Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Elvis Costello 28: El Mocambo and Hollywood High

Shortly before the worldwide release of his second album, Elvis and his recently acquired Attractions performed a fast ‘n sweaty gig at the same Toronto club that had featured the Rolling Stones just a year before. Live At The El Mocambo was then released as a promo album, and promptly bootlegged.
It’s a great snapshot of the band on their second North American tour, plowing through songs familiar and unfamiliar to a rowdy club crowd. You can hear Elvis baiting the audience, demanding repeatedly that they “stand up”. The songs have been transformed from their guises on My Aim Is True into a sound all their own. “Less Than Zero” even gets a new set of lyrics to reflect the mistaken assumption that the Oswald in the song was the surname of Lee Harvey.
Some fifteen years later, it got its first official release, somewhat, as part of a box set on Rykodisc, alongside his first three albums. (Those buying the three individually could collect coupons from each and get their copy that way.) In a packaging decision sure to excite those of us who notice such things, the title was listed on the spine and the disc itself as Live At El Mocambo.
When Rhino got a hold of the catalog in 2000, the album was pointedly left out, with the exception of “Less Than Zero” being added to My Aim Is True, making the Ryko version a collector’s item.
Then, at the end of the decade, Hip-O’s version of the catalog initially eschewed any kind of bonus tracks on the albums, except for the Deluxe Editions of the first two albums. Two years after those landed with a resounding thud, the label initiated a series of standalone live albums under the banner “The Costello Show”. The first release? Live At The El Mocambo, complete with the missing article restored to the spine.

Much more interesting was the second installment in the series, which arrived a few months later. Live At Hollywood High presented the full concert that had previously been a bonus EP in the original Armed Forces package. Those three tracks were included on the Ryko reissue, expanded to nine songs on the Rhino version. In the absence of a Deluxe Edition of Armed Forces, for which this would have been a strong candidate, at least they found a way to let us hear the whole thing.
Starting with a piano-and-vocal performance of the recently written “Accidents Will Happen”, the band gallops into place for “Mystery Dance”. Only three months after the El Mocambo performance, there have already been changes to the set. Working versions of “Goon Squad” and “Party Girl” are already pretty tight, and a very non-country take of “Stranger In The House” adds some more variety. And of course, it’s nice to have an Attractions version of “Alison”. Overall, the performance is tighter—and probably more sober—than in Toronto, with Elvis interacting with a giddy high school crowd.
It’s a good show, but admittedly, overkill, as it makes a total of three concert releases covering the same three-month period. It remains to be seen if the “Costello Show” live series will continue.

Elvis Costello & The Attractions Live At The El Mocambo (1978)—
Elvis Costello & The Attractions Live At Hollywood High (2010)—4

Monday, June 28, 2010

George Harrison 15: Concert For George

A year to the day after George died, his “guitarist-in-law” Eric Clapton collaborated with Olivia and Dhani Harrison to put together a star-studded tribute concert. The obvious parallel would be made to the Concert For Bangla Desh, as many of the friends who’d helped out with that project were on hand to do it again here.
The first half hour—taking up all of disc one—is devoted to Indian music, mostly composed by Ravi Shankar, performed by an orchestra and choir led by Ravi’s daughter Anoushka. An interlude of “The Inner Light” sung by Jeff Lynne fits very well, while the final section includes acoustic extrapolations by Eric. It’s mesmerizing. (Not included on the CD, but presented in full on the DVD, was the intermission, featuring “Sit On My Face” and “The Lumberjack Song” performed by most of Monty Python in full singing-waiter and Mountie costumes. Without question, George would have loved it.)
The rock portion of the show provides heartfelt renditions of several George songs, mostly performed faithfully to the original recordings. Jeff, Eric, Gary Brooker and the little-known-to-Americans Joe Brown trade off on vocals before the big stars come in. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers do “Taxman” and “I Need You”, and bring Dhani and Jeff up for “Handle With Care”. Billy Preston does “Isn’t It A Pity”, then Ringo comes out to sing “Honey Don’t” and “Photograph” before introducing Paul McCartney.
Paul’s choices are intriguing, as they mostly come from the Get Back period. His ukulele arrangement of “Something” dovetails not seamlessly into the standard version, led by a Clapton solo. And his heartfelt rendition of “All Things Must Pass” is a stunner, considering how many times George tried to get the Beatles to learn it, only to be met with indifference. He sits at the piano to back up Eric on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, before letting Billy take over with “My Sweet Lord”. Everyone crowds onstage for “Wah-Wah” (with Klaus Voormann on bass!) and then Joe Brown brings his ukulele out one last time.
While a straight tribute album, George’s voice comes through every moment of this concert. The choice of songs also shows how much his lesser-known tracks meant to his friends. To get the full experience, watch the DVD—the love all these people had for the guy permeates every shot. There are several angles taken of drummers Jim Keltner, Henry Spinetti and Ringo working as one. And with handsome Dhani strumming away on an acoustic throughout, it’s not easy to be unmoved.

Concert For George (2003)—4

Friday, June 25, 2010

Bob Dylan 41: Time Out Of Mind

Seven whole years had passed since the last real Dylan album. In contemporary interviews, he said that for the longest time he just didn’t feel like writing songs, then was suddenly able to come up with a batch while being snowed in. Then he was hesitant to play them on tour for fear of having them bootlegged, and wanted to do them justice in the studio as well. So he spent two weeks in Miami recording with his then-current touring band, a few session hotshots and Daniel Lanois, who produced Oh Mercy, and the album was in the can.
Naturally, there was a certain amount of anticipation and absolute fear upon the announcement that something new was finally on the way. We needn’t have worried. Of the eleven phenomenal tracks that make up Time Out Of Mind, half are based around the 12-bar blues form. Most deal with some unnamed woman (or women) who broke Bob’s heart in a big way, and boy, is he miffed about it. The production is pretty swampy, slapping a lot of echo over his voice, which was pretty shot anyway; he doesn’t try to hit any high notes, which in the past resulted in a lot of yelling on his part.
A quiet martial stomp and a bleating Vox organ opens “Love Sick”, taken very slow and sounding like he’s transmitting from Mars. “Dirt Road Blues” effectively emulates an old 78. The album’s first masterpiece is the heartbreaking “Standing In The Doorway”, another slow, slow song with wonderful imagery. “Million Miles” continues the blues theme, his voice is a perfect match for the words. “Tryin’ To Get To Heaven” provides a nice break in the form of a major key and a memorable melody, but “‘Til I Fell In Love With You” doesn’t take hold as easily.
“Not Dark Yet” could be taken as another rumination on his own mortality, played in a style that links well to the better songs on Oh Mercy. The trip to hell continues on the downright scary “Cold Irons Bound”—that’s meant as praise, by the way—calmed by the extra-gentle “Make You Feel My Love”. With Bob up front on piano, it was beaten to the charts in versions by both Billy Joel and Garth Brooks. “Can’t Wait” is another blues taken at a funereal pace, but it’s a mere setup for the 17-minute “Highlands”, which closes the disc and is a fascinating journey in itself.
We knew he could do it again, and we’re glad he did. Basically, he waited until he had something to say, then said it. Even staunch Dylan haters were overheard saying it’s not that bad an album. Time Out Of Mind heralded a new era for a man who insisted he hadn’t gone away in the slightest. Even after an actual near-death experience, he was still out there—just a simple song and dance man.

Bob Dylan Time Out Of Mind (1997)—5

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Robyn Hitchcock 8: Globe Of Frogs

His buzz was growing, so when Robyn signed with A&M Records, he was able to capitalize on their college marketing approach. Globe Of Frogs is where a lot of fans came in, thanks to the radio exposure of “Balloon Man”—possibly his greatest hit, if he had one.
“Tropical Flesh Mandala” stumbles in, with a loopy riff, nearly spoken vocals and a decent chorus, going out on a chaotic piano solo. It’s immediately improved upon by “Vibrating”, proof that sometimes three chords are all you need. To this day “Balloon Man” is still lots of fun, a trippy walk around New York City encountering not just hummus but whole chickpeas as well. “Luminous Rose” inspires more Syd Barrett comparisons, built around what seems to be a harmonium and a story of dead sailors, flesh and fish. “Sleeping With Your Devil Mask” is another three-chord wonder, and a good stomping singalong.
“Unsettled” starts side two and gets pretty annoying after a while, but you can just hear a snippet of “Ghost Ship” at the end of it. The first of many appearances by Peter Buck, “Chinese Bones” is slathered in his 12-string guitar. Syd returns on “A Globe Of Frogs”, with the parlor piano and whispered double vocals. “The Shapes Between Us Turn Into Animals” is about as grating as the opening tracks on both sides, but all is redeemed by “Flesh Number One”. Subtitled “Beatle Dennis”, and for good reason, it’s such a happy tune about burning houses and crashing planes, framed by 12-strings and harmonies by Glenn Tilbrook. (Andy Metcalfe was moonlighting in Squeeze around this time, and as they were labelmates, the connection made sense.)
Globe Of Frogs is a very good effort, and gave him a sound he could settle into. (He’s also begun to talk about fish and flesh an awful lot, so if you’re going to keep going, get used to it.) Unfortunately, like the rest of the A&M catalog, it’s fallen out of print.

Robyn Hitchcock And The Egyptians Globe Of Frogs (1988)—4
Current CD availability: none

Monday, June 21, 2010

Rolling Stones 24: Love You Live

Another pattern developed with the Stones at this juncture of their career as superstars. From here on out, it would be a rare occasion where a studio album would be followed by another. Instead, they kept record racks filled with either a hits collection or a souvenir from their latest tour, the scope of which had almost certainly eclipsed its predecessor. The live album approach made sense, since most of their concerts got bootlegged anyway.
Love You Live was only their third official live album, culled mostly from a couple of dates over a long trek. It’s a double album, so they at least try to deliver. So what gives this album such a positive rating? Is it the Andy Warhol cover art, which depicts various Stones biting each other? (Saucy!) Is it the sound of fireworks bookending the performance? Could it be the grandeur of Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare For The Common Man”, used to herald the conquering heroes to the stage? Is it the selection of songs from their entire career to date, from “Get Off My Cloud” to “Fingerprint File”? Is it the meticulous way the tracks were overdubbed in the studio to rob them of their spontaneity? Is it Mick’s twixt-song patter in French, to the delight of the mostly Parisian audiences yelling along? No, what makes it special is side three.
Recorded at Toronto’s El Mocambo club the same week the law finally caught up with Keith, these four tracks present the Stones in an ideal setting: on a tiny stage pounding out old R&B favorites. Even the vocal encouragement of Billy Preston can’t dilute the energy in “Mannish Boy”, “Little Red Rooster”, “Around And Around” or the slightly reggaefied “Crackin’ Up”. It makes one wish they could play more shows like that, and then they could release more live albums like it.
But the Stones were undoubtedly a big act, and were worthy of big productions. On that score, Love You Live served its purpose. The times, however, were starting to dictate otherwise.

The Rolling Stones Love You Live (1977)—

Friday, June 18, 2010

Rolling Stones 23: Black And Blue

We might as well get this out of the way up front: Black And Blue shouldn’t be as good as it is. This transitional album took over a year to record, with a tour stuck in the middle. After all that time and drama, the album consists of eight songs of varying effectiveness that at least break the forty-minute mark. Part of this is due to the revolving cast. While Ron Wood is on the cover—one of the ugliest portraits of any band ever—he only plays on three songs; the others feature the work of American guitarists Wayne Perkins and Harvey Mandel. The track sheets reproduced on the inner sleeve spell out exactly who does what and where.
“Hot Stuff” turns a James Brown riff inside out while Mick tries to figure out if he wants to disco or reggae. “Hand Of Fate” is a more straightforward rocker in the Stones tradition with a fantastic solo played by—you guessed it—Wayne Perkins. Keith’s love of reggae takes over on “Cherry Oh Baby”; it would take a few more tries before he got the groove down and told Mick to stay out of the way. The pinnacle comes with “Memory Motel”, one of the band’s best songs. Based on pianos played by Mick and Keith, this tale of loneliness on the road never fails to pull a heartstring. They didn’t often duet, but Keith’s counterpoint on the verses and after each chorus establishes it as a favorite.
Things are just as schizophrenic on side two. After all the credits Mick Taylor got cheated out of, it must have irritated him no end to see “Hey Negrita”, a plodding Jagger/Richard composition, annotated with “inspiration by Ron Wood”. Ditto “Melody”, which gives a similar nod to Billy Preston, who probably did write the song. “Fool To Cry” was the single, anchored by more phased electric piano and driven by Mick’s ill-advised falsetto and lyrics lamenting his station in life between wives, children and mistresses. They hadn’t done a ballad in a while anyway. “Crazy Mama”—which sadly, has nothing to do with the Cloris Leachman film—ends the album with another blueprint rocker.
As transitional Stones albums go, Black And Blue is no Let It Bleed. But starting here, Ron Wood achieved a lifelong dream to become Keith’s shadow, and to Keith’s discredit, he went along with it. (Think about it: whenever Woody’s around Rod Stewart, he thinks he’s Rod Stewart, and when he’s around Keith, he thinks he’s Keith.) While we’re happy Keith had someone to hang out with, we don’t listen to Stones albums for Ron Wood, we listen for Keith. Nonetheless, he’s here to stay. And then some.

The Rolling Stones Black And Blue (1976)—

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Tom Petty 18: Mojo

Obviously invigorated by both the Mudcrutch experience and his recent trip through the vaults, Tom decided to take a direct approach for only the second Heartbreakers album since the turn of the century. Mojo sounds like nothing else in his catalog, and that’s meant in a good way.
Right off the bat “Jefferson Jericho Blues” sports a heavy harmonica riff over fairly standard changes. Then “First Flash Of Freedom” delivers chords that wouldn’t sound out of place on an Allman Brothers album, taken to the extreme on the solo section with dueling guitars and organ swells. The soul groove continues on “Running Man’s Bible”, with a classic Petty chorus sure to please concertgoers. “The Trip To Pirate’s Cove” (sadly, not a Hardy Boys homage) is a little more gentle, but still tries to add some mystery early on in the proceedings. Unfortunately, “Candy” isn’t very exciting, with stereotypical blues sentiments repeated over a fairly staid rhythm. “No Reason To Cry” is a definite step up, and a very gentle change of pace.
The volume goes up again on “I Should Have Known It”, an excellent rocker with a snaky riff, pounding drums, a wonderfully snotty vocal and a double-time section. It barely fades away before “U.S. 41” comes in with more country blues. “Takin’ My Time” is pretty plodding until Mike Campbell takes his first solo, and the tightness of the band reveals itself. “Let Yourself Go” borrows the feel of “Spike” from Southern Accents, speeds it up a bit, and throws some different dirt on it.
“Don’t Pull Me Over” has something of a reggae beat, and a fairly direct plea to highway patrolmen, but we wonder when was the last time he would have had to deal with highway patrolmen directly. “Lover’s Touch” brings back something of an Allman vibe, and more of a ‘70s sound frames “High In The Morning”. “Something Good Coming” is quiet, but sounds more like typical Petty. And they end with a bang on “Good Enough”, a minor key waltz anchored by a dramatic guitar and a story about a girl.
Petty says Mojo was written under the influence of old blues records, and for the most part, it shows. The liner notes helpfully detail when each song was recorded and with which instruments. The three heaviest (read: best) tracks are co-written by Mike Campbell, who spends most of the album playing a vintage Les Paul, and it still sounds just like him. The album’s a little long, and the snare doesn’t quite pop enough for our taste; perhaps the vinyl edition has more bite. One thing is obvious: these guys ain’t done yet.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Mojo (2010)—3

Monday, June 14, 2010

Rolling Stones 22: Made In The Shade and Metamorphosis

Brought out to coincide with a tour, Made In The Shade continues the Stones tradition of marking time with a hits collection. It includes tracks from each of the four albums they’d recorded since starting their own label, complete with the third LP appearances of “Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses”. Most of the tracks were hit singles, interspersed with such surprising selections as “Rip This Joint”. The cover was suitably atrocious, combining a desert motif with a dozing transsexual.

The album’s appearance made more sense when it turned out to have been released the exact same day as another compilation, and one they hadn’t endorsed. Metamorphosis was a shot from the bow of Allen Klein, consisting of outtakes from the sixties. This was not an Odds & Sods collection of should’ve-beens, but a true scraping of long-forgotten barrels. Most of side one consists of demos for other artists—Jagger-Richards compositions they would never record for their own albums, but featuring Mick’s guide vocals nonetheless with minimal backing from any other Stones. The opening alternate of “Out Of Time” sets the tone with its loud orchestra and awful female backing vocals; likewise a take of “Heart Of Stone” with Jimmy Page on guitar doesn’t live up to anyone’s expectations. Unlike the songs Lennon and McCartney gave other people, these weren’t hits, nor should they have been.
Things improve a lot on side two, with tracks from the latter half of the decade when the boys were true studio rats and mostly out from under manager Andrew Loog Oldham’s promotional thumb. “If You Let Me” is an Aftermath outtake that would have fit on Flowers, and appears oddly after a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “I Don’t Know Why”, allegedly recorded the night Brian Jones died. There are some refugees from the Beggars Banquet and Let It Bleed sessions, such as the decadent “Family”, Bill Wyman’s “Downtown Suzie” and an alternate take of “Memo From Turner”. “Jiving Sister Fanny” and “I’m Going Down” may not have been classics, but they weren’t any worse than some of the Stones’ more recent work.
The album cover for Metamorphosis was about as awful as its shelfmate; it’s unknown whether anyone sent away for the matching T-shirt offered on the inner sleeve. The Stones did their best to ignore it, and it eventually went out of print. But when the ABKCO catalog was re-rolled out in 2002, Metamorphosis was included, complete with the two songs that were on the UK version left off the US copies. Mighty generous of them.

Here’s an odd footnote to the crazy saga: not content to sit out on the fun, Decca compiled the two-record Rolled Gold compilation for the UK by year’s end, covering most of the popular material from the Hot Rocks albums. For no apparent reason, an upgraded version (called Rolled Gold +) was released worldwide in 2007, with another twelve tracks from the same era crammed on.

The Rolling Stones Made In The Shade (1975)—
The Rolling Stones Metamorphosis (1975)—3
2003 SACD: same as 1975, plus 2 extra tracks

Friday, June 11, 2010

Paul McCartney 27: Back In The U.S.

Following the fun he had making Driving Rain, plus the excellent response from the Concert for New York, Paul took his new band of boys on the road what would be various legs of an expensive tour. And since it had only been about ten years since his last go-round, we got a double album (and a DVD) out of it.
Back In The U.S. succeeds where Paul Is Live fails in that it’s more representative of the average setlist from the first leg of the tour. Plus, this band is so hot you don’t mind the third live appearances of “Jet”, “Let Me Roll It”, “My Love”, “Band On The Run”, “Maybe I’m Amazed”, “The Long And Winding Road” and “Yesterday”, or even the fourth “Live And Let Die”. The ‘90s and most of the ‘80s are ignored, but he does include four of the better selections from Driving Rain, plus “Vanilla Sky” from the same sessions. (Used as the title song from the Tom Cruise movie, it’s not unlike “Biker Like An Icon”, only not as good.)
He always made a big deal of performing certain Beatle tunes for the first time onstage ever, and this time it’s “Getting Better” and “Mother Nature’s Son”. (On the next leg he even added “She’s Leaving Home”, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.) “Carry That Weight” includes most of “You Never Give Me Your Money”, plus “the bit” where he forgot the words. The “Sgt. Pepper” reprise goes neatly into “The End”, but the best portion occurs at the end of the first disc: “Here Today” on acoustic for John, followed by “Something” on ukulele for George.
Another in a string of very satisfying listens, Back In The U.S. continued to establish Paul’s hold on the public consciousness as the ambassador Beatle and keeper of the flame. Any doubt as his right to the title is dispelled by the sound of the crowd singing along with every word and the photos of their adoring, misty eyes. (Just because he’s Paul, he decided to release a modified version of this collection called Back In The World everywhere else but the Western Hemisphere, with some differences: “Every Night”, “Vanilla Sky”, “C Moon” and “Freedom” were replaced with “Calico Skies”, “Michelle”, “Let ‘Em In” and “She’s Leaving Home”. A new recording of “Hey Jude”, recorded in Mexico, was also used in place of the U.S. version.)

Paul McCartney Back In The U.S. (2002)—4

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Who 21: Isle Of Wight and BBC Sessions

Following the box set, The Who’s labels got down to redoing the catalog, improving the sound and adding extra tracks. Live At Leeds was the first remaster, followed by second and third chances for most of the albums. In the middle appeared My Generation—The Very Best Of The Who, a single-disc replacement for what should have been Meaty Beaty Big And Bouncy, adding to a growing list of missing tunes.

Live At The Isle Of Wight Festival 1970 came out on another label in 1996, thanks to a legal hurdle that had been jumped. This was the Who six months after Leeds, with a cache of new songs that were supposed to be the next album. “I Don’t Even Know Myself” and “Water” are lengthy expansions, and “Naked Eye” has developed into a full-fledged song out of the “My Generation” improvisations. “Shakin’ All Over” goes into “Twist And Shout”, yelled by John. More importantly, it includes Tommy in sequence, but split across two CDs. It’s a more confident show, if a little muddy, and still no substitute for Leeds.

By the end of the decade, most of the catalog rejigging had been completed, with the exception of My Generation, held up in litigation with the original producer, who wasn’t going to let the tapes go for less than a fortune. While waiting for that mess to pan out, the record industry’s BBC fixation took over.
Like all struggling British bands, The Who made several appearances early in their career on the BBC’s pop radio programs. Many—but not all—of those recordings are included on BBC Sessions, which had already been beaten to certain shelves by some very comprehensive bootlegs. Still, there are some exclusive songs and some powerful versions of familiar songs before spinning to an abrupt end. “Good Lovin’” appears nine months before the hit version by the Young Rascals, while “Just You And Me, Darling” is another homage to James Brown. Even stranger, “Dancing In The Street”—yes, the Motown classic—gets a runthrough as well. Two versions of “Substitute” are here, one in the original single arrangement, and a later one in the shorter Leeds style. The disc ends with a pair of performances from BBC television, a funky take on “Relay” (a current single) and the then-unreleased “Long Live Rock”, where Pete blows the third verse. (The Best Buy chain had an exclusive bonus CD, containing an interview and some more BBC recordings of dubious origin, including a take of “I Can See For Miles” with a new bass line mixed up high.)

The Who Live At The Isle Of Wight Festival 1970 (1996)—3
The Who BBC Sessions (2000)—3

Monday, June 7, 2010

Neil Young 40: Fillmore East and Massey Hall

At the end of a busy year, Neil finally made headway on his threat to open his fabled Archives with the release of Live At The Fillmore East, a 1970 electric set with Crazy Horse culled from two out of four shows in two days. At only 43 minutes, it was a mere taster for everything else he’d been sitting on. Still, it’s a great souvenir, including a strong take of “Winterlong” seven years before any official release and even the original arrangement of “Wonderin’”, thirteen years before its eventual recorded debut. The band is tight—well, as tight as it would ever be—and these renditions rival any other in the canon. (It was also available with a DVD that included various Joel Bernstein photos from the shows nicely presented montage-style. It gave fans hope that more was truly on the way.)

Sure enough, not four months later Live At Massey Hall 1971 presented another fabled bootleg in pristine condition, complete with synched film footage on a companion DVD. Running over an hour, this certainly offered more value to those still miffed about missing the rest of the Fillmore show. It’s a pretty special set; having been performed before the first Harvest sessions, nine (ten if you count “A Man Is A Maid/Heart Of Gold Suite” as two songs) of the 17 tracks hadn’t appeared on albums yet. “Bad Fog Of Loneliness” and “Dance Dance Dance” got their first spots in the official canon, and this made the first official appearances of “Journey Through The Past” and “Love In Mind” on CD, given the continued absence of Time Fades Away.

These two discs, denoted as the second and third installments of the projected Neil Young Archives Performance Series, are essential for Neil fans, providing an excellent balance of his electric and acoustic personas. They come from a very fruitful period, smack dab in the middle of his first go-round with CSNY. Looking back, Neil said he should have released them as is when the shows were still fresh. Better late than never.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse Live At The Fillmore East (2006)—4
Neil Young Live At Massey Hall 1971 (2007)—4

Friday, June 4, 2010

Rolling Stones 21: It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll

If there was any doubt that the Stones (or at the very least, Mick) had begun to overestimate their importance in the grand scheme of things, a glance at the cover of It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll should dispel that. Here are the conquering heroes greeted by a bevy of young lovelies throwing flowers at them (or at the very least, Mick).
The record itself intends to deliver good old-fashioned rock ‘n roll, and for the most part, it does. The opening “If You Can’t Rock Me” is all guitars, with a nasty bass solo (!) and near-disco drumming. “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” is a rarity in itself, a cover of a Motown song that betters the original. The title track is probably playing on the radio somewhere, and portends the imminent arrival of Ron Wood, as the song grew out of a jam at his house. (Nonetheless, the band mimed to the recording in a promotional video, which is notable for the hideous sailor suits, Mick Taylor smiling for the last time in his life and Charlie nearly being asphyxiated by soap bubbles.) Things slow down for “Till The Next Goodbye”, a mildly forgettable ballad with forced country vocals on the way to the side’s finale. “Time Waits For No One” is an absolute tour de force for Mick Taylor, who plays the solo of his life after each chorus and over the last half of the song, under Nicky’s swirling piano and Charlie’s steady beat. The lyrics ain’t bad either.
That track notwithstanding, side two is even weaker. “Luxury” finally includes some of the reggae influences they might have picked up on the previous album. “Dance Little Sister” provides the album’s requisite Chuck Berry pastiche, before the attempted centerpiece of “If You Really Want To Be My Friend”, which offers a nasty Leslied guitar and soulful backing vocals, but doesn’t really go anywhere. Likewise, the intended punchline in “Short And Curlies” misses widely. The album ends with another experiment in “Fingerprint File”, touching on more disco, with synthesizers and inscrutable lyrics about the FBI.
The band was coasting, and the self-review in the title It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll proves it. But they didn’t care. They were the best band in the world, their records sold and their concerts sold out, no matter what the critics said.

The Rolling Stones It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll (1974)—3

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Robyn Hitchcock 7: Invisible Hitchcock

Not too far into his short solo career Robyn had already amassed a cache of rarities, and perhaps to capitalize on what for him constituted success, decided to issue them. Invisible Hitchcock is a mop-up collection, most of which was previously unreleased. Some of it is fun, some is tedious, and unfortunately—or perhaps fortunately—none of it comes from the “lost” years. At least it’s mostly chronological, and it’s sequenced pretty well.
We begin with five tracks from the Black Snake sessions. “All I Wanna Do Is Fall In Love” has potential, but “Give Me A Spanner, Ralph” and “A Skull, A Suitcase, And A Long Red Bottle Of Wine” don’t live up to promise of their titles. “It’s A Mystic Trip” attempts to do just that with a lot of backwards guitar, and a demo of “My Favourite Buildings” rounds things out. “Falling Leaves” is an absolute gem, a sax-heavy track that shows what Groovy Decay could have been had he only cared. The chaotic “Eaten By Her Own Dinner” was the title track of two different EPs released four years apart, and is pretty much where he stopped for a while.
A set of very keyboard/synth-heavy tunes make things more interesting, although certainly derivative of Bowie’s Berlin period. “The Pit Of Souls” is half the length of the version on the Fegmania! reissues. “Trash” gets points just for mentioning Charlie Watts. “Mr. Deadly” and “Messages Of Dark” are all claustrophobic in that good ol’ Eno vein. “Star Of Hairs” is pretty catchy, as are the post-Trains demos “Vegetable Friend”, “I Got A Message For You” and “Point It At Gran”.
Completists will love Invisible Hitchcock, but its appearance in the chronology derails the momentum of the Egyptians. Mathematically it should probably rate about two stars, but the truly good songs—and really, we can’t say enough about “Falling Leaves”—make the album worth a listen. Rhino dutifully included it in their reissue campaign, complete with two additional rarities. Today it’s out of print, all but six of the tracks having been parsed out on various Yep Roc reissues.

Robyn Hitchcock Invisible Hitchcock (1986)—3
1987 CD: same as 1986, plus 4 extra tracks
1995 Rhino reissue: same as 1986 CD, plus 2 extra tracks
Current CD equivalent: none