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 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 décor, 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 one in Frank’s catalog with 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

Friday, July 10, 2020

Tommy Stinson 3: Village Gorilla Head

While his old buddy Paul Westerberg busied himself with lo-fi home recordings that sounded that way, Tommy Stinson took time off between sporadic gigs playing bass in Guns N’ Roses to put together his first real solo album. Village Gorilla Head was mostly recorded solo, with help from GN’R mates, but while he’s still about the raucous rock, he’s still following his old buddy’s lead.

Although it gradually builds to a larger sonic landscape, “Without A View” begins introspectively and manages to stay that way. Similarly, the delicate acoustic guitars on “Not A Moment Too Soon” give way to a surefire hit single if they still made those. “Something’s Wrong” is straight off the Bash & Pop template, but if you’re looking for noise, “Couldn’t Wait” sports a broken-leg meter and complicated riff. “OK” is another grower, with added charm in the childlike gang backing vocals on the later choruses, while “Bite Your Tongue” has some vicious commentary disguised in a rather ordinary track.

The title track is completely out of left field, with a homemade triphop feel, and funky guitars and jazz piano to match, which anyone else would submit to multiple dance remixes but for the experimental breakdown in the middle that incorporates cellos and saxophones. The yearning “Light Of Day” is a sneaky highlight, not too far removed from Tom Petty’s “Echo” but in a good way, with a pedal steel guitar in the mix too. Speaking of homages, “Hey You” hearkens back to acoustic Faces, and while we’re at it, “Motivation” turns it up again with Stonesy snottiness. For a closer, “Someday” is anticlimactic, though it throws a lot of ideas into the pile.

Chances are most listeners would be familiar with the Replacements, or maybe a stray Axl fan might have been curious, but hopefully somebody found Village Gorilla Head worthy of ownership. The kid knows how to write songs, and they deserve to be heard.

Tommy Stinson Village Gorilla Head (2004)—3

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

They Might Be Giants 8: Factory Showroom

While they still had a rhythm section and horns at their disposal, on Factory Showroom They Might Be Giants managed to infuse some of their lo-fi whimsy into the more advanced proceedings. Economy extended to the program, which reduced the number of songs to give each more room to shine.

Kitsch is still king, from the Philly strings on “S-E-X-X-Y” to the mildly Memphis groove of “Pet Name”. “Till My Head Falls Off” is a wonderful punky celebration of stubbornness, but “How Can I Sing Like A Girl?” tries a little too hard to be cute. In contrast, “Exquisite Dead Guy” is built on very close wordless harmonies, while “Metal Detector” is the closest we get to geeky science this time out. A cover of a song by an obscure “cuddlecore” band, “New York City” is a love song, to a person as well as the metropolis itself.

The goofiness picks up on “Your Own Worst Enemy”, which illustrates a kind of madness with a reference to “Precious And Few”. “XTC vs. Adam Ant” imagines a heavyweight competition for the rock title between those two ‘80s icons, and while the music only occasionally hearkens to XTC, there’s a sly reference to the lead singer of Bow Wow Wow (a band made up of former Ants). The ultra-catchy “Spiraling Shape” is another hit single that never was. Some recycling occurs in “James K. Polk”, a remake of a Flood-era B-side that provides a fairly sanitized biography of the president. As long as they’re steeped in history, “I Can Hear You” provides some hilarious buzzwords and catchphrases related to modern technology, but was recorded solely on acoustic instruments using no electricity whatsoever to a vintage Edison cylinder. And just as “New York City” seems to evoke the holidays, “Bells Are Ringing” takes a seemingly harmless melody to the point of madness.

While still not as strong as the first handful, Factory Showroom is a grower, and has emerged as one of TMBG’s sleepers. Hell, it took us a while to get it, and we’re glad we did. (It’s since been re-allocated to a rarities collection, but the original pressing of the CD included the amusing “Token Back To Brooklyn” in the form of a pre-gap bonus track, which you had to rewind to at the start of the disc to hear.)

They Might Be Giants Factory Showroom (1996)—3

Friday, July 3, 2020

Jeff Beck 12: Beckology

Once the ‘90s arrived, everybody who’d been around long enough got the box set treatment. Eric Clapton already had his, so the folks in Columbia’s Legacy reissue department got to work on anthologizing the guitarist in the Yardbirds who’d played on most of their hits. And since Rod Stewart was in a mild career renaissance, it made sense that Jeff Beck was recognized one of the people who helped him on his way. Still, those chapters in his career were only part of the story Beckology told on three discs.

First of all, the packaging was stellar. In the era when box sets measured six by twelve inches or so, to fit in reconfigured record racks alongside the notorious longbox, Beckology was designed to resemble a classic tweed Fender guitar case, complete with the images of handle and hinges on the spines. Inside, the booklet showed a burgundy Stratocaster resting on plush velvet fabric, and the inside cover even showed the impression of the strings and hardware. Somebody in the art department knew what they were doing.

The first disc opens with three rare tracks by the Tridents, his first professional band, then serves up 15 essential Yardbirds sides—a boon for collectors, as this period of the band has been a discographical mess—capped by four live cuts from BBC radio. Fittingly, the disc closes with the “Hi Ho Silver Lining” and “Tally Man” singles, proving that as a lead singer he was an incredible guitarist, and the classic “Beck’s Bolero” B-side.

The second disc covers both Jeff Beck Groups, including something of a rarity in the “Drinking Again” B-side with Rod Stewart, as well as a couple of the more impressive instrumentals from the Bobby Tench incarnation. Beck, Bogert & Appice are represented by “Superstition” from their one album, a nine-minute “Black Cat Moan” from the Japanese live album, a 16-minute live medley of “Blues Deluxe”, “You Shook Me” (with Jeff on vocoder), and “BBA Boogie” that refuses to end, and a decent studio outtake wonderfully titled “Jizz Whizz”.

The third disc dips into the so-called fusion albums of the latter half of the ‘70s, as well as Flash and Guitar Shop, balanced out with various covers issued on such soundtracks as Twins and Porky’s Revenge. His takes on “The Stumble” and “Sleep Walk” are faithful, but the rare “Wild Thing” single is mostly notable for unnecessary key changes.

There’s a lot to like on Beckology, and a lot to endure. A few years went by before the label attempted a single-disc compilation, but even Best Of Beck didn’t merely distill the box. With the exception of “Going Down”, the vocal tracks feature Rod Stewart, while the bulk of the set leans on the instrumental side, and wisely. Of the tracks not repeated from the box, “Freeway Jam” appears in its studio incarnation, “Two Rivers” is a substitution from Guitar Shop, while “Scatterbrain” and “Blue Wind” further sample the fusion period. “She’s A Woman” is still as goofy as ever.

Jeff Beck Beckology (1991)—3
Jeff Beck
Best Of Beck (1995)—