Wednesday, August 26, 2009
There are literally thousands of examples of a good rock n roll scream, but right here are a few of my favorites.
The Who: Won’t Get Fooled Again – No list of rock n roll hollers would be complete without this explosion of complete “in your face” know how. The absolute blueprint.
The Doors: When the Music’s Over -- Jim Morrison was often a yelper and a howler, but he could wail like a banshee when need and/or necessity called for it. There are probably dozens of examples spread throughout their catalog from Light My Fire to the Celebration of the Lizard, but he never sounded more possessed by the Lizard King than when he demanded, “We want the world and we want it now…now? NOW!!!!!”
The Pixies: Tame – Black Francis was always an excellent screamer throughout the Pixies’ career, but on this song he shows you everything he’s capable of in less than two minutes.
Bad Brains: Right Brigade -- Yeah, HR is pretty much yelling all throughout this punk rock anthem, but when the juice really kicks in, he steps up with a passion and a fury never to be equaled. “Right Bri-gade!!!!!!”
Smashing Pumpkins: Bullet with Butterfly Wings – I love to walk around singing this song (often with improvised lyrics) using my faux Billy Corgan voice and really throwing in the extra whine (with that cheese). But seriously, Billy’s got some issues and he was letting everybody know it here.
Aerosmith: Dream On – Steven Tyler’s gargantuan lips have produced some pretty formidable screams over the years (how could they not with that cavernous mouth?), but the one delivered with the rawest, most precise emotion is right here in the mother of all power ballads.
Monday, August 24, 2009
For years the Go Betweens were one of those bands I’d always heard of but never heard (one day I need to do a post along those lines). I think my first exposure came in college while scanning CDs at Lucy’s Record Shop and finding the first Jack Frost collaboration between Go B Grant McLennan and enigmatic frontman of the Church, Steve Kilbey. I’d already been a fan of the Church for a number of years and poked a little bit into some of their solo outings, so it only seemed reasonable to pick up this record as well. And while I thoroughly loved it, it somehow wasn’t enough to make me explore the Go Betweens any further. I was some years out of college when I ran across Bellavista Terrace: Best of the Go Betweens at Borders for a decent price. While I’ve never been a big fan of the “best of” compilation, I felt drawn to pick this one up, and thus began my very long and fruitful romance with what is notoriously and shamelessly one of Australia’s best-kept secrets.
Having said I don’t care for “best ofs,” there are a few exceptions and Bellavista Terrace is absolutely one of them; flowing not only as a seamless (out of chronology) run down of the first stage of the Go Betweens’ career, but working quite well as an album in and of itself. Two of the standout tracks from that collection, Cattle & Cane and That Way, were originally released on the band’s second album, 1983’s Before Hollywood, which I picked up next. Over the years this quirky gem has proven to maintain the status (for what it’s worth) of my favorite Go Bs album.
As with all of their pre-break up albums, Before Hollywood saw the band in a transition. They were still a three-piece, as they had been on their proper debut Send Me a Lullaby, but they were shining up the angular edges of that rather difficult album and beginning to discover the pop sensibilities they would come to perfect in future endeavors. A key change was the further emergence of Grant McLennan as a songwriter and vocalist. Having only contributed the latter to a couple of tracks on SMaL, he would now start splitting the vocal duties down the middle with Robert Forster, a trend that would continue throughout the rest of their career. And thus also began one of the brilliant traits of their musical distinctiveness, the juxtaposition of Forster and McLennan’s songwriting, with Robert maintaining the arty, obscure posturing of earlier days and Grant developing a style more straightforward and melodic.
But much of that was yet to come and Before Hollywood maintains a very post punk sound, with a strong set of up/off tempo pre-pop rock accented by Lindy Morrison’s propulsive, often erratic drumming, fleshed out by the brittle bursts of Robert Forster’s guitar and given an additional counter melody through Grant McLennan’s often as not “lead” bass. And yet aside from a certain youthful aggressiveness, this is a very delicate album. These guys aren’t angry per se, at least not violently so, but they are wounded and often wear their hearts on their sleeves. This is never more evident than on Grant’s introspective ode to his childhood-dead father, Dusty in Here, or their best known song (for those in the know), Cattle & Cane. Robert’s contributions also allude to, among other things, a soured heart -- By Chance and the title track -- but his view is less broken and more bitter, with lyrics such as “Make me last through our love, bring on the microphone hidden under stones, record my sobs in baritones…and make me last.” Yikes, right? The first real hint of where they were going is, fittingly enough, found on the last track, the aforementioned That Way, full of Dylan-esque imagery, a certain jangled whimsy and a sing-a-long chorus that heretofore had not been readily found on a Go Betweens release, with the exception of a stray single or two.
With the addition of Robert Vickers on bass for the album’s supporting tour, Grant would move over to second guitar and the Go Betweens would further develop their pop-tastic ambitions, slowly shedding much of the odd time signatures and abrupt chord changes that got them off the ground, and perfecting their own blend of folk-indie-love-rock. Unfortunately they were largely ignored by even the smallest of masses with such an undertaking (again, in spite of widespread critical acclaim), and it wasn’t until three albums into their 21st Century comeback/reunion and 2005’s excellent Oceans Apart that they began to receive the kind of recognition, both commercially and financially, which they should have enjoyed in spades back in their 80s “heyday.”
Sadder still, just a year after Ocean Apart’s release, Grant McLennan died unexpectedly from a heart attack at the age of 48, thus permanently ending what had proven to be an affluent second stage of their career. But his legacy lives on in the Go Betweens’ nine (nearly all) brilliant studio albums (plus four solo outings in the 90s). Before Hollywood finds Grant and Robert just beginning to blossom into the troubadours they would eventually become, and while this album is often far from an acoustic stroll through a moonlit garden, those subtle sensibilities can be readily found at a closer listen.
Grant McLennan: RIP, buddy...
Since my source for samples didn’t have this album (boo), I’ve opted to post this lighthearted and I think tongue in cheek live performance of Cattle & Cane from, I assume, Australian television. My guess is that it was sometime around Tallulah (1987) ‘cos Robert is sporting that blond hair. Nice…
Saturday, August 15, 2009
Statement: Every Bad Religion song sounds the same.
Last night I was reading Greg’s write up on Bad Religion and their album No Control in which he mentioned that these “Godfathers of Modern Punk” released “a space-rock album that was almost immediately out-of-print.” Before I even finished Greg’s post I went to the all-knowing Wiki, bowed low and read up on the alluded to album. And with my penchant for discovering and judging for myself those disowned, “We didn’t really mean that,” out of print missteps (e.g. The Velvet Underground’s Squeeze, The Doors’ Other Voices, etc), I went to my secret source and got me a copy.
But first, a little history…
I was introduced to Bad Religion in high school via another punk band, Down By Law, who was fronted by my hero at the time Dave Smalley. One of the songs on DbL’s debut album, The Truth, was helmed by drummer Dave Naz and displayed a completely different type of melodic punk than the rest of the album. I loved it. My friend Steev pointed out that if I liked that song then I’d like Bad Religion. Since he was right about Minor Threat and Verbal Assault, I figured I’d take a chance (remember kids, this was long before Al Gore gave us the internets with streaming audio and MP3 samples). I picked up 1990's Against the Grain on a trip to Pensacola with my parents and then girlfriend to buy a suit, and while I loved that album to death, that was the extent of my affair with Bad Religion. See, they went major in 1993…and in 1993 that was a cardinal sin. So that was that. So much so that I put Against the Grain in a box of “never to be listened to” discs and eventually sold it (or at least lost the box).
(As for The Truth, it’s almost the best song Bad Relgion never wrote.)
Plus, I could (again) argue the age-old indie adage that all Bad Religion songs – and therefore albums – sound the same, ergo all you need is one…but again, incorrect. And as proof I give you their second album, Into the Unknown from 1983.
Talk about a sophomore slump. I can’t imagine what the rest of the guys were thinking when (I assume) Greg Graffin walked in with this batch of songs and overall concept, but it was enough to essentially break up the band. I mean this is almost their attempt at an ELO album, complete with a “reaching for Mars” cover that would have fit nicely alongside the album artwork of Boston, Journey and, of course, ELO. And what’s interesting is that at least the first couple of tracks seem like an average Bad Religion song with someone like Trevor Horn in the production booth. And then some just aren’t. But two things somewhat unify this album with its more true-to-form cousins; the signature traits of harmonies (Graffin’s voice is instantly recognizable) and topics along the lines of social/political awareness…though neither as biting or poignant as on more standard releases.
I have to think this wasn’t a mindless mistake, but a well-intentioned misstep. These guys are known for being the “intelligent” punk band, and even though they were all just hovering around the age 20 mark, I believe this was a calculated attempt at, well…something. If nothing else this album (despite obvious inner band turmoil) was fun to make and can be seen as a tribute to the times. This was, after all, the “anything goes” 80s. And again, the first two tracks could have easily been (and probably were) standard Bad Religion punk when somebody got the idea to throw whacky keyboards all over the place. But by four songs in, Time and Disregard, all semblances of anything Bad Religion or punk are long out the window. This cut alone (at just over seven minutes) channels everything from Harry Chapin’s Cat’s in the Cradle to The Who to the Moody Blues. And there are others just as removed, such as the acoustic guitar driven Million Days and the Night Ranger-esque keyboard anthem Losing Generation (complete with blistering guitar solo). But again, not all punk is lost and there are times when this bastardized batch of songs can sound as legit and endearing as some of your more average Stranglers moments.
Seriously, this is not a good Bad Religion album, but it’s not a bad album either. Three our four well-received punk efforts in, and Graffin (whom I’ve decided to just all out “blame”) could have released this as a side/solo project with a few scratched heads and knowing winks, but without the vitriol that allegedly followed in the wake of its release. Allmusic.com gives it 4.5/5 stars and the moody, ever hard to predict Robert Christgau an A-. So really, you have to weigh this album (25+ years after the fact) as what it is and not what it was supposed to be…the anticipated follow up to How Could Hell Be Any Worse?
So, seeming attempt at career suicide (before it really even began) or just misjudgment on their part, we’ll probably never know, ‘cos the band has completely disowned this record. And though they wouldn’t have another full album until 1988’s Suffer, they would acknowledge their mistake with the 1985 e.p. Back to the Known, which found them touting their initial sound, got most of the original line up back together and is I think proof that they had a sense of humor about it all.
***Since this album is out of print, I can't give you any tracks to sample (at least not with my limited internet knowledge), however, I did find a You Tube link of The Dichotomy live from 1983, which is one of the aforementioned Stranglers-esque songs, and in this take more "acceptable" sounding than the album version.***
Thursday, August 13, 2009
When I was in college I used to go to shows all the time. And notice the word “show,” not concert. I realize it’s only semantics, but there was something about the indie rock aesthetic of the 90s that made the word “concert” sound like an expensive, large venue, overblown, corporate run circus…which I guess it is…and what I usually went to was almost literally the opposite – a dank, dingy, no place to sit, you’re-lucky-if-one-of-the-toilets-works club/bar/dive to see a band that your parents definitely never heard of. Speaking of, when I would tell my parents I was going to a show, they would later ask me, “How was the movie?” So, there you have it…
Many of the shows I saw were at the same place, Lucy’s Record Shop down on Church Street. I’m not gonna tell the story of that amazing venue here (though you can read it here), but I seriously saw some of the greatest bands of the time for $5 a hit and was even permitted to take the same stage of some of those greats myself on more than several occasions. But I digress…
There’s something about a live setting that really makes an artist, well…come alive. That is if they’re worth their mettle, which frankly many of your bigger names out there aren’t. It’s more of a production and less of a performance. And though it can be interesting, even entertaining, I don’t really want to be distracted by a bunch of lasers and videos going off to the beat of the music. I’m paying my hard earned cash to see some folks plug in and get my rocks off. And it’s sad, ‘cos some artists who can create amazing studio album just don’t transfer well to the stage, where likewise many rougher edged bands lose all their sting and fury once they’re confined by studio walls. To me it’s the true and full act that can deliver a good wax set and a good live set as well. And what I find most enjoyable are those who don’t just get up there and give you the album per se, but rework their material so that the song you hear composed of 12 instruments on the album, translates into a similar yet unique form of itself from the stage. Often unrepeatable highs can be obtained at a truly magical live performance, and sometimes by bands you’ve never even heard of before -- they’ve just got that gift, that power, channeling the spirit like no other…and often as not, at least at many Lucy’s shows, for a room of less than 25 people.
So it goes.
And to capture a live performance on tape (or you know, whatever it is they’re using these days) is another difficult feat. And given enough time, just about every act on both sides of the corporate spectrum will put out at least an EP’s worth of live material. With the exception of jazz and like genres, a live release isn’t usually taken very seriously; it can be a stopgap between regular albums while the band takes a break, a posthumous cash in once they’ve called it quits, an obligation to the record label that the artist likely wasn’t even a part of or, and as it should be, a living document of the artist at a truly amazing time in their career. And while most live albums are competent and enjoyable, they’re hardly memorable and likely not the disc you’ll be reaching for whenever you’re in the mood for a little this or that. These albums are mainly for completists, for rabid fans, for those looking for alternate lyrics and licks and other subtle changes -- but rarely is the divine spark captured for all of time. Of course there are exceptions, some hailed by critics and fans alike as being timeless and just as necessary (and in some cases more so) than anything else in a band’s catalog. Examples would of course include Cheap Trick at Budokan, Kiss Alive II and Frampton Comes Alive. (I’m sorry, I hate this last album too, but your parents probably owned it…’cos they were high.) Some of my favorite artists have put out the obligatory live album and, as a completist for certain groups myself, I’ve picked up Depeche Mode 101, The Smiths Rank and The Go-Betweens That Striped Sunlight Sound…but again, while all of these albums are pleasant, none of them are essential or likely to be spinning my grooves in the near future.
A brief aside…for Bill’s sake I’m gonna go ahead and give a shout out and say that Dylan’s Bootleg Series of live releases is pretty much stellar, however, Dylan is a universe all his own and as I proved in my previous Dylan post, I’m less than qualified to talk about that.
Back to task (‘cos as Greg says, I write a lot)…there are three live albums that are close to my heart. More than endearing, though sometimes less than necessary, they have that special something that really any record needs in order to gain repeat play. And they are as follows…
U2: Live Under a Blood Red Sky – This is easily and hands down my all-time favorite live album. It’s also in my top 3 favorite U2 albums. I remember seeing the Red Rocks video for Sunday Bloody Sunday as a kid and being mesmerized. My friend Keith had this album on cassette and I borrowed it and played it so much that it broke. In 1983 U2 was the greatest band in the world, full of heart and bravado and passion, and to me this captures them at the height of their live powers, especially the kick out the jams rendition of early single 11 O’Clock Tick Tock (which you’ll know from an earlier post, contains my all time favorite guitar solo). The band was never again more engaging, immediate or vital -- even though they went on to sell a gazillion more records (with inferior music).
Roxy Music: Viva! – Around ten years ago I really got into Roxy Music and was picking up everything I could get my hands on. I got this one at Wal-Mart in Fayetteville, TN for $.50 US. Score and double score! This was one of the aforementioned stopgap albums while the band took a four year break and reworked their sound from the quirky art rock that made them infamous, to the slick adult contemporary that made them famous (er, something like that). This album, taken from three shows on three different tours in the mid 70s, grabs songs from most of their first five albums to date and really gives them a good working over. Where some of the studio work could sound a bit stiff, the live setting lets the boys truly flex their muscles, giving the songs a visceral energy that ranges from sensual to terrifying, especially on the sinister homage to domestic entrapment In Every Dream Home a Heartache.
The Cure – Entreat: The Cure has quite a few live albums, and to be honest my favorite is a bootleg from 1980. But let’s stick with official releases. And the funny thing about Entreat is that it was initially just a promo release in France only, but after it started getting bootlegged as well, a limited European release was made…which means that this bugger was/is still an import. Luckily I got my copy for $5 from Matt Sullivan back in college during his big CD purge. This entire album was recorded during one show at Wembley Arena on their Prayer Tour in 1989 and every song is from the Disintegration album. In many ways these songs sound very much like their studio counterparts, a little more airy, a few changed lyrics, this or that guitar part more pronounced, etc; but what makes it so appealing is that it showcases the Cure at the absolute peak of their powers, with their most solid line up, delivering a batch of songs they were as equally enthusiastic to play as the audience was to hear. It’s this awareness that makes the performance so unique, so set apart from the other shows I’ve heard from the same era. All the planets were aligned, all the stars in sync and Mad Bob was fully in love with his muse.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
I really don’t know why I’m making such a “big deal” about the new Polvo. As I said in my previous post, I was never a huge fan, even though their Merge debut Cor-Crane Secret is one of my favorite albums of the genre and era. However, as documented here and elsewhere, they’re back and Merge has posted their entire new album, In Prism, on their site for anyone’s previewing pleasure. JT sent me the link last night and since I was up at 6ish with Fox this morning and had nothing else to do but mess around with him, I figured I’d do so with said album as the backdrop and comment from there. So instead of a traditional review (‘cos I’m just ALL about those), I figured I’d post my subsequent responses and then our back and forth banter once he got into work around 8:00. Er, enjoy…
On Tue, Aug 11, 2009 at 9:05 PM, Joshua T. Reese wrote:
On Wed, Aug 12, 2009 at 7:17 AM, William Gladstone wrote:
On Wed, Aug 12, 2009 at 7:32 AM, William Gladstone wrote:
Three songs in… I agree now more than ever with your "metal" opinion, or at the very least classic rock run through the Polvo filter. And again, it's "too clean" or something.
On Wed, Aug 12, 2009 at 7:44 AM, William Gladstone wrote:
5 1/2 songs in...got some classic Polvo bends and Lucia has some nice rock licks.
On Wed, Aug 12, 2009 at 8:00 AM, William Gladstone wrote:
Also, this last song is VERY reminiscent of the last song on Cor-Crane Secret.
On Wed, Aug 12, 2009 at 8:08 AM, William Gladstone wrote:
On Wed, Aug 12, 2009 at 8:09 AM, Joshua T. Reese wrote:
I am going to give it another shot but right now it is sitting at a solid C...I would file it under the "why did they bother coming back" category right now...seems like the same band doing the same things with better production and instruments. More to come though...
On Wed, Aug 12, 2009 at 8:12 AM, William Gladstone wrote:
I agree...but for some reason...
On Wed, Aug 12, 2009 at 8:13 AM, Joshua T. Reese wrote:
And that is the reason that I am going to give it another shot...if you see something there then perhaps upon another listen I will as well.
On Wed, Aug 12, 2009 at 8:14 AM, William Gladstone wrote:
Well, I don't see it necessarily as something I want to purchase, and yet I find it endearing and so I want to listen to it again 'cos it may hit me as something I want to purchase.
On Wed, Aug 12, 2009 at 8:15 AM, Joshua T. Reese wrote:
I see...but do you think that the something you saw was something that you remembered from youth? You know you are giving them the benefit of the doubt. Sort of like we used to do with the Cure and I used to do with Morrissey.
On Wed, Aug 12, 2009 at 8:16 AM, William Gladstone wrote:
Yes, that's exactly what it is, but since I was never a huge Polvo fan...this feeling intrigues me...
On Wed, Aug 12, 2009 at 8:18 AM, Joshua T. Reese wrote:
Yeah, but there is a feeling of nostalgia...if not for the band, then for that time period in general....I think that is why I was excited about the album to begin with...I always liked but never loved Polvo myself.
On Wed, Aug 12, 2009 at 8:20 AM, William Gladstone wrote:
I was merely curious. I wasn't expecting it to be terrible, but then I wasn't expecting it to be spic-n-span either... If it were just a little bit dirtier, it would rival Today's Active Lifestyles.
On Wed, Aug 12, 2009 at 8:23 AM, Joshua T. Reese wrote:
But that is said after one listen...TAL has stood the test of 30 years of listening. I think probably is that times have changed and with production a band that used to be incredibly distinct now sounds sort of ordinary.
On Wed, Aug 12, 2009 at 9:13 AM, William Gladstone wrote:
Um, 15 years...
On Wed, Aug 12, 2009 at 9:15 AM, Joshua T. Reese wrote:
Yeah, that as well. :-)
Now, will we ever follow up with this album and give it another shot? I dunno, maybe. But I can pretty much guarantee that if In Prism, which really is a fine record considering, ends up being some sort of dark horse to my affections, you folks will be the first to hear about it (after JT).
Friday, August 7, 2009
Thursday, August 6, 2009
I’m a Coldplay fan.
Not really, but yeah, really. Basically, Coldplay is one of those bands that I listen to but I don’t really like. Sorta like the Beatles but for different reasons. The reason I listen to Coldplay is that, like any guilty pleasure, they make me feel good…well, when they’re on. See that’s the thing with Coldplay, or a thing, their songs are either hit or miss. There’s no such thing as an “ok” Coldplay song -- they either knock it dead on or it’s the most boring 3 minutes and 42 seconds of tedious drivel you’d ever (not) want to hear.
I still remember when these guys “hit the scene” so to speak, when “alternative” music was sorta having a resurgence in the late 90s thanks to Radiohead’s OK Computer (insert eye roll here…shut up, Josh) and well, there were these bands out there who literally took that sound and made a living off of it…and Coldplay was the one that caught on and then took off.
And really, Yellow is a super great song, and so is the first half of the Parachutes album. Then I get bored. And even though they were a bit of a hipster act, it was still cool to like them ‘cos they were universally aware, outspoken about human rights, animal rights, earth rights, etc, donating to various causes and being activists without being overly preachy. And part of this is because these boys aren’t really the cocky, gunslinger rock star types…they’re sorta geeky and approachable. Maybe not They Might Be Giants or Ween geeky, but who would want to be?
I don’t know what the heck I’m talking about.
Anyway, next came A Rush of Blood to the Head and they were no longer a hipster band ‘cos they were getting blasted from stereos in everything from Corvettes to minivans all around town. And that’s the thing about Coldplay…they’re safe for the entire family. Buncha wussy saps. But again, Clocks is a good song, and The Scientist makes me tear up sometimes, and Green Eyes is one of those love-pop ditties you wish you’d written for that special someone, and who cares that they played the Grammies and were superstars, ‘cos they were still good guys...even though Chris Martin needed to get from behind that piano...Elton John show-pony.
And so I embraced my inner Coldplay fandom and read articles on the upcoming third album and all the problems they were having with it and blah, blah, but when X&Y came out I was like…WTF IS THIS SHIZ??? It may as well have been a pulse drone, ‘cos every song sounded the same in this seamless flow of non stop bo-ring. Talk about a pattern, a formula -- at least 80% of the songs start off with a keyboard intro and then "build" (both musically and emotionally) at such a predictable momentum that you're about ready to smash your CD player for offending your sense of hearing. So for me Coldplay basically nosedived from hit and miss to just miss (except for when they hit the ground, BOOM)…with the exception of Talk, which has a fantastically beautiful melody…because it’s a direct lift from Kraftwerk’s Computer Love…which they acknowledge.
So when Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends was announced and getting hype and they were on some stupid cell phone commercial I was like, “I’m so done I never even got started.” (Er…) And then I found out that Brian Eno produced the album.... "FRICK! Now I’ve at least got to hear it," I thought. I mean Eno can make a monkey banging a coconut on a rock sound interesting, so maybe he can make Coldplay sound tolerable.
Ok, it’s better than that. I mean this is THE Coldplay album for me. Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends is ridiculously good, fantastic even. I’m thinking it’s probably the album X&Y should/could have been if they weren’t trying to maintain/recreate the success of Rush of Blood. I mean it sounds like Coldplay, it feels like Coldplay, but it takes you to places far beyond the mushy, whiney, Alan Alda sensitive wankerness that plagued even some of the good songs on the first two albums. Sure, there’s some sentiment there, but it’s masked in obscurity, and the music is often so angular and non-pop, so NOT for the radio, so NOT of this time, so something that could have/should have come out in or around 1982, that it could have/should have been career suicide, but (thankfully?) wasn’t. Really, like the Delacroix painting on the cover, it’s a true work of art.
And yet even after pouring such adulation upon this album, I still can’t bring myself to really be a Coldpaly fan. But I’m still gonna listen to them without shame. I’m at an age now where I don’t care what more than about 2 or 3 people think any more, and likely you’re not one of them, so if I can come to terms with liking a multi-platinum selling, arena playing, big movie star marrying bunch of tadgers…so can you.
And by the way, if you can, get the version of the album with the Prospekt’s March E.P. as a bonus disc -- it’s well worth the extra couple of bucks.