Tuesday, August 4, 2020

John Entwistle 4: Mad Dog

While Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey remained occupied with the Tommy film, John Entwistle gathered most of the band known as Rigor Mortis, renamed them John Entwistle’s Ox, and recorded another album, this time with the intention of touring behind it. Mad Dog has its moments, but falls back on the parodic ‘50s influence from the last album, and the jokes, albeit clever, don’t bear up to repetition. If you like horn sections, buckle in, because there’s plenty of them.
The album starts mostly strong with “I Fall To Pieces”, while “Cell Number Seven” is an amusing recount of the night the Who and their entire road crew were arrested in the wake of damage Pete and Keith Moon had done to a hapless hotel room in Montreal. “You Could Be So Mean” is a little too literal in terms of the power of sticks and stones, and succeeds only because it comes before “Lady Killer” and its unrestrained bullfight trumpet. Just to mix things up, “Who In The Hell?” is delivered in a jokey hoedown arrangement with Eddie Jobson’s violins taking the place of the horns.
The title track is possibly the most daring, its Spector-girl group sound topped off by the vocals, delivered in their entirety by the female backup singers, for a result that predicts Bananarama crossed with Tracey Ullman. A mildly Shaft-style instrumental with clavinet and strings is titled “Jungle Bunny”, and we really hope that wasn’t meant to be a joke. “I’m So Scared” and “Drowning” repeat the formula of the other twisted love songs on side one, but at least the latter has an excellent melody.
Obviously John had plenty to offer, so the novelty of hearing him perform music not written by Pete Townshend was enough to get some people to listen. But when it came down to it, as long as the Who were still around and Pete was still creating, audiences didn’t pay as much attention to his solo work. Mad Dog was a mild improvement, but didn’t help his case any.

John Entwistle’s Ox Mad Dog (1975)—

Friday, July 31, 2020

Dwight Twilley 3: Twilley

Phil Seymour went his own way, mostly amicably, putting an end to the Dwight Twilley Band, but the man himself simply kept going. Twilley is full of the ear candy that made Sincerely and Twilley Don’t Mind such winners. Bill Pitcock IV is still on board on lead guitar, and one Jim Lewis fills the Seymour role on both bass and drums.
Each of the songs is a Twilley original, and they’re mostly solid. “Out Of My Hands” rivals the Rutles and ELO for a mildly psychedelic Lennon pastiche, and “Nothing’s Ever Gonna Change So Fast” is full of tension and angst. “Runaway” suffers from a mild disco influence, but as long as he was copping the titles of classic oldies, “Standin’ In The Shadow Of Love” sits somewhere between country and western. “Alone In My Room” could easily have fit on Sincerely, and apparently it was of the same vintage.
“Betsy Sue” is a rockabilly pastiche in the same slot as “TV” from the first album, but it’s quickly forgotten thanks to his impeccable Tom Petty impression on “Darlin’” (which also features Phil Seymour on harmonies). “I Wanna Make Love To You” is cut from the same cloth, with a girl-group chorus that would never have been allowed to sing those words. “Got You Where I Want You” doesn’t say much, but it’s still catchy, just as “It Takes Alot Of Love” rises above the bad grammar.
Twilley is definitely catchy, but something’s missing. Maybe it was Phil.

Dwight Twilley Twilley (1979)—3

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Fripp & Eno 3: The Essential Fripp And Eno

Through a variety of backroom shenanigans that rankle Robert Fripp to this day, the back catalogs of certain artists on the EG label ended up being distributed by Virgin. So while Fripp curated a couple of box sets dedicated to King Crimson, and Brian Eno oversaw two box sets of his own, an interesting little compilation snuck out of interest to followers of both.
The Essential Fripp And Eno is a highly subjective title for an album that consists of (No Pussyfooting) in its entirety, followed by the first two tracks from Evening Star. While we consider the rest of that album to be just as essential as its older brother, the compilers wanted to be sure there was room to include four previously unreleased collaborations by the dynamic duo. Naturally this would be cause for celebration and interest, until the music kicks in.
“Healthy Colours” was recorded around 1979, when both Fripp and Eno were based in New York City and exploring the potential of funk beats and found atmospheres—very much like the experiments that would appear on My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts. The same basic track, just over five and half minutes, appears four times, each with different embellishments, helpfully subtitled with respective Roman numerals. “Healthy Colours I” is the most straightforward, with a watery bass groove and just the slightest Fripp strumming. “Healthy Colours II” brings in grating samples from a 911 call, “III” adds highly abrasive guitar, and “IV” layers soundbites from talk radio. It doesn’t encourage repeated listening, but seeing as it takes up only a third of the total playing time, the rest of the set doesn’t suffer too much. Newcomers would be better off springing for those first two albums on their own.

Robert Fripp/Brian Eno The Essential Fripp And Eno (1994)—3

Friday, July 24, 2020

Replacements 10: For Sale

In the decades following the formal dissolution of the Replacements, interest in the band—and their legend—only increased. Meanwhile Paul Westerberg emerged from suburban fatherhood with the occasional lo-fi solo album, and Tommy Stinson paid the rent by regular touring as the bassist in Guns N’ Roses. After the two got back together to record a benefit EP for ailing guitarist Slim Dunlap, they managed to get organized for a few live shows, then a nationwide tour, which ended abruptly and scattered any plans of future recording.
That had only whet fans’ appetites further, so it was a perfect excuse for any label with anything worth selling to cash in. Astonishingly, the Sire vaults didn’t just have a well-recorded show of the original band; the ‘Mats actually rose to the occasion. They would notoriously sabotage any chance to get ahead, particularly if they knew they were captured for any kind of posterity, but throughout For Sale: Live At Maxwell’s 1986, everything clicked.
The setlist is stellar, culling tunes from every one of their albums to date, even the Stink EP. “Can’t Hardly Wait” appears, still in lyrical progress, but the band’s arrangement is bulletproof. Even “solo” songs like “Answering Machine” and “If Only You Were Lonely” get an electric boost. It wouldn’t be a ‘Mats gig without wacky covers, and “Fox On The Run” is started and abandoned early. They do much better with “Black Diamond”, of course, as well as “Hitchin’ A Ride”, “Nowhere Man”, and “Baby Strange” by T. Rex via Big Star. (We almost feel bad for the poor bastard who keeps screaming for “September Gurls” to no avail; at least he had the recent Bangles cover for solace.)
From time to time Paul gets stuck, either from forgetting words or changing them and losing his place. For the most part they keep charging ahead, particularly Bob Stinson in all his glory, firing on all cylinders and seeming autopilot. Tommy gamely yells “MURDER!” during songs and lulls, and Chris Mars proves to be more than just a timekeeper. For Sale is truly an unexpected treat, and an essential part of the Replacements legacy.

The Replacements For Sale: Live At Maxwell’s 1986 (2017)—4

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Kinks 19: A Soap Opera

After several attempts and a handful of concepts, Ray Davies was still somewhat obsessed, shall we say, with meshing his high ideas with the television platform. A Soap Opera is an adaptation of a musical teleplay that actually aired called Starmaker, which presented something of a Twilight Zone-style tale of An Important Rock Star (played by Ray, naturally) who swaps places with an everyman named Norman under the intent of research for his next smash album. This entails sleeping with the man’s wife and going to work at his mundane job. He soon tires of the charade and tries to return to his old lifestyle, but it turns out he’s actually become Norman! Or has he? Does anyone really know? Does it even matter?
The vocals are delivered consistently mockingly by Ray, with overly parodic rock arrangements and intentionally trite strings. Dialogue punctuates each song, including input from the befuddled wife; the listener is forced to read along with the libretto to catch all the extra minutiae. The opening “Everybody’s A Star (Starmaker)” turns the sentiment of “Celluloid Heroes” inside out, and it’s not bad as a single, but then the plot takes over. Frankly, his view of “Ordinary People” who suffer from the “Rush Hour Blues” because they have to work “Nine To Five” is truly condescending, mostly because we don’t think he’s being ironic. It’s no shock that these people go straight to the bar “When Work Is Over”, where the only respite is to “Have Another Drink”; after all, that activity had been one of Ray’s more common themes for several albums going.
“Underneath The Neon Sign” opens side two, and it’s a track that could possibly stand alone outside the story line, though the arrangement could use a lot more delicacy to deliver the emotion. That’s also the problem with “Holiday Romance”, a faux-cabaret detour shoehorned into the plot to act as an escapist daydream. There’s a nice chorus in “You Make It All Worthwhile”, but the rest of the track is derailed by excess pathos and a radio-drama organ (no, really). “Ducks On The Wall” further illustrates the protagonist’s frustration by lashing out at the avian d├ęcor, made even more maddening by actual quacking impressions throughout. “(A) Face In The Crowd”, despite the unnecessary parenthetical article, is another existential crisis that might work on its own. Then “You Can’t Stop The Music” moots all that went before, acknowledging “the rock stars of the past” who have since faded to obscurity, but for the immortality of the music they created.
With the exception of an occasional Dave Davies riff, the Kinks are used as sidemen, and the music is cartoonish. A few of the tracks segue well to keep the story moving, but it’s not easy to care about any of these people. All together there are four tracks on this album—the first tracks on each side and the last two numbers—that would work without being shackled to a concept, and that’s not enough. The eventual reissue added a single mix of “Everybody’s A Star”, plus three live performances from the highly staged tour that followed; the band was tight, as were the actors. Ultimately, A Soap Opera is just as trivial as the television genre it apes.

The Kinks A Soap Opera (1975)—2
1998 Konk CD reissue: same as 1975, plus 4 extra tracks

Friday, July 17, 2020

Elton John 14: Here And There

Five years and eight albums since his last live album, Here And There presented a side each from two different concerts from 1974 with the classic Elton John Band with Dee Murray, Davey Johnstone, and Nigel Olsson. It was initially intended as something of a contractual obligation in the UK, with “here” being London and “there” being New York City, but the quality of the music elevates it above stopgap status.
The London show is said to be a retrospective through the years, beginning with “Skyline Pigeon”. The band kicks in for the end of “Border Song” and gives percussionist Ray Cooper three minutes to play a duck call solo in the middle of “Honky Cat”. “Love Song” is a surprise, particularly as it is performed, as on the album, as a duet with writer Lesley Duncan. “Crocodile Rock” is just plain playful, as usual.
He sounds a little hoarse on the Madison Square Garden side—understandable, as he’d been on the road for two months already—but he has the first half of “Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” to rest up. “Rocket Man” and “Bennie And The Jets” inspire lots of cheering, and while “Take Me To The Pilot” doesn’t have the power of its initial live version, it’s still loaded with energy.
Given the repetition from the hits album and its presenting only a handful of tunes, Here And There was easy to overlook. That changed with the remaster rollout of the mid-‘90s, which more than doubled the program, devoting a full CD to each of the shows. The London show includes even more gems from the past, including further selections from Tumbleweed Connection and even “Bad Side Of The Moon”. Along with more hits and the Muscle Shoals Horns for “You’re So Static”, it turns out the New York show was the same one where John Lennon made his surprise (and final) stage appearance, and those three songs are now included in the proper context. Yes, “Take Me To The Pilot” and “Your Song” now appear twice each, but is that such a bad thing?

Elton John Here And There (1976)—3
1995 CD reissue: same as 1976, plus 16 extra tracks

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Frank Zappa 41: Does Humor Belong In Music?

This album is another on in Frank’s catalog that had a confusing history, but since here is the best place to cover it, we will. Not to be confused with the home video release of the same name and vintage, Does Humor Belong In Music? is a compilation of live performances by the 1984 band, released only in Europe and exclusively on the brand spanking new CD format in January 1986.
A faithful “Zoot Allures” segues neatly into “Tinsel-Town Rebellion”, which punctuates its derision of current music with highly pertinent musical quotes from the likes of the Scorpions, Culture Club, and Kajagoogoo. “Trouble Every Day” and “Penguin In Bondage” were both revived, this time to give Frank space for an extended solo in the middle of each. “Hot-Plate Heaven At The Green Hotel” is a complaint about the failure of trickle-down economics, but only if you listen to the lyrics; otherwise it’s another glorious guitar solo.
“What’s New In Baltimore?” has gained (some) vocals since its debut onstage, as well as a repeated section that resembles Leo Sayer’s “When I Need You”. “The Cock-Sucker’s Ball” is a blatant celebration of bad language that goes into an almost unrecognizable “WPLJ”. These are very brief detours before “Let’s Move To Cleveland”, a lengthy instrumental that went by several titles before settling on this one. Outside of the main melody, which surfaces repeatedly, this is a vehicle for a piano solo, a drum solo, and of course a guitar solo. Speaking of which, “Whipping Post” was the last song from the last show of the tour, done more straight than their previous reggae version, and features 15-year-old Dweezil Zappa on lead guitar.
The 1984 shows would be mined for future archival releases, but for now this was a satisfactory glimpse of Zappa live, especially as he wouldn’t tour again for another three years. Some of the synth effects and electronic drums sound understandably dated, but the tightness of the band overall is to be marveled. (Does Humor Belong In Music? didn’t get a proper worldwide release, including in America, until 1995 as part of Rykodisc’s massive catalog revisit. This time it sported new self-referential artwork by Cal Schenkel; for the 2012 re-reissue the original cover was mostly restored.)

Frank Zappa Does Humor Belong In Music? (1986)—3