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Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Romantics: 'National Breakout' Breaks One Mold For Another


I've yet to read anything interesting about the odd nature of what appears to be The Romantics second record.  Whether the cover image is prefabricated or honest, it still implies the contents to be a first record. I think even the title of the record begs the same. Then there's the sound ... thin, scratchy, indie !  Not the posh and cheesy imagery of the first and third albums.  It's as if they're a different band with a different management team. National Breakout is an album worthy of the same respect as other up 'n' coming Power-Pop bands of the time.  It's themes are a bit weightier than the typical soft boy/girl approach ... love gone jaded instead of expectant. Not a favorite theme of mine, but a better approach for fans of edgy early-60's singles from Stones type bands.  Also, there's more variety in the construction of the tunes.  The album is actually edgier than The Beat, Get the Knack, 20/20, Shoes, and probably any more I can think of.

Particularly meaty for me are "New Cover Story" and "Poor Little Rich Girl".  If these tunes were played today from any new band, they'd get a respectful write-up.

Now, I'm not gonna lie.  I love the hits from this band for all the reasons that those hits are great, but understand, this record is what people who wouldn't touch their hits with a ten-foot-pole would relish as if they had found a cool band, but instead this record will be doomed to languish in the tepid catalog of a sometimes good, sometimes lame retro early-60's Pop-Rock band.  And so, like the bands mentioned above, their time couldn't come, 'cause it had already been. There's nothing wrong with that.  Looking back now, it's refreshing to have a retro Merseybeat band or two out there who knows EXACTLY how it should be done when one is in the mood to lend an ear. Least we forget ... this was the generation just after the trailblazers of the '60's that learned from the best with the love for the craft that could never be anything other than genuine love for the history of Rock 'n' Roll and they'll "send it along, with love from me to you" ... "da da dum, da da, dum dum dum".

'Modern Life Is Rubbish' Makes The Memory Of Their First Album A Blur


This album will take me some more time to expand on, as I'm still shocked at how good and out-of-nowhere it is. Never talked about in America, and never truly respected as a great band, this is one of the greatest records never played.  This is the kind of record I imagined Ogden's Nut Gone Flake by The Small Faces to be was until I went back to listen to it.  But, to be honest, I chucked Ogden.. out as soon as I completed re-buying all The Kinks albums again in the late-'80's.

It's not enough to say this or that song kicks or covers the same ground as The Kinks or Madness at their English best. One has to listen and feel the storybook weave in the ears, so if you like the above mentioned bands, climb into the band at this point, but get out before their '97 self-titled album blows the dream-state up.  '90's bands felt the pressure to compete with Grunge the same way Acid Rock destroyed storybook bands of the mid-'60s. Blur is a good record, but by a band with a different mindset. Like Catherine Wheel doing the same on their American-sounding Happy Days, the opposite of the English sounding Ferment and Chrome. It's enough that Blur can live up to any hype.  They have chops, they have variety, and they have smarts.  If that's not what should qualify a band to any Rock music lover's collection, then go be a sucker for the next pile of dung someone's coming to sell ya ... Bon Appetite !

Eric Clapton: "Another Ticket" Isn't Just Another Song


I can't put my finger on the truth of the matter (since I've never read anything on Clapton or by him), but I want to praise this creation.

Never before had I actually felt the desire to buy an album with his name on it, regardless of my upbringing on the band Cream. But 1981 was a sad time, of course, so close after John Lennon's death that a young boy could read into any song that it meant more than it probably did.  So, seeing billboards on the Sunset Strip for this album after hearing the cool-groove of "I Can't Stand It", I was looking forward to one day having a listen.  Back to reality, I was too young to have money, so I wasn't gonna ask my father or my foster parents for money for a Clapton album. It just wasn't worth my time, so I wouldn't have a copy of this album until the '90's.

The first thing that impressed me about the record was that it was subtle. A beautiful, rich, burgundy color with a little pink ticket.  Secondly, no picture of him on it. Third, it's named after the best song from the album ... best musically, best lyrically.

Clapton seems to be one of those artists so focused on guitar that anything else impressive on his albums is a bonus.  I'd like to think he meant this song as more than just about a woman's love.  I'd like to think he was taking stock on life after the loss of Lennon. Funny that he was so close to George Harrison who was the absolute opposite lyrically.  [Harrison is in my top three of writers with John Lennon and Ray Davies. Clapton, of course, is not even on the list.]

A nice little guitar motif and carefully delivered vocal culminating into the passionate chorus makes this the equivalent of Paul McCartney's "Little Lamb Dragonfly" to me. I only wish there were more heavyweight tunes on the record of that ilk.  Instead , it's back to Bluesman basics, but because I love the sound of the band, I very much enjoy all the songs if only to hear the production, players techniques, and lament of the era.  As such, when I look at this record, I think of the only thing that matters when listening to a favorite record ... I'm inside the room of some great players having fun in a studio jamming-out their favorite type of tunes in a non-party-hardy way from them to all of us.  And as long as that could please somebody, "there's nothing to get hung about".

Monday, September 9, 2013

Here Today, Gone Today : The Great Imploders

Least you think these guys don't matter a whole bunch, these artists made history with 1 album or song that excited people to no end.

Thomas Dolby : This man created a New Wave, funky, danceable tune in "She Blinded Me With Science" that, all dorkness aside in topic and visual, was a master stroke of performance from the voice on down to the production technique.  The Golden Age Of Wireless is a great record.  After this album, only "Hyperactive" could capture the magic again.

Gary Numan : To people who were already buying his stuff before The Pleasure Principle, I guess they might not have been surprised when he hit even bigger with the song "Cars".  But, with every album after, one has to wonder why he continued on the record-making path.  By the time he makes an album where he's dressed like Mad Max, you know it's time to put the career on hold.

Tears For Fears : Not only is The Hurting a great record for New Wavers, it's great for music overall.  It's infused with so much musical beauty and power. How could they not have great records to come ?  Well, exchange the New Wave fashion & jerky dance moves for sweaters and make a Yuppie album (although a good one) and presto ! Career over.

Missing Persons : When a band comes around with so much to offer ... strong, quirky female vocal, tough, but smooth and original guitar, masterful and exciting drumming and synths, and smarts words, you wonder how you could lose. Well ... write something anyone else could write and then disband.  That should do it !  Note-for-note this band, with one record, might just made the most exciting sound of the '80's, leaving even Duran Duran and The Fixx to sound like cult bands after these guys come to show everyone how to wrap up every great '80's idea into one group.

Men At Work : All hail the everybody-knows-they're-great-white-reggae-popsters from down under ! But although I loved when they went "dark" in '85, no one else did, including themselves ... end result ... disband.

Yes [Cinema] : With the infusion of master player, but writing hack, Trevor Rabin, the reborn Yes comes roaring back to blow radio up with the Trevor Horn produced masterpiece "Owner Of A Lonely Heart" from the great 90125 album.  Can't wait for more to come !  But, when it does it's the "what-the-hell-is-this?" mediocrity of Big Generator too many moons later.

The Vapors : A masterpiece in "Turning Japanese", a good album (that doesn't sound as exciting as that great single though) and an even better second album (mature and majestic).  But, the writer got upset with record company & career and called it quits.  A very sad disappearance from a group with so much purpose.

Madness : Not a band that messed-up really, but bad timing to make an album like Mad Not Mad when fans stateside probably didn't know how much music they had already made before "Our House" and for some reason didn't hear that they were going that direction with the warning of some of the songs from Keep Moving.  A great band always, whether in fashion or not.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Death Of The Revolution : A Note To The Young

"The revolution will definitely not be televised !" is how it should read.  Why ? Because it already happened. You missed it. Don't worry, I missed it too ... almost.  Most of it happened before the age of video.  And when video did hit, the vehicle for delivery was quickly corrupted. At least I caught it all in different doses until the time I could go back and complete my toolbox.

I think I was the last generation to be heavily affected by the '60's while having '70's radio still hittin' us with the '50's. The last of the bunch who still awaited solo outings by all 4 Beatles. The last to not be distracted by technological advances that fill our every moment today. There was no home video, no video games, no computers.  Can you even imagine ?!  This is why music was king.  And this is where the mind worked its' magic to take you to places where books and movies had done so previously.  I felt I was living inside the soundscapes, being that I was so young.  And when the adventure came to a grinding halt, I was stunned.

Now, though, I get to that place by researching what I missed and placing my mind back into that place where I can imagine how I would have felt about them if I had heard it back then. It's both the experience of the adult and the child all in one.  This is what the internet can do for those of you who missed it all.  And if you think you didn't miss that much, go look-up every experimental, but commercially successful artist of '64 thru '84 (for starters) and discover that nothing today will ever compare.  For those of you who live for audio adventure, this is your destiny.  Good luck and stand firm.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Power Station : Cutting-Edge Mediocrity

The Power Station project of 1985 will forever go down in history as one of the coolest uncool records ever made.  It certainly deserves no more or less praise for its accomplishments.  It is, after all, a one-off fun project for all involved and as such has a freedom to it, but also has a nonchalant mediocre allowance in all the tunes.

Right off-the-bat the album grips ya like it knows it has to with "Some Like It Hot".  Masters of the groove, the Chic crew and Chic lovers, Taylor & Taylor attack like they're here for a reason.  The drum production is the star here, putting Tony Thompson front & center on radios around the world.  Though the song isn't very hummable, the intensity in the vocals, horn punches, and drums keep us curious and excited to hear more ... maybe a future classic is coming up next.

"Murderess" comes on next like this album is gonna be an all time favorite for heavy rotation on '80's radio for years to come, but although we've got the razor-sharp modern take on the retro-70's guitar of Andy here, we also have these strange holes in the composition that leaves one with the sense that the song has built up to nowhere by the time the chorus hits.  With "Some Like It Hot" you get an anti-climactic chorus that works to its' advantage, but here it's a very settled-in section that hints at the lameness to come.

"Lonely Tonight" is a super-slick white-soul/jazz dance waste that reeks of the white suits and white powder of the Miami Vice era.  For a Rocker gone New Wave, it is just too much to ask me to like something closer to the useless posh of The Manhattan Transfer and Al Jarreau crowd.  I just can't do it.  The same year, Pete Townshend would test my patience too on his "Face The Face" song.  Luckily, the rest of the White City album is excellent and is my favorite work of his.  But, this was the problem of record companies in the late 80's ... release a famous artist's latest work, but pick the safest song as the single which will in-turn kill the sales of the album as a whole.

"Communication" seems to slightly make-up for, and yet, continue the misery of the previous tune.  This, their third single for the record, isn't a horrible choice (for the sound of '85), but certainly lets you know that this project was not a necessity.

"Get It On" remakes the T.Rex classic to excellent effect with powerful performances all around and one of the best guitar solos of the decade.  No wonder this was the song that kept Palmer at the vocal duties for the whole record.  (Evidently, they were gonna use different singers on every tune.)

"Go To Zero", my favorite upbeat song from the album, has the potential to be memorable until the bottom falls out in a big way.  It starts great, moves well, has good sections, has horn punches, but why isn't there something special in that dead space after the horn hits ?! There's a guitar touch here and there, but the tune falls apart over this lack creative input.  By the time the crappy solo comes around I'm crying over the loss of potential.  I'm over it now, but I remember how sad a moment that was at the time.  The outro groove makes things better again though, as well as the killer guitar ending.

"Harvest For The World" was a shocking departure from this record's sound not only by the cover tune chosen, but the vocal switch from Robert to Andy. The nice 'n' tight choppy guitar rhythm keeps us involved, making this tune a whole lot more enjoyable than it should be for a White-Boy-Blues vocal the likes of which we'd heard plenty of in the 70's. I do occasionally listen to songs like this from other Northern Soul boys, but a burned-out genre for sure.  One guilty-pleasure I return to from time to time is The Firm (also from '85 and also covered a 60's tune) but, if it didn't have Jimmy Page, I wouldn't have bought it. I must admit that I admire the ability of Paul Rodgers and his type of vocalists and I often try to sing his lines to see what my voice can't handle on any given day.

"Still In Your Heart" is the kind of song that keeps on giving in spite of its' "anybody-can-make-a-tune-like-this" nature.  But, I feel massive emotion coming off of this tune.  It's not like this holds any special event attached to it for me (like almost all the songs I own).  I was only "kicking cans" walking around Hollywood waiting to hit 18 (I was 17 at the time) so I could begin my life proper.  Again, the performances are what sell it.  The vocal is smooth and nuanced (stock and trade for Palmer).  Great instrumental movement section to section.  Good melodies.  A fairly tasteful synth part.  And most importantly for songs that use any kind of solo horn part ... an excellent use of sax !  It stands out, but serves the song.  Not overdone, not underdone.  When a horn part isn't overblown it's a master stroke for a composition and only adds to the power of a recording (in the pop-rock world).

It's strange for an album to come along and spark so much interest only to leave one feeling like they might have better spent their money somewhere else by the end of it.  In the grand scheme of things though, I'd rather be listening to this front to end than ever lay ears on Duran's Big Thing album again or most of Palmer's solo output.  But, the gems are out there ... you just gotta go dig them up.

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The group returned in '96 for their second and last recorded output, Living In Fear. It was both a better and weaker album.  And like the first one, I thought I could live without about half of it.

Right away you have to understand it is not a sonic sequel to the first album.  What the album lacks is the unifying candy-pop production of the '85 album.  This plays more like a collection of all-over-the-place styles from other compilations.  That isn't a bad thing, it just is what it is.  (Like McCartney's London Town vs. all the other Wings albums.)  Also, the reputation of Palmer and Duran catalogs being, essentially, soft to medium pop-rock is shattered here.  So, if you're not open to other styles, it's gonna be a bumpy ride.

While there's nothing as cheesy here as on the first, there are certainly styles I don't like straight-away.  I was never a fan of soul music any more than of folk, country, metal or any other stereotyped genre.  I do love flavorings from all those styles.  But, multifaceted rock covers all those bases for me.  Like XTC covering Beatles to Punk to Jazz and while always delivering smart words and originality in the work.  If I sense the honesty in catalog, I can withstand the frivolous moments easily.  In other words, you're in trusted hands, so I'm on-board for the journey.  Arthur Lee is another one.  He's an original, yet he went on to do what others had already done, but I'd rather hear HIM do it than a stereotype ... see what I'm saying ?  Ok, having said that ...

Living In Fear starts with two medium rockers, very organic, easy on the ears.  "Notoriety" and the soothing, but powerful "Scared".  A good start to an album, but I'm still worried about where it's gonna go ... holding my breath.  Hoping it doesn't turn into a Hootie or Barenaked Ladies trip.

Now, well placed, their signature sound, one could say, is delivered in the only promoted song, "She Can Rock It".  Lame words for the serious '90's, but these guys were raised on the good stuff, don't forget !  They grew-up on Lennon, Harrison, Dylan, Ray Davies ... all that long before the Grungy '90's "acted" so serious.  They just wanna have some rockin' T&A fun here and for once I'm cool with that, so we'll leave 'em to it.

But, now, for me, the album comes to a screeching halt with the cover of "Let's Get It On" ... bore ... next !

Now, let's travel into territory that no one buying this record wants to go into.  With "Life Forces" we're back in the world of soft, groovy, modern, sexy-Jazz.  No thanks.

In similar musical territory, we find "Fancy That".  I cringe once more, but it's snappy and upbeat and at least a level up from 'duh' on the lyrics.  Over time I got addicted to it, but I still cut out the Jazz vocal bridge section (yuck!) when making a Mini-Disc for my car (years back now).

Another abrupt change, but this time it's Metal !  Or what is now considered Hard Rock.  But, this tune is smart and tight ... it's an exceptional performance.  I bow in respect to the greats of rock every time I hear it.  (On playlists I always have Rush's "Virtuality" lined-up right after it.)

Continuing on for the trilogy of hard tunes, they serve up "Shut Up" and "Dope".  "Shut Up" is lighter in that it is soul at the core and has 'fun' horn punches.  "Dope" is nice and heavy.  No way a '90's band can compete with this maturity when it comes to being all-encompassing in the delivery of Heavy Blues from all the decades of the white man loving the black man's music.

Now it's slow-it-down time.  No problem with that, but this song sucks.  It's "Love Conquers All".  Leave this song to Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart, Phil Collins, Sting, Hall & Oates, Paul Young ... you know the rest of 'em.

Ok, hold my breath time.  The Beatles' masterpiece "Taxman" is coming down.  Ick !  The drum track sucks.  Wasn't expecting the debut album's exciting drum production, but yikes !  Whew !  It's getting better.  Ok ... I can live with that.  Hope you had fun on that one, guys.

Now ... the album's over unless you hunted down the Japanese bonus tracks.  I did, knowing I shouldn't, but glad I did.

The second of the bonus tracks would have been a nice addition to the funky-soul-jazz portion of the record.  It's a classic funk piece of happiness called "Power Trippin' ".  Seems 'blah' at first, but the transition into the smooth horn background part is 'too cool'.  All the sections are good and the flow is great.

The first bonus track is what you would more likely find on a solo Palmer album where he's trying to be World Beat.  I say trying since most of those songs are not memorable.  I have a Palmer playlist that includes my favs, but don't go buying every Palmer record and get bummed out and sell 'em all 'cause you over-saturated yourself in Palmer land, or should I say ... Palmer Island !  The track here is called "Charanga".  Named after the music / beat style, of course.  Maybe it was tacked-on here since it doesn't actually "go anywhere".  But, this is a Round.  And a Round builds and decreases like a Raga.  It's delightful, I love it, you should too, end of story.  I don't hear any of the bandmates on this one, but maybe Bernard Edwards produced it or some fun fact that makes it a Power Station addition.

Anyway you slice it, you've got two very different records, each with something for everybody on it.

"And what's wrong with that ?! ... I'd like to know ... " - McCartney '76

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Undercover and Dirty Work: No Respect

I can't say I was surprised when the oversized collector's edition CDs of the '70's Stones albums came out that the series ended with 1981's Tattoo You, but I was disappointed.

1983's Undercover is actually a very organic record.  1986's Dirty Work, not so much.  But, 1988's Steel Wheels is the first time that the audience had been kept at distance from their body of work.  The record is too slick from start to finish, as if hearing them through protective filters.  The Stones would never be the same to me again from this album on.  Even Keith's songs on Steel Wheels sounded like leftovers from his solo albums with The X-Pensive Winos, not like the oddball surprises of old.  But then, the past is where such surprises happened for all of the classic rockers anyway.  No blame to be had.  Just simply change ... the world had changed.