Friday, January 29, 2010

The Grammy Awards, 2010

You know it's gonna be a big Haiti benefit wrapped around a useless awards show that pretty much praises corporate mainstream artists who aren't really musicians, right? Please... Lady Gaga? Beyonce as Sasha Fierce? "Totally free top-notch entertainment" (says Rolling Stone "critic" David Wild)?
As my British friend Fiona H. would say, "It's shite."

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Pretenders • Pretenders [24k+ Gold CD]

Steve Hoffman made his name in the early '90s by mastering great records of our time for DCC Compact Classics, who released these sweet masters on gold compact discs. Not as gimmicky as it sounds, actually, these discs have a presence that your standard CDs don't typically have. Don't know whatever happened with DCC, but these guys at Audio Fidelity are now employing Hoffman and putting out all new "24k+" gold discs that are limited, numbered editions and have a very similar look to the DCCs of yesteryear.

I was talking to a guy at my local emporium who was holding a copy of AF's new The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get by Joe Walsh, and he was gushing about how great it was gonna sound. That sounded good to me so I went to check for another copy and there were none. So I made my usual scan down the aisles (this time I started at Z and worked backward) and lo and behold, the Pretenders first album Pretenders on Audio Fidelity! I checked the price and it was doable, so I doed it. I'm now listening to it and am just about through and I've gotta say, this Hoffman mastered version is even better than the reissue that came out on Rhino a couple of years ago. The snap of the snare and tambourines, the thud/boom of the kick drum, it all sounds right on. "Mystery Achievement" is marvelous, with the drums opening and then the bass coming in, finally the guitars, oh joy! And let's not forget the other 11 songs on this album, because as you know, EVERY SONG ON THIS ALBUM IS A CLASSIC. "Precious," "Tattooed Love Boys," "Brass in Pocket," crikey they're all glorious and stunning. Try one for yourself and see how you like it. Audio Fidelity has a number of titles and I'm anxious to try some more. Like potato chips, you can't have just one...
5/5 (Audio Fidelity AFZ 052, www.audiofidelity.net)

The Clash • Cut the Crap

Saw a very nice copy of The Clash's 1985 swansong, Cut the Crap, at one of my favorite record shops the other day. I didn't have a copy of this record—the only one I was missing by the only band that matters—so I picked it up. Now, you may remember the reviews of this final album under that storied band name from when it came out, and they were uniformly bad. Not B.A.D., as in the band Mick Jones started with Don Letts after he was kicked out of his own band (and who were a better group than the one on this record), but C.R.A.P.

Joe Strummer, bless his populist little heart, decided to carry on under the name he helped promote to #1 Punk Band in the Land, recruited some young punks (no new boots or contracts), and cut an album of new generation singalongs. A few of these songs aren't that bad, including the two singles "This Is England" and the severely misguidedly-titled "We Are the Clash," neither of which charted very high. Part of the problem here is that Strummer co-wrote the tunes not with his old mates in the band (or even the new ones), but former Clash manager Bernie Rhodes. Some songs retain a bit of the old grit and go the band once had, but let's face it, this one was not helped by BR's input. Basically, it's the arrangements and the constant "everybody sing with me!" choruses that wear on you.

Clearly, Strummer must've felt he had something to prove when he undertook this record. Despite the fact that The Clash had Top 10 hits everywhere, had successfully toured the globe in support of their 1982 Combat Rock album, and had garnered more great reviews than any punk band ever, he's definitely giving it his all here. "This Is England" ain't half-bad, "Movers and Shakers" and "North and South" is alright, too, but overall, you can't really listen to this one much. And that may be why, when in the early '90s a box set of the band's work was released, mysteriously this record's name is missing from the band discography and not one cut from it appears on any of the three discs. I like to think that maybe even those few years later Strummer realized that he'd sullied his band's name and decided to try and forget the past. In the late '90s all of the band's albums were remastered and reissued—all except this one. I guess they really did cut the crap.
2/5 (Epic FE 40017, 1985)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Young Fresh Fellows • A Tribute to Music

This 1997 release on Rock 'N' Roll, Inc. out of Spain completely slipped by me. Now, let me just say that Young Fresh Fellows are probably the best band ever out of Seattle (sorry, Sonics were from Tacoma), and I've followed them since their inception. Why, I can remember many drunken gigs at the Rainbow (in Seattle), the Hollywood Underground (where I got asked onstage to sing "Give It to the Soft Boys" with them), and just about every good dive (oxymoron!) in town. A Tribute to Music is one of those foreign releases the Fellows have always been fond of: put out an entirely great CD on some tiny-ass label and let the hardcore fans have fun trying to find a copy. Well, I got mine used for $5.99 at Easy Street Records in West Seattle today, and I'm here to say I'm quite enjoying this 12 song, 29:39 disc.

Right off the bat there's a real kooky intro—sorry, an "Invocation"—and then a super annoying Louie Louie-style tune with Scott McCaughey sounding quite demonic. Very next thing, they launch into a cover of Kirsty MacColl's "They Don't Know," which was a hit for Tracey Ullman. Soon you get "Ivar's Theme" about our local fishmonger/marketing genius Ivar Haglund, and it just keeps rockin' all the way to the end. I gotta hand it to Scott, Jim, Kurt and Tad for their ability to keep it real for so dang long. How I missed this one when it came out, I have no idea. But I'm glad I got it now. If only Jim Sangster would come by and get that Ampeg amp grill I snagged for him...
4/5 (Rock 'N' Roll, Inc. - Spain)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

David Kirby • Little Richard: The Birth of Rock 'N' Roll

I read way too many rock 'n' roll biographies. I could be filling my head with interesting socio-political tomes (which I do read on occasion) or treatises on the latest thoughts on victims' rights or whathaveyou, but instead I read typically badly-written stories of people who may or may not be remembered in another ten years for wielding their cigarette-burned axes all over the world with fellow drug-addled losers... Okay, maybe not all of them are that bad, but you know what I mean.

Well, anyway, my pal Dick and his wife gave me a nice gift certificate to a book store and I bought this here book, Little Richard: The Birth of Rock 'N' Roll, by a real life professor of English, David Kirby. It's a small thing, suitably decorated in a mid-2oth century pink cover design depicting our own Richard Penniman looking his straightest best, more than likely belting out "Tutti Frutti" or one of his other hits. In fact, Kirby's main premise in this book is that that song is the most important in the history of rock, and based on his very erudite and quite humorous arguments, he may just be right. This book isn't exactly a biography, though, because Kirby doesn't present "just the facts, m'am" like most do—he gives you basic facts 'n' figures but he surrounds them with his very interesting anecdotes and observations of Macon, Georgia (where Richard was born), of the man's bi/gay persuasion, of his lifelong swingin' back 'n' forth from absolutely primordial rock 'n' roll screamer to good-boy churchgoer. Kirby, a prof at Florida State U., makes this such an entertaining and energizing read, you just gotta get out your 18 Greatest Hits CD (on Rhino) or any one of the other packages of Little Richard's awesome songs and start boogieing right there on the floor in front of God and everybody.

And he doesn't just pour on the fanboy kudos all over the place, either. Though Charles White's bio on LR might be the one to get if you want a by-the-book biography (it ain't a bad book either, I recall), David Kirby's is the one to better show just what made this effeminate madman possibly the craziest, most outrageous shouter the world has ever known.
4/5 (Continuum Books, 2009)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Johnny Kidd & The Pirates • The Best Of

First off, RIP Mick Green, who played guitar in mid-period Pirates and later led the band through the pub rock/punk rock craze of the late '70s...

This 2CD set is a 2008 compilation that is a lot more than a "best of," since it includes almost everything Johnny Kidd & The Pirates ever put out. Strange how The Best Of is a mid-priced release with very minimal notes and details, but at least now you've got darn near everything in one place. And that includes "Shakin' All Over," "Please Don't Touch," period covers like "Some Other Guy" and "Shop Around," and even "Shakin' All Over '65." I gotta say, though, the graphics are horrid—they look like they were done by someone's not particularly talented nephew.

If you want to delve into Mick Green's later Pirates, there are numerous compilations to check out, including the way over the top Shakin' at the Beeb which has more versions of "Shakin' All Over" than even I can take!
3/5 (EMI Gold UK)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Various Artists • Stiffs Live (aka Live Stiffs Live)

This live LP/CD from 1978 is an historical document, capturing the Stiff Records tour of that year and featuring many of the nascent label's latest signings. Elvis Costello (already getting way too much coverage on this blog!), Nick Lowe, Wreckless Eric, Ian Dury & The Blockheads and Larry Wallis all appear on Stiffs Live, fronting their own bands and backing up each other. Sorta like a family orgy... only not icky.

Elvis and his new Attractions whip out the Bacharach/David "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself" and his own "Miracle Man," Nick chews out "Let's Eat" and "I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock 'N' Roll)," Wreckless Eric sounds very drunk singing "Semaphore Signals" and "Reconnez Cherie," Ian Dury does "Billericay Dickie" and "Wake Up & Make Love With Me" (perhaps the first-ever song about morning wood?), and Larry Wallis' Psychedelic Rowdies take a ride in "Police Car." The album closes with the entire motley crew doing Dury's "Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll." All in all, an interesting and worthwhile vehicle for hearing what all the fuss was about. All the CD versions I've seen of this album have the exact same song lineup, so save yourself some money and buy it used on vinyl... I got mine in a 4 records for $10 deal and it's in great shape!
4/5 (Stiff America STF 0001, orig. distributed by Arista Records, 1978)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Elvis Costello • Live at Hollywood High

The second in EC's live reissue series, and the one that most of his hardcore fans have been waiting for. Live at Hollywood High is the complete 1978 concert recorded at the venerable high school, just after Elvis and The Attractions' first album, This Year's Model, was released and before Armed Forces was even recorded. Very nice sound quality here (much better than Live at the El Mocambo), and puts the three songs that were first issued on the free vinyl single into context. Of course, as these things go, if you bought the most recent reissue of Armed Forces then you already have half of this concert, but for little over ten bucks, it's definitely nice to have the complete show.
5/5 (Hip-O Records)

Pulp • The Peel Sessions

A 2-CD set that gathers nearly everything Pulp recorded for John Peel's radio show in the '90s, The Peel Sessions features the hits "Common People," "Weeds," "Sorted For E's and Wizz" (my fave on the set and from their 1995 album Different Class) and "This Is Hardcore," plus numerous others in both live-in-studio and live-in-front-of-an-audience versions. A great companion to the Deluxe Editions of His 'N' Hers, Different Class and This Is Hardcore.
NOTE: This is the first of reviews we'll do that are not "new" releases... Look forward to more real soon-like.
4/5 (Island 9841397)

The Dukes of Stratosphear (XTC) • The Complete and Utter Dukes

They've taken both of XTC's alter ego releases as The Dukes of Stratosphear and put them into an ultra-mega-deluxe boxset that includes both CD and vinyl versions (180 gram too!), a 7" single, a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle, Dukes Dollars, and a coupon for a Dukes t-shirt of your very own. All of this comes in a real nice purple velvet box. So if you haven't picked up 25 O'Clock or Psonic Psunspot since they were reissued by Andy Partridge's Ape House label, now's the time. The remasters are much better than the ones Virgin originally put out, the CDs feature extra demos and stuff, and the vinyl is very psychedelically psupreme. (The vinyl versions come out separately in their own right anytime now.)
5/5 (Ape House APEBOX002, available at the Ape House website)

Captain Sensible • Women And Captains First, The Power of Love

FINALLY two of the greatest albums that mix rock and "synth pop" in a way that dumbs down neither have been issued on CD. Captain Sensible, sometime guitarist for my favorite band of all time, The Damned, put these two out in the early '80s, on the heels of his surprise hit "Happy Talk" (yes, from South Pacific!), as he took his turn at becoming a pop star. He had more than his 15 minutes, at least in Britain, and of course he's been back with his punk chums for longer than a decade now, but these A&M elpees were never put out on CD until the 2000's, first as limited edition Japanese issues (with uncharacteristically mediocre mastering), and now these superb versions on Cherry Red. Women And Captains First came out in 1982 and featured not only the aforementioned hit, but the further single "Croydon" (a sublime tune about his childhood and growing up "cleaning toilets"), "Brenda" and my personal fave, "Wot!" (which also charted). Tony Mansfield gets the producer credit for both albums, and on the first one especially he really did a fantastic job... great pop songs bolstered by production and arrangements that really bring out the uniqueness of Captain's take on rock 'n' roll. The Power of Love followed in 1984 with real great singles "Stop The World" and "I'm a Spider," though the hits kinda trailed off. Whatever... this was another good one, though not quite as.

Cap'n went on to do more solo stuff, and eventually rejoined The Damned after former drummer Rat Scabies departed, and the band returned to former glories with 2001's Grave Disorder. Sensible has slowed down on the release front, but hell, he did run for political office in the Blah! Party he formed in the UK, and he has been an active campaigner for animal rights and a lot more. These two slabs of early '80s pop are proof that not everything that had a synth back then sucked.
5/5 (Women And Captains First), 3/5 (The Power of Love)
(Cherry Red CDMRED 408, 409)