Friday, October 30, 2015

Kinks 4: Kinkdom

Once again, the Kinks’ American record company saw fit to cobble another album together from heretofore uncollected tracks, and spent about five minutes deciding on a title. Kinkdom was built upon the British Kwyet Kinks EP (now there’s a great title for you), adding the one leftover from the British Kinda Kinks LP, five more singles and B-sides, and for some reason, repeating “Louie Louie” from Kinks-Size.

Considering that their singles were increasingly improving, the album is comparatively strong. “A Well Respected Man” is notable for being the first Ray Davies song that addressed society and class, changing his voice as required, giving him a template to fill out for years to come. “See My Friends” was especially daring for the time, with a raga influence months ahead of “Norwegian Wood” and a lyric lamenting death disguised as love lost. “Who’ll Be The Next In Line” was one of the times Reprise got it right, making this British B-side the A-side here. A masterpiece of sloppy chord blocking, “I Need You” leaves the Stones as the only major British Invasion band that didn’t release a song of that title.

They’d already recorded and released several songs that sounded like each other, but “Never Met A Girl Like You Before” blatantly begins with a quote from “Tired Of Waiting For You” before turning into a simple dance number complete with a dotty toy piano instrumental section. (While we’re at it, “Such A Shame” sports accents played better on “Set Me Free”.) “Wait Till The Summer Comes Along” is a cool strum for Dave to sing, and he does well, while “Naggin’ Woman” shows him to be one of the least convincing bluesmen ever to play the Crawdaddy Club. “Don't You Fret” shows longing for home and hearth before and after a single-chord jam, showing their skill in the studio—in hindsight, interesting to compare to the simplicity of “It's Alright”, the B-side of “You Really Got Me” included here.

For all of its flaws, Kinkdom put some of the Kinks’ newer, better songs in one place, more or less catching up both sides of the pond. Going forward, all their albums would be identical, a level neither the Beatles, Stones nor Who would achieve for some time.

The Kinks Kinkdom (1965)—3
Current CD equivalent: Kinks and Kinda Kinks

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Doors 3: Waiting For The Sun

Most of the music on the first two Doors albums had been in the band’s repertoire for a couple of years, so when it came time to record their third, they were tasked with coming up with new material. Consequently, Waiting For The Sun is stuck between pop and the experimental, with varying results.

They did save one ringer from the old days, and despite its similarity to any number of Kinks songs, “Hello I Love You” was an obvious hit. “Love Street” is a lazy, poppy stroll through Laurel Canyon, and something of a red herring for what comes next. Having included an eleven-minute epic on each of the previous albums, Jim Morrison’s next feat was to be the sidelong “Celebration Of The Lizard” suite of poems, as illustrated by the libretto on the inner gatefold. At the time, however, only the section called “Not To Touch The Earth” was completed for the album. The track, which wasn’t worth the trouble, fights against the loopy slide and buzzing organ up until the final declaration, “I am the lizard king”, which is why people talk about it today. “Summer’s Almost Gone” restores the pop sensibility, having been written years before and probably left aside due to its similarity to “The Crystal Ship”. “Wintertime Love” sounds really out of place, and should have been arranged slower and without a harpsichord. While the big epic didn’t happen, “The Unknown Soldier” is a mostly successful attempt at a sound picture, though you’d think they could’ve found a better sound to approximate a gunshot.

Robbie Krieger steps up with a flamenco flourish to begin “Spanish Caravan”, and the rest of the song follows a respectful pace, with a nice fuzzy inversion of the opening theme. “My Wild Love” is a chant destined to try anybody’s patience, making “We Could Be So Good Together” seem an improvement. (Maybe nobody told Robbie his fuzz tone sounded like a kazoo.) “Yes, The River Knows” begins like a lounge ballad, but Jim actually puts some emotion into it. “Five To One” redeems the side, and the album proper; here the dynamics of their lengthy epics are reduced to under five minutes, and shows a respect for economy. Plus, it’s loaded with some of Jim’s better one-liners.

Waiting For The Sun doesn’t have the legs of its predecessors, but they weren’t completely running on fumes yet. (The title track would have to wait to be hatched.) As a hint at what might have been, the expanded CD includes some early stabs at “Not To Touch The Earth”, and two tracks siphoned from various compilations. “Albinoni’s Adagio In G Minor” is a surprisingly faithful interpretation of the baroque piece, while a “work in progress” mix of “Celebration Of The Lizard” runs for 17 minutes, and gives an idea of the music the band concocted for the poems. If anything, Jim’s delivery illustrates why he’s either adored or despised. None of these were included on the so-called 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition, which merely added a second disc of nine of the album’s tracks in rough mix state, plus five songs from a 1968 Copenhagen concert in questionable sound quality. The early version of “The WASP (Texas Radio And The Big Beat)” is historically interesting, however.

The Doors Waiting For The Sun (1968)—3
2007 40th Anniversary Edition: same as 1968, plus 5 extra tracks
2018 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition: same as 1968, plus 14 extra tracks

Friday, October 23, 2015

Joe Jackson 19: Fast Forward

Never too far from a concept, Fast Forward presents Joe Jackson in four different cities, represented by four songs each, recorded by a unique band in each, originally envisioned as four EPs but approximating four sides. For the most part, the location is moot, since there’s only the occasional arrangement unique to Amsterdam or Berlin that wouldn’t work in New Orleans or New York.

New York was the birthplace of Night And Day and Body And Soul, and echoes of those albums can be detected in this section. Bill Frisell and the great Graham Maby feature in here, the title track and “If It Wasn’t For You” both nice examples of pop-rock. Something of a departure comes in his reworking of Television’s “See No Evil”, which turns the riff on itself and gives Frisell a chance to stretch. “Kings Of The City” brings it back to a cool Steely Dan vibe.

It’s a seamless jump to Amsterdam, where he’s joined by a drummer, a keyboard player and some strings. “A Little Smile” is excellent pop, but a 14-year-old kid sings the first verse on “Far Away”, presumably due to Joe’s addiction to guest vocalists, making an already unsettling song more uncomfortable. “So You Say” doesn’t provide much uplift, but moments of “Poor Thing” in between the horns.

Berlin brought us Rain, so luckily the only track suggesting oom-pah music and Joel Grey is his translation of “Good Bye Jonny”. Or maybe the ECM-flavored intro of “If I Could See Your Face” counts too, but that goes on to a more sinister rock sound complete with F-bomb. “Junkie Diva” suggests the death of Amy Winehouse, without mentioning her directly, while “The Blue Time” is a pretty, seductive ballad.

Rock drums resurface in New Orleans, right away on the alternately galloping and driving “Neon Rain”. “Satellite” seems to stop and start, while “Keep On Dreaming” sports horns, mostly sounding like side three of Big World. And it takes a lot of grapes to end an album with a song called “Ode To Joy”, much less quote the melody, but as far as his finales go, it’s a good one.

Fast Forward is a long album, and there are certainly tracks over which one might feel compelled to fast-forward. But better he writes straightforward songs (for him) than laboring over a Broadway show, pseudo or otherwise.

Joe Jackson Fast Forward (2015)—3

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

David Gilmour 4: Rattle That Lock

Having put the band to bed, anything David Gilmour does under his own name will likely never enjoy any wider audience than Pink Floyd fans. That’s probably fine with him, as evidence by most of his quotes in the interviews given to promote Rattle That Lock. However, those concerned that he got all the Floyd out of his system with The Endless River needn’t be concerned.

Now that he’s truly on his own, he relies on wife Polly Samson for most of his lyrics, but he also knows people come to hear his guitar. “5 A.M.” is something of an instrumental overture, just like every album he’s put out since 1987. It sets a classic mood, unfortunately jarred awake by the title track, which bases its hook on a jingle used in the French railway system. (No, really.) It’s a little too funky for this album, but no worse than “Blue Light”. “Faces Of Stone” revives the Dylanesque strum that Roger Waters used all over his solo albums, and that unfortunate calliope that always sounds like a scary carnival came to town. “A Boat Lies Waiting” is something of a tribute to Richard Wright, using what sounds like one of his piano themes, and a snippet of his own voice before the song proper begins. Harmonies by David Crosby and Graham Nash add to the etherealness, if that’s a word. A tempo returns for “Dancing Right In Front Of Me”, not quite jazzy enough to be jazz, and too gloomy to be jaunty. An inspection of the credits reveals the man himself on piano, and a nice job too.

His son plays piano on “In Any Tongue”, another near dirge elevated by every chorus. “Beauty” continues the general tone with an upbeat instrumental featuring his trademark slide guitar, and very different from what comes next. After the hint of jazz in the first half, “The Girl In The Yellow Dress” is the sound of a small combo in a smoky club, with Jools Holland on piano and Robert Wyatt on cornet. A churchy organ and a choir open “Today”, but a groove interrupts and provides a more rocking tune. Finally, “And Then…” brings the album full circle, with a different arrangement of the opening track, ending with the sound of a crackling fire.

As might be expected, Rattle That Lock improves with familiarity, but that also shows what time has done to his voice. It’s not just the high notes he can’t hit; the rasp suggests a melancholy only hinted at on his last solo album. It’s not a masterpiece, and far from, but at 69 years old, we should be so lucky to still have him.

Just as he did a decade before, a massive tour followed the release of the album, and then a live CD/DVD or Blu-ray combo followed in several permutations. The big gimmick this time was a live performance in Pompeii, in front of an actual audience as opposed to the empty theater, where Pink Floyd had filmed a concert 45 years before. Once again the set leans on the newest album, with the usual Floyd epics; people who care about such things will note the inclusion of hired guns Greg Phillinganes and Chuck Leavell on keyboards.

David Gilmour Rattle That Lock (2015)—3
David Gilmour
Live At Pompeii (2017)—3

Friday, October 16, 2015

Jeff Beck 2: Beck-Ola

Still under the managerial thumb of Mickie Most, Jeff Beck wanted his next album to be “heavier” than that last; it’s also possible that he felt threatened by Led Zeppelin’s debut. So he and his Group (with new drummer Tony Newman) went into the studio and banged out a follow-up, which emerged as Beck-Ola.

With two Elvis Presley covers and totaling 30 minutes, the listener cannot be faulted for feeling shortchanged. Luckily, the music makes up for it. Those two Presley songs aren’t straight renditions; “All Shook Up” is turned inside out, while “Jailhouse Rock” packs quite a punch. In between, “Spanish Boots” shows off Rod Stewart as a premier shouter, and “Girl From Mill Valley” is a gorgeous tune by Nicky Hopkins that doesn’t need any words.

Side two is all heavy, with only the slightest shift in dynamics. “Plynth (Water Down The Drain)” beats a riff into the blues, and “The Hangman’s Knee” is a slow stomp through the familiar folk image. More of a marathon is “Rice Pudding”, a collection of riffs and jams on same in and out of 4/4 and 3/4, under several overdubbed guitars, cascading up into a glorious frenzy that cuts out abruptly, as if the tape ran out.

Such an ending only underscores how short the album is, how quickly it was recorded and how little material they had. (Of the bonus tracks on the latest CD, two are alternates of the Presley songs, one is another one of those interminable blues standards everyone did in those days, and “Throw Down A Line” is an attempt at a single, foisted upon them by their manager, with a verse that to these ears sounds like Steve Marriott singing with Dave Mason-era Traffic.) Nonetheless, Beck-Ola is great as long as it’s around. The band itself didn’t last much longer, Rod and Ron Wood heading for drunker pastures and Beck chasing his own ideas of progress. In the heyday of the Maxell tape, this album and its predecessor made a perfect pair, capturing lightning in a bottle before everyone’s catalogs became more complicated.

The Jeff Beck Group Beck-Ola (1969)—

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Beach Boys 18: Love & Mercy

One of the better musical films of recent years was Love & Mercy, which purported to tell of the romance between Brian Wilson and his current wife, against the backdrop of the power struggle between Brian’s demons and Dr. Eugene Landy (played with typically bewigged yelling by Paul Giamatti, who’s made a career out of wearing wigs and yelling), juxtaposed with flashbacks to the Pet Sounds era.

The role of Brian was split between young Paul Dano, whose bowl cut helped accentuate the fragility, and John Cusack, who doesn’t really look like Brian but manages to command attention. (We predict that one day he’ll get all the quirky roles that Bill Murray is mastering now.) Much like I’m Not There, which split seven perceived facets of Bob Dylan’s personality between seven actors, it’s best to appreciate the film for capturing the mood and setting of the ‘60s and ‘80s. Besides, most people going into the theater likely knew the ending anyway.

To that end, the recreations of the studio sessions were said to be highly accurate, and the actors chosen to play the other Beach Boys were also believable, both in their befuddlement over Brian’s condition and Mike Love’s frustration at his cousin’s quirkiness. And we have no trouble watching Elizabeth Banks do anything.

So while it’s not really a Beach Boys movie, the eventual soundtrack album had to include music originally credited to them, and it does, but there’s more. The score can be best described as an ambient mashup; composer Atticus Ross weaves in elements of dozens of Beach Boys tracks sourced from the original master tapes to paint a sonic mural of Brian’s head. While often illustrating edgy scenes, the effect is more hypnotic than unsettling (except when some dialogue creeps in).

If anything, the inclusion of the well-known recordings of “Don’t Worry Baby”, “God Only Knows” and “Good Vibrations” distract from the effect of the score. However, Paul Dano’s hesitant rendition of “God Only Knows” and the live recording of the real Brian Wilson singing the song from which the film took its title (both depicted in the film) provide context and closure, respectively. We don’t even mind “One Kind Of Love”, a song from Brian’s most recent solo album, which works as accompaniment to the closing credits.

Just as most viewers were already Beach Boys fans, they probably also have the music that the film shows being created. This album makes a nice bonus feature on the music’s history, and the magic of programmable CD players and iTunes playlists can isolate the new montages.

Atticus Ross Music From Love & Mercy: The Life, Love And Genius Of Brian Wilson (2015)—3

Friday, October 9, 2015

World Party 2: Goodbye Jumbo

Karl Wallinger spent a couple of years improving his instrumental dexterity, polishing his recording skills and upgrading his equipment. Along the way, he recorded the excellent songs that make up Goodbye Jumbo, the second album by World Party.

He’s still technically a one-man band, but was wise enough to get real drummers to play real parts, and better guitarists that surpassed his limitations as an upside-down leftie. Nonetheless, “Is It Too Late?” sounds very much like an enhanced demo, from the programmed percussion to the slow addition and reduction of instruments. “Way Down Now” was the first single, an uptempo rocker fading out with “woo-hoo” accents that will remind anyone of “Sympathy For The Devil”. It’s another fade-in for the catchy “When The Rainbow Comes”, similar in feel to “Put The Message In The Box”, which is even better constructed with a well-designed bridge. “Ain’t Gonna Come Till I’m Ready” is a dark R&B piece with a falsetto lead that doesn’t explain the title at all. Even more impressive is “And I Fell Back Alone”, an exquisite heartbreaker for acoustic guitar, piano and fake strings.

The second half of the album is just as solid, at first, anyway. “Take It Up” is in a now-familiar tempo, full of layered keyboard parts and featuring a clever nod to “Here Comes The Sun” at the end of the instrumental break. “God On My Side” manages to cram influences from Beatles to Stones and Dylan into a single track, and doing a good job of fitting the vocals together. Though hinted at on side one, “Show Me To The Top” is a full-fledged Prince tribute, from the drums and synth effects to the sped-up vocal and spelling of “L-O-V-E”. (Interestingly, the liner notes list Prince’s former managers as World Party’s current managers.) A train rattles down the tracks towards a tantalizing snippet of a White Album-style strum, which pulls over on “Love Street”. This inscrutable gem builds from a lilting waltz to an urgent bridge, with those jungle synths from the last track, into a screaming guitar solo and an impeccably soft ending. “Sweet Soul Dream” is something of a trifle after all that setup, though it does feature Sinead O’Connor, again, then doing well with her second album. “Thank You World” crashes in for a noisy finale. (This was also the album’s third and least successful single, despite being available as a maxi-single with various unreleased tracks, including a note-for-note cover of “Happiness Is A Warm Gun”.)

These days there are more blatant appropriators of psychedelic rock and funk, but Lenny Kravitz was just starting out. Goodbye Jumbo’s influences move seamlessly, but more reverent without stealing, mostly. It remains a solid album, and one of that year’s best.

World Party Goodbye Jumbo (1990)—4

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Waterboys 4: Fisherman's Blues

Ever changing and constantly evolving, the fourth Waterboys album shared only a few components to what went before. Recorded over a period of two years, Fisherman’s Blues was built around the core group of Mike Scott, Anthony Thistlethwaite on sax and Steve Wickham on violin, abetted by traditional instruments picked up while immersed in rural Ireland. The combination was inspiring as it is toe-tapping, and it’s gone on to match “The Whole Of The Moon” as the Waterboys’ best work.

The difference is apparent right away, as we’re treated to an acoustic strum, mandolin trill and fiddle pull, in short order, before Scott whoops his way through the title track. Sometimes the simplest songs can be as mesmerizing as any. The fiddle saws frenetically throughout “We Will Not Be Lovers” for a seven-minute attack, given some relief by the quieter Irish blues of “Strange Boat”. Karl Wallinger’s name appears in the writing credits for “World Party”, bridging the connection to his own project. A cover that shouldn’t work but does is what they did to Van Morrison’s “Sweet Thing”, given an appropriate homegrown lilt, the drummer keeping a clockwork pace even through the quotes from “Blackbird”.

Side two is even more Gaelic, beginning with a jig or reel called “Jimmy Hickey’s Waltz” on the CD, and moving to the charming romantic reverie of “And A Bang On The Ear”. “Has Anybody Here Seen Hank” is a better title before it’s learned to be about Hank Williams, though the pairing of the traditional “When Will We Be Married” and “When Ye Go Away”, with its sinewy slide guitar, gets things back on track. After a minute or so of “Dunford’s Fancy”, “The Stolen Child” pairs a recited Yeats poem with Scott’s percussive piano for a stirring finish, via a busked epilogue of “This Land Is Your Land”.

Fisherman’s Blues set a bar that Mike Scott would never really attain again. This was acknowledged in 2001 with the release of Too Close To Heaven, containing ten more songs from the sessions, augmented by a further five when it was released as Fisherman’s Blues Part Two in the US. These tracks are more reminiscent of the Big Music than the Celtic mix, and thus a companion in name only. Still, the 12½-minute title track lives up to the moniker of “epic”. (The original album was bolstered with more folky-sounding tracks on a “Collector’s Edition”, only to be outdone for the album’s 25th anniversary by the seven-disc Fisherman’s Box, collecting all of the sessions in chronological order.)

The Waterboys Fisherman’s Blues (1988)—4
2006 Collector’s Edition: same as 1988, plus 14 extra tracks
The Waterboys Fisherman’s Blues Part Two (2001)—3

Friday, October 2, 2015

Gene Clark 6: No Other

Following the fleeting Byrds reunion, the Asylum label held onto Gene Clark, still trying to establish himself as a lucrative singer-songwriter. No Other received the red carpet treatment for its recording, relying on plenty of session cats—Russ Kunkel, Lee Sklar, Joe Lala, even the Allman Brothers’ Butch Trucks—and unlimited studio time, and was promptly ignored upon release, most likely because it didn’t sound like anything else at the time. (The glam portrait on the back cover surely didn’t help.)

It’s a wide-ranging album, beginning with the country of “Life’s Greatest Fool”, which could have fallen off of any of his other solo albums, but is soon overtaken by the backing vocals of the Blackberries. The mysterious “Silver Raven” is too long to be a hit single, but could have been nicely tackled by, say, labelmates the Eagles for some welcome radio exposure. The funky title track rumbles into the frame like the soundtrack of a blaxploitation film; the verse even bears a mild melodic similarity to Sly Stone’s “Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey”, while the overall spirit of later Traffic pervades. “Strength Of Strings” takes even longer to formulate, beginning with a riff that becomes something of a tribal chant that seems independent of the song itself, until it’s revealed as the bridge.

But for the clavinet, “From A Silver Phial” is more country-rock, ending in a terrific wah-wah solo by Jesse Ed Davis. “Some Misunderstanding” runs for an epic eight minutes, fulfilling the “cosmic American music” espoused by Gram Parsons, especially after the fuzz-tone violin comes in. Speaking of which, “The True One” sports a melody and picking evocative of “One Hundred Years From Now”. It’s a relatively upbeat palate cleanser for the more introspective “Lady Of The North”, which melds all the styles heard so far.

All good songs, as might be expected, with lyrics that are anything but hokey, the constant is his lonesome voice, which maintains the same welcome, weary tone no matter the backing. Fast forward 45 years, and No Other had gained a reputation as one of those lost masterpieces certain obsessives like to revere. This time, the British 4AD label—which made its bones on such icons as This Mortal Coil and the Pixies—oversaw a remastered expansion of the album, with arty packaging to match and, in the deluxe vinyl version for those with the shekels to spare, even more session outtakes on SACDs (which we didn’t know they still made) and a Blu-ray with multiple mixes including 5.1 surround. Additional tracks included alternate versions of every song on the album, plus a remake of “Train Leaves Here This Morning” from the first Dillard & Clark album, which had been also covered on the debut album by—no kidding—the Eagles a couple years before.

Gene Clark No Other (1974)—
2019 Expanded Edition: same as 1974, plus 9 extra tracks (Limited Deluxe Boxset adds another 11 tracks)