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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Adam Ant: Every Album A Winner!

It's easy to discount the flamboyant popsters in our culture until they deliver something that we relate to (like a hard rock guitar hit).  But, unlike Culture Club filling the Tommy James void and bands like Wham!, General Public, Style Council, Katrina & The Waves, etc. doing Motown style hits, Adam Ant entertained us with a unique audio and visual stamp while alluding to sounds we think we might have known, but never actually had delivered to us in this way.  The revolution that brought this about, of course, was David Bowie.  And don't let people tell you it was mainly Roxy Music, Kraftwerk, T.Rex, Alice Cooper, Kiss, Velvet Underground, or anyone else with good ideas.  Bowie was the revolution that blew our minds with every song on every record the way The Beatles had in the '60's and is blatantly responsible for the flurry of tasteful synth hits from bands rising up the charts from '79 through '84.  Not to mention his trailblazing fashion.  Obviously, Roxy Music and Kraftwerk influenced those who actually bought the synths that made the future, but popstars in the MTV era were carrying the torch from Bowie's domination of the artform.

What Stuart Goddard (Adam Ant) brought to the '80's was his own little mini revolution.  This was new pop and new rock.  Powerful, but fun.  And, intelligent.  Overtly sexual ?  Yes.  Costumes & Make-up ?  Yes.  Danceable ?  Yes.  Disposable ?  Never.  Not the albums as a whole anyway.  And unlike the more important Gary Numan, Adam didn't lose sight of the goal and start delivering albums that shouldn't have existed.  Each Ant release is different from the next and all have great songs.  Creative, hard-hitting, and fun.  Isn't this what good music is all about?

Back in '82, when radio drilled "Goody Two Shoes" into us, I had no idea that this artist already had several albums under his belt.  I also didn't know there would be anything else from him.  As if, maybe, this song was too good to repeat.  What did I know?  I was still young and trying to re-buy albums I was raised on before entering foster homes.  Had I been in the family of my birth at the time, this wouldn't have happened.  But, I was fighting the present while trying to cherish the past.  Not completely, but I had a musical history that I didn't know that the strange new artists on radio also had.  If I'd even thought they had been raised on the same stuff, I'd have trusted them a bit sooner.  Of course, I was only days, weeks, months behind.  Not years, like some people.  I did prick up my ears to The B-52's, The Pretenders, Gary Numan, and Devo.  Blondie and The 3 O'Clock too, by force, but I liked 'em eventually.  The Police and Talking Heads took even longer to learn about, but became bigger favorites when I did.  After leaving foster care in '83, I began filling in the gaps in my collection of '80's records now that I was working and could afford to not steal records anymore.  (Back in foster care, if Christmas and birthdays didn't cover a year's needs, then yes, I'd steal some from the department stores Gemco, Zody's, and K-Mart.  Never at the smaller places like Licorice Pizza, The Wherehouse, or Peaches.  I'd drop a load of pennies and piss-off the clerk at those fine establishments.  Though, I did pay as a first option even at department stores, if I had some money.)

But, the '80's revolution had given-up-the-ghost by the time I graduated high school in '86.  And as shocking as the about face was on the charts.  I was still overwhelmed with the prospect of buying all the records I'd missed out on from '77 to '83.  Adam & Marco (his guitarist/collaborator from the second album on) were part of the puzzle I had to build.  Upon my return to the original albums, I found great songs everywhere.  Interesting parts, different styles, killer melodies, and vocal gymnastics.  All that the hits had implied, but so many more great songs.  There easily could have been a 2-CD set of Antics In The Forbidden Zone instead of one.

Proof of Adam's staying power is found in how people feel when hearing one of his songs unexpectedly.  People are always pleasantly surprised or already casual fans of his music.  This is contrary to the press on him being too camp to be taken seriously.  It's been very easy to find a song that people from different walks of life can enjoy from Adam's catalog.  This is quite amazing to me considering his look and behavior as an artist.  This could be said of Bowie too, but Adam isn't weird in the stiff way that Bowie is.  I've had more difficulty showing people the smarter and darker sides of The Beach Boys and The Ramones than playing an Ant song outloud!  Even his serious albums of '89 and '95 don't come off dark.

So, here now, his albums and the must-have songs on each ...

Dirk Wears White Sox : Zerox, Car Trouble, Digital Tenderness, Nine Plan Failed, Family Of Noise, Tabletalk, Cleopatra, Never Trust A Man (With Egg On His Face), Animals And Men.

This is the album I discovered last (not including Wonderful) and was blown away at how good it was.  Instantly my favorite punk era rock album.  A forward-thinking slice of the past is what I found when I discovered this album.  The only sadness is that it sonically can't hold a candle to the rest of his catalog.  But hearing all the great songs from it live when he toured in the '90's, you'd swear it was a new release.  That's how edgy these tunes are.  Such was the nature of new music in '79.

Kings Of The Wild Frontier : Kings Of The Wild Frontier, Antmusic, Dog Eat Dog, Los Rancheros, Killer In The Home.

The album that came from a rethink after the fiasco of losing his first album band.  And what a way to return to the world.  A completely new approach.  (Although "Kick" and "Car Trouble" were signposts.)  Tribal drums, Western guitar, warpaint and manifestos.  The revolution has a bold new face.

Prince Charming : Stand And Deliver, 5 Guns West, Picasso Visita El Planeta De Los Simios.

On first look, a continuation of the last record, but definitely not memorable.  It does contain, though, the greatest unknown classic in history with "Picasso Visits The Planet Of The Apes" and the forever excellent "Stand And Deliver."  Also a great slice of entertainment is "5 Guns West" which sounds like it belongs on the previous record.

Friend Or Foe : Friend Or Foe, Desperate But Not Serious, Goody Two Shoes, Place In The Country, Something Girls, Made Of Money, Here Comes The Grump.

The album that finally made him a household name.  For a while anyway.  Featuring songs so likable, he couldn't be denied.  But like many thick productions, one has to find the thinner songs for sonic relief.  The two I love from this record fitting that description are "Here Comes The Grump" and "Made Of Money."  Both happen to have honest lyrics about this stage in his career and have appropriate music to match.

Strip : Strip, Puss 'n' Boots, Playboy.

Phil Collins produces and plays ?!  Too bad I dislike the album.  But three of my favorite '80's tunes on the same record?  It took me years to burn-out on "Strip" and "Puss 'n' Boots."  Mind-blowing productions of beauty.

Vive Le Rock : Vive Le Rock, Apollo 9, P.O.E., Hell's Eight Acres, Scorpio Rising.

A full-on rock album?  A 50's sensibility, but an '80's punch!  Two more perfect hits and a boost to his reputation.  "Vive Le Rock" seemed to do for Adam what "Rebel Rebel" did for Bowie.  Where Bowie's tune attacked with that classic hook, Adam punched a hole into the changing '80's with spot-on lyrics defending Rock 'n' Roll in the face of new frivolous music fads.  Everyone who ever loved a rock song of any kind could rise up and take a stand with Adam on this one.  Again, the music on the track matched the message.  Undeniable strength and intelligence.

Manners & Physique : Room At Top, If You Keep On, Picadilly, Young Dumb And Full Of It, Anger Inc.

"Room At The Top" charted, was played often, and definitely sounded confident, but then...poof!  Where'd he go?  Where'd the album go?  Are there gonna be any more records from this hit making giant?  Guess not.

Wonderful : Won't Take That Talk, Wonderful, 1969 Again, Yin & Yang, Image Of Yourself, Alien.

The return.  And, not just a return, but a return up the charts with "Wonderful."  Proof positive that anytime, anywhere, the world is open for an Adam Ant album.

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Peel Sessions & Antbox : Ligotage.

This song should have been added to the first album.  A masterpiece!

B-Side Babies : Fall In, Friends, Juanito The Bandito, Why Do Girls Love Horses, Human Bondage Den, Christian D'or, B-Side Baby, Greta X.

A nice compliment to his hits collection Antics In The Forbidden Zone.  "Juanito..." is like having another Adam/Marco Western right there on vinyl.  So perfect.  "Greta X" just kicks butt.  "B-Side Baby" is a classic slab of rock.  Somewhere between pop and rock lies the great "Christian D'or."  "...Horses" is more comedy ala "Juanito..."  "Fall In" is a great warm-up rave-up from the early period and "Friends" is a touch of comedy from the same period.

Antbox : Saigon, Steve McQueen.

Both would be perfect as bonus tracks for Vive Le Rock.  "Saigon" definitely sounds like a natural for inclusion on the album proper.  I feel empowered every time I hear it.

Now, I know there are more good songs.  Kings Of The Wild Frontier has more, though some grate.  Vive Le Rock is perfect from start to finish as far as perfectly melding similar type songs together.  "Vampires" from Wonderful has a great chorus, but unfinished sounding verses.  "Manners & Physique" is a good song musically, but with shallow words.  "Can't Set Rules About Love" seems to run short of words leading up to the chorus...very anti-climatic.  And so on and so on.  But, this list is for the uninitiated.  Those new to Adam Ant, enjoy !

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Cars, The Beach Boys, The Ramones: America's Bands

Strangely, sharing the mantle with The Beach Boys, but in an unofficial way, The Cars did accomplish being the '80's mirror of fun-in-the-sun teenage culture.  But, The Cars, like The Beach Boys, aren't what people think they are.

The Ramones also are cursed to endure such a fate. And, for all their girl-group style classics, they have some of the best wit in the punk world in their harder tunes.  And, not just their hard tunes up through '79, but also in their adventures into Metal from '84 to '89.  We know that the imagery, guitar bite, and vocals aren't gonna endear most soft audiences to The Ramones brand of fun, but The Cars were able to keep the weirdness of New Wave pop and the force of straight-rock infused into their pop hits without ever looking uncool.  Even The Beach Boys have more variety in their corner than The Ramones, until what I consider the end of the band in '73 with the wonderful album Holland.  So, The Ramones never really were given a chance to represent, but The Cars and The Beach Boys are both revered for their brand of positivity and fun.  The same could be said of many hit-makers in the '80's who wrote retro '50's/'60's style tunes - Huey Lewis & The News, The Go-Go's, Katrina & The Waves, The Stray Cats, The Polecats, etc.  But, something about The Cars' hits contain a special magic in their drive, full-bodied production style (which includes many interesting parts), and inclusion of synths to make for truly modern recordings, not retro-replicas.  And The Cars' hits don't have that tinge of sadness that even The Beach Boys' hits seem to have.  When I was a child, "I Get Around" was one of the heaviest tunes going.  It's just that the lyrics didn't reflect that.  Motown hits had that affect too.  The hit, "Locomotion" was another one for me that sounded like a whole lot more than a dance craze was being explained to me.  Songs like that carry a weight forever tied to the times in which they were made.

But, The Beach Boys are, for perfect reasons, the official band of the USA.  Even if my particular interest in them (after leaving foster care at age 15) only extended to Smiley Smile and beyond, their catalog up to that point had earned them the right to wear the crown.  They certainly had the ingredients to make America smile.  Where they would go from there was probably too depressing to have the name Beach Boys attached, but such is the history now...Surf's Up, So Tough, Holland.  Heavy albums with a few light touches.  Sunflower...serious with many light touches.  Not perfect albums, but great albums all.

One can easily be turned-off to a band by hearing the wrong tunes, or even good ones in the wrong order.  A good disc jockey can remedy this, seemingly, unimportant issue for you.  Allow me to try now.  Below are lists that bring great songs to you, but in an order that tells a story in tempo and mood, moving perfectly from start to finish.  Of course, I'm not perfect, so I have to apologize for songs I feel I couldn't quite place correctly.  For those who know these songs, you'll see where you agree or not.  But, let me show you another side to these bands.  A side that radio rarely exposed.

The Beach Boys : '70 - '73  

1) Feel Flows
2) Trader
3) Steamboat
4) 'Til I Die
5) Surf's Up
6) Lookin' At Tomorrow (A Welfare Song)
7) Long Promised Road
8) You Need A Mess Of Help To Stand Alone
9) Sail On, Sailor
10) Marcella
11) Funky Pretty
12) It's About Time
13) All I Wanna Do
14) California Saga / California

The Beach Boys : '66 - '70

1) Do It Again
2) Sloop John B
3) Bluebirds Over The Mountain
4) I Can Hear Music
5) Break Away
6) Celebrate The News
7) This Whole World
8) Add Some Music To Your Day
9) Our Sweet Love
10) At My Window
11) Cool, Cool Water
12) Aren't You Glad
13) Here Comes The Night
14) Time To Get Alone
15) Let The Wind Blow
16) I Went To Sleep
17) Our Prayer
18) Cabinessence
19) Vegetables
20) Heroes And Villains
21) Wouldn't It Be Nice
22) God Only Knows
23) Good Vibrations
24) Here Today
25) I Know There's An Answer
26) Caroline No

The Ramones : '84 - '96 (The Hard Stuff)

1) Mama's Boy
2) Weasel Face
3) Bop 'Til You Drop
4) I Lost My Mind
5) Endless Vacation
6) Wart Hog
7) I Know Better Now
8) Garden Of Serenity
9) I'm Not Jesus
10) Don't Bust My Chops
11) Learn To Listen
12) Ignorance Is Bliss
13) Punishment Fits The Crime
14) Pet Sematary
15) I Wanna Live
16) I Believe In Miracles
17) Poison Heart
18) Censorshit
19) Strength To Endure
20) It's Gonna Be Alright
21) Tomorrow She Goes Away
22) The Job That Ate My Brain
23) Makin' Monsters For My Friends
24) The Crusher
25) Cretin Family
26) Got Alot To Say
27) Have A Nice Day
28) Take The Pain Away
29) It's Not For Me To Know
30) Scattergun
31) Born To Die In Berlin

The Cars : Mixed Bag (Odd, Sweet, Tough)

1) Night Spots
2) Got A Lot On My Head
3) Double Life
4) Touch And Go
5) Panorama
6) Gimmie Some Slack
7) Getting Through
8) Misfit Kid
9) Down Boys
10) Up And Down
11) Running To You
12) Cruiser
13) Think It Over
14) Maybe Baby
15) Ta Ta Wayo Wayo
16) Leave Or Stay
17) Door To Door

You may remember some of these Cars' songs from radio at the time, but not now!  The only hit in this list is "Touch And Go."  As smooth as it is, it's still too jagged for rotation on 'hit' radio flashbacks.  Why would radio dig it up when they can please millions with "Let's Go," "Shake It Up," or any hit from the first album.  Ordinarily, I wouldn't add "Running To You" on a playlist, but although I'm not wild about the chorus it doesn't take away from a top notch tune otherwise.  I love the interplay of the instruments.  This brings me to the fact that I love all the musical parts on the entire Panorama album!  Back in the day, all their albums seemed to be equally quirky, hard, and soft combined.  Years later, it's easy to see the differences between the more straight-ahead approach of the '70's vs. the wacky early '80's.  And yet, the lines still blur back 'n' forth, because at any given moment they may want to accentuate the '50's guitar style that sounded like surf-punk and western pastiches or jump to experimental synth parts of the time.  So, before the super-smooth sounds of '84's Heartbeat City and '87's Door To Door, you could hear just what the band members were workin' with....Gary Numan, Devo, B-52's, Adam Ant (if Kings Of The Wild Frontier had been released yet)...all bands that are comin' up together and influencing each other directly or indirectly until the movement dissipated.  It's no surprise that Panorama sounds like a Devo record.  It was the year of Devo.  Close your eyes at the start of "Gimmie Some Slack" and you'll think "Whip It" is about to start!  Whether a joke or not, it's great fun.  Also, the Stones "She's So Cold" comes to mind, but this song is none of those.  It's just another Cars classic that'll never be perfect for normal radio.  That's ok though, because rock fans love Panorama.  And, to top it off, it doesn't have a picture of a girl on the cover.  Sure, it's car related, but more in iconic imagery than with an actual car.  The flag gracing the cover is standard in racing circles, but also represents the New Wave ethic in its checkerboard style.  A stark image with bold colors.  This album as a whole, not as individual songs, has to be their greatest triumph.  No other Cars album do I want to play start-to-finish.  But, that's just me.  I like aggressive-quirky.

The purpose of all the lists above is to show you that these bands aren't just the fun-in-the-sun party outfits that their names have come to signify.  So, make your own playlists.  But, hear it all first, so you don't miss anything you'd wished you had added later, but forgot to buy.  Greatest Hits sell big for a reason, but for me, they're introductions to a group before I go whole-hog.  For many they are the be-all and end-all of their interest in a group.  And, hey!  I'm the same if it's a group I like only for a song or two, but have you ever met someone who says they love a group and still haven't heard the entire catalog?  Maybe this type of fan is shrinking with the internet allowing everyone to investigate a catalog thoroughly.  But, some bands have a reputation so set in stone, you'd have to be a miracle worker to get the public to acknowledge a new reality.  I look forward to all of you getting the most out of your record collection.  A collection best used, not just shelved.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Bob Mould Re-invents Hard Rock and No One Even Notices

Bob who ?  Evidently, his original band, Husker Du was already reaping praise from critics before a band mate of mine brought me to the Warehouse:Songs And Stories album tour of '87.  Their last album and tour as a band before main singer/writer (guitarist) Bob Mould went solo.

Like any guilty pleasure that turns into a legitimate fondness, I originally heard traces of things I really liked and things I really didn't like in this band Husker Du.  It turns out, most of what I didn't like was singer/writer (drummer) Grant Hart.  Not that I was jazzed by either one of their voices, but the blitzkrieg of distorted guitar didn't help me to hear the melodies that night at The Variety Arts Center in downtown Los Angeles.  To be honest, I didn't understand why they had an audience.  But, I wasn't following any post-punk outfits to even know what was going on in that realm.  (Sadly, Bob Mould's future electric guitar shows (not his acoustic ones), showcased his songs as unrecognizable crash 'n' burn mosh-pit excursions.  I figure that he thought, "You know how the record goes, so let's just burn-off some steam."  I felt bad for anyone who might have come to hear the melodies only to get mangled vocals.)

But, with the release of Bob Mould's solo outing of '89, Workbook, I started to get hooked.  Again, loving some things and cringing at others.  But, playing the album non-stop.  Maybe, because in a world of Sunset Strip Make-up Metal, it was nice to hear something honest and original.  A distinct 'voice,' the likes of which I hadn't seen in a solo singer/guitarist for a while.  And, though I would never claim that he is an artist who has something for everyone, I could definitely hear a mix of different things happening all over this record.  First off, he actually had a production well-suited for radio.  "See A Little Light" was in rotation and did get him noticed.  This and other songs featured a cello in the musical line-up years before it became trendy by all the wanna-be R.E.M. bands of the '90's.  Bands signed during the Seattle - grunge frenzy, but none of which sounded as fresh as Nirvana.  (I particularly liked The Posies, but they were a '60's throwback, not true grungers, even when they made some hard-hitting records with "Frosting On The Beater" and "Amazing Disgrace."  A band that is probably big fans of Husker Du as well.  They have a song called "Grant Hart").  Songs like "Wishing Well" and "Poison Years" were very welcome in a time of bloated pop songs.  Because, as we all know, late-'80's pop hits had none of the experimentation and adventure that the early-'80's had.  The renaissance was over...and this time for good !

The biggest revelation on this record comes at the end with a tune heavy in mood and delivery, but with a sparse, thin production to let you inside of it for the verses, then puts you further back for the bloodletting of guitar.  This tune is called "Whichever Way The Wind Blows."  Heavyweight title for a heavyweight song.  Immediately, I feel I'm hearing Zep's "When The Levee Breaks" only because it puts me in that same mentality.  A powerful drone of sound.  The albums he was yet to deliver would almost make me forget this tune, because that's how fast Bob Mould was zooming into an intelligent hard rock sound for the '90's.  I was also a big fan of "Dreaming, I Am."  A mysterious song with soft and hard touches, a great vocal and smooth parts.  Outstanding!  Meanwhile, in a different, more organic universe, comes "Compositions For The Young And Old," a lengthy story of how things used to be and our frustrations with good things gone bye-bye.

If Bob Mould had ended his career with this record, that would have been a great way to end it right there.  A great achievement.  But in 1990 he comes out with the most tuneful hard rock record I had ever heard, Black Sheets Of Rain.  With this one, he's in full rock mode and it's heaven!  The title track is a masterpiece of purpose.  Never would I bore of it!  "Stand Guard" would takes years for me to like, only because it reminded me of the meatheads who would have used a similar template to rock-out.  "It's Too Late" takes '70's pop to its beautiful core and fits it nicely on a simply produced rock record that has no frills, but all the emotion of an album that would make you sing along.  "One Good Reason," "Stop Your Crying," and "Hanging Tree" are all great heavyweights.  Then, back to hard pop for "Hear Me Calling," "Out Of Your Life," "Disappointed."  Ending the album is another song in the vein of "Whichever Way The Wind Blows," but is nowhere near as good, "Sacrifice: Let There Be Peace."  This song was put on his 'best of' collection, upsetting me to no end.

Upon hearing this record, I really had no interest in ever hearing any other hard rock bands again.  This was the ultimate.  As far as hard-hitting records by other 'smart' rockers, I was a big Rush fan by 1985 when I finally bought my first day & date release of Power Windows, so they covered my hard rock needs with enough variety for a lifetime of enjoyment.  Also, I was deep into my favorite hard rock record by my favorite '80's New Wavers ... Calm Animals by The Fixx.  And, though not lyrically important, the always compositionally deep Robert Plant and his latest, Manic Nirvana was also inspiring.  (Minus the stupid single choice.)  So, this was 1990.  A futurist year, in theory, as much as 1980 looked coming after 1979.  A dawn of a new age in great music awaited....or did it ?!  The only good thing I can say about the '90's is, if you liked the '70's, but wished they'd had more modern recording techniques and equipment to beef-up the product, well....the '90's are for you.  If you like the idea of lumberjacks gettin' all gothic on us with guitars plugged into distortion and no other effects and definitely no synths...then the '90's are for you.  I did enjoy some of the retro sounds myself, but not the lumberjack-gothic ethic.  The '80's was the end of the mind-blowing history that started with the late 50's rock 'n' roll and then morphed into the first British Invasion.  So, by 1990 I was done.  Certainly I wouldn't mind not having to collect records anymore in my life.  But, Bob Mould wasn't costing me, especially when I bought both these albums on cassettes that were industry promo copies.  So, like The Firm or Box Of Frogs in the '80's, this was a private detour that turned into a rediscovery for why straight-ahead hard rock was vital to the purpose of rock music.

So, here we are in the let's-get-into-widescreen-movies-on-Laserdisc-with-surround-sound-'90's and forget about any new music, when Mr. Mould puts together a band by the name of Sugar.  It's still Mould music, but with a second songwriter who was both poignant and powerful, David Barbe, (initially only heard on singles).  So, by this time, I'm for sure paying full dollar amount for anything with Bob's name on it!  I bought this next album without knowing anything about what was within. But, I was seriously unprepared for this musical surprise.  Copper Blue from 1992 was the greatest hard rock record I had ever heard.  So good it melted all his other works away from consciousness.  So sonically powerful and yet bright.  A crisp, clear production.  Never has distorted guitar been so majestic.  A very intelligent hard rock experience.

Well, since rock radio was trying to cash-in on grunge, they took as many new hard rock records as they could find to make a statement that they weren't oldsters playing the same old records.  Here in Los Angeles, KLOS was that station.  KLSX was talk-only, so no competition there.  But, the truly alternative station KROQ had given all the grungers a chance since Nirvana and accidentally inherited all these heavy bands that really should have been on KLOS.  So, KLOS makes the switch and brings in new fans, but ultimately alienates their old demographic and retreats.  But, not before Copper Blue's "Helpless" gets heavy rotation on the station.  Maybe the tempo made this the song of choice, but at least he was on the radio again.  Any song from this record could have made a radio playlist since it was the era to be hard.  But, there were also some lighter tracks.  "If I Can't Change Your Mind" and "Hoover Dam" could have made Sugar a household name in moderate-rock circles.  But, one can never trust radio to bring you the best.  Sometimes they get it right, but most of the time they don't.

"The Act We Act" starts the album heavy-metal-hard only to break into yearning vocal beauty.  My favorite type of tune ... desperate truth-saying on top of a heavy bed of guitar force.  "A Good Idea" is next.  Very 'up' for a 'down' topic.  More realistic the feel of suicide than any horror-flick style death, the way Metal songs would do.  "Changes" would have made a great radio staple.  It was a single, but I think KLOS needed "Helpless" to be the song to fit the slower grunge tracks that were being allowed on radio.  And by-the-way, this is '96, years after the album.  But radio would have you think that they were hip to the variety of indie artists of the '90's.  They were not.  "Changes" had that guitar movement that reminded me of Rush's "The Big Money" from Power Windows.  Alex Lifeson from Rush and Bob Mould both understand that chord progressions are half the story.  Lead guitar is great, but without showing off the beauty of just letting notes and chords repeat in a round, the listener would miss being transported to a higher plane.  All the cerebral greats know this.  It is the stuff of great songs.  James Honeyman-Scott of The Pretenders used to blow our minds with this too.  A good, slow dirge is "The Slim."  It's overriding feature being the fact that Mould sings the word 'slim' as 'slime,' but he does say, "the chances seems so slim" during the song too.  So, I don't know.  "Fortune Teller" is a straight-up rocker with a punk ethic, the way only a person with a love for both could provide.  This is why his style of rock is so fresh.  The fact that he came from a punk world, but doesn't actually write punk songs makes for the uniqueness that is his catalog.  "Slick" is another dirge, but a bit more up.  It has a nice warped feel to it, thanks to the vocal phrasing.  Ending the album is another poignant full-weighted piece as perfect for the finish as "The Act We Act" was for the beginning, "Man On The Moon."  And, don't think I wasn't upset that a band I used to love (R.E.M.) had a song on the charts at the time with the same title.  It could have been nice for radio to play 'em back-to-back on a show showing off songs with the same titles.  But, I guess, the deepest weekday radio can be is to say, "Here's two for Tuesday!"  Yeah, wow.  You guys are so witty.  Any other brilliant ideas before free radio becomes obsolete?

For 1993, Sugar hits us with second of the one-two punches and takes the rock up another notch.  Unbelievably, all the hard-hitting excitement of this new release, "Beaster" is delivered with just a few songs on this long-playing e.p.  With mellow bookends surrounding the harder songs, these are his hardest songs yet and about as hard as you can get while still being a rock band, not a metalhead joke like so many respected hard-rock outfits.  Of the hard songs, I'm nuts for three of the four, "Tilted," "JC Auto," and "Feeling Better."  And they're perfect played in that order too.  One building into the next.  Each one long enough to last a good length.  This is especially important when driving around town and you want to wallow in this state of mind.  The melodies, the words, the guitars, the vocal overdubs, the tasteful, but upfront use of synth on "Feeling Better" all secure this album as another Mould masterpiece.  Thank you, Bob Mould, David Barbe, and Malcolm Travis.  You've made the world of rock a better place.

Before Bob Mould went back to releasing songs under his own name again, there was one more Sugar outing.  The third release, File Under: Easy Listening, was both a cute title and the truth, in as much as it was an exhale from the bone-crushing hard style of Beaster, but then again, it wasn't.  It was simply both.  And both aspects of the album were good.  It was hard to accept some of the Hootie & the Blowfish truck-drivin' style at the time.  But, that's alright.  I'm not one to say anyone who has made great contributions should ever be expected to repeat themselves or be different either way.  Artists take you on a trip you would not have gone on yourself.  This is a fact that should be appreciated.

Speaking of the harder side again, this album has the solid-rockin' tunes, "Gift," "Gee Angel," and "Granny Cool." And, as always with this band, single-only classics.  In this case, "Going Home," "Mind Is An Island" and "And You Tell Me."  Masterpieces, all!  In a way, the cool-down was almost a relief.  After so many great songs and heavy live shows, I wasn't upset that I could see this being the last Sugar album.  I knew it even before it was reality.  But, ya know what kiddies?  Bob Mould had more tricks up his sleeve.  A one-off comedic rap track that I loved blasting from the car.  Electronica.  More acoustic soft stuff.  And, definitely more hard stuff.  And, you know I'm the guy to like all of that when there's a trusted artist at the helm.  Because intelligence in words or composition or better yet, both, brings the art of rock music to a fulfilling place.  A place I wish all of you to be.

             "Get out there and rock and roll the bones!"  -  Rush, 1991

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Arthur Lee vs. Jimi Hendrix


Photo by Jeffrey Eisen

All my life I've been a fan of The Jimi Hendrix Experience. (Who hasn't?)  And, all my life I've been a fan of Arthur Lee and his band Love.  A band name that, of course, doesn't turn heads, but a logo that does.  And like band names that we hear over and over, the meaning and sound of 'Love' changes as we become familiar with the attitude of the music.

It's strange to me to even have to go down this road of holding Arthur Lee up as an artist I'd rather have you listen to than Hendrix.  Jimi Hendrix is a special kind of guy.  He's a great player, with a relaxed feel.  Great compositions and a variety of styles (to a certain degree).  A great singer.  And, from all accounts, a sweet and fragile individual.  Arthur Lee is different.  He's a rougher person.  But, he's as hard and as soft as Hendrix.  Arthur is rough around-the-edges musically sometimes, where you hold your breath and hope he reels it in before it all falls apart.  Other times he's as sharp as a tack and blowing your mind with odd songs that make Hendrix look conventional.

Be assured I'm not here to make this a war of choosing sides.  I would just like to see posters of Arthur Lee on your wall alongside Hendrix posters.  This is the right thing to do.  You see, as far as I can tell, Arthur Lee and his cohorts created punk.  Yes, punk!  There's nothing like "Seven And Seven Is" that I've yet found from the same period in history.  The Kinks also, and better known, created punk and heavy metal with "You Really Got Me."  And, amazingly both bands made the most passionate sweet and/or sad songs while still being balls-to-the-wall outfits.  And yes, Hendrix had that ability.  But, where Lee/Love was different was in their weirdness.  Arthur Lee comes off like the Johnny Mathis of punkdom.  Love took normalcy and gave it the biggest twist I've ever heard.  As a baby I was transfixed by the gothic nature and heaviness of their cover of "My Little Red Book."  I've never been so gripped by a song since.  And by gripped, I mean, the Grim Reaper has you by the throat!  Intense stuff for young ears.  But then, maybe it took on a special surreal state in my environment at the time.  (See "Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas" to get an idea.)

As a matter of fact, it seems Elektra Records had the trifecta of gothic pop under one roof with The Doors, Tim Buckley, and Love.  Heavy stuff.

I wonder how Arthur and Jimi behaved around each other, knowing they played on a song together from Love's False Start album, "The Everlasting First."  I simply do not know, though I have heard Lee's opinion of Jimi's arrival on the musical landscape.  And, I'd think Lee could be a little miffed when a guitar master who can write great songs overshadows him.  But, Arthur Lee writes more important songs, songs attacking injustice, songs pleading with you to understand, songs begging you to change.  Arthur Lee, like John Lennon, George Harrison, and Ray Davies is a truth-sayer.  And, like them, he knows how to fight with all his being for the truth.  You can hear and feel the sadness that hurts his soul when he leaps out of a sweet melody into improv screaming.  But privately, Arthur must have loved Jimi's spirit in order to make what is essentially a Jimi Hendrix record with 1972's Vindicator.  Simply a masterpiece!  What a record.  Total Arthur doin' very Jimi.  A wonderful tribute, whether intended or not.

I could go on for a long time writing about my love for Love.  I could also tell you how many years I basked in the glow of "Axis: Bold As Love."  For now I only remind you to add posters of your own making.  Stay out of the gift shops selling you another Hendrix poster.  Make you own featuring Arthur Lee, James Honeyman-Scott, Dave Davies, Adrian Belew, Warren Cuccurullo, and anyone else that deserves a nod for all the guitar prowess they've wielded while getting absolutely no credit in the gift shops of the world!  For, like Hendrix, these men were great players and great songwriters both!  All hail the real rock 'n' roll history!  A history that even I haven't finished investigating.  But I'm not on this earth to talk to you about every person who's ever picked up a guitar.  I'm here to point out the special ones.  Those who have made a special mark in the pantheon of great songs.  Enjoy your record collections and go down fighting!  Jimi and Arthur did...in the deep black grooves of vinyl.