Sunday, May 31, 2009

I like to watch things on TV...

I figured out several years ago that just about any song I can think of called (or with the word) “satellite” is just a great song and often one of my favorite of the band or at least the album on which it’s found. Often the reasons vary, anything from just a good & rockin’ tune to a joyous shout to something that’s just darn near spiritual – there’s something in singing about space that seems to draw the inspiration out of folks like the moon draws the tides. (Whoa, how poetic was that???)

Of course the most famous song with a satellite (at least in my world) is Lou Reed’s Satellite of Love, which everyone who thinks they’re anyone within in rock n roll should be somewhat familiar with in one of it’s varied forms from the multiple takes he made with the Velvet Underground, to his Transformer album, to cover versions by everyone from U2 to the Eurythmics. But a really nice version I’d never heard before is by some guy named Nuno Filepe -- very mindful of Reed’s version and yet still its own statement.

So, without further ado, I give you several songs about satellites that I think are really cool:

Depeche Mode: Satellite (live YouTube) – Tucked away in the middle of their second album, this oft overlooked little jewel is a nice, morose segue between the shimmer pop bounce of See You and The Meaning of Love (though likely in began side two on vinyl and cassette). On an album full of epic downers, it’s the antithesis of Reed’s orbiting body (a “satellite of hate”) and holds its own quite well with a relaxed two step beat, snaky, moog-like lead and near deadpan vocal delivery that reflect the overwhelming lyrical disenchantment.

Magnapop: Satellite – What do you mean you don’t remember Magnapop? Your bad, ‘cos they were (and still are) great. When they played to promote their “comeback” album Mouthfeel with my good friends Ocelots in 2005, I think I was the only person in attendance there to see them and so that 45 minutes of pop bliss was all for me. Of the new material, this was the song that absolutely stuck with me and that I joyously recalled when I picked up the album. If you like catchy, upbeat, sing along girl pop, look no further, your spaceship has arrived.

Def Leppard: Satellite (YouTube link) – What do you mean you don’t remember Def Leppard? Well, you definitely don’t know this song, ‘cos few people pay attention to anything before Pyromania, which is a shame ‘cos the first two albums (and especially the debut where this song is found) flat out rock. ROCK I SAY!!! If you like Def Leppard at all, it’s truly all here, smokin’ guitar licks and solos, harmony-anthem choruses and a killer break down (not to mention TWO-armed drumming). And having said that, this song isn’t even one of the best on the album, but it’s darn tootin’ good enough for me to proudly display it not only as a representation of how deserving On Through the Night is (with one of the best album covers in rock history), but as further proof that songs about satellites are where it’s at.

Old 97s: In the Satellite Rides a Star – When I write my post about highly anticipated albums that really let me down, the one where this song is found will likely be an entry. And while Drag It Up has definitely grown on me over the years, at the time this track and two others were about all I could find any worth in, and of course leave it to Old 97s most bestest secret ingredient, bassist Murry Hammond, to make it happen. A sleepy, reminiscent affair about the love of a lost woman, it’s everything you need for a night of contemplation with a bottle under the stars.

The Ventures: War of the Satellites (YouTube link) – Who doesn’t like the Ventures? Probably my mom. Anyway…they have SO many albums it’s just silly, and while I’m in no way familiar with like any of them, The Ventures in Space is easily my favorite one. It caught my interest when I learned that Red Rhodes (of Michael Nesmith fame) played “eerie, space-like” pedal steel guitar on it. Released in 1964 and again in the late 70s, to my knowledge this lost gem of a record has never reached the CD/digital format, so please have no qualms about getting your hands on it by any means necessary (I sure didn’t). This song with it’s bouncing rhythm, multiple breaks and sonic bursts seriously makes me dance, and really, the entire record is everything the Ventures are loved for without the benefits of breathable air, so take a puff.

Dove: Satellites – My guess is that the guys in Doves had a jam/recording session with God when they did this one. Seriously, rarely has a song moved me in such a way, with lyrics essentially reflecting all the pain and disillusionment I’ve ever felt over the years and yet with a powerful, uplifting, stay-on-target chorus that will absolutely set the hairs of your arms on end and truly make you believe in the divine. Headphone listens are greatly advised. And really, that’s all I can say, ‘cos the song flat out speaks for itself.

Robyn Hitchcock: Satellite – Man, I really, really, REALLY love Robyn Hitchcock and his 1990 scaled down solo effort Eye was where it all started for me. On an album of gloomy, green-tinged and shimmering pieces about, well, your guess is as good as mine, this quirky, jaunty rouser is a sure pick me up and so infectiously fun to sing along to, ‘cos lines like “I’m into you so far, I’m out the other side” are what rock n roll is all about. Right?

I’m aware that these aren’t all the (great) songs about satellites. And I know you’re all screaming “What about Judybats’ Down in the Shacks Where the Satellite Dishes Grow!!!” (Sure you are…) But I’m giving Tennessee’s finest an entry of their own one of these days, so that song and album will definitely get a shout out then. However, if you have a favorite song about a satellite you’d like to share…please do so!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Random Release: Turn it up or turn it down

This is going to be one of those entries that no matter what I say, I won’t feel it’s substantial considering my years with and closeness to this album. But again, this is the challenge of the random release.

Even if you didn’t know before, if you’ve kept up with my blog (and bully for you if you have) you’ll have figured out by now that I’m a pretty solid fan of the Cure and despite marginal let downs in recent years, can still find something positive to say about nearly every release on down the line from Three Imaginary Boys all the way through 4:13 Dream. Of their many eras – and yes, there have been quite a few – I have to say that their “heyday” for me was roughly 1980-82 when they began to explore the tragic landscapes that labeled them with the Goth moniker I know they detest. Ironically enough, the three albums of that era: 17 Seconds, Faith and Pornography, are three of the most overlooked by both critics and fans. Of these three, Pornography seems to get the least amount of nods and is probably second only to The Top in most underrated, disregarded Cure album. Pornography is “allegedly” part one of the “Dark” or “Blood” Trilogy that continued with Disintegration and ended (quite unspectacularly) with Bloodflowers. This was a trilogy I’d never even heard of until the latter album was released, so I just thought it was a bit o’ reference/marketing hype, but fine, whatever, have it your way, Bob. But to me, the “Dark Trilogy” of the Cure’s cannon is these three early career, early 80s albums – the dark diamond being Pornography.
Of these three I believe I picked up Pornography last. I based my album purchases (oh so many years ago) on songs from the Standing on a Beach compilation based on how much I liked them. I remember that the Hanging Garden, the only representation of Pornography on the collection, scared me a bit and with hindsight I realize I needed some prep time with earlier, less daunting releases before I at last sunk my ears into the set of tribal dirges that make up this album. If the Hanging Garden scared me, the rest of these tracks threw me into the (shiver &) shakes of full on white terror. Basically, if 17 Seconds is a dire outlook of the future and Faith is the hopelessness found in achieving said future, Pornography is the final, writhing, dance-decent into hell before you’re finally snuffed out in a fit of gut wrenching screams.

Man, I love it.

I mean let’s face it, when the opening lines of the entire album are, “It doesn’t matter if we all die…,” things probably aren’t going to pick up much from there and Mad Bob spends the next 40 odd minutes telling you all about it. That album opener, One Hundred Years, with it’s near (possibly literally) mechanized drums, cranky bass, harsh keyboards and drill-like, spiral-downwards guitars, pretty much sets the blueprint for every other note you will hear on this album. It’s dense, layered, violent and despairingly beautiful.

Things continue as promised with A Short Term Effect, as chiming, almost mocking guitars segue into more heavy-handed drumming reminiscent of say Joy Division’s Sound of Music, but with an abrasive, metallic, hammer-to-anvil crunch that leaves that reference sounding more like a distant early warning than a looming and immediate menace.

When I was a kid first listening to the Cure on the bus late at night after some scholastic dork competition or other, I always thought the jumble drums, staccato bass and spiraling guitars of the album’s only single, the Hanging Garden, was the splayed backdrop for Robert’s view on environmentalism. Later when I saw the video, a morose affair with masks and taxidermy animals in a (you guessed it) garden, that thought was somewhat solidified. Is this an accurate assessment? I dunno. But again, this is the Cure, who’ve never been overly straightforward much less political in their songs. I mean you know the deal is bad, but you don’t always know the why and the wherefore. Still, this song is clearly the “lightest” moment on the record despite the wailing line, “Cover my face as the animals die!” You don’t believe me? Well, get a load of this next number…
Siamese Twins is without a doubt one of the most sinister songs ever written and one of the darkest of the entire Cure catalog, even making some of the most depressing moments of Disintegration look like a day trip to pick daisies. I mean at least with the Big D you’ve got shimmering, dreamy beauty, slowly drifting you to death as you would to sleep and blissful all the while. Siamese Twins, the climax of this album, is a five and a half minute, eyes-wide-open gaze into the nightmare that is Mad Bob’s soul. From the first line, “I chose an eternity of this,” you get the idea that things aren't exactly chipper and the deliberate delivery of the literally pounding drum and bass pattern, flourished with icy, biting guitars, only enhances the feeling of inner dread amongst outer chaos. Robert is quick to let you know what’s on his mind and he’s clearly not happy with someone, going into elaborate detail and explaining the dire constructs of the situation before taking matters into his own hand and lamenting in the aftermath, “Is it always like this?” Well, for the sake of continuity in this album, I hope so!

Peel back the lyrical imagery and a number of these songs are essentially about damaged relationships (and not necessarily love gone wrong), which is no surprise considering the Cure was splintering at this point and this would be the last album with bassist Simon Gallup for three years. Afterward, drummer Lol Tolhurst would move officially/permanently to keyboards and Robert would take on a more “hands-all” role. And I do have to take a further digression here and point out that while Lol has always been sorta sniggered at for his drumming abilities on early Cure records, he really stepped up to the plate here, bringing the noise with deafening poise and triumphantly setting the foundation for Robert to spew his emotions all over the tiles.

And while Lol would eventually find disfavor in his childhood friend’s eyes, this was still a few years away and the dysfunctional subject of the Figurehead (a fine and fitting follow up/companion piece to Siamese Twins) is someone else Robert feels worthy of his disdain, chiding their purity, speaking of secrets and lies, confirming that he can “never say no to anyone but you” and concluding that he will “never be clean again.” Heavy stuff.

The closest thing to a “pop” song on the album, a Strange Day was for a long time my favorite track. I remember how excited I was when I figured out how to play the guitar breakdown at the apex of the song (all 4 or 5 notes of it). And while the music may be slightly more “uplifting,” the lyrics describe a loss of vision or foresight and then a sense of moving on that basically sums of up Smith’s outlook on the future of his band. It could have easily been a follow up single but really, an interesting thing about the songs on this album is how immediate most of them are, almost catchy. Ease up a bit on the doom and gloom production, speed them up, change the approach, and you’ve got yourself a nice set of pop songs.

The album closes off with two of the bleakest tracks in the set, beginning with the pre-industrial clang of Cold, with a cello-like and forbidding keyboard strain running throughout and accented by cymbals enhanced by so much flange and reverb that they sound like sheet metal being dropped down an elevator shaft. An apparent tale of love in its final stages, Robert conjures images of the past to remind him how dead his present is and his misery is so complete that the soon-to-be-ex’s name is “like ice into my heart, ” finally mourning that nothing can save them. As this song fades in a clamored crescendo of aural emotion, gurgling, back-masked voices erupt and lead into the title track, a din of chaotic drums and scrambled mumblings overridden by an ominous keyboard riff and Robert’s manic, plaintive vocals little more than audible in the overall mishmash of the noise. And yet despite the confusion, this song sums up the album nicely, and as the racket dies down Robert can be heard frantically yelping, “I must fight this sickness, find a cure!” Again, one can’t wonder at the poetic irony here, the strain within the band, the pending and acrimonious departure of Simon Gallup and Robert’s disheartened frame of mind, all coming together and musically narrated in these eight songs.

Everything about Pornography seems to be about endings -- moving on, closure, death, the final details on a time of suffering. After the album came out and the subsequent tour, Robert, feeling the Cure was essentially over, would join Siouxsie and the Banshees as guitarist, recording with them the album Hyaena, as well as his side project with Steven Severin the Glove, and even work with Lol as a duo on some of the Cure’s most popular (and even upbeat) early material, namely the dance-esque singles The Walk, The Lovecats and Let’s Go to Bed. So, as we know, it wasn’t really over.
If you can hold your breath for that long, Pornography begs to be listened to front to back without pauses or breaks. The volume can vary: louder if you want it to reflect the inner struggles of your own tortured soul, softer if you simply want to watch from a distance the dark, twisted world of Mad Bob’s anguish. The times I sat around thinking evil thoughts to this soundtrack are doubtlessly numerous, yet when I got older and more actively social, I put this album aside and considered it a bittersweet memory. However, in recent years I can appreciate it’s aesthetic value above the emotional empathy it provided me in adolescence. Time has been very good to Pornography and critics have come around to it even if many fans seem to overlook it for the Head on the Door or Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (which both sound very dated to me) in the Cure’s pre-Big D existence. And I don’t think that it’s a case of being an album for the super fan, but really the fan of a certain mindset. In fact, I can see people who don’t like the Cure overall but do like this album. They never did anything else like this, nor could they. It speaks of a time when Robert’s world was falling apart in every sense and his band mates were contributing to this in both fact as well as music. Pornography is an album for the truly wretched, those who have given up even on despair and lost themselves completely to an outpouring of raw, bitter emotion. So turn it up or turn it down, but please turn it on.

Also, I have to share this review from Robert Christgau the “Dean of American Rock Critics”:
"In books/And films/And in life/And in heaven/The sound of slaughter/As your body turns . . ."--no, I can't go on. I mean, why so glum, chum? Cheer up; look on the bright side. You got your contract, right? And your synthesizers, bet you'll have fun with them. Believe me, kid, it will pass. C

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Impulse Purchase to the Max

Karla and I and at least one reader have a friend named April who works for Warner Bros Records (oo-la-la). April is a pretty ok kid and has proven especially good at nabbing us free, cheap and/or otherwise unobtainable tickets to various sold out and/or secret shows over the years for bands we like on the WB and subsidiaries roster. For at least two years now there has been a “secret” sale where WB puts out their surplus CDs, t-shirts and random swag for super cheap. And when I say super I mean $1 per CD. So suck on that, Great Escape. The first day is for employees only but day two is for friends and family and this year Karla and I (and JT) made the cut. Whew! What we got was 24 CDs and one DVD (on accident) for $30. Again I say, suck on that, Great Escape.

To say that I, rather we were like kids in a candy shop is an understatement. I mean they give you a box to load up all your booty in and then say have at it. And have at it we did. You’d have been surprised at what all was available, everything from Eric Clapton to My Chemical Romance, and unfortunately the stuff I was most excited to see (e.g. Led Zeppelin I) I already owned. However, I was able to pick up a number of things that I’d been interested in but had never gotten around to purchasing, etc, etc, and with a few we took chances on what we knew may or may not be a bomb, plus a couple of guilty pleasures and plenty of best ofs for nostalgia (and likely re-gifting). I mean when you’re only paying $1 a disc, why not? And did I mention all proceeds went to Habitat for Humanity? Step up to the plate, Great Escape!

Of course the problem with purchasing two-dozen discs all at once is what to listen to first. Also, when you’re a working dad/mom, you don’t really have a lot of time to indulge yourself in a day’s plus worth of music. But over the past week we’ve done what we can and touched on a good deal of them. I’ve had some very pleasant surprises, a walk or two down memory lane and of course the occasional (and expected) eye roll here and there. While I’ve gotten a couple of ideas for future posts where I may flesh out my views of some of these albums, I’ll divulge the entire list (warts and all) with a few thoughts where applicable.

One. Chicago: Chicago IX—Chicago's Greatest Hits (1975): When Karla picked up not one or two but THREE Chicago collections I thought that was a bit of indulgence. I mean how many sources for You’re the Inspiration do you need? But then I noticed that one was the first greatest hits from back in the 70s, aka when Chicago was “good” or at least tolerable. We recently saw the original members of Chicago on the Chris Isaak Hour and it was a good, so I was sorta excited to give the album a spin and did so early on. Well, I was more than a little underwhelmed (I can just hear Bill say "No kidding..."). Sure, tunes like 25 or 6 to 4 and Only the Beginning are pretty jammin’ (not rockin’), but I got lost in the pomp of these songs. The best of overindulgence is still overindulgence.
Two. Chicago: The Very Best of Chicago—Only the Beginning (2002): Lord, I was hoping they were close to retirement. This one is allegedly going to Karla’s sister as a gift. Well, get the wrapping paper out already!
Three. Chicago: Love Songs (2005): Gag.
Four. Crosby, Stills & Nash: CSN (1977): I’m not a huge fan of anything Crosby-related (the Byrds got WAY better after he left), but Karla asked me if this one was any good. I guess technically I should at least know if it’s critically acclaimed regardless of if it strikes my fancy, and so when I checked out the date and saw it was still solidly within the 70s, I thought it was a safe bet. The first impression? So-so…Karla didn’t much like it at all, but I saw it as an album that was very aggressive in the sense that it was trying lots of different styles via the hokey, three part harmony that only CS&N can deliver.
Five. Crosby, Stills & Nash: Daylight Again (1982): Firmly in the 80s, I’m ultra wary of this album. Those cheesed up pics of the band on the back (Crosby with a kitten on his shoulder no less) don’t really help the cause. And yet…I’m drawn to this album, as if it might be some long lost gem of my heart that simply needs to be discovered. We’ll see.
Six. Flaming Lips: Soft Bulletin (1999): Again, not a big FL fan, but don’t hate them either. Karla wanted this one and I’ve always thought the cover was cool and I know it got a lot of hype back in the day (10 years ago, I know…), so I figured it would be decent. And it is…decent. After three or so listens my favorite track is some pulse beat ambient type deal somewhere near the middle. This one is actually the dual disc reissue from a few years back, so…SCORE(?).
Seven. Fleetwood Mac: Tusk (1979): Being the rather heavy F-Mac fan that I am and given this album’s experimental notoriety, I’m rather surprised I didn’t already own it. But I didn’t, so there. I’d heard a good deal of the songs here but for the first time it was within context. I don’t really see why this album was seen as such a departure. Sure, there are a couple of things going on that are “different,” but overall it’s just an extra long album of stinkin’ good to stinkin’ great Fleetwood Mac tunes. Definitely in the top 3 picks of the trip. The fact that this is the dual disc reissue is just like bonus gravy on top of my whipped cream and cherry.
Eight. Foreigner: Complete Greatest Hits—2002: I rolled my eyes when Karla showed me this one, but I have to admit to having a very soft spot for I Wanna Know What Love Is (which Karla poo-pooed) and Yesterday, and Jukebox Hero was a bit of an anthem for me as a young boy aspiring to one day be a musician. Karla asked me if it was a double disc and I laughed. A lot. But really, some of the “rockers” from their earlier years are pretty ok and seriously, Bill, listen to me here…the song Girl on the Moon is surprisingly great. I mean it.
Nine. Genesis: Invisible Touch (1986): This was a definite nostalgic purchase and the first one we listened to in the car on the way back to work (well, I just went home and goofed off with Fox). I had this on vinyl and Karla had it on cassette and I think we both enjoyed this 2007 (again dual disc) enhanced version. This is definitely an album where the non-singles are the best of the pack, especially the two-part, old school rant Domino.
Ten. Gothic Archies: The Tragic Treasury (2006): One of the WOO-HOO picks of the day, I’m not a fan of the Lemony Snicket series, but I do dig me some Stephin Merritt in any of his many guises and it’s nice to hear his dreary take on love and romance shifted on to other topics.
Eleven. Laugh a Little: 15 Silly Songs for Little Ones (2007): We got this for Fox. He’s too young to care right now.
Twelve. Linda Rondstadt: Greatest Hits (1976): I think this is going to Karla’s mom. I know I’m not going to listen to it.
Thirteen. Lindsey Buckingham: Under the Skin (2006): Again, a decent Fleetwood Mac fan, even if I do lean towards the pre-Buckingham/Nicks era, I still enjoy and appreciate their contribution to the legacy. I’d heard that Lindsey’s 2006 “comeback” deal pointed to the ambition of earlier solo stuff like Go Insane and even to Tusk and while I did get to hear it once in the background, I never got a good feel for it. I still haven’t had a chance, but it’s coming…oh, it’s coming…
Fourteen. Madonna: Like a Virgin (1984): A definite nostalgic/guilty pleasure purchase, it’s worth a buck just for the song Angel. We listened to this album on Memorial Day whilst driving around town and I was really shocked at how familiar much of the album was, even the non-singles. Makes me wonder where I really was in 84…
Fifteen. Magnetic Fields: Distortion (2008): The other “jump up and down” purchase, and of course S. Merritt’s main moniker. I’d been given a burned copy of it (sssh, I won’t say who) and thought it was ok. Having the real deal always seems to enhance the experience. I haven’t made a final judgment yet, and oftentimes his albums have to grow on you (such is his genius), but I did enjoy it quite a bit more.
Sixteen. Neil Young: Living with War (2006): Neil has put out a slue of albums in recent years and the title alone of this one was enough to make me shy away. I’m just not into overt politics in my music. But it’s Neil Young and it’s a dollar, so there you have it. We put it in last night and both thought it was pretty darn great. Reading up on it, makes me wish he wrote and recorded more albums in just nine days.
Seventeen. Old 97’s: Hit By a Train—The Best of Old 97’s (2006): We have no use for this thing whatsoever as we own all the albums, but Karla wanted it, so…there you go.
Eighteen. Phil Collins: Love Songs—A Compilation Old and New (2004): I have no excuse for this one besides the fact that I’m married to a girl.
Nineteen. Play a Little: 15 Action Songs for Little Ones (2007): See previous “for Fox” entry.
Twenty. Roy Acuff: Greatest Hits (2007): This is about as I expected. Some knock off, cash in, whatever release that doesn’t really do anything more than provide some good songs with no cohesiveness at varying levels of quality.
Twenty-one. Sweeney Todd: OST (2007): I know the music and songs are great ‘cos it’s Sondheim and the original Broadway cast production is my all-time favorite of musicals. I never saw the Tim Burton take and heard mixed reviews on the performances, but again, for the price it’s worth a shot. I’ll get around to it…
Twenty-two. Talking Heads: Remain in Light (1980): I made a big deal one time about not being interested in any TH albums after the second one (More Songs About Buildings and Food), even if several were produced by Eno. But again, for a dollar it was worth a go and it’s a fine album I guess, especially closer The Overlord, but I honestly preferred the “incomplete” bonus tracks at the end of the disc.
Twenty-three. Tom Petty: Highway Companion (2006): It really just seemed like a few months ago that I was reading up on this album, so I was sorta dismayed when I saw that it came out three years ago. However, I was NOT dismayed when I put the disc in. It got a full (and unprecedented) five spins in a row before being changed out. It’s that good…and more on that later.
Twenty-four. Wilco: Kicking Television—Live in Chicago (2005): This one is getting gifted ‘cos Wilco is boooooring…

Check back soon for the next random release...

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Random Release: The Grit to My Goosestep

It’s random release time again and I’m hungry. Which has nothing to do with anything.

Eventually this was bound to happen, namely that in the course of my random release project, I’d choose an album that is so universally known and lauded, it’s pointless to say anything more and anything left is either conjecture or pure fantasy. A LOT has been said about this album, and I know my 2 cents isn’t going to matter a bit, might even do some damage, but so it goes with the randomness of the random release post. Also for that reason, I’ll be half phoning this one in…so just a warning. (And no, I don’t feel compelled to change up like I did last time…I do have a few things to say here.)
The hype surrounding the Clash is, in a word, ridiculous. I understand a lot of what they did (to a certain degree), like being a voice for the people and blurring the lines between “black and white” music and maintaining a certain “ethic” that made their output notable and their attitude admirable and their legend unfathomable. They even went so far as to ensure that CBS priced their triple wang-doodle album Sandinista! at normal album prices (‘cos even they knew that there was only one album’s worth of solid material on that quagmire). And I used to think ol’ JS was a pretty cool guy ‘cos I essentially believed what I read and heard from older musicians I admired (or at least had no reason to disbelieve) that had been there. And then I saw The Future is Unwritten -- and basically Joe Strummer was a douche.

However, he could write a pretty good tune. And this is evidenced in the Clash’s debut album, the UK version of which I’m more fond/familiar. If I had to name one Clash album worth owning and giving a repeat listen (rather several), it would be this one. (If I had to name two I’d throw in Super Black Market ‘cos you get the tracks from the US version that aren’t on here, a scattering of singles and b-sides and a couple of fun remixes. If I had to name three I’d roll my eyes and say “Oh, ok, London Calling….”)
Il Douche
If you like the Clash, the idea of the Clash or even the sound of things clashing together, you should enjoy, possibly even love this album. I know I do. And thankfully politics has nothing to do with it, because with a very few exceptions I can’t stand politically bent music. And yes, the Clash is known for their politics, but really, I don’t “feel” it much here. This album is visceral and dirty without being raucous or obscene, so while it may frustrate a few parents with its clamor, it’s not really going to raise any political hackles or cause any undo stress, ‘cos a lot of the issues are 30 years old, an ocean away and many of them are honorable despite the loud approach. Really, a good bit of it is just social commentary, from the lack of a future for England’s (and the world’s) disaffected youth (Career Opportunities) to being fed up with caring and trying to keep up with whatever is going on in America (Bored with the USA) to the age old anti-violence/war rant (Hate & War).

But really what makes this album so appealing is that it’s fun. Right out of the gate you’ve got the drum bounce of Janie Jones (a Freudian slip had me typing “Jenny” Jones initially…), a catchy number about I don’t care what and from there the album just chugs along in a like fashion, most songs too short or fast to ever be boring, or even noticed, but with enough hooks (that Mick Jones could turn a hook, yo) to find that you’re singing along at least with every chorus, ‘cos who really understands what Joe is singing during the verses half the time anyway. The album’s anger and discontent is obvious, but more in a futile fist-shaking of “Oh, you guys…,” than in a club (or should I say truncheon) wielding, head bashing, by any means necessary call to arms. The boys just want to make people aware of things – “Hey! You’re not alone,” or “Hey! We know what’s going on,” or “Hey! There need to be some changes.” And to give them credit, they did what they could (I mean they’re no Bono, but who is). And again, while I can respect that, I don’t care. I just like the pop sensibilities, the grit to my goosestep, that shot of adrenaline that Strummer/Jones could provide whenever they felt like it…and they did so at least two or three times on every album that followed, but here on the debut daddy gets his fix for a solid half hour plus instead of having to slog through One More Time, One More Dub and Lightning Strikes before getting to the sweet riff goodness of Up in Heaven.

I think Joe and the boys were always pretty proud of everything they put out (with the exception of Cut the Crap maybe, but I’m not 100% on that), but they did put their views it seems even before their music. Ironically my favorite song on the album, Remote Control, is the one the band essentially disowned due to a dispute with CBS of it being released as a single over their choice of Janie Jones. I’m sure that song was blistering live, especially once they could afford some decent equipment and could play a decent sounding stage (and I don’t mean Shea Stadium). But you gotta hand it to them for putting their beliefs ahead of their own music.
The thing with the Clash is that I have to be in the mood to want to listen to them, and as the years pass those moods are fewer and further between. The exception, however, is this album, the best setting for which is the car: wide open road, windows down, totally alone and yelling “White riot!!!” at the top of your lungs -- ‘cos you can really lose yourself in the groove and rhythm of these songs. The trick is not getting bogged down in the “importance” of it all, ‘cos at the end of the day this is nothing more than rock n roll music, so take it at face value, sing along where you can and who cares what any of it really means.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Sophomore "Slumps"

I’ve always been a big fan of debut albums. The debut album is typically everything that’s right about a band, captured at their most vibrant, their most desperate, their most achingly creative…essentially the reason why they became popular, label-worthy and important in the first place. I think a lot of folks would agree.

So how do you follow that up? Well, that’s always been tricky, right? I mean the sophomore slump is generally a wink and an understanding pat on the back from fans and critics that it’s hard to know what to do next. More of the same? Yes? No? Sorta? Well then which direction should we go? Do we want to cater to fans, radio, critics or our own musical muse? While I know many bands have made conscious decisions along these lines, there are just as many who have not. I guess every band is different depending on where they want to be in the rock n roll spectrum and how they want to be remembered (if they’re remembered) five, ten, twenty-five years down the line.

I like to think that every effort from an artist, from the debut to the swansong, is a legitimate piece of art that at the time was the best they could manage based on circumstances surrounding its creation. When I read a critic lamenting that so-and-so just doesn’t have the passion they once did, I want to scream ‘How do you know???’ You don’t. Maybe it is lacking, but maybe said so-and-so had a lot going on at the time and didn’t realize they were performing below your standards. Maybe they thought they were knockin’ you out of your socks just like they had for the past four releases. Maybe you should just cut a bit o’ slack and try it for yourself. I guarantee you writing a “good” review (be it positive or negative) is worlds easier than churning out 10-12 songs of cohesive merit. Reviews are based on opinion and nothing more (which includes those by yours truly), while albums are based on basically everything but opinion.

I’m sorry; did I go off on a rant there?

In reference to the first paragraph -- it can also be said of a debut album, especially in retrospect, that while it is good, shows promise, gives the potential of things to come, the band hasn’t quite meshed yet, hasn’t quite discovered their special secret, hasn’t quite matured, steeped, mulled, fermented, waxed, aged, etc, etc, etc and that further/future efforts delivered the goods that the debut only hinted at. Fair enough, I can see that from Black Sabbath to Tim Buckley, and that’s where the sophomore album comes in to play.

Another small diversion here; but there are instances where a band on their second album will basically just change tack, head in a different direction, throw everyone for a loop. Oftentimes that’s done with a shift from an indie to a major label. But just as often it’s an inevitable change of course, from following a new musical chart or because they’ve suddenly found themselves with a different helmsman, the reasons can be basically limitless. (Also, enough with the nautical references.)

Two examples:

• The Cure—Three Imaginary Boys/Boys Don’t Cry→17 Seconds: From jangle pop reminiscent of Buzzcocks’ post punk, Mad Bob and crew went to total bleak and echo with a change in tempo and the addition of keyboards. Really, only the title track from Three Imaginary Boys hinted at these possibilities. Thirty years later we’ve accepted this fact, but at the time I’m sure it scratched more than a few heads and if you really think about it, seems like a strange move. Still, it was a good one.
• Depeche Mode—Speak & Spell→A Broken Frame: The problem here is that Vince Clarke, who had penned all but two of the dozen or so songs comprising the debut and its scattered b-sides, suddenly left the band to do another project. While Martin L. Gore seamlessly took over creative control, and while the synth pop sounds were still the forte, the style and approach shifted dramatically from basically bebop pop ditties, to long, dark, introspective dirges. Again, these were hinted at with at least the Gore penned Tora Tora Tora on the debut, but it’s obvious from Clarke’s work with Yazoo and later Erasure, that had he stayed with Depeche Mode, the brooding, earthy tones eventually discovered on Music for the Masses and later perfected on Violator, Exciter and Playing the Angel, would have never come to pass.

Now, having said ALL of that…my thought here is to focus on a few albums that are generally labeled (I’ll say albatrossed) with the “sophomore slump” moniker, but which very realistically maybe should not be. One of those is Boston’s 1978 effort Don’t Look Back (see my previous post), which basically gave me the idea for this entry. But a few others may be:

U2 – October: I’ve always thought this was an underrated album even though I’ve always touted Boy as the greatest of U2’s output. The recording story of October is a frustrating one full of setbacks and attempts to capitalize on the early success of the debut, etc -- a familiar tale in many artists' histories -- and critics and fans have often panned this album as being lackluster and poorly produced. I couldn’t disagree more as October has always had a special place in my heart. And ever since the re-issues from last year, October has not only grown in my affections, it’s proven to stand the test of time much better than Boy and (yes, I’m officially making the announcement here) has even surpassed that album as my all time favorite U2 album.

Key Tracks: Gloria, Fire, Scarlet

The Smiths – Meat is Murder: I have a previous entry for this album, but I want to reiterate that for me, this is where the Smiths found themselves, especially when it came to J-Marr’s layered and trademark guitar sound. Unfortunately the most known song is the very maudlin (a perfect word to describe a Smiths song, even if I mean it with a negative bend) and (to me) very un-Smithsish How Soon is Now? -- but the trio of I Want the One I Can’t Have, What She Said and Nowhere Fast essentially sum up everything the Smiths were about in under ten minutes. And also let us not forget the aching sigh that is Well I Wonder. Mope pop perfection.

Key Tracks: I Want the One I Can’t Have, Nowhere Fast, Well I Wonder

The B-52’s – Wild Planet: For most folks who want to call themselves a B-52’s fan, it’s either the debut ‘cos of the cult status (though I really can’t get into that album) or Cosmic Thing ‘cos of the hits (and deservedly so), but does anyone remember Private Idaho? You do? Good, ‘cos it’s on this album and the rest of the tracks are just as awesome. For me this was the album that gelled the kitschy wink of Rock Lobster and Planet Claire with a more honed, pop sensibility that makes these nine bursts of quirky fun much more palatable than the debut ever could (or intended to) be.

Key Tracks: Private Idaho, Devil in My Car, Strobe Light

Psychedelic Furs -- Talk Talk Talk: Nobody really pays attention to the Furs anyway, so really nobody knows that their debut was a chaotic wall of fantastic noise while their second album (which produced Pretty in Pink) was a more sculpted, dare I say sophisticated effort that was surprisingly removed and yet every much of the same sound as what these six lads had put out the year before. It pointed towards a pop future with 80s/college radio hits like Love My Way, Ghost in You and Heartbreak Beat, but it still held that snarling edge that only Richard Butler could deliver and in it’s more desperate moments (which is basically all of them), leaves the listener frantic in their skin.

Key Tracks: Dumb Waiters, She is Mine, Into You Like a Train

Chris Isaak-- Chris Isaak: Nobody really pays attention to Chris Isaak either -- or at least not before or since Wicked Game -- and that’s a rotten shame, ‘cos his sophomore album is surpassed only by his masterpiece Forever Blue (when all his lonely planets aligned). Perhaps aptly self-titled, Chris was sort of representing himself with this album as a serious act and not a show pony poster boy with an Elvis look. It’s the first with what would prove to be his to-this-day-running backing band Silvertone (with one lead guitarist change along the way), and while he continues in the same mournful croon bemoaning the pain of love, it’s with a self-confidence and overall prowess that makes the debut just look like a warm up set.

Key Tracks: You Owe Me Some Kind of Love, Blue Hotel, Lover’s Game

And here are a couple of generally lauded sophomore efforts that for one reason or another just make me go, “Eh…,” and not ‘cos I don’t like them, just ‘cos I don’t think they’re quite as magical as their predecessor.

Led Zeppelin: Led Zeppelin II – In a word, this album meanders. It’s a great batch of songs with no real rhythm or flow, just tacked on one right after the other, flip the record and do it again. If these tracks were re-sequenced, sifted onto different albums, maybe standalone singles, I might be less apt to go “Oh yeah, Heartbreaker…” ‘cos I really love nearly every song on this record, it’s just delivered all wrong. Plus, I hate drum solos.

Joy Division: Closer – This is just a big bunch of murk and I blame Martin “Zero” Hannett’s production. It’s weighed down by the bulk of it’s own self. While Unknown Pleasures was equally as dark and twice as sinister, there is a lot of space between the notes to discover a sense of self. On Closer there’s just a feeling of claustrophobia so intense that numbers like Colony and Twenty Four Hours (much better in their Peel Sessions counterparts) simply plod along instead of ripping your heart out. By the time I get to the truly beautiful Decades, I don’t care any more.

REM: Reckoning – It’s not because Murmur is perfect and blah, blah. Murmur could never be duplicated and I think they went in the right direction. I just don’t care for this album and this batch of songs as much, with of course a couple of notable exceptions (So Central Rain). Most folks look down on Fables, and while I admit that’s an awkward one, it holds all the dark and majestic promise that Pageant and Document would soon deliver in spades. Reckoning for me just fills a gap in my CD case.

And a couple of notable and deservedly so second outings:

• The Pixies: Doolittle – If it weren’t for the dreadful Silver, this album would be flawless. Stupid Kim Deal (I love you).
• Duran Duran: Rio – I still hold the debut as my favorite, but Rio truly set the stage and personified everything right and deserving in the Fab Five’s success (the first time).
• Iggy Pop: Lust for Life – I stayed away from this album for years ‘cos I’m not thrilled with the title track, but I’ve now accepted it as a guilty pleasure. I am so glad I did ‘cos the rest of the album picks up on that gritty pop and delivers a rock goodness that is without equal.

Monday, May 18, 2009

And the Chicken’s Still Dancing

It’s funny how perspectives can change over the years. You can still enjoy many of the same things and yet because you grow and expand as a person, you will likely appreciate them for different reasons than you did 5, 10, 20 years previous. Other times you can appreciate why you were into something so much, but the initial appeal is no longer there and often it’s better to leave that item as a warm memory. Today marks an “anniversary” for me that 10 or 15 years ago would have been vastly more important than it is now -- which is basically nothing more than a conditioned memory, something that registers simply because that’s the way my historically tuned mind works, but there’s no longer any emotional attachment involved.

I know, I know get to the point already. And here it is… Today is the 29th anniversary of the death of Ian Curtis, enigmatic vocalist of the band Joy Division who amidst a flurry of hard earned hype, a crumbling marriage, mental fragility and just before he was poised to maybe possibly really be somebody who was something…hanged himself in the kitchen of the home he shared with his estranged wife.
Ian Curtis 1956-1980

At the time he was 23, Joy Division were about to head out for their first US tour, had released one of most critically acclaimed albums of all time and had completed a follow up that would receive equal praise some two months after his death. Lots of ink has been spilled on Curtis and his band. Not a Shakespeare amount or a Beatles amount, but there are enough indie-alt-goth-Brit rockers out there to make it sizable. Folks are still trying to unravel the “why and wherefore” through his lyrics, which at the time just seemed dark but with hindsight appear to have been a cry for help. Ian Curtis has reached a state of cult stardom (not too long ago his grave marker was stolen) in the near three decades since his death that really has surpassed the person and performer he actually was, which is so often the case, or ever likely could have been. But I’m sure to thousands of fans around the world (and not too many years ago I’d have been one of them), today has been spent in reflection, listening to Unknown Pleasures, Closer, Substance, possibly Still and the various posthumous and more recently released live recordings, missing a man they only know through the bleak visions he conjured through his increasingly morose words.

I spent a good part of today listening to Frankie Laine, so obviously times have changed.

When I was a lad of 20 the story of Ian Curtis affected me very deeply because I felt akin to him in so many ways. His lyrics, the romantic tragedy of young death at his own hand, the yearning to be respected musically and as a poet, the need for fame and fortune and glory and everything that was promised in the rock n roll contract. I wonder had he lived if he’d have attainted the cult hero status he and Joy Division maintain today, or was his death at such a time in such a fashion really the only way he could achieve his much sought after infamy? Would Joy Division have reached the same heights as New Order? Or would they have become simply another footnote in the history of British independent music, another Stiff Little Fingers or Adverts or Saints, showing up on various punk and post punk compilations here and there, their records still in print on various knock off or European specialty labels, but never receiving the re-package, re-master, re-issue overhaul only designated to bands of mentionable merit? When I listen to New Order I sometimes try and place Ian’s voice over Bernard’s and with the exception of the Movement album and a handful of early singles, it would have never worked. As some cat in an interview for the New Order Story documentary said (and I’ll paraphrase as it’s been awhile); if you’d been a part of something that dark and something like his death had happened, you’d naturally want to turn to something lighter. So no, I don’t think Joy Division would have been the dance pioneers that New Order have become…but maybe they’d have been pioneers of industrial…whoops, they sorta already are.

Joy Division

But this post isn’t so much about the music, but I guess more of what Ian’s Death means to me now, 29 years after the fact and 15 years after I first got wind of it (a bit late to be sure). I have to say not much. JT Reese and I have discussed the merits of Joy Division and I think depending on our mood for any given day/month/year, we go from “Eh” to “Pretty great stuff,” but neither of us sees them for what we did when we were kids. And I think that’s ok. But having said that, there are things I can “thank” Ian for in dying as he did…and per a previous reference, one of them may be even knowing who Joy Division was in the first place, which was very important to me at one time and so worth it just for that. But now, smack dab in the middle of my 30s, a still new father, no more aspirations of becoming a rock star, evaluating my life so far and reevaluating the things I once thought important, I have to say that some of the things his death “introduced” to me have proved more enjoyable, meaningful and ultimately worthwhile than anything he ever did with Joy Division (sorry, dude), as follows...

Presumably just before he died he did two things… Listened to Iggy Pop’s The Idiot and watched Werner Herzog’s Stroszek.

In the height of my Joy Division mania I purchased The Idiot and listened to it a lot but never really got it…so I stopped listening to it. A few years later, post college, I pulled it out and tried the album again and I completely loved it. All the songs were familiar from so many repeat listens and yet were entirely fresh because I felt like I could finally appreciate the music under my own perceptions and not filtered through the eyes of some daft British singer over a decade before. The Idiot oozes sleaze and spook and danger. It’s the soundtrack to a night out on the town with the wrong crowd. If anything, it’s an anti-rock star album, which may be why Ian chose it as the requiem for his own death. It’s a complete about face from the wild and ramshackle howl of the Stooges and easily about ten times as intense simply because it seethes with an inner venom and a willful self-destruction. In the wrong frame of mind it’s easy to see how anyone would take a willing slip on a rope straight to hell.

Naturally this purchase led to picking up the Stooges catalog as well as Pop’s second solo album Lust for Life, the latter of which (so vastly different from The Idiot it’s almost like a different artist) has served me well on many a long road trip gliding along the lonely highways of any state USA.

But again, this is more than about music. In an interview, Factory Records owner Tony Wilson, in talking about Ian’s death, mentioned the Herzog film and quoted the final line, “There’s a dead man in the cable car and the chicken’s still dancing.” He said it in such a way as to make it seem relevant to Ian’s suicide. I dunno, I’ve still not seen Stroszek. But I’ve seen several other Herzog films and overall this opened me up more to the absolute goldmine that is independent and foreign film. In more recent years this search has guided me to my now all time favorite director, the Swedish icon Ingmar Bergman and an overall infatuation with Sweden that I know has more than one person wondering what my deal is. So it goes.

So while I may no longer receive the inspirational sweet-ache in the pit of my stomach I once did when listening to Joy Division or reading about Ian Curtis, etc, I can still appreciate the few things he opened up for me; namely the rush I still get when listening to Iggy’s The Passenger or Tonight at full volume, or the eerie chill down my spine from Baby or the menace I could become with Nightclubbing creeping through my head. Likewise, I’m haunted by the vivid, image-heavy dreams I sometimes enjoy after one of Ingmar Bergman’s films, which have in turn inspired me to dabble a bit in screenplay writing. So it now appears to me that rock n roll isn’t always about the music itself or the people who make it, but the inspirations that helped them along the way. Often those inspirations prove much more important, influential and enduring, you just have to peel back the layers. I’m sure some kid listening to Interpol will then stumble upon Joy Division (or the dozen other bands they lifted from) and from there find Iggy, the Velvet Underground, Krafterwerk, etc, etc. And if they’re as silly and obsessive as I was, maybe even Herzog and Japanese cinema and master Bergman as well. It’s the beauty of art, everything a sum of the parts.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Random Release: The Deuce

I’m cheating a bit on this random release. How so? Well, I’ll tell you -- I said one CD picked at random from each shelf of my CD case. This entry should have been Tim Buckley’s debut album. And while that’s a good one to be sure, I felt drawn towards one of its shelf-mates (and since it was a shelf-mate my OCD allowed it). This is a band that folks tend to love or hate, think rock out or fizzle out, bring the noise or just bring the cheese. You may think I mean Chicago, but head a few clicks further east…that’s right, I’m talking about Boston and their sophomore effort Don’t Look Back from 1978.

I go way back with Boston. Not as far back as their 76 debut, but as far back as their third one (Third Stage), which came a full ten years after that iconic, eponymous self-titled juggernaut (oh yes, I did call it that). Don’t Look Back was probably the last of the three I heard, but pound for pound, note for note, song for song (or at least certain songs), it’s the one that sticks with me the most when I’m in a Boston mood (though I’ll likely pick up the debut on a car ride ‘cos it’s the one Karla is most familiar with). Still, I can’t listen to any of these three albums without being taken back to a “simpler” though not always an “easier” time. I mean life can be rather traumatic for a geeky kid in love with music, discovering girls and developing a chip on his shoulder, right? But enough about seventh grade angst…this here is about the music!

Many critics and fans agree that Boston’s debut (the highest selling debut of all time I believe) is chock full of classic radio staples from beginning to end, yet few seem to acknowledge (that is realize) that Don’t Look Back is really just one or two pegs below the astounding merits of its predecessor and may be (gasp) even a bit better (though I’ll likely chalk that up to a tad bit of overplay from a few of the debut’s key tracks).

Boston had a formula. And when I say “Boston” I mean Tom Sholz, the Corgan-esque songwriter/guitarist/inventor/entrepreneur who is the pen, the brain, the drive and the heart & soul of Boston. A perfectionist in every way (I’ve read somewhere that it took him five YEARS to write More Than a Feeling), he considered the two years between the debut and the production/release of Don’t Look Back to be a rush job. And perhaps it was, though as a long time and avid listener of this album I can’t find thing one that seems to be done on the fly. If anything it’s even more meticulous and calculated than the debut, with riffs and runs and leads and pick slides sequestered, sequenced and stylized throughout these eight songs for a maximum anthem rock action experience. Not a thing here is out of place: there’s not a note that isn’t necessary, a fill that isn’t vital, a bass run that doesn’t compliment the flow of the song and the vocals…well, it is Bred Delp after all (Sholz’s secret ingredient), so they’re spot on and pitch perfect, layered to enhance the chorus of most every song so that when you’re singing along, you feel like part of the band (or at least a prominent background singer).

Sholz and his beloved Les Paul Gold Top in more recent days (he looks the same)

My old friend K-Stanley used to say that Don’t Look Back the song was their best despite the brilliance of those on the debut, and I think he might nearly be right. In a word, this song is epic. That opening riff is so recognizable, so memorable, so get-to-your-feet-raise-your-hands-and-scream catchy that I almost can’t believe the rock gods allowed it down to earth, and I just have to think that Sholz is a 20th century Prometheus bringing fire to man. And with the sweet harmonies of the sorely missed Delp lifting our spirits with lyrics about heading out for new horizons and not worrying about the past, Don’t Look Back the album could almost be one of those collections of songs where the lead track is so enormous that the rest of the album can’t hold up to the glory in spite of its worth.

Thankfully this is not the case.

Sholz knew he had a good thing with the title track and instead of blasting us with another blistering anthem, he takes us totally and literally off world, floating along aimlessly to the organ-oozing, guitar-humming bliss of The Journey before again pressing the ignition switch and kicking into the next rocker -- the equally uplifting, free-wheelin’, “takin’ it day by day” It’s Easy. This song features one of my all time favorite pre-chorus bridges both musically and lyrically -- “Cos when I get close to you, there’s not much to say…” -- which in every way embodies the spirit of falling in love to the rock n roll soundtrack, especially for a 13 year old with rock star aspirations of his own.

But Sholz isn’t all high kicks and good times. He’s got a quiet almost angry introspective side and he never expressed it better than in the finest of power ballads (and probably my favorite track on the album), A Man I’ll Never Be. I can remember being in ninth grade and bringing this record to 1st period English class to play this song as part of some sort of “show and tell” we had going on. Nobody got it as somehow Whitesnake was still king and heart wrenching “what good am I” tearjerkers from 15 years previous were way not cool. So be it.

But Tom doesn’t stay down for long. Side two (for those of us tuning in on vinyl) starts off with the rousing Feelin’ Satisfied, a shout out of rock n roll to rock n roll and for those who love it. And here is where the album really begins to feel formulaic, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Feelin' Satisfied is the follow up to the debut’s Rock n Roll Band, and likewise the Delp co-penned Party is the companion piece for Smokin’ in the ambling notion of looking for a non-stop get down (get down and party) and simply enjoying life to the fullest.

Unfortunately it’s not all highlights. If ever this album does lag (and I’m not saying it does), it’s on Used to Bad News, written by Delp and really the only “clunker” in the bunch simply because it’s a touch pedestrian with it’s world weary sentimentality (and yet perhaps poignant in Delp’s rather recent death-by-suicide). I almost feel as if Tom was just throwing his buddy a bone here, tacking it on near the end of the album and being done with it. And it’s a shame to have any “filler” here ‘cos per bootlegs from 76-77, the band had two or three unrecorded songs on par with second tier tracks from either this or the debut album. By the sad standards of most arena rock at the time, anyone would have been proud to claim these lost gems as their own, so it’s anyone’s guess and all part of the myth and mystery of rock n roll as to why groovers like Shattered Images (later named Help Me) and Television Politician never made the cut (especially since two tracks from this album were played back in those days).

But thankfully the album doesn’t end here, and the closer Don’t Be Afraid -- a Twitter song of the day a week or so ago and the cousin of the debut’s Something About You -- rocks us into the sunset and after party with a noodling riff and punchy one-two chorus that has you singing out loud long after the house lights have gone on and the cleaning crew are waiting for you to vacate.

Posin'...I mean SMOKIN'!

Lawsuits, solo projects and business dealings would hamper the production of the next (and for me last mentionable) Boston album (minus the entire band besides Sholz and Delp). Sholz got to take his time with Third Stage, and while the results were stellar, they were perhaps subpar when considering the two-for-one rock fest of the self-titled and Don’t Look Back. You can’t really speculate what could have been with these guys ‘cos they solidified themselves as rock legends from the beginning and it was always up in the air as to what they would do next and when -- if anything ever again. But they gave us three albums of heartfelt and powerful rock, with the underrated classic being the deuce, Don’t Look Back.

Don’t Look Back seems an album for the summer (and I think I’ll be listening to it a lot here in 09's sizzle); sitting easy, hanging back, enjoying the days but also staying mindful that you’ve got to earn where you’re at from time to time. A watered down copy of the debut or the next step ahead, it’s truly up to the listener (not the critic) to decide. I have to say that aside from the title track, Don’t Look Back on its own won’t likely garner any new fans to the Boston ranks (gotta leave it to More Than a Feeling, Peace of Mind, Long Time and (ah, the dreamy) Hitch a Ride for that sort of action), but for those who know and love the debut, it will at least give them more of the good stuff and prove that Boston wasn't just a one trick pony and could turn out at least a pair (or in my opinion a trio) of front to back LPs worth spinning again and again.