Saturday, October 31, 2009

Obscuro Vol 2: A Melancholy Favor

I admittedly don’t know much about the late Lee Hazlewood. Sure, I’ve read the Wiki bio and I could spout out a few facts, but that’s just regurgitation…it’s nothing I know, as in what is a part of me. What I do know has more to do with the “you-go-grrrl” hit that he wrote and produced for Nancy Sinatra, These Boots are Made for Walkin’ and, more obscurely, their duet Some Velvet Morning as covered by Slowdive. But that limited knowledge base doesn’t mean Brother Lee can’t speak to me, because I assure you he can – and does.

The album in question here is his 1971 effort, Requiem for an Almost Lady…a scathing title and quite befitting the 10 songs/25 minutes, 26 seconds (give or take) of music it represents. If there were a contest for ultimate break up album, this one would definitely be a heavy contender. Essentially, it tells the story of a romance (or perhaps several) after the fact…the good, the bad, the inevitable. Throughout he’s blaming her and himself and just about everything but the kitchen sink, yet not out of bitterness but with a clear, humorous, almost philosophical understanding of “sometimes thems the breaks, partner.” He’s happy for the time he’s spent and glad he was given the opportunity in the first place, no matter how far the fall or how hard he hit in the end.

Musically, Requiem for an Almost Lady is a blend of tumbleweed western and flower child folk – and its one of the sparsest albums I’ve ever heard. Each song is comprised of nothing more than acoustic guitar, bass, vocals (maybe two) and sometimes a lead guitar; but no percussion (the bass amply accommodates that roll as well as providing the occasional counter-melody), no strings, no tickled ivories – essentially, no filler. Two guys could have recorded most of this album with a tape recorder between them, and indeed, it’s both that raw and intimate. Lee sings with a gruff but sympathetic sweetness, never harsh or agitated, though sometimes mildly threatening, he's mainly reminiscing, relaxed, going through the details of a plight that can no longer harm him. And really, for me, the icing on this nostalgic cake is that each song begins with a spoken word summary, his balladeer’s heart coming through his vest, and one of the greatest lines in popular music can be found in the song I’ll Live Yesterdays when he muses, “Seems we’re always doing something to hurt each other. But you know, you never really hurt me until the fourth verse of this song…” Classic.

So if you like to wallow in other folk’s misery -- or have some of your own that needs a soundtrack -- do yourself a melancholy favor and pick up Lee Hazlewood’s Requiem for an Almost Lady.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Q3-09 Update

Yes, it’s here again…the end of another fiscal quarter and so time to recap what all I’ve been up to musically the past three months.

Unfortunately I’ve been woefully negligent with new releases this year and there are several that I still need to pick up, including the latest by the Church (I know…), the Bats (I KNOW!) and Mission of Burma (I KNOW!!!). Plus, the Feelies reissued their first two albums (I KNOW!!!!!!!) and I should be beaten for not having snagged those already.

However, while I have slacked with new music, I’ve been exploring a few things that are new to me, as well as reacquainting myself with some old favorites and reconfirming why I loved them then as well as now.

But first, the one new album I picked up (finally) is the latest from PJ Harvey – in this instance her second collaboration with John Parish, A Woman a Man Walked By. If a title is any indication as to what the music it represents will contain (and really kids, it should be), then I figured I was in for a bizarre treat. I was not wrong. Let me just go ahead and say that the title track (officially called A Woman A Man Walked By/The Crow Knows Where All The Little Children Go) is just about one of the most terrifying songs I’ve ever heard. You just have to hear it for yourself. The rest of the album is essentially a louder, sometimes rockier, though no less sinister pick up of where 2007’s White Chalk left off. And though John Parish was all over that album, he gets a collaboration/cover credit now because he not only performed on AWAMWB, but also wrote all the music, while Polly simply provides lyrics/vocals. Things start of straightforward enough with the nearly pop catchy Black Hearted Love. After that it’s pretty much a mixed bag of dark, twangy folk (The Soldier), demented cabaret (Leaving California), off kilter dance (The Chair) and of course the “regular” post deconstructionist stylings we’ve come to love PJ for in the past (Pig Will Not). Honestly, this album is all over the place, and that’s sort of a distraction. Polly’s better albums are the ones that pick a sound/feel (no matter how bizarre) and stick with it throughout. That’s not to say there’s not some worthwhile magic to be had and some truly interesting goings on with AWAMWB, but the cohesion is simply not there and as a result, the album does not beg to be re-listened to no matter what worth may be contained within.

Even though this album came out last year, Glasvegas is just now getting exposure, etc (well, as far as I know) around these parts. I saw them on Craig Ferguson a couple or so months back and really enjoyed them, so went out and got their self-titled debut. I guess it goes to show you that playing on late night TV sometimes pays off. Anyway, these guys are like nothing I’ve ever heard. Talk about fusion. Basically, if Clash-esque punk rockers who secretly like Morrissey took 50s rock with a 60s backbeat, slowed it down and drenched everything in shoegaze guitar (got all that), it would sound exactly like this. And I totally dig it. There’s not a lot of variation from song to song, but each song flows effortlessly one into another, like a 41-minute suite complete with crescendos and diminuendos and all those other fancy I-talian words I can’t remember from my piano lesson days. (Actually, the song S.A.D. Light is a spoken word performance over Moonlight Sonata, so….) Several songs, if approached differently, could sound like just about anything beneath the “punk” banner, from Blink 182 (or at least what I assume they sound like) to rockabilly to the more pop-tastic moments of the aforementioned Clash. And I don’t make these references in order to shame or discredit Glasvegas (the band, the album), but simply to point out that it’s all about approach, even with the same roots, and their approach is quite inventive and ultimately rewarding, making repeat listens a must, as new layers and textures are discovered with each spin. Rarely does this album move beyond a mid-tempo chug. The drums (or more like percussion) accent the music as often as provide a driving force, and several times drums, bass and anything else “solid” drop out completely as a wash of FX laden distortion provides the only backdrop for the vocal melody. In short, it’s relaxingly catchy, you’ll sing along (with a Scottish lilt) in your car, but you won’t feel compelled to drive very fast.

Key Tracks: Geraldine, Lonesome Swan, Daddy’s Gone

Say/think what you want about Sting (and I will given the chance), his time in the Police was (mostly) well spent. Of their five albums, four are spectacular and the other one (you know) produced two great singles and another really good one. I just got off a rather lengthy kick of listening to their first three albums – Outlandos d’Amour (1978), Reggatta de Blanc (1979) and Zenyatta Mondatta (1980) – exclusively in the car, windows down, volume knob cranked, my (then) 8 month old in the back hitting the high notes that I can’t. What a treat. Forerunners and then banner boys of the New Wave movement, it’s interesting to hear how these three diverse players and personalities not only meshed but developed over a span of just three years. This is especially true for Sting and Stewart Copeland. Though extremely talented musicians, they still bashed out their parts on Outlandos d’Amour with a reckless “all or nothing” determination that Andy Summers (ten years older and with those years plus musical experience) adapted to simply because he could. By Reggatta de Blanc, the boys began to settle into a working groove. These are no longer four-chord rants, but deeper, more mature songs with complex parts and melodies, and yet often just as immediate, fun and gritty as the debut. By the time they got to Zenyatta Mondatta, all the rough edges were polished off and the band was ready for the super stardom status that would especially come three years later with Synchronicity. But the one thing that threads these albums together (and to be honest, all of them) is a sense of quirky experimentation. For every straightforward pop rocker (Roxanne, Message in a Bottle, De Do Do Do De Da Da Da), there’s some punk-reggae-jazz infected ditty (Hole in My Life, Does Everyone Stare, Bombs Away) that proves these guys were interested in creating a mood and not just a string of hits. Heck, some of the songs that were hits (Walking On the Moon, Don’t Stand So Close to Me) were hardly standard radio fair, and proof that just before the “anything goes” 80s, people could appreciate a good tune even if you couldn’t necessarily dance or rock out to it.

Ever since my 1989 post and the shout out I gave to Vain’s debut, No Respect, I’ve been revisiting a lot of glam/metal/hair bands I enjoyed from back in the day, and even discovered a couple along the way.

Of all my nostalgic spandex reruns, reacquainting myself with Europe’s The Final Countdown has been a real delight. Though the iconic title track is never far from mind, and of course instantly recognizable to anyone between the ages of say six and 135 (except of course my mother), I was reminded of just how great that entire outing was (rather is) when hanging with friends and the casual viewing of the Andy Sandburg vehicle Hotrod proved to have not one, not two, but EIGHT (8) of the ten songs from this 1986 release. And I shouldn’t call them songs but anthems. These are true epics in a time when to go over the top was the eye rolling norm, and yet these guys did it with such sincerity, style, grace and a true love for the spirit of rock n roll that they shouldn’t be questioned even for a moment. Yes, singing about space travel, ninjas, Cherokees, rockin’ the night and (ugh) girls is super duper cheesy, but it’s just as much fun as well, and honestly, with rock n roll there are no rules or boundaries. Besides, when you’ve got a guitarist like John Norum shredding riffs and solos like a flaming sword of justice through the hearts of unbelievers, well… Ok, I got a little carried (ha, Carrie) away there, but for the genre and times, this really is a sensational album that has held up well and should be in the collection of anyone interested in a good rock.

One thing I often find fun and refreshing about “metal” (in all of its shapes and sizes) is that instead of a lot of the woe is me posturing that’s such a mainstay with a lot of music out there (at least what I listen to), serious hard rockers spend a good portion of their time talking about how bad azz they are. For a full dose of that sort of gumption, look no further than Tygers of Pan Tang and their 1982 sophomore album, Spellbound. I stumbled upon these guys after a discussion about Whitesnake with my token metal head friend Justin. Threading the long, twisting trails of Wiki, I found that this was a pre-Whitesnake band of guitarist John Sykes…and this album is about a thousand times better than anything those Tawny Kitaen bangin’ dopes (yes, I’m implying she slept with all of them) ever thought of putting out. With the jugular threat of Judas Priest, the hot lick solos of Iron Maiden and the melodic sense of both, Tygers of Pan Tang rocked harder and faster than most bands at the time and should have been huge, but were shamefully disregarded by their record label (MCA) and so destined to languish in a somewhat cult status even to the present day (after about a billion line up changes, including losing Sykes). Still, all the ingredients for fist waving arena rock are right here – heavy riffs, catchy hooks and choruses that will have you on your feet in no time. And did I mention the solos? Well, they could seriously give the aforementioned John Norum’s flaming sword a battle axe to smash up against. Seriously, if you’re a fan of the genre at all, this album is an absolute must.

Key tracks: Gangland, Take It, Hellbound

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Obscuro Vol 1: Renaissance Man

Alexander “Skip” Spence (1946-1999) is most famously known, forty years ago, as a member of such seminal 60s psychedelic outfits as Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jefferson Airplane and Moby Grape. A veritable Renaissance man, he covered everything from drums to guitar to vocal duties (and more) in these groups. More infamously, he is referred to as the “American Syd Barrett,” for his tale was one of mental illness and drug addiction that made his considerable talents moot and his musical output rather limited. But, like Barrett, he left one shimmering, if murky, testament of his genius – the darkly surreal and, to my mind, aptly titled Oar.

I can pretty much guarantee you’ve never heard anything quite like this album, and if you have -- this is the original. A collection of low-key folk rock compositions delivered in a sparse, ramshackle style and interwoven with Spence’s sleepy baritone croon, the momentum of Oar is essentially one of laidback urgency. Spence’s vision isn’t so much his view of a private world, but the unique reading of the world he shared with everyone else – the same hopes and fears, a desire for love and acceptance and success, the random, the trivial and the mundane ins and outs of life. Some of these songs are little more than snippets, seeming to start and end in mid thought, as if at the time of recording Spence knew exactly where he was, but neither where he was going nor even where he was coming from. And yet others have a clear and concise purpose, like Weighted Down (The Prison Song), about the premeditated murder of a wayward lover, or (original) album closer Grey/Afro, concerning his lack of ability to communicate with, presumably, a lover, and yet likely anyone and everyone with whom he came into contact. Often Spence says so much by saying very little, as in the heartbreak ballad Diana, or can say most anything by saying seemingly nothing at all, as in the somewhat apocalyptic Books of Moses.


A weighty doom hangs over Oar and, if this could be considered a musical self-portrait, did as well over Spence’s own life. Recorded solo in Nashville in 1969 (after spending six months in a mental hospital where he was diagnosed with schizophrenia), recurring themes of death, seclusion, alienation and a sense of loss permeate these songs. Yet there is a certain strength as well, a confidence and an aptitude that exist in the creation of such a beautifully unassuming and yet starkly profound album, despite the fragile state of mind Spence was in at the time. It’s not so much that he has a message for the world, but a statement he would like to make (very softly), and if you would care to listen, he’s happy to oblige. The end result is that you are left feeling down but not entirely unhappy, because Spence speaks to and for the quiet places in your mind where even you are afraid to go.

At left with Moby Grape

Unfortunately, Spence never really got it together again after this album. He contributed a few songs or recorded tracks for various Moby Grape releases, but never functioned fully as a musician. He spent most of the next 30 years either destitute, living off the charity of friends or as a ward of the state of California. And yet his legacy has certainly not been forgotten. Oar has influenced countless artists, from Tom Waits to Beck, and has been rereleased a couple of times, most recently and fully on the Sundazed label, which includes ten bonus tracks of rough song fragments and demos, each revealing another piece of Spence’s mind, all as intriguing and worthwhile as the original album.

News Flash: Proud Papa!

So we all know I’m pretty big into music…I mean obviously. And most of us know that I have a 9mo son named Fox. (Say hello, Fox. “Goo.”) Well, heretofore he hasn’t really expressed a lot of interest or even much of a reaction to music (with the exception of being sung to). But when I feed him during the day we usually listen to music, everything from Vince Guaraldi to Iron Maiden, and he really couldn’t give a rat’s patootie.

Until today.

Today he was in his little play area in the living room and I was doing a few things in the kitchen. Of course I had the music going, a run through of the Misfits box set from ten or so years back, and during the song Bullet I happened to check in and Fox was up against the side of his baby corral, both hands holding tight and shaking the bars like an inmate with the jail on fire. When the song was done, he stopped and grinned at me. It was one minute and thirty-eight seconds of pure toddler mayhem and my only regret is that I didn’t catch it on video.

So it looks like daddy’s got a little punk rocker, and he couldn’t be more proud.

Would you like to shake the bars of your jail cell as well? Then check out this (I believe fan-made) video clip of Bullet by the Misfits.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Over-Under: U2

Ok, sidebar, tell my why this is funny...

I completely got the idea for this post from some other blog that I don’t even read, but Bill will send me a link now and then. Essentially this guy picks an artist and gives his opinion of their five most overrated and underrated songs…often with comical results (at least for the overrated ones). Because I have a tendency to be longwinded (thank you everyone for pointing that out), I’ve decided to limit my version to three songs. Also, for artists with enough of a catalog, I’ve got a couple of ideas for albums as well (i.e. look out Uncle Bob).

So, without further ado…

U2. Man, these guys… Picking a batch of overrated songs is for me both extremely easy and also difficult to do. Easy because everything starting with Pop and into the present day is pretty much junk – I’ll make no bones about that. Yet in the early days they were dead on, and even when they started to slide (see Joshua Tree), I think folks pretty much recognized which tunes were the cream and which were the dregs (unless your name is Clay Satterfield, in which case your opinion in this matter is null and void). And since I despise everything post Zooropa, I’ll be limiting my opinions to songs released between 1980 and 1993.

So, without further, further ado…

Under… Mostly my idea of an underrated song is a brilliant track that even major fans of the band don’t recognize. I mean a hit single is a hit single regardless of it’s worth (which is where the “Over” comes in), so I’m essentially gonna sing the praises of those lost, forgotten tracks disregarded not only by the fans, but in some cases by the band as well. And in this instance, I could almost argue the entire October album, but I’ll stick with individual tracks.

Like A Song… -- War (1983): One of the only real rockers on War, this song not only sums up the theme of the album, but contains one of Bono’s most heartfelt deliveries and one of the Edge’s best solos. Why it was never played live is not only a mystery and a tragedy, but an early discredit to Ireland’s Fab Four. (And yes, I’m waiting for an apology.)

In God’s Country – The Joshua Tree (1987): A single in some places, this oft-overlooked track is a breath of fresh air in the latter half of an album burdened beneath the weight of its own importance. Yet having said that, there’s an emotive charm that, much like the aforementioned Like a Song…, sums up what the Joshua Tree was all about (though the solo isn’t quite as good).

Lemon – Zooropa (1993): Yeah, this song is super goofy and Bono sings and croons like a fop…but that’s what I love about it. For once he’s not taking himself quite so seriously. This song is the reason I gave Zooropa even partial consideration back in the day and is the undisputed (go ahead and try) highlight of the album (with The Wanderer being a close second). Plus, when you learn it’s about Bono’s childhood-departed mother and an old film he saw of her in a lemon yellow dress, it adds an extra dimension to an otherwise (seemingly) throw away pop ditty.

Over… Sometimes a song just gets played to death, but if it’s REALLY that great, you should in theory never get tired of it. More often than not, a band can get so hyped on the fumes of their own BS, that at times anything they release is pretty much lauded by fans (and critics) as something to be plated in gold and set up in a place of honor. Often it’s further proof that the general public has no idea what a good song should sound like. Here are the clunkers that U2 has made it big on.

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For – The Joshua Tree (1987): Gospel my Aunt Tillie. As a Christian, this song basically cheeses me off because Bono (who once waved the banner high) is not only rambling about his “spiritual yearning,” but he’s clearly blowing his own horn (what Bone-o does best), acting ungrateful and at times seems to be equating himself with Christ. Bad form. But personal convictions aside – this song just doesn’t go anywhere. It’s four and a half minutes of mid-tempo chugging that starts up, meanders for a bit and then is over. Big deal. There’s some nice guitar work (‘cos the Edge rules), but other than that it’s about as bland and pedestrian as anything you’ll hear on Lightning 100 today (oh yes I did).

Desire – Rattle and Hum (1988): What a shameless and lame attempt at a Stooges riff (sorry, Dave). And that stupid “Yeah” at the beginning means I’m supposed to get excited about what? Nothing but Bono caterwauling about some pointless “she” for longer than I want to know, ‘cos that’s time in my life wasted. Rattle & Hum was always a knock off album to me. It wasn’t so much a cash in as it was a “look how awesome we are.” I should almost not allow myself to include songs from this album for this entry (‘cos there are some other stinkers). However, since there are moments of brilliance, it frustrates me that at such a “creative peak” a turkey like this one not only became a single, but a hit as it's fair game. BLAM-O!

Even Better Than the Real Thing – Achtung Baby (1991): In a word…boring. It’s just so much fluff and filler amongst a slew of tunes that range from interesting to sensational (most of the latter being album tracks tucked away in the latter half). And yeah, Bono is giving it his all, and the Edge never sounded more inspired, but it’s all for naught. You take me higher? No, you take me nowhere. And yet I still find myself singing along. Feh! More fool me. Plus, the obnoxious video gives me puke inducing vertigo.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Year that Was 1970

While paying for dinner awhile back, the total came up to be $19.70 and I thought, “Cha-ching, there was some good music to be had in 1970.” And, upon doing a touch of research, was I ever right.

For example, I’ll name a handful of (should be) world-recognized classics:

The Beatles – Let it Be
Jimi Hendrix – Band of Gypsys
Miles Davis – Bitches Brew
Led Zeppelin – III
George Harrison – All Things Must Pass

Not only that, several key artists were releasing not only one, but two notable albums in that year:

Bob Dylan – New Morning & Self Portrait (Yeah, I’m not even gonna touch that one.)
Grateful Dead – American Beauty & Workingman’s Dead
Elton John – s/t & Tumbleweeds Connection
Black Sabbath – s/t & Paranoid

Below are a few others that are a bit nearer and dearer to my heart. (Sorry, Ozzy, I do love me some Sabbath, but I just wasn’t feeling it…I’ll make it up to you sometime with a stellar review of Never Say Die.)

Neil Young – After the Gold Rush: If you only own one Neil Young album, it needs to be this one. A mixed bag of country tinged folk and solo laden hard rock, it touches everything Young was about in the early part of his solo career, with an accessible perfection that makes repeat play a must. Sympathetic, plaintive, angry, sometimes preachy, this album lulls and soars, weaving in and out of peaks and valleys like an exploratory bird in flight, yet never dulling or waning in interest or texture.

Key Tracks: Tell Me Why, After the Gold Rush, Southern Man

Stooges – Fun House: Nearly ten years before “punk” there was garage rock in all of its vagaries and variations. Of the dozens, likely hundreds, of bands you never heard of in this vein, the Stooges is the one you maybe have – or at least their enigmatic front man, Iggy Pop. Their three albums are a holy trinity amongst rock purists, yet to me they didn’t really start getting it fully together until their second effort, Fun House. Iggy squeals, hollers, yelps and moans about sex, drugs and nighttime antics, over a bed of methodic, cranky and dirty rock n roll. Essentially recorded live in the studio, this is the Stooges at their purest, bringing the noise to the people the only way they know how – raw and wriggling. For a more polished pop accessibility, check out Raw Power, but for a barely contained adrenaline rush straight to hell, nothing surpasses Fun House.

Key Tracks: TV Eye, Dirt, 1970

Van Morrison – His Band and the Street Choir: I never much cared for Van Morrison (‘cos Brown Eyed Girl is a super lame song) until I heard I’ll Be Your Lover, Too on the Moonlight Mile soundtrack. That was enough to get me interested in picking up His Band and the Street Choir, and from there it was pretty much on. As anyone can tell you, there’s no other voice on the planet like Van’s. Distinctive, emotive, commanding, he carries his point across the airwaves and drives it straight into your heart with a gentle but confident thrust. Whether belting out his lungs to an up tempo rocker, or spilling out his soul with tales of a broken heart, you’ll be convinced of his sincerity from beginning to end.

Key Tracks: Domino (And that’s all that’s available, so you’ll just have to take my word for it…)

Kris Kristofferson – Kristofferson: As particular as I am about my rock n roll, I’m even more so about my country. (To me that genre pretty much gave up the ghost somewhere around 1980.) For my money, Kris Kristofferson is where it’s at every time. Most folks don’t realize that he wrote several country as well as rock standards, and even fewer recognize that his versions of these classics are by far superior (so suck on that, Johnny Cash). But his 1970 debut is more than a couple of hits. There’s a lot of upbeat and downtrodden times to be had – life on the road, life with the bottle, life on your last leg, life as an outcast and a deadbeat, and all kinds of heavy stuff from a Rhodes Scholar who was sweeping the floors outside the studio doors while Blonde on Blonde was being recorded. One of the original gravel-voiced talk-singers, Kristofferson held on to the grit and the grime of those early years and produced an album (actually three) of dejected country (but not necessarily western) bliss that speaks to an entire legion of “I’ve been theres.”

Key Tracks: Me and Bobby McGee, Help Me Make It Through the Night, The Junkie and the Juicehead, Minus Me

The Velvet Underground – Loaded: By 1970, Lou Reed’s tether was about up with the Velvet Underground. Still, he managed to churn out ten (plus) sunshine pop and straightforward rock n roll ditties in the vein he’d begun exploring with their previous self-titled album. Though the band was frayed in nearly every sense, Loaded nonetheless showcases Reed at the top of his songwriting prowess and the group never sounded more immediate, vibrant or fresh. And while the end result may be “glossy” by VU standards, Reed’s wit, sarcasm, quirky love view and seedy, drug culture, low life references of earlier, more experimental efforts are still present. Loaded also contains the band’s most well known and arguably worst songs ever (you know which ones I mean), but that shouldn’t deter you from picking it up…or rather the Fully Loaded deluxe edition with tons of bonus tracks and an “alternate” version of the album.

Key Tracks: Who Loves the Sun, Head Held High, Train Round the Bend

John Cale – Vintage Violence: While his aforementioned and former band was falling apart, ex-Velvets bassist John Cale was busy launching a solo career. Though certainly the most avant-garde member of the Velvet Underground, Cale’s solo efforts were often as not more “standard” rock outings. His debut, Vintage Violence, kicked things off nicely. By his own admission these are basic songs, never intending to challenge the listener or the musical world (the VU’s Sister Ray, and his role in its creation, was enough of that and more). A classically trained multi-instrumentalist, Cale was only trying something that was different for him, and that was simple pop. The result is an even, seamless album of steady rockers and thoughtful ballads that doesn’t grab you as quickly as later releases, but after a few listens will definitely have you humming some random melody and realizing you’ve just got to put that wax on again.

Key Tracks: Gideon’s Bible, Adelaide, Please

Syd Barrett – The Madcap Laughs/Barrett: Want to hear a guy going insane via music? You don’t? Well then don’t listen to these two albums released in early and late 1970 respectively. And I know comments like that concerning Syd Barret are rather cliché, but if half of the legend is true, then The Madcap Laughs is the documented proof. A good three fourths or more of the album isn’t so bad. In fact, this is simply a looser, leaner, more delicate take on the same quirky sound Barrett fleshed out with Pink Floyd on their first album and surrounding singles. I mean who really knows what he’s talking about, but it’s clever and catchy and in the late 60s, who knew what anyone was talking about? And though Dark Globe has a certain despair, it could almost be passed off as breathless, drunken whimsy, fitting in nicely with a batch of songs that are odd, energetic and often fun. And then somewhere around Feel the good times sorta fall apart and you realize he’s serious about all of this, with lines like, “You feel me, away, far too empty, oh so alone…I want to go home.” And then there’s the mis-take/do over of If It’s in You when you actually hear his voice break and then the subsequent frustrated, embarrassed, apologetic explanation. It’s just too personal, too real for us to be checking in (Gilmour should be flogged for keeping, much less releasing that take). Meanwhile, Barrett, recorded sporadically over the year, is admittedly more polished (thanks to session musicians/studio magic), but even more obvious testament to Syd’s mental decline. And though there are a couple or so playful, "childhood innocence" outings that hearken back to the early days of his brilliance, for every upbeat smiler, there are two bleak rants (even if the music is laughing) where he’s admitting he’s off track and not even trying to scramble back on again. Syd realized his time was limited, but he was putting on a brave face nonetheless, trying to hold on to his vision even as things around him grew darker. For the most part he succeeded.

Key Tracks – The Madcap Laughs: No Good Trying, Here I Go, Octopus

Key Tracks – Barrett: Love Song, Gigilo Aunt, Waving My Arms in the Air

The Doors – Morrison Hotel: For the Doors this is a back to the basics as well as a back to roots album. So essentially, it’s blues heavy. And that’s a good thing, especially in contrast to their previous album, the “experimental” and extremely stiff Soft Parade. Like its predecessor, this album tends to get overlooked in the Doors cannon, especially when compared to the debut, the hits garnered from Strange Days and Waiting for the Sun and the posthumous overindulgence of L.A. Woman. But if an artist is around long enough (and the Doors just barely made it), there’s always one lost gem, and Morrison Hotel is just that. Simply stated, it rocks in a relentless way that a) insists that the band was ready for a comeback and b) proves they’d never really left in the first place (only taken a slight detour). From the motor rev kick start of Roadhouse Blues, the album churns and chugs along, rarely slowing down for a pit stop, and even then keeping the engine (that is to say the tension) idling and the foot never far from the gas pedal. Morrison is in good voice and his lyrics, though less bizarre, are just as descriptive as before. And of course the three-pronged juggernaut of Krieger, Manzarek and Densmore provide the muscled instrumentation necessary to carry the weighty vision (and ego) of the Lizard King. Perhaps not as classic as the debut or weirdly ambitious as Strange Days, Morrison Hotel catches the Doors in a more clear-cut, but no less creative, and therefore appealing, streak.

Key Tracks: Waiting for the Sun, You Make Me Real, Maggie M’Gill

***As a sidebar, an album I’ve been interested in hearing for years is Frank Sinatra’s 1970 concept album, Watertown. And the only person I know who’s heard it enough to comment is Greg. So how about it?