Monday, April 29, 2013

My Amazon Reviews: Depeche Mode "Delta Machine"

Welcome to the machine
4 Out Of 5 Stars

While I still enjoy their albums, there's little on Depeche Mode's "Delta Machine" that suggests that they haven't come off auto-pilot since "Ultra." They are still singing about pain, redemption, soul-pain in the search for more, and can't allot Andy Fletcher to singing one song. The devotion to destruction still rules, and analog synths are still the best thing out there.

If you're a fan, then that is all that matters. There's hints of grandness in the opening "Welcome To My World," which is a nice way of saying 'join me in my vortex.' Count the times Martin Gore sings the words 'angel,' and 'soul' (although one of them comes in the great couplet "I couldn't save your soul, I couldn't even take you home"). Alas if it were only that simple. But it is devoted DM fan, it is. They still twiddle with electronic blues ("Soothe My Soul" sounds like a muted "Personal Jesus" without the big distorted guitar, as does the equally interesting "Goodbye") and Gore and Gahan are still in fine voice after all these years.

Fans of the era where Depeche Mode filled their dark spaces with big dance beats will likely find "Delta Machine" wanting. As a long time fan, I've found things to like in almost every album they've released, and that includes the oft-derided "Exciter" (which this album reminds me of often). "Delta Machine" may be the album where the preachers are still talking about fire and brimstone, but are content with knowing that the flock no-longer needs it screamed at them. It's a quiet wonder that bears up to repeated listens.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

My Amazon Reviews: System Of a Down "Toxicity"

Magnum Toxic
4 Out Of 5 Stars

"Toxicity," System of a Down's second album, remains their best effort. They mashed together thrash metal and melodic hard rock (yes, I said that seriously) to the point that Serj Tankian, could jump from his harsh shouting to the tuneful but complex "Aerials." Guitarist Daron Malakian even picks up an acoustic for "Chop Suey!" And like brothers in arms Rage Against The Machine, System of a Down weren't afraid of taking on political rocking, as in the CD's opening "Prison Song." At the same time, there's a weird sense of humor, like in "Bounce," where the bans seems to be taking a whiz at their own brand of metal, or using a flute in "Science."

It helped that a producer like Rick Rubin could come in and make order out of chaos, much like he did with Slayer's best albums. He's one of the few producers who can take bands that make music as jagged as SOAD create and stitch it into a complete and coherent album. When this kind of sound was all the rage in 2001 (think Korn, Rage and Deftones), "Toxicity" was the album that stood above the crowd in terms of sheer originality and stylistic verve.


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

My Amazon Reviews: New England "Walking Wild"

Walking Wild, Heavy Style
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Back in 1981, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing New England's lead singer John Fannon for my college radio station as we sponsored a "Week in New England" promotion for "Walking Wild." The finale was a 100 yard Wild Walk race, with the winner getting a Sony Walkman (a cool prize back then) and copies of "Walking Wild" on cassette to groove on. John was an amicable interview and even complimented me on having knowledge of the band and decent questions prepared for our chat.

So I have a certain amount of nostalgia involved with "Walking Wild." While it is my personal favorite New England album, it's probably not the most representative work of the band. ("Explorer Suite" claims that title.) The person to point the finger of circumstance at is producer Todd Rundgren, who helped the band whip "Walking Wild" together in less than a month. He stripped a lot of the layered production of the first two albums away and turned the album into a leaner and tougher record.

There are moments when Todd's hand weighs in very heavy, making New England sound like a fantastic Utopia cover band. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the album's first single, a goofy hook feast called "DDT." Short for "Dirty Dream Tonight," it steams away with a barreling piano, thick harmony and an insta-catchy chorus. This really should have been the band's breakout single, but maybe it was a little too risque for the moment.

The sound New England is better known for shines through in the lush ballad "Love's Up In The Air" and the progressive synths of "Get It Up." The rockers (the title cut and "She's Gonna Tear You Apart") are the kind of arena rock you'd probably peg right-off as 80's music. There's also a great rock-rebel lyric line in the opening track that states "he looks good, he feels good, he's fashionably mad." When I asked John Fannon what that meant, he replied that "it feels good to be a little crazy sometimes. It's hip to be a little mad." "Walking Wild" was New England's last big crazy swipe at the brass ring, and they went for it with all guns blazing.


Monday, April 22, 2013

My Amazon Reviews: Tears For Fears "Shout: The Very Best Of Tears For Fears"

Who wants to rule the world?
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Tears for Fears wanted to be a deep band even as they formed. The took their named from Arthur Janov's primal scream therapy, both "The Hurting" and "Songs From The Big Chair" were derived from each members therapy sessions, and they specialized in darker, mysterious themes, that is, until the uncharacteristically trippy "The Seeds of Love." Either way, the duo of Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith had more going on than the average synthed out pairing.

"Shout: The Very Best Of Tears For Fears" succinctly gathers songs from the pair's four albums, along with a batch of non-LP singles. (A quick note, the CD "Elemental" was essentially a Roland Orzabal solo album, but two tracks are included here.) The best of these singles were unavoidable in the mid-80's, like "Everybody Wants To Rule The World" and "Shout" from the "Big Chair" CD. They'd experiment with soul ("Woman In Chains" with Oleta Adams) and a new recording of "I Believe." The early songs convey energy, like "Change" or the remix of "Mother's Talk." But more often than not, Tears For Fears was into creating dreamy melodies that suggested transforming from hurting to healing to transcending.

The non album cuts include "New Star" from the soundtrack to "Threesome," "Laid So Low," a holdover from a previous Greatest Hits, along with some revamping of singles (like "Mother's Talk"). Even the weaker tracks hold up in the context of Tears For Fears overall recording style, which grew more organic with each album. "Shout: The Very Best Of Tears For Fears" is both a solid representation of the band, but a recognition of the kind of quality music that came from the best of the 80's synth bands.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

My Amazon Reviews: Rachel Sweet "B.A.B.Y.: The Best of Rachel Sweet"

The Sweet Spot
3 Out Of 5 Stars

Stiff Records thought they had a ringer in 15 year old country belter Rachel Sweet. They teamed her up with Svengali Liam Sternberg and used her incredible voice, which crossed Brenda Lee country with new-wave brass, dressed her up as jailbait (to more than a little controversy) and released "Fool Around." Controversy or no, Sweet blew it all to the side with her faithful versions of Carla Thomas' "B.A.B.Y." and Del Shannon's "I Go To Pieces," Sweet proved she was more than a tarted up image. This compilation samples from her two Stiff albums, "Fool Around" and the more straight-forward "Protect The Innocent."

Backed on some of these songs by The Rumour and Will Birch and The Records, Sweet never lacked for decent backup musicians. She could move easily between styles, covering Elvis Presley's "Baby Let's Play House" or Elvis Costello's "Stranger in The House," then busting loose with label-mate Lene Lovich for "Cuckoo Clock." The half of this disc not produced by Sternberg was done by pop maestros Martin Rushent and Alan Winstanley and is taken from the terrific "Protect The Innocent." She went from covering The Damned's punk classic "New Rose" to doing the seductive teen-dream "Tonight Ricky."

While Sweet cut two more albums for Columbia, they aren't represented here. While that's a shame, they were both uneven albums and can be found on the two-fer Then He Kissed Me/Blame It on Love. This best of manages to pull together over an hour from two albums, making "B.A.B.Y - The Best Of Rachel Sweet" a real bargain for old fans of everything Stiff.


The Rainbow Book Fair

This past Saturday, I overslept. This was not a good thing, as the rainbow Book Fair I've been telling everyone to come to was better than two hours away and I had two and a half hours to get there. I bolted from bed and ate a hasty breakfast, then hit the highway. I was smart enough to have loaded the books into the car trunk the night before. I still made it to the event in time, including picking up my friend and fellow author David Stein. A friend snapped this picture of the two of us.

Tim and David book fair

Despite the minutes to midnight sort of arrival, we were set up well before patrons began arriving. In another break of luck, the table next to ours was a no-show, so I used it to spread more books out. Thanks to the Square device that turns a smartphone into a cash register, I did a brisk business, mostly on my new book. I was pleased. I got to see some old friends, and Thor stopped in for a visit, bearing bagels.

Now if you are wondering why I am wearing those groovy hippie glasses indoors, it was I forgot to change from driving with my sunglasses to my regular spectacles. Which was a mistake, as I left them on the passenger car seat. Which means that David, unwittingly, sat on them. Oh Snap was exactly what it meant in the literal sense. Driving home was a real trial, as I had to balance the frame on half of my head while adjusting the nose piece about every 5 to 10 miles. But I made it home safely, and my new book is already getting some very positive feedback. (Always good for the insecure author's ego.)

In less than two weeks I'll be headed for Cleveland's CLAW event, where I'll be moderating "Dirty Words: The Erotic Author's Forum." Everyone gets to do a reading, which is always fun, and the audience tends to be very responsive during Q&A time. With the new book to lead the vendor table, I am also hoping to do well sales-wise again.

I'm so pleased to have the new book out that I've started working on another. I've finally started the Amish Zombie novel I've been batting around in my head for a few years now. "Mennonite Of The Living Dead" is the working title (groan all you want to, but now you won't forget it, will you?).

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

My Amazon Reviews: Supertramp "Crime Of The Century"

Criminally Delightful
5 Out Of 5 Stars

Cross the sonic pallet of Steely Dan with the English cleverness of 10cc (and a dash of Pink Floyd dread for added effect), and you have Supertramp's breakthrough formula for "Crime of The Century." This was the album where their progressive rock instincts of their arty early albums merged with a pop sense, meaning that many of the songs had great hooks and memorable melodies. This meant two things: They scored an American Hit with "Bloody Well Right" and a near miss with "Dreamer," and that this was one of the best sounding albums of 1974.

That didn't mean that Supertramp had turned into The Sweet. They still had it in them to stretch out on a jam like "Rudy" for seven plus minutes, or the orchestral overload of "Asylum." Like Pink Floyd, they took to investigating where the border between sanity and insanity balanced. "Asylum," "Hide In Your Shell" and "If Everyone Was Listening" are cries from a haunted soul (perhaps it belongs to Rudy). "Dark Side of The Moon" may have been a take on full-on madness, "Crime of The Century" wonders how you get there.

That kind of thinking extended into other Supertramp albums (think of "Fool's Overture" on "Even in The Quietest Moments" or even the hit "The Logical Song"). However, it was the interplay of band leaders and chief songwriters Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson that made "Crime of The Century" such a thought provoking album, and it still sounds as sonically gorgeous now as it did when it pulled Supertramp into stardom.


Monday, April 15, 2013

My Amazon Reviews: Thin Lizzy "Jailbreak (Deluxe Version)"

The Day The Boys Came to Town
5 Out Of 5 Stars

Sporting enigmatic frontman Phil Lynott and the twin guitar attack of Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson, Thin Lizzy were fired up and in fighting form when they delivered 1976's "Jailbreak." This was a do or die album for them, as they'd been intimated that they needed a hit or it was game over. From the opening punch of the title song (complete with sirens and alarm bells), you could tell; Thin Lizzy had made an album that was going to be their big payday.

Even bigger was the rock anthem to bad boy behavior, "The Boys are Back in Town." Memorable on the first listen, the hook stuck with you and gave Thin Lizzy its first and only American hit. Loaded with macho imagery and rock energy, it's become enough of a classic to be picked for TV commercials. Still, the 'boys' were rampant all across "Jailbreak," with the kind of romantic imagery about coming of age and pushing back against authority, like the title track "Fight or Fall," or "Warriors."

Lynott also had a special place in his heart for American mythology, which is exposed on the romantic "Romeo and The Lonely Girl" and "Cowboy Song." Lynott's vocals are even soulful on these songs, underlining the fact that Thin Lizzy, even though pegged as hard rockers, had a lot of colorful characters in the storybook. The 'rocking' title is still deserved, with the twin harmonies of Gorham and Robertson snaking through the best songs here, and drummer Brian Downey punching through "Warriors" with a brief but effective solo.

"Jailbreak" was the break Thin Lizzy needed, not only breaking the band in the USA, but across the world. The remaster makes things a bit punchier, but the bonus disc "remixes" should be viewed with suspicion; Joe Elliott (of Def Leppard and an avowed Lizzy fan) and former guitarist Gorham added overdubs and extra vocals to the new mixes. The BBC sessions are ace material, showing what the band was capable of in an intimate space. There's one unreleased studio track ("Blues Boy") and a fine early version of "Cowboy Song" then titled "Derby Blues." Overall, a better "deluxe version" than you often find marketed as such, and a classic bit of 70's rock.