Thursday, June 22, 2017

Review: 'Silhouettes and Statues: A Gothic Revolution 1978- 86'


Goth was a distinctively eighties movement, pushing its furrowed brow against the gleeful superficiality of Duran Duran or Animotion in the same way the definitively-nineties grungesters bucked the hair metalists in the next decade. Despite that, you could probably trace Goth back to the sixties with Procol Harum and Nico, and if you want to get cute, a lot further back than that to the Gregorian chanters. But if Goth ain’t one thing, it’s cute, and Cherry Red’s new box set Silhouettes and Statues: A Gothic Revolution 1978- 86 provides five discs of proof.

Goth never caught on as a mainstream-newsworthy item the way grunge did, so it only produced a few couple of superstars, namely The Cure and Siouxsie Sioux, and because everyone did not get the chance to burn out on Goth as they did on grunge, Goth had much longer, spidery legs. Consequently, there was so much to choose from in compiling Silhouettes and Statues that key artists such as Siouxsie, Killing Joke, and Christian Death could be sidelined in favor of a slew of more obscure artists.

There are gradations in this set’s overwhelming grey. While I might not go so far as to call them poppy, tracks such as Joy Division’s “Shadowplay”, Southern Death Cult’s “Moya”, Zero Le Creche’s “Last Year’s Wife”, Cocteau Twins’ “In Our Angelhood”, Balaam and the Angels’ “The Darklands”, The Damned’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, All About Eve’s “D Is for Desire” (which takes some of the sting out of the absence of the movement’s definitive diva, Siouxsie Sioux), and quite a few others are as accessible as the best of the legit New Wavers who never shot a video on a yacht. There are also alluringly spooky numbers from Dead Can Dance, Bushido, Adam & the Ants, and original Goth maestro Nico, while toothy tracks by Actifed, UK Decay, Penetration, and Flesh for Lulu straddle the line between Goth and punk invigoratingly.

Silhouettes and Statues most certainly does not play it safe, though, and excessively abrasive or otherwise difficult tracks by The Birthday Party, Portion Control, Schliemer K, In the Nursery, Bone Orchard, Part 1, and nine-and-a-half minutes of Anorexic Dread will wash away the less dedicated like a gloomy, doomy tsunami. Of course playing it safe is not very Goth, while washing stuff away like a gloomy, doomy tsunami is, so anyone who still sprays their black locks up like a starfish and slathers on the pancake makeup will delight in Silhouettes and Statues. Well, maybe “delight” is the wrong word, but you get the picture.

Friday, June 16, 2017

'David Lynch: The Art Life' Coming to Blu-ray from Criterion

Released last year, David Lynch: The Art Life focuses on the first phase of when Lynch's career as a creative renaissance man when he  concentrated on painting and making short films such as the installation piece Six Figures Getting and The Alphabet. On September 26th, the feature-length documentary will be coming to Blu-ray and DVD from the Criterion Collection. Bonus features for this release are apparently limited to an interview with the film's co-director Jon Nguyen.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Review: Michael Nesmith's 'Infinite Tuesday: An Autobiographical Riff'


In 1965, young Mike Nesmith was bumming around Texas under his shaggy tresses when he noticed that people were taking a lot more notice of him than usual. When he stepped into a 7-Eleven, the cashier flipped out and told him that the local radio station had been reporting on his appearances. Nesmith decided to pop in on the station manager to find out what the deal was. When he got to the station, the manager asked him to confirm that he was, indeed, George Harrison. Nesmith admitted he was not. The station manager threatened to have him arrested for fraud.

Mike Nesmith was not yet a Monkee when this asinine incident took place, but it pretty much sums up his experience in a made-for-TV band that a bunch of dummies assumed was as genuine a band as The Beatles and accused of fraud when they found out the band wasn’t.

Of course, The Monkees did become a genuine band with no shortage of fight from Mike Nesmith. So there’s no mystery behind why this particular fellow was thrust into the role of The Monkees’ leader both in the fictional world of their TV show and in real life. Nez seemed to have a complex relationship with that role. From the very beginning of The Monkees project, he was the most involved in their music as both writer and producer, yet based on his new autobiography Infinite Tuesday: An Autobiographical Riff, he seemed as bewildered by that role as he was when he was almost tossed in the clink for not being George Harrison. Nesmith reveals that some innocent inquiries into how involved he would be with the music—and less innocent pleas to be let out of his contract when he discovered the bubblegum leanings of that music—prodded TV-series producer Bert Schneider to insist that Mike get involved with The Monkees records.

I’d always wondered how that happened—how a basically untried folk musician had been allowed to write and produce highly unconventional tracks for a primarily commercial project with so much riding on it. The problem with The Monkees’ story had always been that despite the band’s tremendous and ongoing popularity, it has never been told in a definitive and completely thorough way. Consequently, I had a lot of other questions, such as “What is Nesmith’s relationship with the unusual religion of Christian Science?” “What was the extent of his friendships with John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix” “Why did this apparent peacenik join the Air Force?” and “Why did he consider himself to be a loser, as he brands himself during one of those candid interviews at the end of the Monkees show?” In Infinite Tuesday, Nesmith addresses these topics thoroughly, candidly, and with no shortage of self-effacement. He also answer questions I’d never thought to ask about his involvement with a hippie commune and guru during a personal low point in the seventies and friendships with such luminaries as Douglas Adams and Timothy Leary, though I was less interested in his dealings in business and technology that dominate the narrative after the seventies.

Interestingly, the one thing Nesmith steers clear of in Infinite Tuesday is discussing Micky, Davy, and Peter in any depth despite talking at great length about his Monklees experience in the sixties. Perhaps their difficult relationship, one of the better known details of Monkees lore, made him back off, not wanting to stir the pot after his recent touring and recording experiences with his old cohorts. Whatever the reason, the oversight is glaring, as is the lack of any mention of the recent and tremendously successful Monkees reunions or even Davy Joness death. This is the one hole in an otherwise satisfying piece of storytelling, the telling of which recalls the dense lyricism of “Carlisle Wheeling” and “Tapioca Tundra”. A pop autobiography with genuinely interesting stories is rare. One that is also well written is rarer still.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Farewell, Anita Pallenberg

Despite her work as a model and actress who appeared in such groovy items as Performance, Barbarella, and an episode of Absolutely Fabulous (in which she played the Devil against Marianne Faithfull's God), Anita Pallenberg will forever be known as the woman who made Keith Richards seem tame. Her life was well-lived but rocky. She endured an abusive relationship with Brian Jones before getting involved with Richards. Her drug-abuse rivaled that of her mate's. The death of the infamous couple's infant son Tara drove a wedge between them that caused a permanent split after Pallenberg's 17-year old boyfriend Scott Cantrell killed himself in her and Richards' bed in 1979. 

In the early eighties Pallenberg worked hard to get sober, and despite a couple of relapses, continued on while mostly choosing to remain outside of the public eye with occasional returns such as her Ab Fab appearance and work as a DJ. Yesterday, Pallenberg died at the age of 73. Her Rock & Roll adventures will surely continue to be the stuff of myth for years to come.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Publication Date for David Lynch's Memoir

Way back in October 2015, I reported David Lynch's plan to publish his memoir in 2017. Room to Dream: A Life in Art (formerly titled Life and Work) is arriving a bit later than scheduled (they're not even sure if it is a baby!), but according to Amazon.com, it is arriving. The date is now February 17, 2018, and Random House will be issuing the 496-page book which will actually combine Lynch's personal recollections with a biography by Kristine McKenna, who has the cool distinction of being a pioneering chronicler of the L.A. punk scene.

Here's the official copy from Amazon:

"In this memoir, David Lynch, co-creator of Twin Peaks and writer and director of groundbreaking films like Eraserhead, The Elephant Man, Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive, opens up about a lifetime of extraordinary creativity, the friendships he has made along the way and the struggles he has faced—sometimes successful, sometimes not—to bring his projects to fruition.

Part-memoir, part-biography, Room to Dream interweaves Lynch’s own reflections on his life with the story of those times, as told by Kristine McKenna, drawing from extensive and explosive interviews with ninety of Lynch’s friends, family members, actors, agents, musicians, and collaborators. Lynch responds to each recollection and reveals the inner story of the life behind the art."

Monday, June 12, 2017

Review: 'Making Time: A Shel Talmy Production'


Producer Shel Talmy is a controversial figure in sixties pop. He got his first major gig by passing off records by The Beach Boys and Lou Rawls as his own productions (they weren’t). He foisted an old blues song called “Bald Headed Woman” on many of the artists he produced to collect royalties on a song he claimed to have written (he didn’t). He perpetuated a difficult-to-kill rumor that Jimmy Page played on The Kinks “You Really Got Me” (he didn’t), much to the infuriation of Dave Davies. He trapped The Who in a terrible contract that gave him a ridiculous chunk of their royalties, creating legal and financial troubles for the band for years (he did).

Talmy’s machinations were questionable to say the least, but there is no question that he cut some of the weightiest, greatest records released between 1964 and 1970. His signature Wall of Noise is evident in some of the best recordings by The Kinks, The Who, The Easybeats, and The Creation. However, there are also subtler colors and innovations in his work. He gave The Who the go-ahead to stir up so much aural chaos on “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere” that most DJ’s thought the record suffered from some sort of awful technical glitch. He caught Eddie Phillips using his innovative guitar-bow technique on The Creation’s mighty “Making Time”. He etched the gentler acoustic sounds on Chad & Jeremy’s “A Summer Song” and beat The Beatles and Moody Blues to the punch by using the Mellotron on Manfred Mann’s “Semi-Detached Suburban Mr. James” in 1966.

These are some of the unquestionable classics that appear on an essential and well-annotated new comp from Ace Records called Making Time: A Shel Talmy Production. This 25-song disc is not just a lesson in Talmy’s recording history, but more importantly, a simply smashing collection of sixties records familiar and obscure. The song selection is excellent with The Kinks represented by their finest early single (“Tired of Waiting for You”, personally selected by Ray Davies), rare alternate versions of common items such as Davy “Bowie” Jones’s “You’ve Got a Habit of Leaving” and The Easybeats’ “Lisa”, and other superb tracks by the likes of Roy Harper, The Nashville Teens, The Pentangle, and Lee Hazelwood, as well as less famous artists such as The Mickey Finn, The Rokes, Lindsay Muir’s Untamed, and The Sneekers, who put a few more bucks in Talmy’s pocket with yet another rendition of “Bald Headed Woman”. Oh, Shel.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Farewell, Adam West

You can take your dark Dark Knights and take a holy jump in a bat lake. To many of us, Batman was funny--not the butt of jokes, but the maker of them with a straight-faced brand of comedy that prognosticated the Zucker Brothers and others of their ilk who never mastered the form as Adam West did. Adam West made Batman fun as no other actor who personified the Caped Crusader did, and by embracing that character throughout his career, he endeared himself to fans with humility, honesty, and eternal good humor. That humor will live on even though Adam West has died at the age of 88 after suffering from leukemia. No one will ever fill out the cape and cowl like he did... Pure. West.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Psychobabble's Ten Greatest Albums of 1992!


The year after Nirvana kicked open the doors for a form of Rock that did not require crates of Aquanet, “grunge” was the industry’s favorite buzzword. Yet the less grungy sounds that would soon be championed as “alternative” by a press desperate to put some sort of label on all the eclecticism were already in effect. Many makers of the best albums of 1992 may have had a pair of Doc Martens in their closets, but their sounds drew on a wide variety of sources: the Girl Group sound of the sixties, punk, folk, twee pop, industrial, and synthesized minimalism. And I’m not just talking about Guided by Voices’ eclectic annual contribution. I’m talking about Psychobabbles Ten Greatest Albums of 1992!

10. Hey Babe by Juliana Hatfield

While a lot of independent groups were getting grungy or disturbingly surreal or channeling The Smiths in the late eighties, Boston’s Blake Babies were a fresh breath of pure pop. As soon as the trio split in 1992, bandleader Juliana Hatfield didn’t waste a second getting her solo career started, and she did so with her most Blake Babyish disc. Hey Babe is a smashing solo debut with all the sweet pop melody and power pop guitar work of the Babies’ best. Yet tracks like “Nirvana” (about Hatfield’s infatuation with the band with which everyone was infatuated in ’92) and “Get Off Your Knees” indicate that she could get heavier on her own than she had with her old band. Some critics sneered at Hatfield’s girlish voice and accused her of being either too self-deprecating or too self-aggrandizing, failing to realize how patronizing the former gripe is and how shortsighted the latter one is. Just as a lot of critics missed the humor in Morrissey’s tales of woe, they also let the subtle funniness of “Ugly” (“I’m ugleeeeee with a capital U”) and the knowingly absurd “Everybody Loves Me But You” soar over their heads. As over-the-top as these songs are, there is still a layer of true woe beneath them that makes them work as humor and weepy diary entries. Maybe Hatfield was channeling The Smiths after all. Not a bad band to channel.

9. Get Your Goat by Shudder to Think

Monday, June 5, 2017

Review: 'Looking Forward: The Roots of Big Star'


In the few years before making his name in Big Star, Chris Bell bounced around a few different Memphis bands. The interesting thing about each of them is that Bell’s retro sensibility was already well in place when he strummed for The Wallabys, Ice Water, and Rock City, which featured fellow future-Big Star Jody Stephens behind the kit. Like Big Star, each one of these bands owed more to mid-sixties British pop than circa-1970 American Rock. Some of their songs, such as Rock City’s “Think It’s Time to Say Goodbye” and Ice Water’s “All I See Is You”, sound like they could have been on #1 Record. On the rare occasion Bell sang lead, the results often ended up in Big Star’s trick bag, as when that band recycled Rock City’s “My Life Is Right” and “Try Again”.

However, the new early-Bell compilation Looking Forward: The Roots of Big Star is not limited to Big Star-esque power pop. There’s also a pronounced psychedelic influence on a lot of this stuff that never bled onto Big Star’s records so unabashedly. The Wallaby’s “Feeling High” is pure Syd Barrett bounce while the title track sounds like a groovy outtake from Crimson & Clover. The aptly named “Psychedelic Stuff” has a whiff of The End about it.

The only time that Looking Forward really sounds of its time is when Rock City cobble together an almost proggy suite of songs about the dubious nature of religious leaders. This five-song sequence also contains this compilation’s only blunder since a couple of random songs are senselessly programmed within the suite. Otherwise, Looking Forward really holds its own as a superb collection of tracks that mostly look back at pop’s 1966/1967 peak.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Review: 'Planet of the Apes: The Original Topps Trading Card Series'


Although Topps had produced entertainment tie-in cards for such properties as The Beverly Hillbillies, Lost in Space, and Batman, the company’s decision to try a series based on Planet of the Apes in 1969 was a different kettle of monkeys. This was the first time Topps produced a series of cards based on a big hit movie starring a big movie star: namely Charlton Heston. This had certain legal ramifications since Heston was not thrilled with the idea of having his square-jawed visage packaged with stale bubblegum. In the end, he only gave the OK for Topps to include him on a mere nine cards, an offer Topps kind of wasted by using a few of these cards to only show the back of Heston’s head, his feet, or in one glorious instance, his butt. To give the impression that Heston was better represented than he actually was, Topps reduced its usual run of 66 cards to a mere 40. Although she was a complete unknown at the time, co-star Linda Harrison didn’t have any face time in the series at all. Fortunately, there were no such issues for the actors and actresses hidden in ape make up, and let’s face it, the kids who bought these cards were more interested in ogling awesome ape faces than Heston and Harrison’s pretty pusses.

Abrams’ new collection of Planet of the Apes cards would be a pamphlet if it only assembled that original 40-card run, so it widens its net to include the card series based on the short-lived 1974 Planet of the Apes TV show and Tim Burton’s bad 2001 remake. The upside to the relatively few cards collected in Planet of the Apes: The Original Topps Trading Card Series is that each card is allowed to occupy its own page at extra-large dimensions. Also, Gary Gerani, who provided captions for the Planet of the Apes TV series cards, and whose text in Abrams’ recent Topps Star Wars cards books was so entertaining, does the same for this new volume.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Review: 'The Many Lives of Catwoman: The Felonious History of a Feline Fatale'


With the exception of The Joker, Catwoman has to be the most popular super villain in superdom—more infamous than Lex Luthor, the Green Goblin, Dr. Doom, or Batman’s other top nemeses, The Penguin and The Riddler, neither of whom has received his own comic series. And even The Joker has never been the title character of his very own feature film— though I’m pretty sure Catwoman isn’t too proud of that ammonia-scented stink bomb starring Halle Berry.

Nevertheless, Selina Kyle has had a decidedly rocky history. Despite debuting as an atypically in-control and unpunished woman at a time when virtuous female characters tended to reflect the extremely limited concepts of femininity common in the forties and femme fatales always received their comeuppance, Catwoman eventually succumbed to the nasty whims of her mostly male creators. She might be declawed in plot lines that wed her to bland Bruce Wayne or tortured luridly. Even when more progressive minded writers gave Catwoman something to do, childish artists depicted her as a sex object to be ogled. And on the number of occasions when she became too much of a handful, she was erased altogether. In fact, after she had the distinction of being Gotham’s only villain to get a mention in Frederic Wertham’s comics-industry-rocking excoriation Seduction of the Innocent in 1954, Catwoman was isolated in the kennel for twelve years until Julie Newmar repopularized her on TV.

Needless to say, the fact that Catwoman is a woman is intrinsically tied to her difficult history, which Tim Hanley relates in his new book The Many Lives of Catwoman: The Felonious History of a Feline Fatale. The author studies how his topic was treated in comics, television, film, and video games, noting the positive depictions (her initial appearances in the comics and later ones in The Long Halloween and Catwoman: When in Rome, her treatment on Bill Dozier’s sixties TV series and today’s Gotham, as well as Tim Burton’s Batman Returns) and the less positive ones that objectified and patronized her. The take away from this book is that Catwoman was a great female character full of potential, but the small minds in the patriarchal comics industry rarely knew what to do with her.

Hanley supports his thesis with an intense look at Catwoman’s many appearances (and absences). This can get a tad tedious since he spends a lot of time summarizing comics arcs, and while his constant quoting of the awful dialogue in Batman Returns doesn’t undermine his argument that the film offers a positive, feminist depiction of Catwoman, it does fog up a discussion of the film’s most positive attribute by continuously reminding us of its shittiest one.

The Many Lives of Catwoman still manages to be an excellent study as a whole, achieving a skillful balance of history and analysis. Hanley integrates his cultural findings with neat details about the Catwoman film Burton and Michelle Pfeiffer intended to make, the original casting choice for her first TV incarnation (not Julie Newmar), and the woman who quite possibly inspired her in the first place (not Jean Harlow or Hedy Lamarr as Bob Kane would have you believe). The Many Lives of Catwoman definitively captures Catwoman’s history, compellingly explains how she has bucked and reflected society’s treatment of women, and relates it all with attentiveness and humor. Hanley

Monday, May 29, 2017

Review: 'Spaced Out: The Story of Mushroom Records'



Lasting a mere fifteen months from 1971 to 1972, and issuing only sixteen albums, North London’s Mushroom Records still managed to stir up a minor cult following because of the alluringly pungent music label-founder Vic Keary produced. It was an eclectic mix of raga (Pandit Kanwar Sain Trikha), Indian folk (Nitai Dasgupta), psychedelic folk (Magic Carpet), lush prog and early electronic music (Second Hand), jazz (Lol Coxhill), proto new age (Chillum), Irish folk and folk rock (Callinan-Flynn, Jon Betmead), soft rock (Gordo, Ellis, & Steele), and music for burning Edward Woodward alive to (The Liverpool Fishermen; Heather, Adrian, & John). This music is extremely eclectic yet hangs together because of its mutual archaic and exotic vibe and Keary’s sympathetic, sometimes tremendously vibrant (Second Hand’s “Hangin’ on an Eyelid”), production.

Before forming Mushroom, Keary’s work was less distinguished and his taste in artists often dubious. This spotty period in which he was cutting records at Maximum Sound studio is highlighted on the second disc of a new compilation called Spaced Out: The Story of Mushroom Records. Disc one compiles choice cuts from the aforementioned Mushroom artists, and it is perfect background for your next hookah party. Disc two is often more like one of those Golden Throats anthologies. There are incompetently sung versions of “See See Rider” (by the esteemed Alexis Korners’ Blues Incorporated of all artists) and “Knock on Wood” (Oliver Bone), as well as other questionable contributions from the likes of Denis Couldry, The Mark Leeman Five, The Carolines, and Mel Turner.

It would probably have been easier if the entire second disc were ghastly; then I could just say skip it and stick to the first one, but some really fine psychedelic nuggets by Second Hand, Felius Andromeda, and Tuesday’s Children, as well as some cool Mod rock by The Attraction and Mersey pop by The Cherokees, are mixed amongst the dross. So be ready to work the remote control hard while grooving to disc two of Spaced Out.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

8 Essentials for Living the Original Star Wars Life


When Twentieth Century Fox took a major gamble on a goofy space fantasy imagined by that goofy kid who’d made American Graffiti, neither that company nor George Lucas could have imagined we’d still be so ensconced in Star Wars forty years later. In fact, fans are now able to ensconce themselves more completely in that wacky universe of wookiees, droids, banthas, and wampas than they could back in the late seventies even though it seemed that every conceivable object had some sort of Star Wars equivalent back then. However, compared to a time when anyone can snooze in a tauntaun sleeping bag, make waffles shaped like the Death Star, or dab on Lando-scented cologne, the late seventies was a comparable Tatooine-desert of Star Wars merchandise. You couldn’t even watch the movies on your TV set yet, so those who wished to never leave Lucas Land had to make do with the essential bits of Star Wars-ernalia available. So for you contemporary kids who don’t understand how good you have it, here are eight examples Star Wars essentials every fanatic worth his or her salt owned back when nobody knew what the hell A New Hope was.

1. Kenner Toys

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. The most effective way to melt into the Star Wars universe aside from watching the films has always been to get down on the floor surrounded by little bits of Star Wars-shaped plastic. The history of Kenner’s Star Wars figures has been regurgitated many, many, many times. I’m sure you already know about how unprofitable movie-tie-in toys had been, how Lucas made his fortune by retaining merchandising rights, how the toys weren’t ready for X-mas 1977 so Kenner sold cardboard “Early Bird” vouchers for Luke, Leia, Chewie, and R2-D2 figures instead. Blah, blah. Equally important is how nifty these little figures that could fit into scale Millennium Falcons and TIE-fighters were, how kooky the decisions to make figures of barely-on-screen characters like Prune Face and not-on-screen-at-all characters like Cloud Car Pilot was while neglecting more prominent characters like Tarkin and Uncle Owen because they didn’t look as cool, and how holding one of these tiny things in your hand today draws up childhood memories like biting into a Proustian Madeleine. And let’s not neglect all of those other variations of Star Wars playthings, like the too-big-to-fit-into-a-plastic-X-Wing “large size” figures that did such an effective job of capturing character likenesses and that plush Chewbacca toy that inspired so many of us to toss our teddy bears in the bin.

2. Listening Materials

A Selection of 'Star Wars' Sketches

In a Star Warsy mood because of the original film's 40th anniversary, I knocked off a few Star Wars-inspired pen and marker sketches. Here they are:



Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Review: Steelers Wheel Vinyl Reissues


Stealers Wheel are obviously best known for their wonderful one hit “Stuck in the Middle with You”, a breezy shuffle delivered in a Dylan whine that went top-ten in 1973, but their pedigree is stronger than that of your usual one-hit wonder. Core member Gerry Rafferty went on to a long career of his own, which kicked into gear with the lovely and sad “Baker Street” in 1977. Rock and Roll’s pioneering dynamic duo Leiber and Stoller produced Stealers Wheels’ first two albums. And most important of all, those two albums are very good beyond the hit on the first one.

The band’s eponymous debut finds them toying with soul (“Late Again”), Move-style metal (“I Get By”), calypso (“Another Meaning”), and even power balladry (“You Put Something Better Inside Me”) with consistent success and bubbly personality. Steelers Wheel is a collection of poppy, pleasant, well-crafted music with a sort of underlying “White Album” vibe, though without any of The Beatles’ exciting weirdness.

On Ferguslie Park, the songwriting and production are not quite as sharp. Even the heavier tracks sound airy due to Rafferty and cohort Joe Egan’s ethereal harmonies and Leiber and Stoller’s soft production. The album also lacks a major hit to anchor it, though the McCartney-esque “Star”, which did go top thirty, the glammy “What More Could You Want”, and the light metal “Back on My Feet Again” are all excellent tracks, as are the haunting “Who Cares” and “Everything Will Turn Out Fine”, which feels a bit like “Stuck in the Middle with You Again”. The Kinky social commentary that drives through a lot of these songs can be too blunt at times (see “Good Businessman” and even “Star”), but it contributes to the album’s unified feel.

The vinyl reissues of Stealers Wheel and Ferguslie Park Intervention Records issued last year were created in accordance with that label’s 100% analog philosophy and really shine as a result. The softness of Ferguslie Park could have turned into mush with improper mastering, by Intervention keeps it clear and textured.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

New Collection to Highlight The Beach Boys in '67

Despite failing to complete their ambitious SMiLE project in the year of the Pepper, The Beach Boys still managed to be very productive in 1967. In the year's waning months they released two LPs: the sort of SMiLE-lite Smiley Smile and the spare yet soulful Wild Honey, which found them moving on after putting SMiLE to rest and signaling pop's move to a more organic post-psych sound a couple of weeks before Dylan got all the credit for that when he released John Wesley Harding

On June 30th, Universal Music will mark the 50th Anniversary of these two often-ignored oddities with 1967-Sunshine Tomorrow. For this double-disc set, Mark Linett and Alan Boyd have mixed Wild Honey in stereo for the first time, while session highlights from both Smiley Smile and Wild Honey, and an abundance of live-in-'67 tracks, including the entirety of the much bootlegged Lei'd in Hawaii, fill out the remainder of Sunshine Tomorrow. Most intriguing of all is a '67 version of "Surf's Up" recorded during the Wild Honey sessions.

Here's the full track listing:
The Beach Boys:  1967 – Sunshine Tomorrow [2CD, digital]


Disc 1


Wild Honey Album (Stereo)

Review: Vinyl Reissue of The Flying Burrito Brothers' 'Gilded Palace of Sin'


Gram Parsons’s stint in The Byrds was very brief but it really shook things up. His Country & Western influence was so profound on Sweetheart of the Rodeo that The Byrds’ seemed unsure how to continue without him, unable to fully commit to country rock without his guiding hand but unable to completely go back to their jangly roots either, and the band never released another great album. More positively, country rock was officially born, and once Chris Hillman resolved to bail on The Byrds too, so were The Flying Burrito Brothers.

This was the band The Byrds probably would have been had Parsons not had the moral fortitude to quit when they decided to tour Apartheid-torn South Africa. Pure country is more present on the band’s debut The Gilded Palace of Sin then it had even been on Sweetheart of the Rodeo, partially because Roger McGuinn often sounded like he wasn’t taking the material entirely sincerely, doing a Deputy Dawg drawl on things like “The Christian Life”. As Burrito Brothers, Parsons and Hillman harmonize with heartbreaking sincerity and have the serious material to match, the finest song being the ridiculously named but utterly heartfelt cry of betrayal “Hot Burrito #1”. There is also none of the harder boogying of Sweetheart of the Rodeo on The Gilded Palace of Sin, though Sneaky Pete’s creative use of lap steel guitar that pierces fuzz tones through tracks such as “Wheels” and “Hot Burrito #2” and a pair of soul covers certainly make Gilded Palace something other than a typical country disc. The ideology of songs such as the draft-dodging “My Uncle” and “Hippie Boy”, which tricks listeners into assuming it will be a goofy parody (much like the Stones’ “Far Away Eyes”, which it clearly influenced) but sucker punches us with tragedy and empathy, also helps distinguish this new approach to country from its conservative predecessor.

The Gilded Palace of Sin is essentially raw, rustic music that demands an organic presentation to convey its woody textures. Intervention Records’ new all-analog vinyl reissue does just that. Bass tones are incredibly deep yet clear. The acoustic guitars and upper-register harmonies never get lost in murk. The range of this mastering is beautiful, much like the music itself.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Review: Vinyl Reissues of Joe Jackson's First Two Albums


Joe Jackson started his career as a blatant Elvis Costello clone, doing everything but copping Declan’s trademark specs when cooking up cynical, punky power poppers like “Happy Loving Couples” and “Fools in Love” and aggro-Anglo reggae like “Sunday Papers”. So what? Elvis is great and Look Sharp! and I’m the Man are too, and along with Armed Forces, they helped make 1979 a year of riches for nerdy, jilted angry young(ish) men.

Look Sharp! is the favorite Jackson LP, and it is indeed a fierce set with such signature bitter pills as “Is She Really Going out with Him?”, “Sunday Papers”, “One More Time”,  and the title track. I’m the Man is not as cluttered with hits, but for my money, it’s the better album because it’s where Jackson starts finding his own voice with an absence of songs that could spark copyright suits and because phenomenal bassist Graham Maby is so front-and-center. The title track is a hilarious and ferocious crap-culture critique, “Geraldine and John” is Jackson’s most underrated reggae splash, “The Band Wore Blue Shirts” and “Amateur Hour” are masterfully executed mood pieces, and “It’s Different for Girls” is his most incisive piece of sexual politicking, taking the atypical-for-1979 position that some women actually just want to get laid without all the romantic goo men demand.

Last year Intervention Records reissued Joe Jackson’s first two records on vinyl (as well as his fifth, Night and Day, which I did not receive for review purposes). Using a completely analog process, Kevin Gray mastered each album from safety copies of the original master tapes. Played against my original copy of I’m the Man, I can guarantee that it sounds totally authentic and particularly forceful in the low end and whenever Dave Houghton gives his snare drum what for. I didn’t already have Look Sharp! on vinyl, so I could not make a similar comparison, but I can confirm that it sounds warm and wonderful on Intervention’s new vinyl nevertheless.

Since Intervention uses heavyweight plastic inner sleeves for all their releases, I’m the Man has been upgraded to a gatefold with the lyrics and photos (can’t live without that shot of Maby in his mesh tanktop) printed inside the gatefold. Look Sharp! comes in a the same kind of slightly textured sleeve as its first UK pressing. These are vinyl reissues made with love… and not a trace of the delicious cynicism found within their grooves.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Review: 'Night Comes Down: 60s British Mod, R&B, Freakbeat, & Swinging London Nuggets'


Despite a very specific origin in London’s jazzy coffee houses of the early sixties, Mod has gone through so many changes that it basically just means “British” at this point. That elasticity didn’t have to wait until Paul Weller and Phil Daniels reinvigorated the cult in the late seventies; it was already happening ten years time ago in the mid-sixties.

RPM Record’s new triple-disc box Night Comes Down: 60s British Mod, R&B, Freakbeat, & Swinging London Nuggets draws all incarnations of homegrown Mod music in a manner that implies a sort of sound progression by playing with chronology.  Had these 87 tracks been arranged chronologically, they would have sounded like a senseless jumble of cool jazz and R&B, bulls-eye power pop, underground-scene psychedelia, and sprinklings of other styles, such as the more mainstream pop of Twinkle’s “What Am I Doing Here with You” and the eccentric genre-shuffling of the two instrumentals from the soundtrack of the Marianne Faithful vehicle (tee-hee) Girl on a Motorcycle. Instead, the songs are more-or-less arranged according to style, so the set strolls from the kind of hard R&B (Lita Roza’s “Mama”), Booker T.-style work outs (The Mike Cotton Sound’s throbbing “Like That”), and jazzy slow-drips (Laurel Aitken’s “Baby Don’t Do It”) the original Mods dug to the red-with-purple-flowers detonations championed by The Who and The Birds to the U.F.O Club sounds that really have nothing to do with the movement except for maybe giving ex-Mods a spot to drop acid now that they were done popping purple hearts.

Needless to say, the real theme here is “smashing music,” so who cares what’s “real Mod” and what isn’t. That distinction sure doesn’t matter when tracks such as The Moody Blues’ soulful “And My Baby’s Gone” is rubbing elbows with The Attraction’s amp-slashing “She’s a Girl”, Fat Mattress’ trippy “I Don’t Mind”, and Twiggy’s magnificent “When I Think of You”, which somehow draws those three disparate styles together without sounding like some sort of hack-and-glue job. There are other familiar names too, such as Arthur Brown, Spencer Davis Group (post-Stevie Winwood), Johns Children, Chad & Jeremy, Alexis Korner, Mark Wirtz, and Mike D’Abo (as well as tracks featuring such future stars as Jimmy Page and Lemmy, who gets in on the thievery of a “Kids Are Alright” rip so blatant that the track is credited to Townshend), but none of the artists are represented by their best-known numbers, so there’s a lot to discover on Night Comes Down.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Review: 'Sgt. Pepper at Fifty: The Mood, The Look, The Sound, The Legacy of The Beatles’ Great Masterpiece'


Like 1955, 1977, and 1991, 1967 was a pivotal year for Rock & Roll. There was now a permanent place for ART in the raw and raucous genre, and critics and older people started taking it seriously. The LP replaced the single as Rock’s main medium. Pop bands were no longer limited to guitars, bass, and drums. All of this is tightly tied to the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and when you’re on the 50th Anniversary of such watershed events, a lot of retrospectives naturally follow.

So far we’ve seen a month-by-month examination of the year’s music and a run down of key psychedelic albums, most of which were released in that most psychedelic of years, and Pepper’s was a major player in both of these books. There’s also that big 50th Anniversary Pepper’s box set, which includes an excellent and thorough book examining the album’s creation and artistry, as well as the scene that helped germinate it.

Mike McInnerney, Bill DeMain, & Gillian G. Gaar’s Sgt. Pepper at Fifty: The Mood, The Look, The Sound, The Legacy of The Beatles’ Great Masterpiece can’t help but feel a bit like another book for the pile amidst all of this retrospecticizing. It contains a lot of the same information as the other books I’ve mentioned, as well as the innumerable other Beatles books published over the past four or five decades. The glut of recent information also reveals some flaws in this latest book, as when it assumes an erroneous reason for why the run-out groove gibberish was left off of Capitols pressing of Sgt. Pepper’s.

Sgt. Pepper’s at Fifty does manage to go off the usual track in fresh and interesting ways that distinguish it. The book is basically organized as four long essays on each of the topics in its lengthy title. These essays are where the expected details live. The two or three-page tangents scattered throughout the book are where the fun is. This is where we get spotlights on such less-discussed subtopics as the creation of the iconic bass drum skin on the album cover, mini-bios of every character who populates it, a run down of all the “Paul is Dead” clues on the cover, a discussion of the significance of mustaches in the Pepper’s legend, and most fascinating of all, a short history of the Million Volt Light and Sound Rave for which The Beatles created the ultra-rare avant garde epic “Carnival of Light”. The piece was written by Dudley Edwards, one of the producers of the event. These inserts are informative, quirky, and written with more humor than the textbook-like main-feature chapters. They made me wish that the whole book adopted that less reverent tone.

Another selling point is that unlike the other recent books, Sgt. Pepper at Fifty sees the story beyond the sixties to get into such lingering fumes as the rising opinion that Revolver is actually the best Beatles LP and the infamously dreadful Frampton/Bee Gees cinematic vehicle named after The Beatles album. And then theres the books rainbow design and plethora of pictures, including such artifacts as a scan of the article about a teen runaway that inspired Paul to write “She’s Leaving Home” (and isn’t the girl a dead ringer for Pattie Boyd?), a terrifying close up of the doll in the Rolling Stones T-shirt included on the album cover, and a cool shot of George Harrison chatting with Mike Nesmith at the “A Day in the Life” session that I’d never seen before. Sgt. Pepper’s at Fifty may not always be wildly fun reading but it most definitely looks fun.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Review: 'The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen'


What do you have to do to be worthy of the title “superhero”? Must you be capable of flying around in your underwear or blasting cobwebs out of your wrists? Do you need the wealth and training to thwart evildoers with your creepy cowl, pricey toys, and great, big muscles? Or maybe a woman who simply manages to run the everyday patriarchal gauntlet and come out the other end with her humor, wits, self-respect, and strength intact is a sort of superhero too.

I’d guess that Hope Nicholson would answer “yes” to that last one, because her new book The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen is not solely populated with the Amazonian princesses and cousins from Krypton you’d expect it to be. In Nicholson’s estimation, females devoid of super powers such as Maggie Chascarillo of Love & Rockets and Little Lulu deserve a spot in a volume with a title like that. So do women as grisly as E.C.’s Old Witch or as provocatively proportioned as Vampirella, as outrageous as the blaxploitation exaggeration Superbitch or the heightened feminist Bitchy Bitch, or as flesh-and-blood human as Frieda Phelps. If there’s a takeaway from The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen, it’s that if a major female character managed to penetrate the penis-centric world of comics, then she’s pretty super, and you can’t really argue with that.

Nevertheless, Nicholson makes her selections in this character compendium carefully. Don’t expect every iconic female comics character to be represented. There’s no She Hulk no Brenda Starr no Catwoman or Red Sonja. Nicholson seems more intent on moving beyond the obvious, with a particular eye for underground comics. She still knows that she couldn’t get away with sidelining such major players as Bat Girl, Super Girl, and Wonder Woman, but I really love the fact that the author not only admits to not being a Wonder Woman expert but also admits to only having “read maybe five of her comics.” You usually don’t see honesty like that in the kind of book that tends to be intent on dazzling readers with obscure knowledge.

If there’s a controlling theme its that Nicholson seems to respect each of the characters she chooses on some level. If she chooses a T&A title character like Pussycat, it’s because Pussycat is not just a curvy figure but also a genuinely effective secret agent. Nicholson doesn’t give the creators behind these characters a pass because they managed to craft a fairly well-developed female character either. She acknowledges when they are exploitative, and in the case of Frank Miller’s Give Me Liberty, which happens to contain a worthy female character in Martha Washington, homophobic.

Yet Nicholson is generally more into celebrating than finger wagging, and there is a true spirit of love at work here. Her affection for these characters is heartfelt and palpable. Her pro-Wendy the Good Little Witch testimonial is particularly touching. Nicholson is very funny too, and reading her cases for and critiques of these characters is like listening to a good buddy tell you what makes her geek out over cocktails. Next drink’s on me, Hope. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Review: 50th Anniversary Edition of 'Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band'


They can call those blues-peddling Stones a bunch of middle-class poseurs. They can call The Beach Boys too square. They can accuse The Monkees of being phony or The Who of being pretentious, but even the most hostile critics can’t say “boo” about the unassailable Beatles. This has been the prevailing consensus for some fifty years now— and let’s be honest— as far as pop legacies go, The Beatles’ is as airtight as it gets.
That does not mean that it’s perfect or that there is no room for improvement. Even The Beatles’ most influential and definitive album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, could use some gussying up, largely because of the obvious flaws of its original stereo mix which committed the same crimes as so many of The Beatles’ stereo mixes. As the now well-known story goes, The Beatles were mono purists who usually baled on George Martin’s hastily performed stereo mixing sessions. Those stereo mixes tended to be poorly balanced and lacked some of the carefully considered signature touches of the mono mixes. On Sgt. Pepper’s, songs that were treated with effects in the mono mix might lack them in stereo. Tracks that had their speed altered in mono might not receive the same colorations in stereo. Consequently, and perhaps ironically since stereo is made for hearing the full spectrum of trippy music through headphones, the mono mix of The Beatles’ psychedelic opus ended up more psychedelic than the stereo mix.
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