Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Programming Alert (August 2018)

Due to shenanigans on the part of property managers, planning and zoning committees, union officials, and likely people still not happy with our less-than-glowing assessment of Bob Dylan's Desire album, Everybody's Dummy is not yet installed in our new headquarters, and therefore inadequately equipped to resume regular posting. However, we assure that our staff is indeed working toward those goals, as we are eager and determined to return full-strength. Thank you for your patience, and please keep reading.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Programming Alert (July 2018)

As the Everybody's Dummy staff moves its servers and research facilities to our plush new headquarters, regular posts will be sporadic, as will the occasional update. We expect our established posting schedule to resume by month's end, so watch this space for any notifications. In the meantime, we thank you for your patience and continued support, and we hope you'll take the opportunity to peruse the archives -- ten years' worth! -- to reacquaint yourselves with gems from the past. You may be surprised to see just how many old entries have been updated with new information and tantalizing insight.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Replacements 9: All For Nothing

For years, rumors of a comprehensive set of outtakes from the Replacements’ time on the Twin/Tone label was said to be in the works, along with a rumor that such a thing couldn’t happen because Paul Westerberg stole the masters and dumped them all in one of Minnesota’s thousand lakes. Whatever the true story, fans got something of a gift with All For Nothing/Nothing For All, a double-CD set that offered four songs from each of the Sire albums on one disc, and 18 rare or unreleased tracks on the other. The cover art, seemingly depicting a sinking ship, was apt, along with the photos of the boys destroying one of their unfortunate rented vans throughout the booklet and images of beer mugs and urinals on the discs themselves.
The “hits” disc, a mix of rockers and sensitive ones, is fine, though everyone will have their own favorites that were left out. The second disc offers nuggets that would please even hardcore collectors. Some had already been B-sides, and others have since been appended to reissues of the albums themselves, but the selection and chronological sequencing make for a decent album’s worth of tunes. Highlights include: an earlier version of “Can’t Hardly Wait”; the brief but blatant “Beer For Breakfast”; vocal and writing debuts from Chris Mars (“All He Wants To Do Is Fish”) and Tommy Stinson (“Satellite”); “Date To Church” with Tom Waits; a sleazy take on “Cruella De Ville” from a Disney compilation; “Like A Rolling Pin”, a hoarse parody of a certain Bob Dylan song supposedly committed to posterity in the presence of the man himself; and their definitive crash through The Only Ones’ “Another Girl, Another Planet”. Stay tuned for the unlisted track at the end, a hilarious alternate version of “I Don’t Know”. (Also exciting for the mid-‘90s, these were enhanced CDs, with two music videos on each, accessible via the CD drive on computers. High tech!)

About a decade later, Rhino managed to grab the rights to the band’s Twin/Tone albums, and celebrated with a new compilation. Don't You Know Who I Think I Was? purported to offer “the best of the Replacements”, and the eight songs from the pre-Tim albums are excellent choices. (They even sound better.) All but six tracks from disc one of All For Nothing distill that period well, but the real cheese here are the two new recordings, the grand studio reunion of Paul, Tommy, and Chris (who didn’t play drums but sang, so they still count). Both “Message To The Boys” and “Pool & Dive” aren’t exactly lost classics, but drummer of choice Josh Freese, whom Paul had used on a solo album and Tommy knew from Guns N’ Roses, gets the wallop down to ensure the vibe is there.

The Replacements All For Nothing/Nothing For All (1997)—4
The Replacements Don't You Know Who I Think I Was?: The Best Of The Replacements (2006)—4

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Phil Collins 3: No Jacket Required

After years of slowly but surely dragging Genesis to the mainstream, Mr. Showbiz cashed in all his favors and got a major label push to get this into everyone’s house. No Jacket Required was so huge it didn’t even need “Easy Lover” (big hit duet with Philip Bailey the previous fall) or “Against All Odds” (a.k.a. “Take A Look At Me Now”, a movie theme song from a year earlier) or even “Separate Lives” (the so-called love theme from White Nights, a duet with Marilyn Martin, which came out that Xmas) to sell it. This thing was huge, even winning a Grammy. (We would be remiss if not mentioning Howard Jones’ hit remake of “No One Is To Blame” the following spring, featuring Phil on harmonies and boomy drums.)
Then, as now, there are exactly two songs we really, really like: the brooding “Long Long Way To Go”, which sounds most like his earliest solo experiments and features Sting on harmonies, and “Inside Out”, which sounds like “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” at half-speed, but works the simple theme well enough. It could almost pass for Genesis, even without the bridge that resembles “Taking It All Too Hard”.
The rest of the album is pure pop, heavy on the horns and synths, even further away from prog, with a distinct Prince influence on the more upbeat tunes (especially “Who Said I Would”). Which is fine, if you like that sort of thing. And the public did, eating up all the singles and loving all the wacky videos. Whenever we hear any of those songs—and “Sussudio”, “One More Night”, and “Take Me Home” are still in heavy rotation on the local “lite” radio stations—we’re reminded of a scorchingly hot summer sitting in front of an air conditioner, matching the sweaty guy on the album cover. (Patton Oswalt knows what we’re talking about.) Drop the phrase “great! great sandwich” into any conversation and see which of your contemporaries notice. Be forewarned that anyone who doesn’t remember the video for “Don’t Lose My Number” will be utterly baffled by the aside.
The CD version of No Jacket Required, for those early adopters, offered an extra track in the way of “We Said Hello Goodbye”, a nice midtempo ballad with an extended, moderately lush prelude, though something of an afterthought following the anthemic qualities of “Take Me Home”. It was included in the same spot on all reissues, as well as the 21st century “Take A Look At Me Now” edition, the extra disc of which (cheekily labeled Extra Large Jacket Required) was loaded with live versions of nine songs on the album plus “Easy Lover”, all recorded in the ‘90s save one. Demos of three eventual album tracks, none very illuminating, round out the disc, while fanatics bemoaned the absence of the B-sides “The Man With The Horn” and “I Like The Way”, and anything from 1988’s 12"ers compilation of six extended remixes.

Phil Collins No Jacket Required (1985)—3
2016 “Take A Look At Me Now” edition: same as 1985, plus 13 extra tracks

Friday, June 22, 2018

Grateful Dead 9: Bear’s Choice

Before leaving Warner Bros. to start their own label, the Dead apparently owed one more record on their contract. Thus began a vault-scraping tradition and industry that would balloon in only 20 years’ time. History Of The Grateful Dead, Vol. 1 (Bear’s Choice) would soon be known by its subtitle for easier reference, “Bear” being the nickname of their friend Owsley Stanley, who used to mix their shows in between concocting barrelsful of high-grade LSD. Recorded at the Fillmore East shortly after they completed Workingman’s Dead, it provides a nice counterpart to that album and American Beauty, with an acoustic side and an electric side, all covers leaning towards blues save one.
Pigpen had died by the time the album was released, so it stands as something of a tribute to him. He opens the set with “Katie Mae”, sung and played solo on acoustic, with some good-natured crowd banter to boot. Bob Weir sings “Dark Hollow”, and Jerry Garcia answers with “I’ve Been All Around This World”, both showing their roots well. Things pick up for a fun run through “Wake Up Little Susie”, which the crowd seems to both recognize and appreciate. The only tune known at the time of release from a Dead album is “Black Peter”, played here more slowly and sadly than the album version.
Side two gives the band more time to jam, Pigpen singing lead on both tunes. “Smokestack Lightning” is an 18-minute exploration of their early jamming roots, while “Hard To Handle” is now best known as that song the Black Crowes did. (One wonders whether they were more familiar with the Otis Redding original or this one.)
While there was never an official Vol. 2, the fourth release in the eventual Dick’s Picks series presented further selections from the same shows, heavy on the jam, spread across three discs. The eventual expansion of Bear’s Choice itself added only one song from the same shows, along with three songs from the Fillmore West the week before. (Other shows from the same general period would fill installments in other vault series, with others just as likely to follow in due time.)

The Grateful Dead History Of The Grateful Dead, Vol. 1 (Bear’s Choice) (1973)—
     Archival releases of same vintage:
     • Dick’s Picks Volume Four (1996)
     • Dick's Picks Volume Sixteen (2000)
     • Download Series, Volume 2: 1/18/70 (2005)
     • Download Series, Family Dog At The Great Highway 2/4/70 (2005)
     • Dave's Picks Volume 6: San Francisco 12/20/69 & St. Louis 2/2/70 (2013)
     • Dave's Picks Volume 10: Thelma, Los Angeles, CA 12/12/69 (2014)
     • Dave's Picks Volume 19: Honolulu Civic Auditorium, Honolulu, HI, 1/23/70 (2016)

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Joni Mitchell 18: Hits and Misses

Amazingly, Joni had been in the business for nearly 30 years before somebody said, “Let’s do a hits album.” To which she replied, “Sure, as long as you put a ‘misses’ album out too.”
And that’s exactly what happened. Hits features a comedic cover shot of Joni lying in a street, presumably where the truck ran her over, whereas Misses depicts her drawing her chalk outline on the pavement—as she said, mooning the camera. Both albums were released simultaneously, and considering that the Hits volume was stacked with songs from Her First Four and Court And Spark, songs well known either in her renditions or in popular covers, it far outsold the sampler of lesser-known tracks that made up Misses. As something of a carrot for the fans, Hits begins with her only recorded version of “Urge For Going”, previously available only as a B-side. And while the program dwells mostly in that early era, “Chinese Café/Unchained Melody” and “Come In From The Cold” nicely represent the ‘80s and ‘90s respectively.

While Hits was a no-brainer, Misses rewards anyone brave enough to dive in. This set is not programmed chronologically at all, flying back and forth among the decades, with a slight emphasis on the Geffen years and “difficult” albums like The Hissing Of Summer Lawns. That said, fans familiar with the earliest albums will recognize “The Arrangement”, “A Case Of You”, and the title tracks from For The Roses and Hejira, the latter of which closes the set magnificently. They’re not all winners; later selections like “Nothing Can Be Done” and “Dog Eat Dog” are not our personal choices to advertise the lesser-loved albums, and the programmed sound of the newer tracks jars with the more pristine acoustic material, but if any of it gets people to dig deeper, it’s all good. The woman is, after all, an absolute treasure.

Joni Mitchell Hits (1996)—4
Joni Mitchell
Misses (1996)—3

Friday, June 15, 2018

Paul Simon 8: Hearts And Bones

A professional reunion with Art Garfunkel didn’t last long enough to result in a new Simon & Garfunkel album, so the album that did come out was credited to Paul Simon alone. Hearts And Bones was well-received critically, but its quality didn’t ring too many cash registers.
These days it’s easy to see why, as the tunes weren’t exactly radio-friendly, and after an exhausting tour with Artie he wasn’t about to go back on the road. Even his voice sounds weary on these tracks. Plus, his never-ending quest for inspiration via non-traditional sounds meant an unfortunate reliance on the trends of the time. “When Numbers Get Serious” and “Cars Are Cars” would both benefit from less busy, non-contemporary arrangements. Neither version of “Think Too Much” is very appealing, though the one labeled “(b)”, which comes first is less irritating, its calypso arrangement notwithstanding, than the faster “(a)” take.
However, the good outweighs the bad here. “Allergies” has a vocoder-type effect and electronic handclaps that still complement the fretful lyrics, as does the high-speed guitar solo from Al DiMeola. The title track and “Train In The Distance” are both pretty, understated reflections on his then-current wife and his first wife, respectively, both delivered with universal sentiments that make them gems in the catalog. “Song About The Moon” is something of a grower, with a “Slip Slidin’ Away”-style lope and a simple lyric espousing simplicity. On the other hand, “Rene And Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After The War” is supposed to be a cipher, stretching to connect the surreal painter with classic doo-wop combo references. It could go nowhere else on the album, so closing with “The Late Great Johnny Ace” (debuted two years earlier in Central Park) is not only reverent, but gains a mournful coda for strings with winds composed by Philip Glass, ending abruptly for optimal effect.
Ever since Hearts And Bones came out, fans have wondered how the songs would have sounded with Artie singing on them. (A few had been tried on their tour, but any Garfunkel contributions to the sessions were left aside during the final mix.) Much as we’d like to hear those for history’s sake, we’re just as interested in hearing stripped-down versions of the more trying songs. The eventual reissue included four bonus tracks along those lines; outside of “Shelter Of Your Arms”, which shares some lyrics with “When Numbers Get Serious”, the demos of “Train In The Distance” and “Rene And Georgette” sound pretty close to the final cuts, while “Johnny Ace” has a resolved ending on guitar. And it’s still a sad song.

Paul Simon Hearts And Bones (1983)—3
2004 CD reissue: same as 1983, plus 4 extra tracks

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Brian Eno 13: Nerve Net and My Squelchy Life

If there’s a holy grail in the Eno catalog, My Squelchy Life was it. Said to be a pop album, his first real solo vocal release since the late ‘70s, it was announced, delayed, and disappeared. In its place arrived Nerve Net, an edgy, off-putting set that didn’t so much break new ground as walk over what his disciples had done in his absence. Neither industrial nor techno, it struggled to catch fire with new fans or old.
For most of the album, vocals are used more for atmosphere than lyrical content. “Wire Shock” is designed for the dance floor, as is “What Actually Happened?”, wherein the vocoder disguises a narrative of sexual assault. “Fractal Zoom” and “Ali Click” were each subject to multiple remixes, the latter likely due to its use of the “Manchester beat” via EMF.
And therein lies part of our problem with the album, and the time in which it appeared: the remix. All of a sudden there wasn’t a definite version of anything. Every track with any kind of beat was given over to some engineer who would rejig it into something different yet the same. It made an expensive hobby even more so when a fan was driven to track down everything. It also made for a confusing listening experience when an album would include another version of a track, as Nerve Net does. After “Distributed Being” featuring Robert Fripp and John Paul Jones, the album ends with not just “Web”, a six-minute drone, but an even longer alternate mix, together pushing the program needlessly over an hour.
But in this century, when everything old is new again, the world can re-assess Nerve Net in the form of a deluxe expanded CD that includes—ta-da!—My Squelchy Life as the bonus disc. The album wasn’t completely lost, of course; three of the tracks made it to Nerve Net (one under a different title), others were on CD singles and the occasional soundtrack, while a further five were a selling point for 1993’s Vocal box. And now, dare we say, it’s easier to appreciate Nerve Net as part of the bigger picture—well, sort of. “My Squelchy Life” and “Juju Space Jazz” are just as off-kilter here, while “The Roil, The Choke” emerges better from a weird spoken piece into a lush, harmonic treat. “I Fall Up”, with its insistent “more volts! I’m sucking the juice from the generator!” hook is a great opener, and “The Harness” is an extremely melodic follower. The “moon piano” solo piece called “Decentre”, labeled “Appendix” on the Nerve Net sleeve, turns out to have been “Little Apricot” on Squelchy. Still, tracks like “Tutti Forgetti” and “Everybody’s Mother” are just as jarring as what did come out on Nerve Net.
Taken together, these albums now present a more satisfying follow-up to the collaboration with John Cale of only a few years before. But it also shows that in the ‘90s, Eno was more content working with sounds, not songs, and would rather let the likes of U2 and James use his talents for theirs.

Brian Eno Nerve Net (1992)—
2014 expanded edition: same as 1992, plus 11 extra tracks CD

Friday, June 8, 2018

Jeff Beck 6: Blow By Blow

It took him long enough, but Jeff Beck finally figured out that he could record albums without a singer. Blow By Blow was recorded with a young rhythm section and Max Middleton from the second Jeff Beck Group.
The sound is a departure from the heavy rock of earlier Beck albums, leaning more on funk and now sounding more like fusion, beginning with “You Know What I Mean”, a James Brown strut filtered through the new decade. Especially notable on an album produced by George Martin, the Beatles’ “She’s A Woman” gets a nutty approach, with a reggae groove and, to help identify the song, a few lines “sung” through a talkbox effect usually associated with Peter Frampton. It’s a sound that seems to suggest the title of the next track, “Constipated Duck”, which doesn’t sound like one. For such a great title, it’s fairly brief before fading into “Air Blower” (called “AIR Blower” on pre-CD pressings, we assume as a nod to the studio where the album was recorded), an uptempo jam that slows down dramatically towards the end, leading into the extremely jazzy “Scatterbrain”, a furious fusion with tight precision and even a sympathetic string arrangement.
Stevie Wonder dominates the start of side two, first with “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” played beautifully and mournfully by Beck, and the highly funky “Thelonius”, with the man himself on clavinet (and more constipated duck sounds). After Max Middleton’s “Freeway Jam”, with its catchy hook and breezy groove, it’s back to a more dramatic sound. “Diamond Dust” is a haunting piece in 5/4, the guitar, piano, and strings complementing each other on a beautiful melody. (Interestingly, the song was written by a guitarist in a band featuring most of the former members of the second Jeff Beck Group.)
It’s not easy to write about an instrumental album, particularly one where the nuances are more abstract. Still, Blow By Blow finally shows Jeff Beck thriving, successfully making his way on his own terms. Not quite jazz, certainly not rock, just Jeff Beck.

Jeff Beck Blow By Blow (1975)—

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Toad The Wet Sprocket 5: In Light Syrup

The ‘90s saw the explosion of movie soundtracks boasting contributions from the dozens of alterna-rock bands then jockeying for attention. It was a cheap way for the usual labels to front-load their retail cash-ins without having to license expensive tracks from elsewhere, and even when a movie didn’t do that well, the bands’ fans would have scarf the CDs up for that rare track they didn’t have.
At the same time, certain television shows had reached obsessive levels amongst their viewership that even they managed to inspire “soundtrack” albums. Thusly, devotees of shows like Friends, Ally McBeal, and even The X-Files could proudly display their allegiances with a simple jewel case.
These types of marketing partly explain how Toad The Wet Sprocket, after four albums with moderate sales, managed to amass enough tracks to fill up an album-length rarities compilation as a stopgap whilst recording their next album. Cheekily titled In Light Syrup, in a nod to the nutritional content might find in a can of fruit cocktail, it’s a decent set of soundtrack cast-offs, bonus tracks from CD singles (we used to call them B-sides), and a few nuggets previously known only to fan club members who treasured the occasional cassettes the band sent out.
These weren’t throwaways so much as songs they really did work on, but felt didn’t fit with the rest of the songs that were released on albums. (Or maybe they couldn’t find better titles than “All In All”, “All Right”, and “All She Said” once “All I Want” became their hit.) The soundtrack songs come first, and we do recall “Brother” and “Good Intentions” getting local airplay. Things get interesting once we dig deeper, such as the mild XTC influence on “Hobbit On The Rocks” and the even goofier “Janitor”. Musically, “So Alive” and “Chicken” sound like early U2, and other songs give more attention to Todd Nichols, who plays second fiddle even here.
Most of the tunes on In Light Syrup were recorded in the vicinity of Fear and Dulcinea, so there is a consistency in the sound. So while it’s very much for the fans trying to play catch-up, it’s also a worthy addition to the catalog. As the better mop-up sets should be.

Toad The Wet Sprocket In Light Syrup (1995)—3

Friday, June 1, 2018

CSN 5: Live It Up

Just when you thought they couldn’t get any worse, Crosby, Stills & Nash managed to underperform to the least of their senses, if not their abilities. The embarrassment of Live It Up begins with the cover art, depicting giant hot dogs being roasted on the moon. That should be enough to keep the album far from the cash register, but people bought it anyway. Whether they enjoyed the noisy, unsuited production values remains an equal mystery.
The liner notes helpfully pinpoint the dates each of the songs were committed to posterity; for the most part the recordings came immediately in the wake of the underwhelming release of American Dream, proving that they didn’t pay attention to their own bad reviews. The hideous title track was contributed by constant sideman Joe Vitale and recorded as far back as 1986, which is only part of the problem, but it’s followed “If Anybody Had A Heart”, penned by buddies J.D. Souther and Danny Kortchmar, supposedly featuring Roger McGuinn on 12-string, and first heard over the closing credits of that same year’s About Last Night (aka Demi Moore’s finest nude scenes before the implants). Stills steps forward with two polar opposites. “Tomboy” is another Latin-tinged drag, while “Haven’t We Lost Enough” is a very appealing and welcome acoustic tune, even though it was written with the singer from REO Speedwagon. Crosby and Nash team up on “Yours And Mine”, which pleads for someone, someone to think of the children. (Guest star: Branford Marsalis on sax, what else?)
After that downer, Stills and Nash bring back the “carnivále!” atmosphere for the unnecessarily parenthesed “(Got To Keep) Open”, with Bruce Hornsby on piano and accordion somewhere in there. Nash thought well enough of the drummer from Go West to spearhead the inclusion of “Straight Line” (guest star: Peter Frampton!), followed by his own “House Of Broken Dreams”. “Arrows” is a Crosby collaboration with buddy Michael Hedges, who doesn’t appear on the track, perhaps to make room for Branford Marsalis again. This tune would have been a low light on any Hedges album, which might explain how it got here instead. Finally, there’s “After The Dolphin”, which is not about the endangered mammal for once, but refers to a pub destroyed during World War I. A different angle for an anti-war statement, but badly tied to a synth program that jars with the canned radio reports.
So that’s one decent song out of ten, and surprisingly, the best thing Stills did all decade. The rest of Live It Up is beyond defense, and deserves to be buried.

Crosby, Stills & Nash Live It Up (1990)—1

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Mick Jagger 4: Goddess In The Doorway

After a fairly successful renaissance of the Stones for the close of the century, Mick decided it was time for a solo album. For his fourth time out he seemed to have grasped an idea of what would justify a detour from his regular band, but that doesn’t mean he should have bothered. Goddess In The Doorway finds him as obsessed as ever with sounding contemporary, tapping younger talents (we’ll get to those) but still relying on guitar work here and there from the likes of Joe Perry and Pete Townshend.
“Visions Of Paradise” is guilty-pleasure pop, a collaboration with the guy from Matchbox 20, so we’ll blame him for the less convincing parts. Bono is brought in for “Joy”, which relies mostly on two chords with a few diversions, and slathered with a gospel choir for that faux-spiritual feel. Something about “Dancing In The Starlight” sounds like we’ve heard it twice already, but it does have a killer chorus. “God Gave Me Everything” is basically a one-man Lenny Kravitz production with Mick singing, but then it’s followed with the mild modern R&B of “Hide Away”, which Keith might have made more reggae were he allowed to; instead we get Wyclef Jean. “Don’t Call Me Up” is the sensitive ballad with a title that sounds too familiar, and subject matter to match.
Besides being inscrutable, the title track suffers from a edgy pace and Mideastern touches already overused by Sting. “Lucky Day” isn’t too far removed from “Anybody Seen My Baby”; that this dance beat reminds one of a Stones track might define irony if we still knew what that was. “Everybody Getting High” is just plain stupid, as is the hurt posturing in “Gun”. “Too Far Gone” isn’t too bad, except that he opens by stating he doesn’t like nostalgia, then goes on to lament how the modern world has paved over his youth and technology has all but obliterated nature. A decent editor might have helped him get his message straight. “Brand New Set Of Rules” seems to suggest that he’s matured somewhat, on a track that’s better than the lyrics. (Two of his daughters are credited on backup vocals; presumably they’re the ones adding the “ooh-ooh” parts in the middle?) For some reason a “cocktail version” of the title track is hidden at the end, which actually sounds more interesting than the real thing.
This album notoriously got five stars in Rolling Stone magazine, an accolade seriously undermined when you consider it came from the highly suspect “journalistic integrity” of Jann Wenner. Clearly a favor was being paid, because this was hardly the apex of the man’s life’s work. Mick is very good at one thing, and that’s not to say that he’s a one-trick pony, but he’d be better served by trying a real departure from the average if he wants respect outside the Stones. Goddess In The Doorway isn’t embarrassing, but it just doesn’t make it.

Mick Jagger Goddess In The Doorway (2001)—

Friday, May 25, 2018

Elton John 7: Honky Château

Right on schedule, Elton, Bernie, and the band went off to the Château d'Hérouville outside Paris, where all the hip ‘70s stars would record, to complete another full-length album. Despite the somber bearded face and gray tones on the wallet-style cover, Honky Château is light and accessible, so much so that some of the tracks are ubiquitous.
A clever title, “Honky Cat” is an early indication of his pop sound, with a honking horn section over a New Orleans groove. “Mellow” goes back to the singer-songwriter sound of the last few albums, but goes on a little long with the organ solo in the middle that lasts through the end. Then there’s “I Think I’m Gonna Kill Myself”, which is something of a monologue about “teenage blues”, sung with absolutely no sympathy for the self-involved narrator. “Legs” Larry Smith of the Bonzo Dog Band shows up to tap-dance, as he would, and we’re still not sure why. “Susie (Dramas)” is another Taupin lyric inspired by Americana, set to a rocking beat we’ve heard before. Things slow down again for “Rocket Man”, here given its full subtitle (“I Think It’s Gonna Be A Long, Long Time”). Notably, this is the first appearance of David Hentschel on synthesizer, where he’d stay for the time being.
“Salvation” has a mild gospel feel, via the lyrics and the mass chorus vocals, and while the sentiment is a bit trite, the chorus has a good hook, which is the real point. The idea continues on “Slave”, which seems to match the lament of a pre-Civil War “servant”, but the backing is almost inappropriate, more concerned with geography than the message. It’s back to more basic needs on “Amy”, a song of lust for a woman of the same name; as with the song that occupies the same spot on side one, there is a guest star, this time Jean-Luc Ponty on electric violin. One of the pair’s more surprising anthems, “Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters” is a moving, enduring tribute to New York City, with a wonderfully subtle harmony on the first couplet in the chorus. If you’re looking for deep meaning, don’t bother digging too far into “Hercules”, which appears to be about a woman who loves a cat (or “cat”, this being 1972) of the same name. That Elton took that as his legal middle name during the gestation of the album may only be a coincidence.
And that’s it—no concept, just songs. Honky Château gets points for relying solely on the Elton John Band, solid as they were. We prefer the “heavier” tone of the previous two studio albums, but it’s still worthy, and not at all fluffy. (The eventual reissue added one bonus track, an incredibly fast version of “Slave” that, despite its lack of reverence, is miles better than the album version.)

Elton John Honky Château (1972)—3
1995 CD reissue: same as 1972, plus 1 extra track

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Doors 10: An American Prayer

Jim Morrison always fancied himself a poet, as should be obvious from any of the spoken passages on any Doors album, or the gatefold of Waiting For The Sun. During a few lulls in the band’s schedule, he would record recitations of some of his scribblings sans musical accompaniment, with the idea that an album could be made from them.
So it was that seven years after he (supposedly) shuffled off his drunken coil, the other three members of the band got together to finish that album. Credited to Jim Morrison alone (with “music by The Doors”), An American Prayer is a seamless suite over two album sides of poetry readings, concert clips, old Doors music and newly recorded Doors music. There is a certain cinematic sweep to it—Jim also fancying himself a filmmaker—so the imagery is vivid.
However, as a Doors album it fails, mostly because the music is independent of the words. We’re not about to claim any literary authority to judge the poetry, but suffice it to say high school kids will love the four-letter words, the repeated use of a slang term most women would kill you for uttering, and the “lament” for a part of his own anatomy. Still, for the most part his delivery is calm and cool, only screaming during the handful of concert excerpts. Snippets from “Peace Frog”, “Blue Sunday”, and “The WASP” are used to counterpoint the appropriate recitations; a one-sided telephone conversation about killing a hitchhiker is underscored by “Riders On The Storm”. For some reason, a live version of “Roadhouse Blues” begins side two, marred by his extended scat in the middle and ending with some dialogue baiting a fan over astrology. The new music jars with the old, sounding too contemporary to 1978, and not enough like, well, the Doors. At least the package included a nice booklet of writings and drawings.
Oliver Stone’s version of the band’s history leaned heavily on Jim’s poetry, which undoubtedly led to the album being reissued on CD, with extra tracks. “Babylon Fading” is accompanied by the same Elektra sound effects record used at the end of “Revolution 9”, though “Bird Of Prey” is a brief a cappella couplet with some musical promise. An “extended version” of “Ghost Song” closes the set to focus on the band’s contribution, and underscore why some of us don’t miss disco. Now that “Roadhouse Blues” is available on any number of Doors compilations, this album is less necessary than ever.

Jim Morrison/The Doors An American Prayer (1978)—2
1995 CD reissue: same as 1978, plus 3 extra tracks

Friday, May 18, 2018

Prince 7: Around The World In A Day

While Purple Rain brought Prince the worldwide recognition he craved, he was still addicted to writing and recording, and soon had a follow-up ready (this after recording two albums for new protégée Sheila E. and morphing what was left of The Time into The Family). Credited once again to Prince and the Revolution, but mostly his work alone, Around The World In A Day got pigeonholed as something of a psychedelic side trip, the same year Tom Petty hooked up with Dave Stewart for “Don’t Come Around Here No More”. That profiling wasn’t entirely accurate, but what’s clear is that the multi-demographic accessibility of the two albums before gave way to a more self-pleasing exploration of eclectic sounds, textures, and near-orchestration.
The title track is already startling, built around Mideastern instruments and influences provided by Lisa Coleman’s brother. Prince’s father also gets co-credit for some reason. There’s something of a hippy-dippy element, but he’d already shown his fascination for finger cymbals anyway. Guitars emerge on “Paisley Park”, which would become something of a personal anthem, being the name of his custom label as well as his complex slash compound whence he’d henceforth create everything.
Nestled in the middle of side one is a track that has often been overlooked. “Condition Of The Heart” begins with a long wandering piano solo one critic compared to Keith Jarrett. After about a minute of this, some synthesizers kick in for effect, there’s a slight crescendo and the song proper starts. Three verses describe separate (or not) storybook tales of heartache, each poor afflicted soul suffering from the simple malady of the title. The bridge, sung twice, takes it to the first person and loads on the falsetto harmonies over some pointedly vague imagery. Then there’s a repeat of half of the first verse, and it’s over. We can even forgive the superfluous “heartbeat” over the fade. It really is a gorgeous song—the sensitive side of Prince, if you will. (Recordings of unknown vintage feature the Purple One noodling at the piano for about a half hour. We wish he’d kept it that simple more often.)
It’s a major departure, and is a powerful segue to “Raspberry Beret”. This was the first single—released after the album was out, instead of as a teaser, and with a video made even later—and exactly what people wanted. The same might not be said for “Tamborine” [sic], a one-man demo that should have been foisted on one of his minions.
Side two is just as scattered. “America” came out of a Revolution jam, a return to the occasionally political statements of his pre-1999 albums, and not very inspired. But “Pop Life” is still incredibly cool, a great funk-rock hybrid with an infectious hook and split-second delay on the vocal to make it really stand out. The boxing match edit (twice) mystifies to this day. “The Ladder” is a gospel-tinged song with prominent saxophone and backing vocals that sounds longer than it is because it’s so slow. But the track that seemed to get the most notoriety at the time is the closer. Recorded by Prince alone with only the sax player helping out, “Temptation” starts with some fiery guitar work, goes through a dirty bump-and-grind paean to lust, then switches to a “dialogue with God” wherein the Almighty strikes our hero down for his sins, for which he immediately repents before saying goodbye, leading listeners to think he was retiring for real.
Around The World In A Day was not the triumph everybody wanted, nor could it be. All in all it may not read like the most engaging album, but the high notes are truly terrific. And just like that, he was on to his next inspiration.

Prince and the Revolution Around The World In A Day (1985)—

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Rod Stewart 4: Never A Dull Moment

One wonders how the superstars of the ‘70s could create so much music before cocaine became such a thing, but sure enough, Rod Stewart managed to pull together another solo album in between Faces albums and tours. Never A Dull Moment follows the pattern of his previous albums, taking a particular nod from Every Picture Tells A Story, relying mostly on acoustic instruments and covers from a wide range of sources. Somehow, however, it seems pale in comparison, and hindsight suggests this might be his turning point.
Again, the ingredients are there: “True Blue” is a strong Faces performance; “Lost Paraguayos” has that wandering bassline and verses that refuse to rhyme; “Mama You Been On My Mind” is an inspired arrangement of a then-unreleased Dylan song; “Italian Girls” a cross between “True Blue” and “Lost Paraguayos” that seems to predict the Stones’ “Silver Train” until the lovely slowdown. And that’s just side one.
Side two is nearly a mirror, with three covers and just one original. First there’s Jimi Hendrix’s “Angel”, which concentrates on the song rather than the pyrotechnics, though we could do without the bongos. “Interludings” is a 40-second guitar piece supposedly written by Ron Wood’s brother Art, and serves as an intro to “You Wear It Well”, otherwise known as that song that sounds exactly like “Maggie May”. “I’d Rather Go Blind” was a B-side a few years earlier by Etta James, and thankfully gets more exposure here. Sam Cooke’s “Twistin’ The Night Away” provides a nice “party” ending, as opposed to a soft benediction.
We don’t want to say Never A Dull Moment is an oxymoronic description of the contents, but perhaps the pressure of following two strong albums was too much. It’s not like he was trying to make some kind of art statement anyway—except in the cover design, which always seems upside down and inside out.

Rod Stewart Never A Dull Moment (1972)—3

Friday, May 11, 2018

Talking Heads 4: Remain In Light

By this time the other members of Talking Heads who weren’t David Byrne had every right to feel overlooked. Granted, as the “frontman” he got most of the attention, but that wasn’t to say he was the sole auteur of the band’s music. So when it came to their fourth album, they didn’t start with songs, but extended jams, wherein they’d find hooks to develop into songs, each member rotating on instruments as inspired.
Of course, any sense of democracy was out the window when Brian Eno got involved, who soon began dictating the direction of the sessions, with David Byrne as a willing conspirator. The two had already collaborated outside the Heads, and soon African rhythms and “found sounds” would interweave with the band’s interest in the growing hip-hop genre and other grooves, plus contributions from outside musicians, resulting in Remain In Light.
The word “groove” is important here, because—unlike their work released thus far—the music doesn’t generally fit into the traditional verse-chorus song structure. “Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)” is a clattery funk tune with typically nervous vocals, prominent harmonies from Eno, and what sounds like a video game where the solo should be. While it has a similar vocal approach, “Crosseyed And Painless” gets our approval due to its prominent guitar and straight rock sound, while “The Great Curve” is back to a frantic funk groove, with vocal chants in the back and Adrian Belew contributing advanced guitar synthesizer.
The one track that could be called a song, with verses and distinguishable choruses, is “Once In A Lifetime”, possibly their greatest track ever. The off-kilter bass, up against the other instruments, the keyboards actually approximating the sound of water, the goofy lyrics, the infectious hook, and the glorious organ chords before the closing fade; all collide into a classic tune, helped along by the video that was all over early MTV. “Houses In Motion” was a daring choice for the next single, but following the “spoken verse” section with sung chorus combo. Another prominent element are Jon Hassell’s trumpets, which don’t sound like them. “Seen And Not Seen” is also predominantly spoken, as well as spooky, tied to a beat that would soon ground the rhythm section’s work in Tom Tom Club, and presents a sound that would dominate arty new wave for the next few years. Similarly, “Listening Wind” predicts some of the textures The Police would use in a few years, a near-ambient backing with percussion and birdcalls on guitar. “The Overload” is the culmination of the creeping darkness, a slow, brooding track that purposely recalls Joy Division.
Remain In Light was hailed as a masterpiece of the new decade upon release, and has only piled up accolades since then. Again, if you like grooves as well as songs, it will resonate, but it doesn’t have the immediacy of Fear Of Music. If you’re looking for an album of songs just like “Once In A Lifetime”, you’ll also be disappointed. But fans (and Enophiles) should certainly seek out the expanded CD, which offers four “unfinished outtakes”, including rough drafts of “Lifetime” and “Born Under Punches”.

Talking Heads Remain In Light (1980)—
2006 CD reissue: same as 1980, plus 4 extra tracks

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Frank Zappa 34: Baby Snakes

Frank had lots of grand ambitions, and often spoke of big projects and productions that would inevitably evolve as time went on and money ran out, and would almost as inevitably go unfinished. One of the few that did happen was Baby Snakes, filmed during the Halloween run in 1977 at New York’s Palladium, released about two years later with claymation segments another other hijinks edited in. The soundtrack companion appeared about four years after that, on a picture disc via mail order.
Basically we have about 36 minutes of music from a film that ran over four times as long, fitting chronologically just before Sheik Yerbouti. In fact, the title song is merely an edit of the album track. “Titties & Beer” gets a mild edge of over its previously heard version due to the modified exchange between Frank and Terry Bozzio—to wit, Frank says he’s been through hell already, having been “signed with Warner Bros. for eight f—kin’ years!” “The Black Page #2” (sans drum solo) provides a transition to “Jones Crusher”, well sung by Adrian Belew.
“Dinah-Moe-Humm” was always a crowd-pleaser, yet this version follows Zappa’s wearying trend of inviting excitable audience members up to dance and be ridiculed, and loses a lot without the visuals. “Punky’s Whips”, though familiar from the Zappa In New York CD, was not included on the album, so it makes its first appearance here. So we get even more vocalizing from Terry Bozzio, in between some decent musical interludes (including the quote from “Isn’t It Romantic”, but somehow not “Sunshine Of Your Love”, which pops up repeatedly elsewhere).
Due to its length and despite its relative obscurity, Baby Snakes was always something of a minor but not disposable album. 1988’s CD added a minute or so of dialogue at the top, and removed the gap between the two album sides, and that was it for extras. The film itself was available on VHS in both its full version and a 90-minute edit, and many years later, for one of their periodic birthday tributes, the Zappa Family Trust offered all 164 minutes of the audio as Baby Snakes—The Compleat Soundtrack for download. If that wasn’t enough, the fortieth anniversary of the concerts brought forth Halloween 77, offered in a package with a Zappa costume and mask and a USB stick with all six shows from the run. The October 31 show, from which much of the original Baby Snakes album was compiled, was simultaneously released as a three-CD set, with bonus tracks from the show the night before.

Frank Zappa Baby Snakes (1983)—3

Friday, May 4, 2018

Smiths 9: Reissues! Repackages!

If you’ve been keeping score, you will have deduced that the Smiths catalog consisted of four LPs, a pile of singles and radio sessions that were reshuffled on three separate compilations, and one live album, all released within a relatively brief five-year period. Yet the earnest reissuing and repackaging of their output began shortly after Morrissey’s delayed “comeback”, and things still got left out, even with the repetition.
1992 brought a decent pair of CDs, the similarly but not uniformly titled Best…I and …Best II (both of which spawned singles to promote them). The first volume concentrated mostly on songs that had been singles, while the second added a few album tracks for a slightly deeper focus. Neither was chronological, but together presented many of their best-known cuts for what would have been a solid double album. A little over two years later, Singles repeated many of the tunes on a single disc lasting an hour, but often in their longer album mixes, and including one album track that had been a single but wasn’t on the previous volumes. (Confused yet?)
In the new millennium, The Very Best Of The Smiths crammed 23 tracks onto a single disc, with only two songs that hadn’t been on the 1992 discs, one of which had yet to be regurgitated thusly. The band was more directly involved with 2008’s The Sound Of The Smiths, with Johnny Marr going so far as to supervise the mastering. It also had 23 tracks, in mostly chronological order, but without exactly duplicating Very Best. More interesting to collectors was the deluxe edition, which added several of the B-sides already familiar from previous compilations, along with several rare B-sides that hadn’t made it to any album to date.
But then vinyl came back into vogue, so in 2011, Johnny Marr remastered the catalog so Complete could present all the albums all together in one package for anyone who wanted to start from scratch. However, the title was incorrect. The CD set offered the four studio albums, the three compilations, and the one live album, leaving several of those stray B-sides out. And with all the overlapping between those three compilations, some tracks appeared more than once. For even more repetition, the deluxe set offered (along with the eight albums on LP and CD) vinyl replicas of 25 singles rife with duplication, with some of those otherwise unavailable tracks shoehorned in between. And we’re not even going to touch the deviation in mixes.
For all the fleecing, each of the above compilations does present hefty servings of the band’s best work, so each is musically valid. The first two volumes are the most satisfying of the choices, while Complete allows the new fan to get most everything in one shot, provided he or she can handle the repeats.

The Smiths Best…I (1992)—4
The Smiths
…Best II (1992)—4
The Smiths
Singles (1995)—4
The Smiths
The Very Best Of The Smiths (2001)—4
The Smiths
The Sound Of The Smiths (2008)—
The Smiths
Complete (2011)—

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Kinks 11: Arthur

By now it should be clear that Ray Davies’ writing ambitions extended far past the simple pop song. Even those hit singles evoked characters and imagery that hinted at literature and even film. So it made sense when he was approached to collaborate with a playwright for an original BBC-TV production, with a story reflected in songs that would be played by the Kinks.
Expanding on one of Ray’s pet themes, Arthur (Or The Decline And Fall Of The British Empire) explores the significance and symbolism of the village green from the point of view of a central character. We haven’t found confirmation of this, but that could be why Ray sings much of the album in a character voice, approximating a dullard. When the choruses or Dave’s guitar kicks in, then it sounds like the Kinks.
The teleplay has never been published, so we can only guess at the plot based on the liner notes and the lyrics. “Victoria” is a jaunty opener and easy singalong, an ode to the old days when “life was clean, sex was bad and obscene… Victoria was my queen.” Lest we think he’s stuck in the past, two songs could apply as anti-way protests in the height of the Vietnam era. “Yes Sir No Sir” spoofs the rigors of military life, then “Some Mother’s Son” laments the inevitable deaths of these young boys. This is sung in his more familiar voice, echoing some of the sentiments from the last album, and it’s heartbreaking. “Drivin’” is mildly reminiscent of the non-album single “Autumn Almanac”; it’s a trifle of a song, and that’s the point: to escape the pressures of the day, as such horrible memories. Those pressures are made explicit in “Brainwashed”, which details how society has marginalized the greatest generation with some pretty nasty electric guitar. Another kind of mind control comes forth in “Australia”, basically a travel advert for the country where so many people had emigrated. It strangely descends into a lengthy one-chord jam, more like what the Stones might have done. There’s even some Nicky Hopkins-style piano pounding in the mix, although it’s not him, and even a wobble board as a nod to the continent.
“Shangri-La” is at once one of Ray’s best and bleakest songs, from the slowly picked acoustic at the beginning to the mocking lyrics. By the time the meter picks up and hammers out all the shallow comforts, the effect is chilling. We go back in time to hear accounts of life during the second World War. The patriotic attitudes in “Mr. Churchill Says” jar with the modern rock backing, though the air raid siren is a nice touch. “She Bought A Hat Like Princess Marina” descends into goofy musical hall, mocking the lengths people will go for fashion when they’re dead broke. Quiet and sad, “Young And Innocent Days” works well outside the concept, covering the well-worn Davies theme of regret, but “Nothing To Say” more directly addresses the generation gap in the story, with that voice again. Finally, the title track echoes the jolly effect of “Victoria” by addressing the main character directly, reassuring him a la “Nowhere Man” or “Happy Jack”. It works as a singalong, but not as substance.
Because of holdups with the TV show, Arthur wasn’t released until after a kid named Tommy had captured wide attention (helped along by that album’s recurring themes and the Who’s numerous live performances to promote it). It’s a difficult album to take in, partially because of the dense story, and then because of the depressing subject matter once you’re in. But as ever, it’s a grower. (The expanded double CD offers the album in both mono and stereo, along with some contemporary Dave Davies singles, each of which feature the Kinks and would have made up the solo album he never completed.)

The Kinks Arthur (Or The Decline And Fall Of The British Empire) (1969)—

Friday, April 27, 2018

Neil Young 59: Roxy

Shortly after recording what would be the Tonight’s The Night album, Neil and the band he dubbed the Santa Monica Flyers played a handful of shows at the new Roxy club in West Hollywood. These sets consisted of the nine songs intended for the album, played in order—well, actually eight, since the title track would be played a second time each set as an encore, along with one older song from albums already out, the only song the crowd might recognize.
Sadly, only grainy photographs provide visuals from these performances, wherein Neil’s latest character was bearded, more scraggly than ever, hiding behind shades, wearing a hideous seersucker jacket over a Tinkerbell T-shirt, and constantly welcoming the patrons to “Miami Beach”. Among the equipment onstage were a wooden Indian, a lone palm tree, go-go boots stapled to the side of the piano, and what looks like a high school trophy. The lighting consisted of exactly one bulb.
However, audio bootlegs have existed of these shows, and a compilation approximating an average set was released nearly 45 years after the fact as Roxy: Tonight’s The Night Live. We hear the album in its original sequence, but it’s not exactly revelatory, except that a few of the songs run longer and slower. They also sound very close to the album versions, which makes sense since the songs were played twice a night only weeks before during the recording process. So “Mellow My Mind” is just as cracked, and “New Mama” is the acoustic arrangement as opposed to the harder electric approach from earlier in the year. But we do get to hear some of Neil’s warped stage patter, some of which are indexed per style as different “raps”, as well as a brief run through “Roll Out The Barrel”, started by Nils Lofgren on piano with Neil wheezing along on harmonica. Even if the band was gone on tequila and weed, they don’t sound any sloppier than usual, ably keeping up with his drawn-out take on “Tired Eyes”. The only “extra” song included is “Walk On”, predating the official take (which almost made the album) by a couple of months.
Familiarity with the tunes after all this time makes it impossible to imagine what they must have sounded like in the moment. Roxy is recorded well, and a cool historical document, only a year after Harvest had been so smooth and comparatively mellow. It even has a black label design just like Tonight’s The Night had. Its designation as the fifth installment in the Archives Performance Series gives hope and wonder as to what is being held aside for number four. And, along with Hitchhiker, it gives further hope that Archives Vol. 2 might even appear in our lifetime.

Neil Young Roxy: Tonight’s The Night Live (2018)—

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Who 27: Fillmore East

The term “long-suffering fan” doesn’t usually inspire much sympathy. The artists these people adore don’t owe them anything, and if they’ve shelled out their hard-earned cash on numerous occasions for duplicates or sub-standard material, it’s not like they were forced to. Buy the ticket, take the ride. Or don’t, it’s up to you.
So when a band like the Who, after literally decades of teases, overlooks, and bad editing, comes out with an official version of a classic bootleg that might actually surpass the legend, there is cause for celebration. Live At The Fillmore East 1968 finally presents a nearly-complete document of one of their appearances that year at said venue, in terrific sound, with no dodgy edits, overdubbing, or fly-ins. With the exception of the first two songs from the night apparently beyond salvage, this is the show as performed, with dialogue and mistakes left in.
1968 was something of a lost year for the band; they recorded lots of songs and released a few singles, but a new album evaded them until Pete happened on the idea of a sensory-deprived kid who played pinball. Meanwhile, they played tons of gigs on several continents and became an incredible live act. Their managers, always on the lookout for a gimmick, thought a live album might fill the racks, and so recorded two nights at the Fillmore East.
World events caused a change in schedule; instead of performing two shows a night, they played one long one for each. Inspired by some of the more experimental bands of the time, the Who began to mix their quick, radio-friendly singles with lengthy explorations. “Relax”, a groove from Sell Out, manages to extend to 12 minutes; “A Quick One” goes nearly as long in a version that comes close to the definitive take from later in the year. Amazingly, even for them, “My Generation” runs for 33 minutes, and is assigned to a disc on its own.
They also relied on covers to fill their allotted time. “Summertime Blues” was already in the set, and two more Eddie Cochran tunes (“C’mon Everybody” and “My Way”) lead into “Shakin’ All Over”. This is also the first appearance of their arrangement of “Fortune Teller”, somehow folding into “Tattoo”. It managed to work, and they would still play it that way two years on.
It’s impossible to say how this album would have been received had it been released back then. The beloved original bootleg came from an acetate compiled from both nights, so we don’t get to hear Roger and John sing different verses of “Boris The Spider” simultaneously, nor do we hear Pete telling someone in the crowd to “get stuffed”. But to finally hear complete songs, without fade-outs or fade-ins, is truly exciting. Here’s hoping they’ll finally approve the Woodstock performance for its golden anniversary.

The Who Live At The Fillmore East 1968 (2018)—4

Friday, April 20, 2018

Lou Reed 13: Growing Up In Public

Something very odd happened on the cusp of the new decade: Lou Reed sobered up, fell in love. With a woman. Whom he married. With his parents in attendance. These events affected his life affected his life and writing, possibly leading to the honest (on the surface, anyway) monologues throughout Growing Up In Public.
He still sounds desperate and gargling on “How Do You Speak To An Angel”, to the effect that he’s almost tongue-tied, while the tight New York backing adds some doo-wop echoes. He’s a little more in control but still tense on “My Old Man”, wherein he accuses his father of continually beating his mother. “Keep Away” is a mildly humorous look at a dysfunctional relationship with some terrific rhymes. For the title track he relies on the same basic chords, repeated, with an annoying fretless bass part that resembles an elephant, while “Standing On Ceremony” is pure new wave, with menacing verses and an incongruous chorus that merely repeats the title awkwardly.
While not exactly an epic, “So Alone” is a one-sided conversation well illustrated by the accompaniment, with a “get up and dance” section that’s actually funny. By contrast, “Love Is Here To Stay” has potential, but the he-said-she-said content of the verses is underdeveloped. The momentum slides further on “The Power Of Positive Drinking”, something of a novelty track, complete with a dopey faux-reggae beat and a quote from “Please Please Me”, of all things. In “Smiles”, he blames his permanently sour puss on his mother, with so many lyrics crammed in they’d make a better poem than a song, even with an odd reference to “Walk On The Wild Side” at the end. We seem to be a fly on the wall for his marriage proposal in “Think It Over”, a surprisingly tender and effective song. That would be a great place to end the album, but instead we close with a plea to “Teach The Gifted Children” that quotes from “Take Me To The River” for some reason; whether this is a nod to Al Green or Talking Heads is unknown.
Growing Up In Public would appear to be an accurate description of the overall thematic effect. That’s not to say, as he’d mocked a couple of years earlier, “Lou Reed’s mellowed, he’s older,” but all the conflicting references to his parents come off like notes taken after an hour on the shrink’s couch. He may have been maddening, but at least he was interesting.

Lou Reed Growing Up In Public (1980)—

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Steve Perry 2: For The Love Of Strange Medicine

Oddly, the glass-shattering voice of Steve Perry stayed silent for years following the last Journey album. When he did emerge, it seemed he’d spent his time growing his hair and singing himself hoarse. For The Love Of Strange Medicine finds him even raspier than on Raised On Radio, working with a bunch of unknown session guys, save the keyboard player from Winger and the bass player from Toto. Just as with his previous solo outing, there are enough Journey elements to keep the true believers invested, and wondering why he couldn’t just get the real guys to do it.
“You Better Wait” was the best choice for first single and opening track, and the best song on the album by far. It sports all the hallmarks people associate with That Voice—flashy lead guitar, piano and synth, layered vocals, pounding drums. From there, “Young Hearts Forever” strains to keep pace, but already sounds dated, and slows down needlessly in the middle. The slow ballad arrives right on time with “I Am”, followed by the theme song for a soundtrack to a movie yet to be filmed, “Stand Up (Before It’s Too Late)”. The title track limps along with some decent hooks, but not a lot of energy, while “Donna Please” attempts to be a heartbreaker a la “Suzanne”.
“Listen To Your Heart” attempts to inject some heavy rock into the proceedings, but somehow ends up jerry-rigging several half-baked ideas together. “Tuesday Heartache” is more heartache-by numbers that takes a strange detour into a Peter Gabriel soundtrack halfway through. “Missing You” is a little clichéd, but it’s a good kind of clichéd, just as “Somewhere There’s Hope” embraces the main ingredients of so-called melodic rock: ¾ time, slamming snares, piano, and yes, a choir. It even goes on about two minutes too long. That only makes the opening of “Anyway” (“I’d like to say I’m sorry/I’d like to make amends”) unintentionally hilarious.
While just a little better than Street Talk, the album underwhelmed, though “You Better Wait” was a mild hit. Fanatics raced to pick up the CD-maxi single, as well as the one for “Missing You”, both of which included songs not on the album. Two of those—“If You Need Me, Call Me” and “One More Time”—appeared as bonus tracks for the head-scratching reissue of For The Love Of Strange Medicine 12 years later (alongside two lesser outtakes and a live “Missing You” from his solo tour). Why these tracks were relegated to B-side status instead of the album itself, where they would have both been more welcome and appreciated, would be a mystery for a few years yet.

Steve Perry For The Love Of Strange Medicine (1994)—
2006 CD reissue: same as 1994, plus 5 extra tracks

Friday, April 13, 2018

Rush 12: Grace Under Pressure

For much of the band’s career to date, producer Terry Brown loomed large, to the same subliminal effect on a record sleeve as a George Martin or an Andrew Loog Oldham. So it was indeed A Big Deal when the next Rush album credited a different name alongside theirs.
Grace Under Pressure arrived at the height of ‘80s silliness, and a glance at the back cover provides proof. Synthesizers were now at the forefront of the mix, alongside guitars that were even further from prog. Hindsight has been kinder to the album than we were at the time, enthralled as we still were with Moving Pictures. The new album seemed almost too slick, too shiny; but again, if this was your high school soundtrack, your reaction would have been different.
To their credit, each of the songs does indeed explore, vividly, the concepts of human stress—not in the egomaniacal Dark Side Of The Moon sense, but more what non-rock stars must endure on a daily basis in so-called modern society. The album starts with a moment of “2112” wind and then “Distant Early Warning” (commencing a worrying trend of not having the title mentioned in the song itself, making it tough to request on the radio) echoes the contemporary nuclear worry prevalent in 1984, yet dares to hint at the notion of a romantic relationship. “Afterimage” goes right to the point, reflecting on a recently deceased friend, and not at all mawkishly; rather, the urgency in the riff conveys anger at what/who was lost. “Red Sector A” is divisive, being as it sports what we’d still call a disco beat, but it’s paired a compelling lyric, evocative of the Holocaust, which Geddy Lee’s parents survived. “The Enemy Within” is said to be part one of the completed “Fear” trilogy, which began two studio albums before, continuing the reggae beat from the second part (and from “Vital Signs”). Each installment is thus less interesting than the last.
A somewhat robotic beat fittingly but annoyingly inaugurates “The Body Electric”, accompanied by percolating bass and more unresolved chords; as with much of the album, the chorus is the best part. “Kid Gloves” has a dizzying, cyclical riff in 5/4 that calms down for the choruses, and reading the lyrics now, they come off as something of a comfort for the confused teen mindset depicted in “Subdivisions”. The edgy “Red Lenses”—listed in lowercase and demonstrative color type in all documentation—is loaded with plays on the word and simple rhymes. Finally, “Between The Wheels” employs a suitably tense synth bed, hints at a chance of perseverance with a driving chorus, but reverts to the tension to reflect the cycle.
It’s not one of our go-to Rush albums, so we’re always surprised how listenable Grace Under Pressure turns out to be whenever we throw it on. Still, it’s a long way from the yowls and sorcery of the previous decade, and does show that while the band may no longer be considered progressive, they have progressed.

Rush Grace Under Pressure (1984)—3

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Paul Westerberg 2: Eventually

Some critics still cared about Paul Westerberg, and his label had Replacements fans working there, so they were willing to bankroll another solo album. Eventually was an apt title, considering that it took a while to complete, starting with Brendan O’Brien (in between multiplatinum Pearl Jam albums) as producer, and finishing with the more indie-minded Lou Giordano.
The music follows the same template as his more recent albums to this point, catchy guitar-driven rock with clever couplets. “These Are The Days” and “Century” would have fit on 14 Songs, but the listener’s ears perk up on the bittersweet “Love Untold”, a terrific song unfairly ignored by most radio programmers. Right on time, the tempo picks up for the hook-laden “Ain’t Got Me” and the relentless trash rock of “Had It With You”, which comes off as a cross between “My Little Problem” and “Backlash”, except there’s no female duet partner. “MamaDaddyDid” returns to a lazier strum, and not very exciting.
Side two (on the cassette, since no vinyl version was released at the time) immediately becomes more interesting with “Hide N Seekin”. It begins like a demo, Westerberg singing over a single quiet electric guitar, pausing for several silent seconds after the chorus, then picking up again, adding a slight organ and brushed drums to the mix. “Once Around The Weekend” is a bit of a retread, but everyone got excited for “Trumpet Clip”, which features good ol’ Tommy Stinson on bass and, yes, trombone while the auteur spits out the lyrics, giggling occasionally. “Angels Walk” is redeemed by some decent guitar rips, but it’s forgotten once “Good Day” takes over, a piano dirge that, but for the lyrical nod to “Hold My Life”, one might not guess is a tribute to the recently departed Bob Stinson. From there, “Time Flies Tomorrow” keeps it quiet and sensitive.
There’s no thrashing on the album, nothing that fans complained had been missing since Don’t Tell A Soul. Yet, Westerberg sounds more confident overall on Eventually, which puts it strongly in the plus column. The whole is definitely greater than the parts.

Paul Westerberg Eventually (1996)—

Friday, April 6, 2018

Genesis 14: Genesis

After touring to support Three Sides Live, and taking a few months off for Phil Collins to push his second solo album, Genesis went right back to work on their next album, and had it out by the end of the year. (Right after Phil finished a brief tour as Robert Plant’s drummer.) Titled simply Genesis, it has since been referred to as the “Mama album”, thanks to the opening track and first single, whereas we immediately recognized the childhood toy depicted on the cover.
“Mama” was a good choice for an introduction to the album, as its harsh sound dragged the band back from the pop sound people had begun to associate with them. (Another good sign: no horn sections anywhere.) That said, “That’s All” is fairly simple, both in execution and lyrics. The next two tracks form a suite that completes the side, just like the old days. “Home By The Sea” takes some time to absorb; apparently the repeated demands to “sit down” come from the ghosts occupying said home. “Second Home By The Sea” is a lazy title, but nicely pairs with its brother, bringing everything full circle in the last minute.
That’s a pretty decent album side, but the execrable “Illegal Alien” is up there with the worst songs the band has ever committed to posterity. At best it’s an accurate Men At Work pastiche, but even they had the taste not to go this politically incorrect. “Taking It All Too Hard” is a little better, back to Phil’s recently patented breakup lyrics. Around our way “Just A Job To Do” was an FM radio staple, a heavier track with good band interplay. One of the sneakier songs in their catalog, “Silver Rainbow” begins with a catalog of paradoxes, then moves into what seems like a cautionary lecture, until you realize he’s talking about the first time making out with a girl (“and a bear comes in the room” being a particularly red herring). Finally, “It’s Gonna Get Better” works around tricky time signatures and finds a suitable melody to deliver its uplifting message.
“Illegal Alien” aside, Genesis remains one of their better albums because the three of them were still playing like a band, contributing equally. We’ll go so far as to say it was their last good album, which says a lot, considering how busy they’d been up to this point.

Genesis Genesis (1983)—

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Bruce Springsteen 24: Chapter And Verse

With a glimpse of mortality following the loss of E Street Band members, and even before he started writing his autobiography, Bruce Springsteen opened his legendary vaults to demonstrate the making of certain key albums in his catalog. Some were also accompanied by live artifacts. He’d already started offering downloads of shows from his most recent tour, but the Bruce Springsteen Archives went further back, selling professionally recorded concerts, complete with aesthetically relevant artwork, from his entire career.
It’s a fairly impressive endeavor, having recently escalated to a new release every month or so, and higher concentration on the previous century. Once his book was published, a companion of sorts was also released. Chapter And Verse doesn’t attempt to condense every musical reference in the pages into an 80-minute program, but it does provide something of a chronological overview, even going back before the fame.
His first band is represented by “Baby I”, a worthy garage rock stomp, and an even louder thrash at “You Can’t Judge A Book By The Cover”. Once he started writing his own songs in the ‘70s, Steel Mill takes over for “He’s Guilty (The Judge Song)”, with a lot of pinched lead guitar and organ; then they evolve into the Bruce Springsteen Band for “Ballad Of Jesse James”, which belies a distinct Van Morrison influence. “Henry Boy” is an awfully busy acoustic demo that predates the first album, and the best parts would form the backbone of “Rosalita” two years down.
“Growin’ Up” is included in the demo version previously heard on Tracks, and from there we go forward with a song per album until this century. The idea seems to be to include the most personally important track from each, and not necessarily the hits. If that’s what you’re looking for, you have other options. This one’s for the diehard fans.

Bruce Springsteen Chapter And Verse (2016)—3

Friday, March 30, 2018

Grateful Dead 8: Europe ‘72

Having become dedicated (sorry) to playing shows, that was the place to hear new Grateful Dead music. And since their live albums were moneymakers, they were able to travel with a label-subsidized tape unit to capture all of their European shows, which would then become their third live album, and a three-record set to boot.
Europe ‘72 doesn’t replicate a typical show, but it does mirror the “Skull & Roses” album by presenting songs old and new. Pigpen takes a smaller role throughout, with new pianist Keith Godchaux filling in the arrangements, and his wife Donna singing backup. The energy flags a bit over the six sides, but it’s very possible that many early listeners concentrated on a side at a time.
After a rollicking “Cumberland Blues”, “He’s Gone” is a pleasant saloon lope that provides the title of a future live album and “One More Saturday Night” makes the transition from Bob Weir solo track to Dead standard. “Jack Straw” is a mysterious song with many layers, possibly a murder ballad, possibly the plaint of escaped convicts. There’s no such mystery about “You Win Again” except that it’s a Hank Williams song. “China Cat Sunflower” emerges from the psychedelic era to form a jam with “I Know You Rider”, which some Dead-influenced band is likely playing somewhere right now, or thinking about it.
“Brown Eyed Women” has a somewhat modern sound, but lyrics that evoke moonshiners from the early part of the century, and it’s a grower. Pigpen comes to the microphone for “It Hurts Me Too”, the ancient blues tune, but not as slow as “Ramble On Rose”. “Sugar Magnolia” gets extended nicely, complete with fake ending, and keen ears have spotted that one can pick out a few notes from “Dark Star” at the beginning. Pigpen emerges again on “Mr. Charlie”, a decent midtempo boogie, but “Tennessee Jed” blends in with the other low-energy tracks to keep it from standing out.
Right on time, the album switches to extended jams, as on Live/Dead, which actually helps bring us around. Side five begins with an introduction for “Truckin’” that acknowledges its hit single status, and extends after 13 minutes into an “Epilogue”. This is presumably continued in a mildly atonal “Prelude” on side six, before ending with a slow “Morning Dew” that manages to sustain interest.
For continuity’s sake, the first CD version of Europe ‘72 split the album across two discs, comprising three sides apiece. The eventual expansion had the first four sides on one disc, with the rare Pigpen track “The Stranger (Two Souls In Communion)” as a bonus; a hidden gem, to be sure, if a shaky performance. The other CD offered the “Truckin’” through “Morning Dew” run, plus Weir’s “Looks Like Rain” and a half-hour romp on the Rascals’ “Good Lovin”, which is interesting if you like Pigpen.
Even before that, the same period was mined for other archival releases. Hundred Year Hall was culled from a concert in Germany, and had the boost of being the first release following Garcia’s death. A complete show from two days earlier was eventually released in a shuffled order as Rockin' The Rhein With The Grateful Dead, while Steppin' Out With The Grateful Dead: England ’72 offered four discs from various dates. For the absolute collector, Europe '72: The Complete Recordings offered all 22 shows on 73 CDs, packed in a suitcase. Each show was eventually released individually, but even more accessible for those on a budget was Europe '72 Volume 2, which presented a companion to the original without repeating any of its songs, though there is some overlap with the Skull & Roses set. The first disc delivers even more Pigpen, with the second more devoted to lengthy jams and a lovely “Sing Me Back Home”. (Those who still can’t get enough can sample the New York shows immediately before the tour on Dick's Picks Volume 30, one entire show of which is on Dave's Picks Volume 14.)

Grateful Dead Europe ‘72 (1972)—
2003 CD reissue: same as 1972, plus 6 extra tracks
     Archival releases of same vintage:
     • Hundred Year Hall (1995)
     • Steppin' Out With The Grateful Dead: England ’72 (2002)
     • Dick's Picks Volume 30 (2003)
     • Rockin' The Rhein With The Grateful Dead (2004)
     • Europe '72: The Complete Recordings (2011)
     • Europe '72 Volume 2 (2011)
     • Dave's Picks Volume 14: Academy Of Music, New York City, 3/26/72 (2015)

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Oasis 6: Familiar To Millions

Most post-baby boom bands would consider getting to play Wembley Stadium to be a highlight of their success. For all their posing, Oasis is no different. Therefore, having revitalized the brand with two new members on guitar and bass, plus a guy on keyboards, their “triumphant” (according to the liner notes) appearance at Wembley in the summer of 2000 dictated that a live album be released as a souvenir.
Familiar To Millions doesn’t have any real surprises in the songs everyone already knows, except that Liam sounds more bored than ever. He and Noel make sure to take time during and between songs to berate whoever they want into the microphone with countless variations on “fook”. Much more interesting are the not-so-obvious song choices, such as the B-sides “Acquiesce” and “Step Out” (which sounds similar enough to Stevie Wonder’s “Uptight” to give that song’s writers royalties). Noel tackles Neil Young’s “Hey Hey, My My”, though nobody told him not to play the whole D chord, as well as “Helter Skelter”, tacked on as a bonus from a show an ocean away from Wembley. (A highlights CD omits five songs, including all the covers, not counting the tag of “Whole Lotta Love” at the end of “Cigarettes & Alcohol”.)
As a live album, Familiar To Millions serves as an able hits collection, geared towards those familiar millions. Yet there’s something about the entire crowd singing the chorus to “Don’t Look Back In Anger” with happy throats.

Oasis Familiar To Millions (2000)—3