best of" style compilation, but since the band hasn't had any hits per se, "Number One Hits Explosion" is a dream piped in from a separate universe. One where the pseudo-pyscehdelic "Strawberry Fire" would dominate the airwaves. Or the super-catchy "Energy" would top the pop charts. "Seems So" would find them opening for The Beach Boys or The Byrds.Or maybe they could revive Bubblegum with every single multi-harmony coated catchy tune found here.

The Apples In Stereo have quietly released six albums in a discography that rates with some of the finest power pop in the land. Definitely a guilty pleasure, "#1 Hits Explosion" is worth a listen.