Monday, June 29, 2009

Q209 Update

Hello and good morning and tra-la-la, it’s that time again where all good businesses tell the board and their staff where the company has been over the past three months. Yes, that’s right, it’s nearly the end of the 2nd quarter 2009 (I KNOW!!!) and with that comes my report on all things new in my world of music.

There’ve been some exciting releases from my perspective and instead of going into a mild tirade of how much a breath of fresh air some of these titles are in a ding-dong-disappointing musical environment (and honestly, in recent months I’m opening my ears to sounds that heretofore I’d have brushed off), I’m just going to get straight to the rock.

We’ll start things off with the return of NY and indie rock’s longstanding darlings Sonic Youth, and their rather oddly titled The Eternal. (And maybe there is something behind that name that I’ve not garnered yet from the lyrics, but to me, for now, it just seems off, like some sort of cheesy 'best of' collection for a dead crooner.) One cool thing about this release is that they’ve left Geffen (DGC, whatever) and signed to Matador…which if there are “major” labels within indie rock, this is definitely one of them, and yet they’ve certainly earned their indie creds over the years by putting out everyone from The Fall to Superchunk, and since Sonic Youth lands somewhere in between there, this is a nice and obvious fit. What’s also a nice fit is this album amongst the pantheon of the good to great to amazing albums that Sonic Youth has put out over the past 25+ years. And, to step slightly back, having said it’s cool that the band is off Geffen, I’ve always been rather partial to their major label years. I recognize that albums like Sister and Daydream Nation are noisy classics, but are they necessarily their heyday? To me Sonic Youth is one of those skewed, off kilter, “this ain’t yer daddy’s rock n roll” outfits that have greatly benefitted from the presence of nice equipment and the time to really cultivate their sound in a studio environment. They never sold out or watered down on Geffen (who wisely gave them freedom to be themselves) and they always kept doing what they do; my point being that it’s nice to really hear all the various and layered nuances going on within the music, and not have it buried beneath a wall of “bad input connections” or “channel 4 on the board has a short in it” or “no time to clean up that bit” or whatever frustrations you run into using a lackluster studio with no time and less money. Sure, those “classic” albums are a swirling, chaotic barrage of raw-boned bliss, but let’s face it kids, Goo and Dirty are pushing 20 years old and frankly just as classic and vital as anything from the gritty SST, etc years. And what’s nice about the Eternal is that it sorta harkens back to those early major label days, when they were first trying their hand at really making some pop, yet not for accessibility’s sake but because of the sheer joy and love of the genre (let us not forget Kim and Thurston’s mid 80s obsession with Madonna). And while The Eternal is a really good Sonic Youth album, which is fantastic by the standards of most similar-veined nonsense that’s out there, it’s not really a great Sonic Youth album, nothing near Dirty but parallel to much of the better if not best of Goo. (Are you following me?) As MSP so aptly put it, it’s another slice of the same pizza, and it’s a really good pizza, but it’s still the same pizza (something like that). And really, what more would we expect from them? Folks enjoy these guys for what they do, and that includes when they make those unexpected change-ups, because the unexpected is always expected. And even when that doesn’t happen, it’s still a good thing. I guess the “unexpected” move here is the addition of Pavement bassist Mark Ibold…so, the bass playing is pretty groovy as opposed to, well, never mind (I love you, Kim!). Other than that, it’s everything you’d want from a Sonic Youth album…and if I really have to explain to you what that means, it basically means you won’t like it. However, if you’re in any way a Sonic Youth fan and haven’t picked up this album yet, what are you waiting for?

Random good tracks:
What We Know

And what segues best from Sonic Youth this quarter? Depeche Mode. Depeche Mode? You heard me, Mike. What these two very different groups have in common is that they’ve both been around for nearly 30 years putting out their own brand of (often mimicked, never duplicated or surpassed) uncompromising music that has stayed consistently enjoyable, even relevant, as the decades have mounted. Sounds of the Universe is another offering of moody electro pop, delivered as only Martin L. Gore, Dave Gahan and Andy Fletcher could, sounding (as always) simultaneously familiar and yet completely original. It’s nice to see how this band has logically developed over the years, from Casio pop pretty boys in their early career, to the dark, cynical industrial clang of the mid 80s, to the rich, textured tones they developed and perfected on 120 Minutes-alternative classics like Music for the Masses and Violator (thanks in large part to the addition of guitars). They continued on this trend into the 90s and 00s with albums so increasingly earthy and warm in nature that you forget that they’re still very much a keyboard-oriented band (not that there’s anything wrong with that). A noticeable change, however, is that a lot of the acidic bitterness from their glossy youth is gone. This has been replaced by a wary world weariness (say that 5 times fast) that though perhaps not as angst-immediate catchy in the sense of sing-a-longs for disaffected youth, it’s layered for multi-listens, making it ultimately more appealing and enduring in its sense of mature observation, with the continuance that everything is still not right with “the world we live in and life in general.” And while Violator (which to me is the seamless connection between these two stages in their career) is their undisputed magnum opus, the three albums they’ve put out in the dawning of the 21st century (including this one) are in some ways better because the boys have grown comfortable with who and what they’ve decided to become in the music world and are focusing on producing songs and albums that a) appeal to their ever loyal fan base, but also b) push the envelope just a little bit further into the future. And “future” is the key word here, because Sounds of the Universe is full of off-world noises and blips, humming, swirling patterns of effects that while obviously mindful of early forays into sci-fi, are still very modern in their sound and approach. Heavy “treatments” truly enhance the otherworldliness of this album; the keyboards and drums and guitars are at times swathed in reverb and phasers, even the vocals are sometimes masked and buried in distortion, while other times compression-mutated and pushed to the front, almost dominating the music supporting them. But despite all these “new and fresh” sounds, there is still a lot to identify them as the same Depeche Mode they’ve always been and will continue to be. In some ways this album is almost a “best of” in timeless Depeche Mode sounds, with several songs possessing little runs and sequences that are immediately mindful of classic 80s counterparts. This is proof that dozens of singles, 13 albums, as many world tours and millions of monies later, Depeche Mode still remembers who they are and where they come from. And this points to what’s really great about this album: Martin and Dave (and Fletch) seem just as inspired and excited to be making music now as they did 10, 15 or 25 years ago. They’re not going through the motions, they’re not just putting out more of what the fans want to hear for an easy buck, they really, really enjoy making music and still have something they’d like to say. Well, say on! I’m looking forward to the next album already.

Random good tracks:
Hole to Feed

So now we’re going to totally switch gears here, and yet I bet this next artist is at least a mild or one-time fan of Depeche Mode. You guessed it, I’m talking about alt-country pretty boy Rhett Miller and his self-titled third album (fourth if you count his pre Old 97’s debut, Mythologies -- which I guess I should). Rhett has finally made the solo album I’ve always wanted him to…and I think he’d agree. When the news came out several years back about his first Old 97’s era solo album, I was pretty pumped. The deal was that he’d written a batch of songs that weren’t really suitable for the band’s sound, with noted influences ranging all over the musical spectrum from Bowie to X and not just sticking with Merle and Johnny. Unfortunately most of us fans were pretty much underwhelmed with The Instigator. Was it the songs? Was it the production? Was it the lack of his better backing band, especially Godsend harmonizing bassist Murry Hammond? Yes, all three, and yet, well, it just didn’t seem right, didn’t click. That album has grown on me over the years, but still leaves something to be desired. And so when 2006’s The Believer came out with it’s bombastic gloss and ready-for-radio crisp corners (I mean the album opens with like a string quartet or something…say what?), I was screaming, “No, no, no, Rhett!!!” To me it was a better set of songs that were flat out ruined by watering things down for breaking into a wider audience, which was confirmed upon seeing him live (and poorly attended) on the tour supporting this album. I don’t know why Rhett is counting so much on this solo career. I mean it’s fine to want to step away from your regular gig and do something a bit different, but why want it to overshadow what to me is absolutely the greatest band of its genre (not to mention just a crunkin’ fantastic band overall) and easily the best thing to ever come out of Texas? Look Rhett, you’re my boy and I love you, and heck, you’re the 2nd greatest songwriter of our generation…but I’m sorry, it just isn’t going to happen. Ok? I mean you’ve made your cameo on 30 Rock, now it’s time to just put out music for your rabidly loyal cult following and cool out. But hey, Rhett, all tough love aside…this new album is GREAT!!! Seriously, Rhett really lays it all out there in the best way, from rockers to ballads; the former touching the rock star grandness that he seemed to be reaching for on The Instigator and the latter showing a tender vulnerability (without the cheese) that we knew existed per previous outings with and without the Old 97’s, but never, ever this raw, deep or sensitive. Influences are more obvious from ELO to the Doors and everything in between and delivered with a confidence that makes the album ambitious without being indulgent. I sometimes want to jump up on stage with him and dance my fool head off, and I sometimes just want to stop him mid song to give him a big hug. Really, Rhett, I’m proud of you, I truly, truly love this album…so much so that I might even buy it again so I can love it twice as much.

Random good tracks:
Happy Birthday Don’t Die

While we’re on solo artists, let’s check in with our favorite Russian immigrant Regina Spektor and her (FINALLY here) follow up to 2006’s Begin to Hope…Far. This album is in every way a Regina album: quirky, funny and cuts you straight to the heart. Knowing a bit about her background and having seen her live, I have to think she’s pretty sincere with everything she’s singing about and truly has sympathy for the lonely, downtrodden and achingly realistic characters she tells us of, often because I feel they’re so often reflected facets of herself. But Regina also reminds us that there can be joy amidst sorrow, laugher amidst tears and something to feel good about even when the pain is so acute you can’t take another breath. And she expresses all of those emotions and more in that funny, flexible, fantastic voice, that squalls, squirms and squeals its way from a whisper to a scream -- sometimes complete with farty sounds. Oh, and you can sing along as well. If you’re a wide-eyed, thirteen-year-old girl hugging your pillow at night, head full of current hopes and future dreams, or a jaded, thirty-five-year-old man who has spent countless sleepless nights pondering why his hopes always fizzled and wondering what dreams are left, Regina has a little something here that will put a bit o’ music to your melancholy. And she continues to be a mindful writer, perhaps more so than ever, with excellent wordplay and poignant observations on love and life as brutally honest as they are playfully unique. She doesn’t pull punches, doesn’t scrub hands or faces, doesn’t skip over that dodgy bit, but instead gives it to you full force, the imagery carried by a melody strong enough to take you full in chest whether she’s sighing softly over a solitary piano or giving it her all with a full band. And having said all of this, Regina doesn’t cover much new ground, doesn’t do anything earth shattering that she hasn’t already done. And honestly that’s more than fine, ‘cos to me she’s reinvented the wheel enough. If you like her deal, this is simply more of the same. And Far has “sister” songs that can definitely be musically linked to tunes from previous albums, which is in no way samey or formulaic but actually quite endearing, as it makes this album immediate, familiar, like an old friend coming home. So, as with the previous albums I’ve mentioned here, Regina isn’t likely going to win over any naysayers to her camp, but this album could easily garner new fans who have yet to hear what she’s all about (or only heard Fidelity, the “big single” from Begin to Hope). But if you’ve not heard her or heard and shied away, I ask you to indulge me and give this album a listen. I think by the end you’ll be smiling through your tears.

Random good songs:
Laughing With
Dance Anthem of the 80s

We’re going to close things down here with an infamous and yet still relatively little known (outside “knowing” circles) band, The Horrors, and their sophomore, in NO WAY a slump offering, Primary Colours (note the Brit spelling). The Horrors’ debut, Strange House, was a fun record, big and dark and forbidding as it epitomized everything about goth/punk imaginable, ran it through a blender and spewed it out with a pint of bitters (even though that’s an old man’s drink and these kids are quite young). Seriously, Sheena is a Parasite is one minute and forty-three seconds of pure YIKES! And while most of the rest of the debut was never quite as immediate, it was nearly as unnerving and forbidding and highly entertaining. And to me it was a novelty that was worth listening to a few times -- but were these five lads (some with hair to challenge the skyscrapers of most any major city) and their stage antics and public atrocities, which seemed so kitsch and showy, really a force to be reckoned with? Well, yes. Just listen to Primary Colours…I dare you. It’s almost a different band…almost. There’s enough here to link them back to the dark soul wail of the debut, but the essence of this album, what makes it immediately timeless and breathtaking and so completely unexpected, is the keyboards, moving from the biting, spine tingling organs of Strange House, to fluid, seamless, gorgeous, drown-me-now washes of pure majesty over most of Primary Colours. I know two (of my like four) readers heartily agree with me, so I’m really just preaching to the choir…but for the rest of you, take heed, this album is just as much terrifying as its predecessor but for reasons so completely subtle and subdued and almost scheming, that these songs will seriously haunt your dreams. When I listen to it I’m like, “Really? Did this really come out in 2009 from a bunch of snotty nosed Brits?” Yes it did. These kids have done their homework, just as they did with their first effort, and brought together all the brilliance and beauty of New Wave, Shoegaze, New Romantic, Post Punk, etc, etc and meshed them all together into a thing of true wonder. And so I have to throw out a caveat here…if you’re not a fan of these genres, you’ll probably think I’m spouting idiocy, but if you are and you’ve been wondering where all the love went lo these past 25+ years (truly, before these guys were born), it was up in heaven waiting to be birthed and delivered here at your musical doorstep.

Random good songs:
I Only Think of You
Sea Within a Sea

There’ve been some other good releases the past three months, like A Camp’s second album Colonia, and Doves’ latest Kingdom of Rust, but I’ve not had the chance to give them much of a listen ‘cos for some reason I keep listening to that stupid Coldplay album from last year. Somebody come slug me!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Quick Blurb: New Polvo


Polvo was the first band I ever saw in Nashville, on Friday, September 4, 1992 (I still have the flier somewhere), opening up for Superchunk. Both bands pretty much rocked my world in different ways and opened my eyes to more possibilities within music. Having said that, I was never a huge Polvo fan, but Cor Crane Secret is definitely one of the greatest albums in indie music, a top album of '92 and a somewhat steady mainstay in my listening rotation. I enjoyed Today's Active Lifestyles quite a bit as well and the following e.p. Celebrate the New Dark Age, but sorta fell off the wagon after that (maybe one day I'll post about my 1995 fall from grace with indie rock). But I did see them again around '96 or so and was again blown away by their ability to churn so much power from instruments and equipment that seemed to be held together by duct tape and the simple will to rock. I wanna say they finally called it a day in '98 or so and then Ash Bowie did a solo deal that I never heard.

When I read that they were getting back together and recording a new album, I was interested only in the sense of someone who wants to know what happens at the 10 year high school reunion, but doesn't want to be bothered to show up. Well, JT sent me the link to a new song, so I've given it a couple of listens. They're the same Polvo we all know and love, and yet obviously different with the influence of age and time, etc. I mean how are they possibly going to recapture that urgent, lo-fi aesthetic that they had in their 20s all those years ago? You're right, they're not. In an age where a state-of-the-art virtual studio can be purchased for just a few hundred dollars, the DIY credo no longer means producing dirtily amazing albums that sounded like they were recorded in a damp basement (mainly 'cos they were), but more along the lines of time was booked at Abbey Road studios and all mod cons were employed to make everything as sharp and audible as possible. And really, it's odd hearing Polvo in a "real studio" setting using "nice equipment." Everything is very clear and pristine, but to what end? It's as if they've cleaned up their act, but frankly, nobody was ever complaining about the mess that I know of...but so it goes.

As I said, musically it's still Polvo, but JT pointed out that they now sorta sound like metal with the signature Polvo chimey guitars. Makes me wonder if they'd have always sounded like this given the proper recording facilities...and if so, would we have thought it was anything special? Sure, it's angular, off kilter pop, but it's pretty shiney. Hey, how about kicking some dirt on those new Chucks, man? Regardless, I sorta dig it. Maybe not enough to go pick up the album when it comes out or to go see them if they play, where would they play? The End I guess... But enough to say "Cheerio, boys!" Or something like that. I mean let's face it, indie rock is dead -- and I'm not sure it ever really existed in the first place.

Take a listen for yourself.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Random Release: A Man of Eras

I have very few qualifications for reviewing this album (or artist) aside from the fact that I’ve heard it and have formed an opinion, of which I am entitled and so it is therefore valid. But where I lack in credentials is that I am not steeped and permeated in all that is and should be Bob Dylan. And you know, maybe that’s a good thing.

Dylan is an artist of eras. I think everyone who knows anything about the man would agree to that. Greenwich Village folkie, protest years, that thin, wild mercury sound, his country forays (my personal fave), whatever Self Portrait was supposed to be (likely a genius we have yet to unravel), his 70s Rolling Thunder Revue “comeback,” his 80s born again Christian/creative slump, a near stint with the Grateful Dead, the Traveling Wilburys, rediscovering his roots in the early 90s, and then his most recent, triumphant, “return to form,” blah, blah, blah comeback and continued resurgence that began with Time Out of Mind in 1997 and continued with this one, ‘Love & Theft,’ from 2001.

Again, I say it’s a good thing that I’m not overly saturated in all things Dylan, because then I'm not prone to either a) overly gush or b) be overly critical. And having said that, I do know quite a bit about the man, the myth, the legend and his career. I’ve heard most every album (at least in part) and I definitely have some favorites amongst all of the various phases of a very long and complicated musical journey. What’s very interesting to me about Uncle Bob is that unlike most artists of his generation, he never stopped. Until the mid 90s, he put out an album of new material consistently every year or so and even since then has gone no longer than five years between releases. This is nothing like many of his contemporaries who (wisely) stopped sometime in the 70s and only reconvened for the sake of cash and nostalgia intermittently in the 80s, 90s and 00s, almost always producing extremely lackluster material. So the credit you have to give Dylan here is that while he definitely released some stinkers (and I’ll get to that more in a minute), at least he was still out there and didn’t take 10, 15 or 25 years to write an album’s worth of songs that still weren’t worth the wax to make the vinyl. And really, let’s face it, a lousy Bob Dylan song is better than just about anything someone like David Crosby ever attempted to produce.

I’m a latecomer to the BD camp. In high school and earlier days it was a name I’d simply heard and by college when I "got wise," I was staunchly opposed to the idea of Bob Dylan. He was hippie rock and I hated hippies (and still do). I admit I was completely wrong, but that’s the superficial media image, the casual glance, the dust cover on the Book of Bob. I can remember being not long out of college and hearing Time Out of Mind played in a record store and thinking, “Ok, this is pretty good stuff,” but again, it was Bob Dylan and I was still within my “anti classic rock” phase (man, I was so stupid when I was 23…I’ve had to repurchase so much stuff…anyway…) and just tucked that sentiment away for safe keeping. And then sometime in the early 00s I really got into the Go-Betweens who are HUGE Dylan fans and I somehow realized I needed to give the man an honest to goodness try.

A friend suggested starting off with Blonde on Blonde. The good thing about that suggestion is that it’s 19 songs at the absolute peak of Dylan’s most aggressively creative years, where he was churning out songs like CO2 and all of them great to brilliant. The bad thing about that suggestion is that it’s 19 songs and I had/have a rather short attention span. But I got hooked enough to next try out (again per suggestion) Blood on the Tracks…and from there it was on.

Even though ‘Love & Theft’ came out as I was first excitedly discovering Bob, I purposefully postponed purchasing any of his recent comeback material until I was more familiar with his older stuff, the stuff that made him so vital and his comeback so important in the first place. Really, with hindsight, that wasn’t necessary. Again, Dylan is a man of eras, and while it’s pretty easy to pull a Bob Dylan track out of a 50 pack, each one of his chapters is so distinct and unique within the mantle that is Dylan that you can really start out anywhere and not only find everything you need, but also whet your appetite for what more he has to offer. And while I am a Dylan fan in every way, shape and form, I’m also fine with the fact that some of his phases are just not for me. For example, I cannot stand 95% of the protest albums. Again, political music is not my deal, but really, I just find them dense and difficult and unlistenable. Likewise, his holy trinity of Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde are definitely brilliant, but (with the exception of Bringing It All Back Home) not likely what I’ll be reaching for when I’m in a Dylan mood. What’s more, his Christian/80s “slump” has not only some key tracks (which most everyone recognizes) but some highly underrated and grossly disregarded albums like Street Legal, Shot of Love, Saved (per a guy I know named Steve) and Infidels (to which Bill wrote a letter of apology that I wish I still had a copy of so I could reprint it here), all of which deserve some serious reconsideration. The deal is you can’t digest Dylan as a whole. I mean ‘Love & Theft’ is his 31st studio album. Any artist with that kind of output is going to have some low spots, but anyone who can give us songs like Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright, I Threw It All Away and If You See Her Say Hello with such consistency can’t run entirely out of steam, even if their brethren are sparsely scattered amongst a bunch of over the top gloss.
But the point to this post is ‘Love & Theft’ the album (I think). However, I’m going to digress a bit more here and voice my agreement with what I’ve read amongst other (more qualified/famous) Dylan fans…and it’s that I’m tired of this Dylan comeback arse kissing. Because Time Out of Mind and ‘Love & Theft’ were so absolutely great, critics are again assuming the man can do no wrong and are immediately giving his releases 5 stars without even taking the wrapper off the CD case. (Maybe it’s time for a Self Portrait deluxe reissue.) I’m glad they’re going in with a positive attitude, but I don’t care how you slice it – Modern Times is a boring album. It’s competent, it’s pleasant, it’s well executed, but it has as much personality as the dead possum I saw in Jason Smith’s front yard this morning (Jason, if you’re reading this, you might wanna look into that). And while 2008’s Telltale Signs was a fine batch of alternates and outtakes, it was still culled from sessions and songs that we already knew were fruitful and inspired. There was nothing about it or Modern Times that really made me want to run out and purchase Together Through Life (and that stupid cover isn’t helping) ‘cos the best I’ve heard is that it’s Modern Times with an accordion on every track. Big deal. An album with no personality and an accordion is nothing more than sleepy polka music. But if there’s one thing ‘Love & Theft’ has, personality.

Now I’m sure when ‘Love & Theft’ came out there was some skepticism. Let’s face it, Time Out of Mind may have been a fluke, like Oh Mercy or Empire Burlesque. But for me, ‘Love & Theft’ is as close as Uncle Bob has come to recapturing the spirit and essence of his “heyday” mercurial vision in the mid 60s. This album is a bit of a joyous mess as he explores styles and attitudes with reckless abandon. But it’s such a pleasant jumble that even if it lacks the fluid cohesiveness of Time Out of Mind, the laid back feel good of Nashville Skyline or the intimate, coffee shop intensity of Freewheelin’, it bubbles with so much enthusiasm that you really can’t wait to see what direction he’s going to go next. This is a trip through the music of yesteryear – various blues, rockabilly, Tin Pan Alley, old school country, it’s all here, as if Bob were going through his infamous collection of old 78s and saying, “Yeah, I’d like to do something like this.” And he's Dylan, so he does.
As I’ve said in previous posts, lyrics are often secondary to me, but Dylan is lauded by many as a poet and really, the visions he conjures here of a woebegone, deprecated South and the desperate often depraved men and women who wander through it, are the stuff of legend. Tales of deceit and death and the decadence of life, these are characters pulled from the plays of Tennessee Williams or the short stories of Flannery O’Connor, images of a place and its people that have become so mythical in their gritty tenderness they’ve together become romantic, almost ideal. Dylan sketches with words and colors in with music, and though sometimes the colors are drab and depressing, they’re always enjoyable, drawing you into the stories he’s telling, the characters he’s giving voice to, even if they are nameless, relatively faceless, because ultimately he’s speaking for everyone and anyone who has found themselves in similar circumstances. There’s sweetness and sentimentality, bitterness and bile, regret and rage and an ultimate feeling of satisfaction in the essential dissatisfaction described on this album. These are snatches from the past that some people called a life, preserved for posterity, because for many the memory is still fresh and the reality isn’t too far away.

Fave tracks: Summer Days, Floater, Moonlight, Po’ Boy

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Random Release: Not about John Denver at all...

So when I showed Karla what the CD was for the next random release post she said, “Did you steal that from my mom?” Fair enough, and unfortunately I can’t even cop out and say that I did, but in fact bought this album legitimately, albeit for very cheap, at a Best Buy in Atlanta during a moment of weakness and a craving for nostalgia that could never exist simply because I have no solid association with the album or artist besides some very limited and random knowledge.

What in the world are you talking about??? Ok, I know, here it is…The Best of John Denver. And not even a legit, official version, but what appears to be some one off label just cashing in on the hits shortly after his death.

Technically I’ve got nothing against John Denver. I mean he’s “a song’s best friend,” right? But the fact is that I just really have zero connection to his music. And I’ve tried. Ten years ago when I bought this compilation I tried. I thought for sure that the two or three songs I was sorta familiar with would be enough to gap the spaces between the stuff I’d never heard, but I’m afraid it wasn’t. I mean I’m sure Rocky Mountain High is a fine song, in fact I know there are thousands, nay, millions of folks who think so, but I’m just not one of them. And I think it’s all about timing. I just came in a bit too late (a good 25 years at the time of purchase) to ever have a chance at making the correlation. But in the spirit of giving this collection a proper shout out, I tried yet again just last week, dutifully putting this 14 track disc in the player on my way to work out and I got to track four (Seasons of the Heart) before I decided that it just wasn’t going to happen. Ever. The time has gone, the gap is too great, I was then as now too old and jaded and set in my “punk rock” ways to ever “get” what is so “great” about John Denver. And really, this applies to all those folksy/homey/sensitive singer-songwriter types of the late 60s/early 70s, including artists like James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Cat Stevens and Carole King. And hey, don't take it personally. I mean you guys made millions pedaling your sissy cheese and it sure made a lot of people feel better about things that didn't matter, but in 1976 God gave me The Damned's New Rose so I could punch you in the face, knock you off your rainbows and roses pedestal and thus end your reign of sappy tyranny. Ok, I was only 3 in 1976, but somebody did it, so there!

Man, I just spewed all over a bunch of basically nice folks simply ‘cos I have no childhood association with their music. Well, not much anyway, and really, it’s not my fault. See, my parents are a good decade older than most of the parents of my age group. My dad liked big band, classical, opera and taking the piss out of everything I listened to. My mom likes Nat King Cole and old standards sung by anyone who isn’t Bryan Ferry. (Ok, I made up that last part, but really Bryan, when is that original line up Roxy Music album coming out?)

Bryan Ferry: Avant Garde rocker turned crooner

But seriously, listen, I think that’s a lot of what John Denver is about for kids our age…nostalgic associations, drifting back to an easier time before rotten jobs, mortgages and babies that won't keep their pacies in their mouth so daddy can finish posting on his stupid music blog. (This means you, Fox!) I mean literally all I remember about him from being a kid is his appearance on the Muppets and that was probably from reruns. I also knew he acted in TV movies. Oh, and I knew he wore fringe leather outfits. And I think Keith Keller's parents owned his albums on 8-track. I know at some point in the 80s his greatest hits were advertised on TBS…and honestly, that’s probably how I got any inkling of what his songs sounded like, those little 5 second clips and a warp-speed rolling of all the songs you’d be getting for just 3 easy installments of $19.95 (in Monopoly money, yo).

I think what made me think at the time of purchasing this CD that I could maybe latch on to something nice from my childhood (I mean I was around, just not exposed) was hearing this story from someone (I honestly can’t remember who, when or where I heard this) who like me had no real association with John Denver but for some reason his untimely death in 1997 sparked a little interest in seeing what he was all about, and an off chance 'best of' purchase (like mine) sparked an emotional flood of obsession that resulted in the acquisition of the entire back catalog and an affinity for the late artist like they could have never imagined possible. I mean that’s right up my alley like fruitcake. Er…anyway, bottom line, I was impressed by this person’s absolute and genuine passion for the music and thought maybe there was enough for me to tap in as well. Likely I was musically dry at the time and looking for a new inspiration (essentially a new Joy Division…hey, wait, John Denver…Joy Division…JD…get it???), so I made an impulse purchase and fell flat. Whoops. Hey, person of unknown name and gender, you owe me $3.99 plus Georgia tax.

Or maybe it was all a bad sushi dream.

New Order: Technique

Anyway, the other thing I know about John Denver, more recently, was that about 20 years ago he sued New Order ‘cos he claimed the song Run from their album Technique was a dead rip of his song Leaving on a Jet Plane -- an allegation that was settled out of court. And while I give the man, or at least someone in his camp, mad props for even being familiar with said band/album/song, I would like to punch his posthumous face for a move that to me seems as much a cash in as the 'best of' CD I purchased six months after his death…even though admittedly the similarities between the two songs are as obvious as that recent Coldplay song and the umpteen artists out there claiming they were ripped off as well.
But for all this (honestly good-natured) poo-pooing and underhanded talk about ol’ John, I will say that there’s at least one time when he got it right, and that’s Annie’s Song. I mean I don't know who Annie is, but he sure paid her one good compliment with this ditty. (Ok, curiosity made me wiki the song and it's as cheesy as you'd expect.) Seriously, Bill, seriously, in spite of it all, this is one of those songs with a melody that absolutely hits you square in the gut of your soul and could pull tears from a stone and if it doesn’t make you sniffle at least a little bit, you’re either Brian Batey or a neo-Nazi. And while I have, did and will again make fun of this song by changing the lines into little innuendos that I won’t repeat here just in case my mother should ever read this (ha, ha), I can’t help wishing a bit that I was on stage with a guitar, wearing a Red Indian jerkin and sporting some straw-straight hair, giving it my all.
Either Or

Other like songs are:

Katy Song by Red House Painters
Life In a Northern Town by the Dream Academy
Candle on the Water from Pete’s Dragon as sung by Helen Reddy
Nessun Dorma from Turandot by Giacomo Puccini as only properly sung by Luciano Pararotti

So, really, this post isn’t about John Denver at all. I thought it might be a bit about my childhood, but it’s not even that. What is it then? Yeah, I dunno. But check back soon for more of my drivel.