Friday, April 29, 2011

Robyn Hitchcock 15: Greatest Hits

For some reason, which couldn’t have possibly included trying to capitalize on another label’s success, A&M decided it was time to put out a Greatest Hits album in the wake of the Rhino reissue program and Moss Elixir. Some of the more obvious choices from Globe Of Frogs, Queen Elvis, Perspex Island and Respect are nicely intermingled with various B-sides from the same period that may have eluded the casual fan.
The so-called “electric” version of “A Globe Of Frogs” is a coin-toss with the album version, while “Legalized Murder” is a pretty piano meditation on the death penalty and vegetarianism. The humorous “Intro To Eyes” is a live monologue also known as “Clint And The Enchantress”, before melding nicely into the standard album version of “One Long Pair Of Eyes”. “More Than This” is a lovely version of the Roxy Music song, and one of a growing pile of exquisite covers he’s amassed over the years, but “Dark Green Energy” was mostly notable for the inclusion of Michael Stipe on vocals. “Alright Yeah” is an earlier B-side version recorded with the Egyptians, while “Bright Fresh Flower” sports a similar melody to “God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen” and ends the collection with something of a thud.
The five or so years he was on A&M were somewhat fruitful for Robyn, so while this album did something of a service when the albums were deleted, Greatest Hits is only available via download, hovering this material just above limbo. Considering that the rest of his ‘80s catalog has been reissued twice with bonus tracks, it would be nice if someone, anyone, could authorize new versions of the four A&M albums, if only so new fans can more easily obtain such lost classics as “Balloon Man”, “Madonna Of The Wasps”, “So You Think You’re In Love” and “The Wreck Of The Arthur Lee”, to name just a few. And if they could also collect some of the other rare tracks from the period… (No dopes when it came to marketing, soon afterwards Rhino put together their own “hits” collection, made up of album tracks from the material they then owned. Some odd choices sat alongside some clever ones, likely compiled from somebody’s personal mix tape, and including no rarities.)

Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians Greatest Hits (1996)—4
Current CD availability: none;download only
Robyn Hitchcock Uncorrected Personality Traits (1997)—4
Current CD availability: none

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Tom Waits 8: One From The Heart

A few years after bankrupting himself by trying to recreate the Vietnam War in Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola decided to recoup his losses by building a scale model of Las Vegas on a soundstage for his next major-league epic, One From The Heart. Having been entranced by the dialogue betwixt Tom Waits and Bette Midler on “I Never Talk To Strangers”, he hired Tom to write the score for his film, with the idea that the songs would actively reflect the script and vice versa. Bette not being available, the most obvious second choice was, of course, country sweetheart Crystal Gayle, she of the four-foot mane and bright blue eyes.
One thing to consider about the album’s context is that its genesis and completion framed the recording of Heartattack And Vine, the gritty sound of which is a direct contrast to this album’s more lush arrangements. The so-called “Opening Montage” goes from a brief piano piece into a couple of duets, one dreamy, the other jazz. “Picking Up After You” gives each of them a chance to complain, and Tom gives himself the best lines (“When did you start combing your hair with a wrench?”) but it’s a tad forced. Much better is “This One’s From The Heart”, which works well as a theme song of sorts.
Listening to this album, one can’t help but wonder what Crystal’s fan base might have taken of it. There’s no denying she has a lovely voice, especially as she wraps it around tearjerkers the likes of “Old Boyfriends” and “Take Me Home”. And how confused were they by her strange partner, grumbling his way through “Broken Bicycles”, “I Beg Your Pardon”. “Little Boy Blue” and “You Can’t Unring A Bell”? (Here’s an even wackier question: can we convince Tony Bennett to stop rerecording the same old standards and do an album of Tom Waits songs? Wouldn’t that be amazing?)
Since the film was such a resounding flop, its accompanying soundtrack LP got overlooked. The world at large wasn’t interested in a musical that hadn’t already been tested on Broadway, and it remains a transitional piece in the Waits discography. He had already all but left the saloon style behind, yet there are some clues to the future in the tango-cum-circus instrumental on side two, some of the percussion and the appearance of a bass player named Greg Cohen.
Decades later, after Coppola had finally made some of his money back, the film would be viewed a little differently (read: not a complete disaster, but still overblown) and the soundtrack hailed as exceptional, right down to adding two previously unreleased tracks to the remastered CD.

Tom Waits and Crystal Gayle The Original Soundtrack Of “One From The Heart” (1982)—
2004 reissue: same as 1982, plus 2 extra tracks

Monday, April 25, 2011

Peter Gabriel 3: Melting Face

By now the pattern was set: another album titled Peter Gabriel, on a different label, but with the same lettering and a cover photo that would contribute to the vernacular. (In this case, the kids came to calling it Melting Face or just plain Melt. Some of the more enterprising ones called it Mercury/Geffen, in honor of the two labels who’d released it in America.) Only now it was the ‘80s, and he was ready to move forward as his own man. Having shed the pedestrian rock of his first two albums, the third album embraces his experiments within the song form.
Working with soon-to-be hotshot producer Steve Lillywhite, he even made some of his old collaborators sound new. This is evident from the start of “Intruder”, where Phil Collins discovered the unique “gated” drum sound that would drive every single one of his creations for the next ten years, along with the appearance of the Yamaha electric grand piano that would become synonymous with the Gabriel sound. The song’s dark, claustrophobic lyric matter sets the stage for most of the album, through “No Self Control” and particularly on “I Don’t Remember”. Preceded by a brief, sax-driven instrumental (or prelude) called “Start”, it even works on the dancefloor (even if some of the synth parts remind us of “Run Like Hell”). A stretch of silence calms everything down for “Family Snapshot”, a vivid, harrowing portrait of a political assassin that actually inspires sympathy. “And Through The Wire” manages to lighten the mood somewhat—maybe it’s the cowbell?—with a vague lyric that may or may not be related to the mood of “On The Air”.
With a simple “one, two, one, two, four”, the infectious “Games Without Frontiers” whirrs into motion, thanks to the sustained guitars and drum machine. The silly yet biting lyrics are balanced by the whistling chorus and the sound of Kate Bush intoning the title in French (and not “she’s so funky yeah” as we thought for several years). The theme of isolation returns on the otherwise upbeat “Not One Of Us”. “Lead A Normal Life” is mostly a duet for marimba and piano, split up by wordless vocals and an actual verse that confirms that the song takes place in a mental institution. The grand finale is “Biko”, which can be credited for bringing the issue of apartheid to the minds of otherwise apolitical consumers, as well as Bono. A simple funeral march, the suggestion of bagpipes and African touches make it universal and stirring.
Peter Gabriel more or less found a sound that worked on his third solo album, or at least one that he felt comfortable recreating in some of the more innovative live shows of the next several years. And it was a good thing too, since his old bandmates were starting to become more known on the pop charts, together and by themselves. (It also bears mentioning that he released a special version of the album sung entirely in German. Those who’ve heard it have said that some of the lyrics sound even more menacing in that language.)

Peter Gabriel Peter Gabriel (1980)—

Friday, April 22, 2011

Joni Mitchell 5: For The Roses

With a sideways move to Asylum Records, Joni’s sound also took a diversion from the image she’d perfected thus far. For The Roses includes several piano songs and solo acoustic pieces, but just as her voice had gotten deeper, so had her immersion into free verse. It also features the unfortunate arrival of Tom Scott, who wouldn’t go away for some time.
“Banquet” is a pretty piano ballad, full of allegories and allusions, easing the listener in. Slightly more direct is the addiction portrait in the otherwise engrossing “Cold Blue Steel And Sweet Fire”. “Barandgrill” is an uncanny prediction of the type of lyrics Tom Waits would soon tackle, mixed with weariness of life on the road. (Notice the bass clarinet, which will dominate her albums to come.) “Lesson In Survival” is sequenced perfectly as a timely return to the sensitive piano, segueing seamlessly into “Let The Wind Carry Me”, which adds layered harmonies and saxes to the yearning. The title track, performed over a jaunty tuning reminiscent of her first album, is another disguised reflection on the music biz. This song, by the way, is a tour de force.
The aching “See You Sometime” sets up the second half, bringing us back to standard Joni territory as expected. But it’s not all that predictable, as “Electricity” makes all too clear. That comes off as merely an interlude to “You Turn Me On (I’m A Radio)”, featuring old paramour Graham Nash on second-grade level harmonica. It’s an odd perspective, seeing her as object, less than in control. The image of the woman onstage amidst a crazy audience is better displayed on “Blonde In The Bleachers”, wherein she capably imagines both the person alongside the headliner and the prospective groupie. By the time the band kicks in, the dynamics are just right. The song ends on just the kind of triplets that will drive another adventure down the road, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The singer in “Woman Of Heart And Mind” takes control again, lest you think she’s too under the thumb of the men with whom she’s been seen. It ends as it should, with Joni at the piano, singing about Beethoven’s struggles on “Judgement Of The Moon And Stars (Ludwig’s Tune)”. The string and woodwind interruptions don’t stop her either.
For anyone who fell in love with Joni’s first four albums, she wasn’t about to make it easy in the slightest. Her journey was about to go over some pretty bumpy roads, so if you wanted to tag along, you’d better be prepared to hang on tightly. The songs on For The Roses are good, but somehow they’re just not as memorable as before. Without the obvious structures and rhyme schemes, they’re simply tougher to follow. But there’s no denying how pretty they are. (Meanwhile, the male chauvinists in us could leer at the inner photo, featuring Our Heroine photographed au naturel from a distance.)

Joni Mitchell For The Roses (1972)—3

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Robyn Hitchcock 14: Moss Elixir

Hot on the heels of Rhino’s reissue campaign, Robyn signed with Warner Bros. and came out with a new album—two actually. Moss Elixir was considered the “real” album, but it was preceded two weeks early by Mossy Liquor. Subtitled “Outtakes and Prototypes”, this vinyl-only release had six different songs and six alternate versions from the CD. And in some ways, it’s better.
For a perverse beginning, “Alright Yeah” is sung in Swedish, as opposed to the earlier B-side recorded with the Egyptians. The Byrds-like backing is still infectious. “Beautiful Queen” has a pleasant groove following it, but “Shuffling Over The Flagstones”, a gorgeous instrumental in keeping with I Often Dream Of Trains and Eye, deserves to be heard more. “Cool Bug Rumble” stumbles for a while, though the guitar on the second bridge makes it. “Wide Open Star” is a weak attempt at English folk, and “Each Of Her Silver Wands” comes closer.
“De Chirico Street” features the insistent violin of Deni Bonet, who’d be featured on the contemporary tours and in an upcoming film. “As Lemons Chop” doesn’t really go anywhere, but the subdued “Sinister But She Was Happy” is slightly better. “Trilobite” is a tribute to a fossil of some kind, and no worse than They Might Be Giants’ songs about junior high science. “The Devil’s Radio” is more coded than George Harrison’s song, but at least he goes so far as to mention Rush Limbaugh by name. Apparently a “Heliotrope” is a plant that faces the sun, and this is a truly beautiful song. The untitled guitar coda near the inner groove conjures mental images of the last few seconds of Astral Weeks.

But being 1996, the casual consumer was more likely to hear the CD. Moss Elixir starts with a more electric version of “Sinister” and a faster “Devil’s Radio”. “Heliotrope” sounds the same, which is fine, followed oddly by “Alright Yeah” in English. “Beautiful Queen” has more of an edge in this version, plus a trumpet, but “De Chirico Street” isn’t much better in this rockin’, traffic-jam horn version.
Most of the “new” songs are worthy. “Filthy Bird” continues the English folk influence, as does “Speed Of Things” (which is similar to “Each Of Her Silver Wands”). Unfortunately, “Man With A Woman’s Shadow” tries too hard to be Hitchcockian. “I Am Not Me” is hollering for a rhythm section, but all we get is percussion near the end. A title track after the fact, “You And Oblivion” appears to be another meditation on dead parents over three chords; the “Cinnamon Girl”-style ending is a nice touch. The slow and snaky “This Is How It Feels” is an odd way to end the album, but at least it stays interesting.
A decade later, Mossy Liquor quietly turned up on iTunes and Rhino as a download-only release. Then, in 2010, tiny reissue label Wounded Bird put out a cheap two-fer set of both albums in one package, making the LP available on CD for the first time. Taken together, it’s now even easier to compile your personal favorites into a stellar mix. At the same time, it sounds like in the making of these albums, Robyn had plenty of ideas but no idea how to bring them together best.

Robyn Hitchcock Mossy Liquor (1996)—3
Robyn Hitchcock Moss Elixir (1996)—3

Monday, April 18, 2011

U2 15: How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb

U2 got themselves a big hit by going back to the basics, so their next album was built from the same approach. And once again, while How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb played it safe, perhaps they played it a little too safe.
“Vertigo” was the best choice for both album opener and single, with a driving beat and a count-in that translates as “some, two, three, fourteen.” The sweeter “Miracle Drug” builds to a big chorus featuring the same drum patterns that drove “Beautiful Day”. Another tug at the heartstrings comes with “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own”, written for Bono’s dad’s funeral. “Love And Peace Or Else” is a bombastic yet hollow threat, but “City Of Blinding Lights” nicely brings back some of their mid-‘80s vibe via Edge’s matching piano and guitar parts.
“All Because Of You” is another attempt at a big anthem with big Who chords, but you have to get past that percussive effect at the beginning that sounds like Fred Flintstone running across his living room. The mostly acoustic “A Man And A Woman” brings to mind the lesser half of the last album, and the lyrics are just plain wimpy. “Crumbs From Your Table” is a little better, a good arrangement masking a dark subject. The atmospheric “One Step Closer” discusses death again, but it’s not clear what “Original Of The Species” is about, except three or so musical ideas shackled together. The closing “Yahweh” is an imperfect prayer that would be more effective if Bono hadn’t come up with a better chorus than the title.
How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb has its moments, and it’s not “bad” in the slightest, but again, the ingredients weren’t adding up to something great. No fewer than six—six!—producers were credited on the album, from the stalwart Steve Lillywhite, Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois and Flood to newer entrants like Chris Thomas and Jacknife Lee. Maybe they didn’t want to leave an era untapped?
The album, of course, was a huge hit, no doubt helped by the subsequent tour. Coinciding with its release, the boys partnered with Apple Computer to market their own branded iPod, preloaded with a “digital box set” called The Complete U2. As the title would suggest, it included each of their albums, as well as every single, B-side, bonus track and EP. Of course, that meant that some songs got repeated across several singles, album tracks and hits collections. But what made it especially enticing were the true rarities: a disc each of Early Demos and Unreleased & Rare tracks, and two complete concerts. Live From The Point Depot was the band’s last appearance before they regrouped to record Achtung Baby, while Live From Boston 1981 was a fantastic club show that fueled some early B-sides and deserves to be available on its own.

U2 How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb (2004)—3

Friday, April 15, 2011

Peter Gabriel 2: Scratch

Peter gave his second solo album the same title as his first, with the idea that each new album would be akin to the latest issue of a magazine. Whatever the reason, this particular Peter Gabriel is usually referred to as Scratch or Fingernails, due to—you guessed it—the cover art. (You could even be clever and call it Atlantic to differentiate it from the first one, which was technically on Atco. Yet we digress.)
He kept a few friends from the first album, such as Tony Levin on bass and Larry Fast on synthesizer, but handed the production and collaboration duties over to Robert Fripp (who considered it to be part of a trilogy with his own solo album and a project he was concurrently pursuing with Daryl Hall of all people. And we’re digressing again). Even with the addition of such surprising names as Roy Bittan and Sid McGinnis, Fripp’s influence is pretty apparent throughout, spurring Peter into new areas.
“On The Air” tinkles in on a synth line before exploding into a rocking stomper. An excerpt from a never-realized longform piece, the lyrics effectively express the simultaneous feeling of power and futility of a lone broadcaster. Suddenly “D.I.Y.” interrupts, with its dropped beats and anthem for either punk rock or self-abuse. A swarm of insects introduces “Mother Of Violence”, co-written with his then-wife and delicately sung over tinkling piano and plucked acoustic. “A Wonderful Day In A One-Way World” is just a little too silly, incongruous in the wordplay and steel guitar, the latter of which fits better in the next song. With a mesmerizing mix of menace and lust, “White Shadow” succeeds despite some awful rhymes (“died” and “Kentucky Fried”? Ugh). Beginning with a similar synth wash as “On The Air”, the song travels through slowly rising inflections, anchored by Tony Levin’s wonderfully thudding bass, a few fake horn fanfares and finally a glorious Fripp solo.
Side two starts gently with “Indigo” (transformed from its original live incarnation as “Song Without Words” featuring wacky high-pitched voices), an alternatively melancholy and jaunty meditation on death. It’s followed by “Animal Magic”, which unfortunately demonstrates that he’s just not made for arena rock. Some trademark Frippertronics drive “Exposure”, over a pseudo-disco jam, which manages to stay interesting before “Flotsam And Jetsam” regurgitates some of the feel of “Indigo”, but with some nice Lennon slap-back echo. There’s another stab at a radio sound with the unfortunately dated “Perspective”, but the honking sax is nicely balanced by a completely out-of-place Fripp solo over the bridge. As before, the album closes on a sad note with the heartbreaking “Home Sweet Home”. Here a sax-heavy arrangement reminiscent of a Billy Joel album matches a suburban London lyric bleaker than any Kinks song, leading up to the ironic ending.
This edition of Peter Gabriel is probably best viewed as the parts being greater than the sum. Many of the tracks soar, but as a whole something’s missing. Still, while not as consistent as his first, the album does have, again, charms that reveal themselves with patience, and reward in the process. He would never again work at this speed.

Peter Gabriel Peter Gabriel (1978)—

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Bob Dylan 52: Brandeis University

The Dylan diehards who’d ordered either The Witmark Demos or the pricey Original Mono Recordings box set through Amazon got a special bonus CD. With the straightforward title of In Concert – Brandeis University 1963, it was a recently discovered recording of excellent quality, so rare it hadn’t even been bootlegged before.
It consists of two short sets from a folk festival, captured just after Freewheelin’ had been finished but not yet released. At this point, Dylan had yet to be a household word; as the notes point out, neither were the Beatles, and Kennedy was still alive, for that matter. The audience is attentive, clearly mesmerized by the words of “Masters Of War” and “Ballad Of Hollis Brown” (a year away from its album appearance) as they are appreciative of the sentiment in “Bob Dylan’s Dream”.
This performance is early enough that while he was bigger than the coffeehouses, he was not yet the notorious protest provocateur. Opening with a truncated “Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance”, three of the songs performed are from his repertoire of talking blues, which pack enough wry humor in to goose the audience. Clearly, “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues” and “Talkin’ Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues” work better in a live format, as they were never included on a studio album. Even the gags in “Talkin’ World War III Blues” land better when punctuated by laughter.
The disc’s status as a rarity was changed the following spring when it came out as an official standalone release. Which, when you come to think of it, is a nice gesture for the average brick-and-mortar music emporium tired of getting screwed over by Amazon. Its widespread availability would suggest that it’s some kind of seminal performance for the ages, although at less than forty minutes, it rushes by comparatively quickly. But at a ten-dollar price point, with the added bonus of photos and liner notes, it gives collectors hope that it’s the start of a trend. Considering how many of Bob’s concerts over the years were professionally recorded, possibilities abound for what else could follow (like the promo-only Carnegie Hall sampler available around the time of the No Direction Home set).

Bob Dylan In Concert – Brandeis University 1963 (2011)—3

Monday, April 11, 2011

Rolling Stones 40: Forty Licks

Around the time that their ABKCO catalog got a major overhaul, with handsome digipacks, improved sound and, in some cases, SACD layers for the audiophile, somebody at the Stones office got thinking. Since they weren’t doing much else anyway, why shouldn’t the Stones put out another hits collection on their current label? For a twist, maybe it could encompass their entire career, and how about a couple of new songs to entice the wary? With a really suggestive title, like Forty Licks or something? And maybe even use it to launch an official website?
And that’s just what they did. The forty songs here are collected to commemorate the Stones’ fortieth anniversary. It should surprise nobody that the earliest twenty tracks cover their first ten years, and the remaining twenty (four of which are indeed brand new) cover the other thirty years.
Disc one is the first repackaging in a while of the ABKCO-owned material, and while it doesn’t quite replicate Hot Rocks, most of it is there. (And as long as we’re keeping score, it’s got only half of Big Hits and all but two from Through The Past, Darkly.) Disc two is much more traveled, sporting six songs from Made In The Shade, ten from Rewind and the 374th appearances of “Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses”.
Of course, it’s the new songs that generate the most interest. “Don’t Stop” was the single, an inoffensive rocker, as was “Stealing My Heart”. “Keys To Your Love” brings back the old falsetto, but for many, Keith’s slow burner “Losing My Touch” was the winner.
Each disc is sequenced non-chronologically, but nothing from either “era” mixes with a stepsibling. Also, as a compromise, “Wild Horses” is on the ABKCO disc, while “Brown Sugar” is on the post-1971 disc. Forty Licks delivers what it promises, giving a nice overview of what made the boys great. But part of us still thinks Forty Lashes would have been just as fitting a title.

Rolling Stones Forty Licks (2002)—4

Friday, April 8, 2011

Rolling Stones 39: No Security

Right on schedule, barely a year after Bridges To Babylon, the Stones put out a live album culled from their most recent tour. In order to squelch the griping of those who damned their lack of originality (who, us?) they at least filled up No Security with songs that hadn’t been included on any previous live album, or at least not since 1969 or so. How nice of them. (And then they did another tour to support the album, but resisted the urge to put out a live album from that…)
After a 48-second intro that was probably more interesting to watch, “You Got Me Rocking” gives way to “Gimme Shelter” via a sloppy edit, before coming back to the future with “Flip The Switch”, which at least gives Keith room to stretch. In an increasingly worrying trend, a few high-profile guests show up on a couple of duets. Dave Matthews may not have been the ideal choice to include on “Memory Motel”, but the kids love him. The hipper kids also love Taj Mahal, who makes his second appearance on a live Stones album with his arrangement of “Corrina”. “Saint Of Me” tries to keep things current again, and somehow the Brazilian crowd sings along. A pleasant take on “Waiting On A Friend” proves that Mick can’t hit the high notes anymore, letting the backing vocalists carry it.
“Sister Morphine” is one of the odder choices for an arena show, even for Amsterdam, but “Live With Me” and “Respectable” bring back the rock. Keith’s moment comes with “Thief In The Night”, before being pushed aside for “The Last Time” and an unnecessarily lengthy “Out Of Control”.
Thanks to all the technology available on stage, as well as whatever could have been cleaned up in the studio afterwards, No Security doesn’t deliver that “you are there” feel of a live album. Except for a few moments, it doesn’t sound very spontaneous. But was anyone really expecting this album to be remotely substantial? As for the hideous cover, the less said the better.

Rolling Stones No Security (1998)—2

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Brian Eno 13: Another Day On Earth

In between high-profile production jobs for U2 and James, among others, Eno released the occasional album around the turn of the century. Most were ambient in the purest sense of the word, in that they were designed to accompany art installations, and not be overly concerned with things like melody or chord changes. Of these, only Nerve Net had songs on it, and they weren’t very exciting.
The arrival of Another Day On Earth, however, was exciting, since he actually had songs with words to them. While it’s closer to the general sound of Wrong Way Up than anything in the “first four”, it was easy to ignore the previous fifteen years of silence.
Beginning with exactly the type of rhythm box he’d used for composition, “This” is repetitive yet melodic, while “And Then So Clear” and “A Long Way Down” continue the gentle approach, the former with a processed vocal in an artificially high register, and the latter more spoken. (Speaking of which, he gives over “Going Unconscious” and the closing “Bone Bomb”—something of an anti-war statement?—to the dulcet coos of a woman, while his synth burble underneath.)
“Caught Between” is fairly adventurous vocally, showing the grasp of harmony he’d picked over the years. It even has some guitar straight out of Another Green World. “Passing Over” comes close to being spooky, and luckily the mood is lightened by “How Many Worlds”, its chamber-like backing decorated by several violins. “Bottomliners” is full of impressionistic lyrics designed to excite the imaginations of Enophiles everywhere.
By the time “Just Another Day” comes along, many of the songs have started to resemble one another, but it’s still a nice summation of the best elements of the album. “Under” continues the mood, oddly enough as it’s a re-recording of a track from My Squelchy Life, previously released on one of his box sets.
Another Day On Earth wasn’t about to set the world on fire, but again, for Eno fans, it was great to have something to add the pile that wasn’t strictly digital wallpaper. He’d go further back into the future a few years later on a reunion with David Byrne, collaborate with other esoteric people and continue to work with U2, determined as ever to find his own way.

Brian Eno Another Day On Earth (2005)—

Monday, April 4, 2011

Robert Plant 9: Mighty Rearranger

Not content to look back, Robert continued working with a permutation of his most recent backing band, now dubbed the Strange Sensation. Together, they conceived Mighty Rearranger, a set of new original songs following the same themes of the sate of the world while exploring exotic and traditional sounds.
The album is pleasant, certainly, but like much of his solo work, doesn’t always resonate past the initial listen. “Another Tribe” sets something of a mood, but the first single, “Shine It All Around” tries too hard with its boomy drums and isolated guitar solo. (A remix, included as a hidden track, downplays both, but at the expense of the actual song.) Despite the pointed title, “Freedom Fries” struggles under an impossible meter, while “Tin Pan Valley” understates his determination to move forward via an imperceptible melody until the middle raveup section. One standout track is his own song called “All The King’s Horses”, a gentle acoustic number more satisfying than the one by The Firm. But “The Enchanter” fails to truly deliver on its title.
By the time “Takamba” comes around, the Mideastern touches become more welcome, but are interrupted by loud interludes, making one wish he could have worked without the electrics. But with its juxtaposition of those foreign instruments and blues references, “Somebody Knocking” delivers the desired feel much better. In between, “Dancing In Heaven” is more straightforward, with open-tuned acoustic and nicely layered harmonies, even if the lead guitar sounds a lot like Page. “Let The Four Winds Blow” is a step in the right direction, but the title track is just more of the same. Whatever finale it was supposed to provide is augmented by “Brother Ray”, a short, seemingly impromptu duet with barrelhouse piano.
Despite its best intentions, Mighty Rearranger is unfortunately another Robert Plant album that sounds fine when it’s on, but not likely to stay in the player for more than one go-through. At least he could hardly be accused of embarrassing himself or his legacy.

Robert Plant and the Strange Sensation Mighty Rearranger (2005)—2
2007 remastered CD: same as 2005, plus 4 extra tracks

Friday, April 1, 2011

Peter Gabriel 1: Car

It took him a couple of years—a pattern that would come to define his career—but Peter Gabriel’s first solo album after leaving Genesis was a bold statement, building on the performance art of his Genesis work while embracing different sounds than those to which he’d been previously shackled. Simply titled Peter Gabriel (but often referred to as Car or Rainy Windshield due to the cover art), it was produced by Bob Ezrin, who’d made his bones with Alice Cooper and Lou Reed. It’s a fairly straightforward collection of songs that straddle both whimsy and standard rock, falling into place all over the map.
“Moribund The Burgermeister”, with its keyboards and funny voices, should have satisfied those Genesis fans who longed to see their hero dressed as a flower or wearing a dress with a fox’s head. Once that’s out of the way, the classic “Solsbury Hill” allegorically tells of his decision to go solo. Anchored by acoustic guitars over 7/4 time, even since its inclusion in countless movie trailers the song never fails to exhilarate. With a rousing count-in, “Modern Love” is a straight-ahead rocker—complete with cowbell—saturated in guitars and keyboards to hide the salacious puns in the lyrics. (Its official video, depicting Peter in a fencing outfit, cavorting through what appears to be an abandoned airport, must be seen to be believed.) From there it’s a complete left turn to a barbershop quartet for “Excuse Me”, which turns into a soft-shoe number complete with tuba. The first side ends with the strangely beautiful “Humdrum”, a song that seems to be a showcase for more wordplay but is absolutely majestic from start to finish.
The classic rock sound creeps in on the second half for “Slowburn”, with stately piano and bubbling synth, followed by a screaming lead guitar. The dynamics here are especially effective, and its curious fade is a good setup for “Waiting For The Big One”, something of a big band pastiche. While Frank Sinatra wouldn’t cover it, the stops and starts for the voices to carry out the big ending make it quite a production. Then the London Symphony Orchestra makes their inevitable appearance on “Down The Dolce Vita”, another big number with a jokey wind-up clock section and an allusion to “Auld Lang Syne” buried beneath the mix. The sense of urgency turns to resignation for “Here Comes The Flood”, presented here in an orchestrated arrangement. It’s a misleading song, with apocalyptic overtones, but the suggestion is that we’re doomed to limbo rather than annihilation.
This would be his most mainstream offering for some time, but that’s not to suggest it’s “commercial” in the slightest. Like any masterwork, its jewels are revealed on repeat listens. Whether or not he missed his old band, he was off to a good start.

Peter Gabriel Peter Gabriel (1977)—