Saturday, February 28, 2009

Has it really been a year?

Since its debut, Everybody’s Dummy has posted reviews of over 170 albums in the space of 150 entries. The initial modest rate of two posts a week soon increased to three, just as the variety of content finally spread to that of music recorded in the 21st century.

It’s been a lot of fun for us so far, and we look forward to keeping up the pace over the next 52 weeks and beyond. While we intend to keep consistent with our brand, we plan to continue widening the scope of what we offer. So as always, thanks for reading, and please keep sending comments (and complaints). And of course, please tell your friends and musically inclined acquaintances about Everybody’s Dummy. We are truly grateful for the attention.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Pete Townshend 4: All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes

Pete came close to killing himself by the end of 1981 with a spiraling addiction to alcohol, cocaine, heroin and just about everything else, but managed to survive in time to remember what he was here for. He wrote songs and recorded demos before, during and after his rehab, and emerged with a new mod haircut and an album with the unwieldy title of All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes. Many have suggested that it’s no great shakes, but this author has to disagree; while the Who struggled to remain relevant, Pete was able to express himself and his neuroses and make music that worked.

An interest in writing short stories and prose rears its head with the opening track. “Stop Hurting People” takes an extended poetry reading and matches it with a triumphant arrangement. (He was, after all, pursuing a side job as a book editor.) “The Sea Refuses No River” wraps itself around a hypnotic theme, then goes into a wonderful middle section with a very well constructed guitar solo. “Prelude” is a half-finished idea that slides into “Face Dances Part Two”, the title track that never was, and something of a hit despite its 5/4 meter. “Exquisitely Bored” is a very LA tune, likely written during his recovery, beaten out of the way by the verbal barrage of “Communication”.

“Stardom In Acton” is similar to “Exquisitely Bored” without being repetitive. The title refers to the section of London where the Who started out, though first listens and even the current CD misspell it “action”. “Uniforms” manages to distill Jimmy’s central crisis in Quadrophenia into three minutes successfully, and there’s that melody from “A Little Is Enough” sneaking in over the bridge. “North Country Girl” is a poor rewrite of the folk song, moved aside by “Somebody Saved Me”, which goes through some personal vignettes that reveal with every listen. The album ends with perhaps Pete’s best-ever song, the haunting “Slit Skirts”. The words ache to mean something, and despite the plot the chorus does a splendid lift to another key each time. The song fades out much too fast.

Chinese Eyes is a great album, especially for 1982, when many of his contemporaries would start to lose the plot. The upgraded CD added three tracks, but as is often the case, they don’t live up to the rest of the album. The underwhelming “Vivienne” is interesting to hear if only because it came that close to making the original, while “Man Watching” and “Dance It Away” were contemporary B-sides, the latter sounding the most like the Who, coming as it did out of a live jam.

Pete Townshend All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes (1982)—4
2006 remaster: same as 1982, plus 3 extra tracks

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

CSN 7: American Dream

By now Neil fans were used to one new album, more or less, per year. We thought we were getting a bonus when David Crosby stopped doing drugs and Neil made good on his assertion that then and only then would he do another CSNY album.

Nice of him, but he shouldn’t have. Really.
American Dream is a big step back from the strides Neil had made of late, and his presence and participation doesn’t seem to inspire the other three any. Nearly every track suffers from contemporary production, even Neil’s title track with its a silly synth flute line and sillier video. As bad as it is, it’s one of the better songs on the album. But it’s not as good as “This Old House”, which came out of the Farm Aid mindset and would probably have been received better had it come out in the context of his 1992 project, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. “Feel Your Love” isn’t horrible, but deserves better lyrics, and “Name Of Love” is just ordinary, with an ill-advised call-and-response motif.

Nash cries sad tears about the environment and its neglect by governments (“Shadowland”, “Clear Blue Skies”, the excruciating “Soldiers Of Peace”) except for “Don’t Say Goodbye”, which sees him alone at the piano with a lead guitar break from Stills. As for Crosby, he’s just glad to be alive. Per usual, he brought two songs to the table. “Nighttime For The Generals” is loud and angry, but not very convincing. The big focus, rather, was on “Compass”, where he directly addresses his struggles with addiction and subsequent imprisonment. It has the potential to be embarrassing, but the delivery and exquisite production make it succeed.

Stills doesn’t dominate the proceedings for once, letting his guitar do the talking when Neil’s isn’t. But he’s just as insufferable as ever, giving “Got It Made” and “That Girl” mushmouthed deliveries and yacht rock arrangements. “Drivin’ Thunder” is a collaboration in credits only with Neil, as is “Night Song”, which is the most welcome song here, as it’s the last one in a program over an hour long. (It would turn up again on Neil’s next album, but rewritten, and without Stills’ input on the track or the writing credits.)

If we really expected a miracle, we were only kidding ourselves. Basically Neil let them use his ranch and choose their own rhythm section, and thus American Dream ended up as the bare minimum. It’s clear his mind was elsewhere, and was a rare case of him actually making good on a promise to people who ultimately needed him more than he did them.

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young American Dream (1988)—

Monday, February 23, 2009

Elvis Costello 26: Momofuku

With Elvis reveling in his disgust of the state of the record industry, the announcement of a new album called Momofuku sounded like another typical Costello red herring. Internet sleuths thought it was a reference to a Manhattan restaurant, but it turned out that the inspiration was the eponymous man who invented ramen noodles.

All this speculation—which wasn’t helped by initial reports that it would only be available on vinyl—was moot when we finally got to hear the music. The songs were recorded as quickly as they were written, with the two notable exceptions being collaborations with Roseanne Cash and Loretta Lynn. The Imposters provide the backbone, while a handful of young musicians a couple of generations removed fill out the sound without getting in the way.

After the smoother pop and jazz elements of the last couple of albums, this time it’s mostly back to the welcome clamor he played so well. “No Hiding Place” is a great opener, pointing a not-so-subtle finger at those Internet sleuths. “American Gangster Time” follows with more political anger, and from there the noise becomes a matter of taste. The least successful tracks attempt to pull puns out of names (“Stella Hurt”, “Harry Worth”, “Mr. Feathers”) and fail to connect, but it’s the comparatively gentler songs that win here, from “Flutter And Wow” with its shades of Brian Wilson, the tender apology and lullabye of “My Three Sons” and the haunting “Song With Rose”.

He was starting to take his sweet time between albums again, but it was clear that like the elder statesmen he was beginning to emulate, when he felt like saying something, it was worth hearing, and on that level, Momofuku didn’t disappoint. Since he was insisting that his income came from live performances and not from album releases anymore, we could only guess when we’d hear from him again.

Elvis Costello and the Imposters Momofuku (2008)—

Friday, February 20, 2009

Paul McCartney 13: Tug Of War

This album had a long birth. While Wings was basically done, Paul kept working with Denny Laine throughout 1980, and reunited with George Martin and Ringo for this and the two albums following. Then John died. George, Ringo and even Yoko made musical statements in 1981, but we’d have to wait another year to hear the next chapter in Paul’s musical autobiography.

It was worth the wait. Right from the start Tug Of War was his best album in years. The title track is sneaky, an instant classic for those who heard it. The plaintive little melody takes its time to make its point, with just a hint of strings. The middle section is breathtaking. The tossed-off “Take It Away” was a moderate video-driven hit, and another one of Paul’s portraits of a working musician. The end section shows off the layered vocal stylings of new collaborator Eric Stewart, formerly of 10cc. “Somebody Who Cares” was inspired by the aftermath of John’s murder, and is quite empathetic without being condescending. “What’s That You’re Doing” is the lesser collaboration with Stevie Wonder (more on that later) and doesn’t work after the first playing. “Here Today” is overtly about John, and gets one misty to this day. This is exactly the type of tribute one would expect from Paul’s capabilities.

“Ballroom Dancing” is a great production, even with all the horns, with that pounding piano driving the train. “The Pound Is Sinking” doesn’t seem to be about much, though its two bits are soldered together okay. “Wanderlust” also has two melodies spiraling together but much more successfully, and is quite evocative of the sea. Paul’s old hero Carl Perkins helps with “Get It”. It’s not the best idea for a duet, but the laughter at the end is infectious. The “Be What You See” link doesn’t need a separate listing, but “Dress Me Up As A Robber” has its moments amidst all the disco rhythms. “Ebony And Ivory” was the big single, the call for racial harmony with Stevie Wonder. It’s something of an anticlimax after all the great music that’s come before, and its sentiments, while genuine, have turned to self-parody over time.

Tug Of War wasn’t really an all-star album, but having such big guns as Carl, Stevie and other old friends was good luck. It got raves at the time, and would have even without all the help. The songs stand up and the production didn’t get in the way. That didn’t stop him from remixing the album for its 2015 reissue, which didn’t ruin it; the 1982 mix was still available to those who bought the pricey deluxe box. Along with several solo demos, three contemporary B-side made their overdue appearance: the Celtic-flavored strum “Rainclouds”, “I’ll Give You A Ring”, and a mix of “Ebony And Ivory” sung by Paul alone. These don’t detract at all from Tug Of War being his best album in years. Back in the day, we simply hoped he could keep up the pace.

Paul McCartney Tug Of War (1982)—
2015 Archive Collection: same as 1982, plus 11 extra tracks (Deluxe Edition adds another 12 extra tracks and DVD)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

George Harrison 9: Somewhere In England

Just when George seemed to be enjoying himself, things went wrong. First, Warner Bros. rejected his original lineup for his new album, Somewhere In England, saying it wasn’t commercial enough. Then John died. He certainly had a right to be grumpy this time, and as a result, the mood permeates the tone of the finished product, obliterating the good vibes from the last album.

“Blood From A Clone” puts the crux of the argument front and center, with backing that’s supposed to be contemporary. (Hey, they asked for it.) “Unconsciousness Rules” continues the dopey dance idea, with lyrics that skewer the genre. The melody for “Life Itself” brings the first enjoyable track here, but the words aren’t much more than a hymn in the tradition of “It Is He”. With different lyrics and easier meter it could have been a single. “All Those Years Ago” was the first musical statement by any Beatle after December 8th, and it’s pretty direct if a little forced. George pays tribute without suppressing any of his anger so it works. Paul, Linda and Denny supposedly sing backup, and Ringo’s on drums to keep it all in the family. “Baltimore Oriole” is the first of two old Hoagy Carmichael tunes here; by putting his own stamp on it, it’s surprisingly one of the most enjoyable songs on the album.

“Teardrops” starts off the second side, sounding exactly like Elton John’s early ‘80s stuff. This wasn’t on the first version of the album, leading us to think it was new. The dour words don’t match the tune at all. It seems a little odd to have something this radio-friendly coming from George, especially at this point. “That Which I Have Lost” annoyingly mixes a cowboy melody with a music hall swing, while the words seem to refer to Bob Dylan’s recent Christian conversion. “Writing’s On The Wall” is laid-back and pleasant, yet repetitive and forgettable. Originally the opening track on the original sequence, “Hong Kong Blues” is the lesser Hoagy Carmichael song here. It all finally ends with “Save The World”, where George takes his sermonizing to tell his heathen fans to be nicer to the environment. There are nice passages here that don’t coalesce, along with some hilarious sound effects, and you can just barely hear a track from Wonderwall Music on the fade.

If Warners didn’t like the first version, it’s safe to say they only approved this one to cash in on the post-murder hype. (The replaced songs would all officially, if briefly, surface on CDs packaged with expensive leather-bound limited editions of his lyrics, as well as on some B-sides, but sadly, not on the album’s posthumous reissue.) But after the quality of the previous album, we were back to wondering why he bothered making records if he couldn’t enjoy the process. Another footnote: in at least one interview before his death, John complained about how George remembered every “two-bit guitar player he’d ever met” in his autobiography I Me Mine, but didn’t spend more than two words on him. George did make sure to include a dedication on the inner sleeve of Somewhere In England, even going so far as to use John’s preferred initials. So there.

George Harrison Somewhere In England (1981)—
2004 Dark Horse Years reissue: same as 1981, plus 1 extra track

Monday, February 16, 2009

Mighty Joe: Balance

There’s a singer-songwriter who’s been bouncing around the Chicago corridor for a few years now, and those who have stumbled across him have been happy they happened to be in that place. Mighty Joe can be found out in the bars playing by himself, playing songs from his own vast catalogue, sometimes alternated with your typical bar fare. Other times he’ll be accompanied by any number of like-minded musicians; other times he’ll be doing a wedding. He puts himself at the center of the music, and the crowds love him.

Balance is his seventh self-released album, and it is the pinnacle of what he’s all about. Herein you will find songs that equally lament the lessons learned from a night deep in one’s cups, alongside songs that champion the individual quest for divine acceptance. Most of these are songs from Joe’s own pen, but even the few he didn’t write have been bent to his own style that make them original statements.

The titles don’t tell the whole story; time spent within such tracks as “Sleep Alone”, “Nicotine Breakfast” and “No End” are worth the trip, while the portraits within “Man In The Cage” and “Great Unknown” just scratch the surface of something incredibly profound. And these are just his newest songs; he’s got six other CDs full of compositions of the same high quality.

His influences range from John Prine to Paul Westerberg, from Bob Dylan to Paul Weller. But oddly enough, what he does is so original that it all falls under his brand. This is real music, performed by a real singer-songwriter. The melodies are catchy without being redundant; the words are intelligent without being pompous. There’s something for everyone here, and all of it is honest and heartfelt. Mighty Joe is a performer who rewards those seeking something different among the acoustic troubadours still pounding the pavement in the 21st century. Should you find yourself so lucky as to cross his path, you’ll be looking forward to the next time he’s in town to pick up where you left off. Failing that, he’ll probably be playing a few towns away, so if you make the trip, he’ll be awfully glad to see you.

Mighty Joe Balance (2006)—4

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Roger Daltrey 5: Best Bits

MCA Records loved to reissue, re-label, and repackage their catalog, but sometimes they were happy with compiling a hits collection for the heck of it. Having already lost the Who to Warner Bros., they also had to contend with the individuals scampering off for solo deals. Since Roger Daltrey had some mild success in his time, Best Bits was one way to recoup.

To their credit, the album didn’t just regurgitate songs fans owned already. The brand new rockin’ opener “Martyrs And Madmen” was written by Steve Swindells, who’d had some input in the McVicar soundtrack, and is a nice surprise. “Say It Ain’t So Joe” and “Oceans Away” nicely balance rock and ballads. “Treachery” is another new Swindells song, based on a very dated synth part, but at least it’s tuneful. “Free Me” and “Without Your Love”, which MCA was wise to license from Polydor, end the side cleanly.

We recommend all of his first solo album, but the “Hard Life/Giving It All Away” suite is probably the best taster here. “Avenging Annie” is always welcome, and we’re still surprised by how much we like “Proud”. The sloppy typography on the back cover makes us suspect it was an afterthought, but “You Put Something Better Inside Me” was an obscure B-side that could have been an album track, so it’s a nice inclusion in this set. (Further shoddy MCA quality control is on the label, where Jon Astley’s first name is misspelled twice.)

There really aren’t any clunkers on Best Bits. It never made it to CD, even on a crappy transfer, but 25 years later, the Rhino label followed a John Entwistle solo compilation with a similarly packed set for Roger. Martyrs & Madmen astoundingly did not include that particular song, nor the other two new ones, but it did repeat everything from Best Bits except “Proud”, added deeper cuts from the earlier albums, and filled out the balance with several tracks from the ‘80s. (“Martyrs And Madmen” was included on the two-CD Gold compilation in 2005, but that track sequence is just so strange we don’t feel like tackling it here.)

Roger Daltrey Best Bits (1982)—
Roger Daltrey
Martyrs & Madmen: The Best Of Roger Daltrey (1997)—3

Saturday, February 14, 2009

John Entwistle 5: Too Late The Hero

A lot had changed in the Who world since John Entwistle’s last solo album, and with those albums mostly forgotten, he gladly took the money offered via the band’s latest deals to surface with another. Too Late The Hero was more in line than the occasional song he’d given to the last few Who albums, and pointedly free of gimmicks. It also helped that the band consisted of him, plus Joe Walsh on all the guitars—and there are a lot of them—with Walsh crony Joe Vitale on drums, lending to a lean, tight, cohesive mix throughout.

Right up to date, “Try Me” begins with a riff slightly pinned synthesizer bed under a clever chorus. Six years made a big difference, as his voice is noticeably huskier, but he can still harmonize with himself. A more aggressive riff drives “Talk Dirty”, with nicely layered vocals—not too dissimilar from Pete Townshend’s solo work—that the chorus doesn’t quite pay off. “Lovebird” almost qualifies as sensitive, a regretful farewell to an affair. Humor returns on the otherwise ordinary “Sleeping Man”; it doesn’t help that the vocals are mixed too low to catch all the words, but that’s why they print lyrics on inner sleeves. “I’m Coming Back” is another “life on the road” song; he’s done better, but Ray Davies did more, some of which were worse.

The disco thump of “Dancing Master” (or “Dancin’ Master”, depending whether you read the back cover or the record label) forebodes nothing good except lengthy dueling bass solos that invite Joe along for few bars. The mildly cautionary “Fallen Angel” follows his familiar trope of changing chords over the same single bass note, but the key change helps. “Love Is A Heart Attack” begins with his other trope, the descending and ascending chromatic scale, but this time it’s over the Walsh-Vitale pulse, and it’s generally more interesting than all that, even if the metaphor isn’t very thought out. But the majestic title track makes up for all the shortcomings. From the chords to the lyrics, with the verses, choruses, bridges, and coda all of the same high quality, this may be his greatest-ever song (“Boris The Spider” and “My Wife” notwithstanding).

Considering we hadn’t expected much, Too Late The Hero is surprisingly enjoyable, and only dated where noted. Moreover, it’s an excellent showcase for Joe Walsh in between Eagles albums and his own solo career.

He’s not on any of the demos included as bonus tracks on the eventual reissue, but we are going to assume that’s Kenney Jones on the drums, since he was thanked for his help on the original back cover. Four of those are runthroughs for the album, but “Love Is A Heart Attack” is a completely different, and superior tune. There’s also a gothic “Overture”, performed on piano and synthesizers, that may or may not be from the project that gave us “905”. It’s another example of his classical training, and a shame he didn’t pursue it more.

John Entwistle Too Late The Hero (1981)—3
2006 Sanctuary reissue: same as 1981, plus 5 extra tracks

Friday, February 13, 2009

Neil Young 22: This Note’s For You

While he’d declared that country music was where it’s at only three years before, Neil turned up out of nowhere with a horn-driven R&B revue called the Bluenotes—oblivious to that of Harold Melvin—playing two long sets of original, blues-based material. A new album, safe from the shackles of Geffen, followed shortly after.

Your enjoyment of This Note’s For You will depend on your opinion of horn sections, but it’s got some great moments. “Ten Men Workin’” is the statement of purpose this time out, but the Tonight Show stylings go on too long. The title track is too short on the album to offend, missing the point. “Coupe De Ville” is quiet Neil, and quite good at that; he’d do better with the mood music than trying to sound like B.B. King. “Life In The City” barrels on through as a hint of the future, then “Twilight” closes the side trying to sound like Otis Redding singing “Coupe De Ville”.

“Married Man” is a pain in the ass, but “Sunny Inside” seems awfully sincere. And as happy as it is, it sounds like a Neil song. “Can’t Believe Your Lyin’” goes back to the mood music, then that in turn is blasted out of the way by “Hey Hey”, one of the better raveups. “One Thing” features Ralph Molina and George Whitsell in their only appearance on this album, which leads one to think that this was a leftover from On The Beach; it even resembles the song of the same name. (Perhaps the Archives will provide clarification on this someday.*) It ends the proceedings quietly yet satisfyingly.

The moody numbers on This Note’s For You work best, since they don’t sound as much like parody or a bad white version of blues. Even those who think Stevie Ray Vaughan invented the genre weren’t fooled. But Neil was definitely back on track, and sounded a lot more like he actually was enjoying himself. He’d written and performed a pile of other songs with the horns around this period, which were promised, until his next detour relegated them to the vaults. As usual.

Neil Young & The Bluenotes This Note’s For You (1988)—3

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Elvis Costello 25: The River In Reverse

Elvis had long acknowledged Allen Toussaint as one of his favorite songwriters and composers, going so far as to work with the man twice in the '80s. When Hurricane Katrina left Toussaint among the thousands of homeless, Elvis channeled his anger into a variety of performances and eventually a full-length album designed to spotlight both Toussaint’s talents and the musical legacy of New Orleans.

The River In Reverse was recorded quickly over a two-week period, and mixes six older Toussaint compositions with six new collaborations. Toussaint plays piano and sings throughout, with the stalwart backing of the Imposters, a horn section and an additional guitarist to boost the sound. Not only do the lyrics for the new songs echo the disgust Costello felt at the situation in the Delta, but oddly enough, the “covers” also sound sadly timely, even those he’d been performing for years.

Comparisons with Painted From Memory—the collaboration with Burt Bacharach that could have also mixed new versions of old songs, but didn’t—are inevitable, no thanks to photos of Our Hero wearing yet another stupid hat. While the recording is full and hits a smooth groove, the covers are just okay and the new songs themselves aren’t especially memorable. It didn’t help when live performances of the title track, which blatantly addresses the political situation, would inevitably incorporate lyrics from other songs from the album, confusing one’s recall. But despite all this, it’s an important recording, and better that the album stands on its own rather than get lost in the shuffle of a few album tracks here and there. (Elvis thought so strongly about it that he soon took all the musicians on the road to showcase the new songs and preach the gospel of Allen Toussaint. And initial copies of the album came with a bonus DVD documenting the sessions, the first recordings held in New Orleans after the devastation of Katrina.)

Elvis Costello & Allen Toussaint The River In Reverse (2006)—3

Monday, February 9, 2009

Elvis Costello 24: My Flame Burns Blue

Despite the moderate success of both his new work and the back catalog, the ever-contrarian Costello insisted on releasing albums that showed off his talents in genres outside those which had brought him notoriety. Only the faithful had purchased Il Sogno, the score for a ballet based on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, released the same day as The Delivery Man. Perhaps because of the lack of interest, a “suite” of music from the recording was a bonus disc added to My Flame Burns Blue, which collected various highlights from a pair of shows recorded in 2004 at a Scandinavian jazz festival with a large orchestra. These concerts featured new arrangements of older songs along with some neo-jazz-cum-classical pieces he’d rarely been able to perform without such a big ensemble behind him.

The selections are a little jarring. “Favourite Hour” and “Almost Blue” benefit from full arrangements, but the evil circus vibe of “Clubland” kills the mood. His commissioned lyrics for melodies by the likes of Mingus and Strayhorn may spark heretofore untapped interest in those composers. And of course, there’s yet another version of “Watching The Detectives” to add to the pile.

Infinitely more enjoyable is Piano Jazz, which documents his appearance on Marian McPartland’s popular NPR show a year earlier. The two disparate performers discuss old songs—and some of Elvis’s—in between performing them, and the mutual respect comes through the speakers clearly. A few of the standards will be familiar to fans who’d already indulged in various reissues, and these versions are surprisingly welcome to the canon.

Elvis Costello My Flame Burns Blue (2006)—
Elvis Costello & Marian McPartland
Piano Jazz (2005)—

Friday, February 6, 2009

Who 15: Hooligans

Face Dances was enough of a hit to keep The Who’s old label, MCA, mindful of cashing in while they could. The Hooligans collection, a two-record set, appeared in late 1981, and is something of an expansion on the Meaty Beaty Big And Bouncy idea with more of an emphasis on the ‘70s.

In an unfortunate premonition of the repackaging to come, the album opens with “I Can’t Explain”, “I Can See For Miles” and “Pinball Wizard”. However, that repetition is redeemed by the first US appearance of “Let’s See Action”, a post-Who’s Next single that Who freaks would have known from Pete’s version on Who Came First. This track is easily as good, with Nicky Hopkins on piano, good use of delay and Roger taking the verses before giving the bridge over to Pete. “Summertime Blues” from Leeds precedes an edited “Relay”, another stopgap single that’s an acquired taste. Side two provides something of a distillation of Who’s Next, with the necessary inclusion of “Baba O’Riley” and “Behind Blue Eyes”, but leaving off “Won’t Get Fooled Again” in favor of “Bargain” and “The Song Is Over”.

“Join Together”, a very strong single, starts off side three, then we jump ahead for “Slip Kid” and “Squeeze Box” before going back to 1973 for “The Real Me” and “5:15”. On side four, “Drowned” also comes from Quadrophenia, and finishes with “Had Enough” (the Entwistle song, not the Quad track), “Sister Disco” and “Who Are You””, nicely distilling that album.

The odd juxtapositions and repositioning notwithstanding, Hooligans is a worthwhile compilation. The inclusion of the three rare singles made it essential, but its usefulness would be trampled within two short years by the pointless cash-in of Who’s Greatest Hits. 1988’s Who’s Better, Who’s Best, released worldwide, was another two-record/single-CD set, but leaned heavily on the ‘60s. (Both also used the pointless single edit of “Won’t Get Fooled Again”.)

It’s a shame that with all the repackagings, we couldn’t simply have nice upgraded versions of Meaty Beaty Big And Bouncy and Hooligans to keep the catalog concise and complete. All they had to do was cut the first three songs off Hooligans and the rest would fit onto a single CD. Why is this so difficult for anyone else to figure out?

The Who Hooligans (1981)—4
Current CD equivalent: none

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Elvis Costello 23: The Delivery Man

It seemed that anytime there was a reissue program underway, Elvis would get prolific and start issuing new albums on an annual basis. So after the argument-starter that was North, he took the Imposters down south for a residency at a few tiny clubs, and began honing elements of a song cycle of sorts that he’d been pondering for a decade or so. The Delivery Man appeared on the heels of advance reviews that made it seem like we’d be getting a cross between the Americana of King Of America and the live chaos of Blood & Chocolate. (Pointedly, the all-country Almost Blue had been reissued earlier that year, adding to the Southern mood.)

The resulting album, while a cohesive whole, is still a hodgepodge. The story (or what there is of it) is only slightly helped along by the upfront contributions of Lucinda Williams and Emmylou Harris; the former is an acquired taste, but Emmylou could sing the phone book and it would sound like heaven. (One great moment: the end of “Heart Shaped Bruise”, while Elvis and Emmylou join on “it will fade” while the song does just that.) Best of all, the Imposters are given full rein to do what they do best. Steve Nieve explores every keyboard he can reach, Pete Thomas pounds the skins as hard as any punk and in bassist Davey Faragher Elvis finally has a decent harmonizer to help him cover those notes. As usual there are a few wordy rants, like “Bedlam” and “Needle Time”, but songs like “Country Darkness”, “There’s A Story In Your Voice” and even a few that had already been recorded by other people for earlier projects—namely “The Judgement”, “Either Side Of The Same Town” and “The Scarlet Tide”—stick in one’s head.

Fans were very pleased with the album, when in a growing and annoying trend it was reissued a few months later with a new cover, a track that had been exclusive to the UK version, and an EP of alternate takes and two unreleased songs. Still, we wished he’d’ve left it alone.

Elvis Costello & The Imposters The Delivery Man (2004)—
2005 Deluxe Edition: same as 2004, plus 8 extra tracks

Monday, February 2, 2009

John Lennon 9: Double Fantasy

History is a funny thing. Certain events have different resonance in hindsight than they might have on initial impact. Such is the case with Double Fantasy; we would venture most people didn’t get to hear this album until after John was dead, by which time he’d been elevated to messianic status. But in those short weeks (in hindsight) between the announcement that John was recording and the first single, the anticipation was unbearable. What would he sound like after five long, silent years? And did we really want to hear what Yoko had to say?

“(Just Like) Starting Over” was big news on its very first radio airplay; it’s good old rock ‘n roll, with just enough affection to make it obvious it’s for Yoko. The flip, “Kiss Kiss Kiss”, features Yoko yelling about something for two minutes, then we have two Yokos climaxing in stereo. The rest of the album continues in this pseudo-dialogue fashion. They kept telling the press how the album was a testimony to their love, but when you really look at the lyrics it’s apparent that living in the Dakota wasn’t the same as living in Utopia. “Clean Up Time” helps with the househusband mythology, plus it’s a kick to have the Lewis Carroll references back after all those years. “Give Me Something”, like most of Yoko’s tunes on this LP, dates back to the Lost Weekend; this one is mercifully short, but displays her influence on punk bands, which some think is a good thing. “I’m Losing You” is incredibly real and aching; this is the one that got the FM exposure after the softer rock of the first singles. It segues neatly into Yoko’s harsh “I’m Moving On” response; this pairing makes you look again at the cover photo where the kiss seems so genuine—almost as genuine as the love song to Sean in “Beautiful Boy”. The steel drums are a nice echo of Bermuda, where it was written. And the waves take us away.

Side two starts with “Watching The Wheels”, with its jaunty piano. There’s a slight air of melancholy while John’s telling us how happy he’s been “no longer riding on the merry-go-round.” There’s an audio-verité stroll into “I’m Your Angel”, which would have been mostly harmless had it not been “Makin’ Whoopee” with different lyrics. “Woman” was a perfect choice for the next single, chiming guitars and all. The harmonies at the end are sublime, and it’s not at all confined to his experience. “Beautiful Boys” (notice Yoko’s title is in the plural) is a scary little number, most likely written as a response to John’s other song. While “Starting Over” echoed Roy Orbison, “Dear Yoko” has a Buddy Holly hiccup that’s blindsided by the obsessive lyrics. The universality of “Woman” unfortunately hasn’t translated here. The song is essential to the story, but ineffective and downright embarrassing as a song to the point where the last two songs, both Yoko’s, are superior.

Upon release, Double Fantasy was nice to have, and certainly not awful, but just pleasant in the same way as Mind Games was. At the time, we assumed there would be lots more now that John was back, so we were willing to wait. At the time, life was different. But life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. The album’s place in history is chained to the events soon after its release, so unfortunately this was his epitaph. Would he have wanted us to think these were the last thoughts on his mind? We’ll never know.

In time other songs from the sessions would be revealed, which will be discussed in the proper context. But time has only reinforced the album’s status as his last living musical statement, and one that gets more attention today than it might have otherwise. As one of the first of the new remasters, the 2000 CD adds Yoko’s “Walking On Thin Ice” as mixed on December 8, a piano demo of John’s “Help Me To Help Myself” and some audio called “Central Park Stroll”, which only reinforces the feelings of futility and finality. Then, in time for what would have been his 70th birthday, Yoko authorized an expanded set called Double Fantasy Stripped Down, which paired the original fourteen tracks with a drastically remixed version of the same songs to emphasize his voice. Some studio banter makes it more of an interesting listen, but Yoko’s songs also get the same treatment, so buyer beware.

John Lennon & Yoko Ono Double Fantasy (1980)—
2000 reissue: same as 1980, plus 3 extra tracks
2010 Stripped Down version: same as 1980, plus 14 extra tracks