Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Vapors - New Clear Days (Capitol Records, 1980)

I once wrote a short story about a woman who so vehemently objected to her significant other’s dismissal of The Vapors as a worthless one-hit-wonder that she literally murdered him. My own stance on the matter is only slightly less passionate. If I ever assembled a proverbial desert island disc list, New Clear Days would make the cut, along with AC/DC’s Let There Be Rock, The Clash’s London Calling, Material Issue’s first, and something by Husker Du. The hit, “Turning Japanese”, is well-known by all. If you don’t like it, there must be something fatally wrong with you. The rest of the songs stick to the same new wave pop template, and are every bit as good. Often categorized as one of the standards of the skinny tie power pop genre, New Clear Days is probably more similar to the early works of like-minded English groups like XTC and Squeeze.

As its title suggests, here was a song cycle about love and life set against a backdrop of impending nuclear annihilation – overtly political in spots and otherwise informed by the tenor of Cold War times. While many of the best tracks (“Waiting for the Weekend”, “Spring Collection”, “Somehow”) are simple variations on the songs-about-girls theme, few pop groups in 1980 were referencing military cease fires (“60 Second Interval”) or World War II politics (“Letter from Hiro”). The album’s best track, “News At Ten” is a social statement as pointed and literary as anything ever penned by Paul Weller (whose dad managed The Vapors!). And David Fenton’s lyrics to “Bunkers” read like something straight off the first Clash LP:

Government thugs keep me in for the week/
They call out the cops if I'm seen on the street/
It drives me spoolers in millions of ways/
I think I'll be a government thug one day/
Don't tell me in anger just tell me for real/
Why does everybody try to be a real big wheel/
It doesn't matter but if they live on the street/
With all these cowboys and bunkers and creeps

Fenton’s songwriting muse would turn darker and weirder on the band’s second LP Magnets (the most accessible song was an ode to suicide cult leader Jim Jones!), and the album didn’t even crack the top 100. And that was all for The Vapors. To his credit, Fenton never gave in to the temptation to "unretire" from the music business. He gave up recording and became a solicitor. There have been no half-assed Vapors reunions or warmed-over comeback albums mimicking the new wave glories of yesteryear. The band’s music remains in the early ‘80s, where it belongs, a cultural artifact as enduring and awesome as the Atari 2600, Billy Beer, and movies about truckers.
-Josh Rutledge

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Blackfoot - Greatest Hits (Flashback, 2002)

Durabrand DVD players are pieces of trash. Even Fred Sanford wouldn't treasure them. The only reason I owned one in the first place was to access the 75 or so albums in my collection contained on the MP3 format. Music placed in the silver machine was readable, but many CDs had more pops and skips than the cast of Rice Krispies in a Double Dutch competition. Playing movies? Uh, hope you didn't have your popcorn ready. Less than three months from the box, the Durabrand rejected all of my film choices. Damn, I thought The Virginian-Pilot's Mal Vincent was a tough critic. In retrospect, I do agree with the player's coded hiss that said the Michael Jackson-like dance number at the end of "Slumdog Millionaire" cheapened an otherwise great picture. With the announcement from Wal-Mart recalling almost two million DVD players due to overheated circuit boards, the Durabrand's days of sucking down Junior Mints and taking notations in darkened theaters met their closing credits. Ushering the defective device to customer service, I took the $32 gift card and headed for the music section. My goal was to walk out of Wally World with five CDs. Molly Hatchet's classic debut for a fiver? Hell yeah, bounty hunter! Nuge's Free-For-All at the same price? No doubt, I'm whippin' it out! ZZ Top's Tres Hombres for siete dolares? Muchas gracias, Precious and Grace! The Fireman's Electric Arguments for nine bucks? Plug me in, Paul! The remaining coin was spent on a budget title that has enhanced my interest in a band I've always admired from a distance. Thank you, Durabrand, for closing the gap.

Blackfoot's core lineup of Rickey Medlocke (vocals, guitar), Charlie Hargrett (guitar), Greg T. Walker (bass) and Jakson Spires (drums) called the Southern rock mecca of Jacksonville, Florida home. Early efforts No Reservations (1975) and Flyin' High (1976) drew favorable comparisons to hometown buds Lynyrd Skynyrd (Medlocke and Walker had been in a nascent version of the band), but positive black ink in the magazines couldn't keep album sales from being red at the register. In 1979, Blackfoot released Strikes and finally landed a right hand with mainstream success. A pair of singles culled from the collection would yield the two cuts most identified with Medlocke and company. Per lyrics discussing the totality as a wandering musician ("Oh, it's my way of living and I can't change a thing") who copes with the hurt of a loved one left behind, "Highway Song" proved irresistible to devotees of Skynyrd's most enduring anthem. Reaching #26 on the Pop chart, Blackfoot captured a "Free Bird" of their very own, replete with equally chirpy guitar work. Ever wondered what it would be like to have a jam session with your grandfather? Well, Rickey Medlocke turned the trick on the follow-up hit "Train, Train." By penning the prose of a drifter who admits he's not good enough for his woman ("Get yourself a money man!") and blowing introductory harp with the force of a steaming locomotive, grandpa Shorty Medlocke was enthusiastically welcomed as guest conductor. Like ZZ Top's "Tush" and "La Grange," the heavy-for-the-genre guitar behavior garnered many ticket purchases from headbangers waiting in the station's lobby. Enough passengers boarded "Train, Train" to arrive at another destination in the Top 40. Would there be another stop?

Despite the derailment of the band's engine en route to Casey Kasem and Rick Dees' loaded terminals, the remaining cars on a track called Blackfoot's Greatest Hits are equally stocked with pretty ladies and powerful libations. If you like what bartender Bob Seger has been dispensing into your glasses all these years but wish he'd lay off the seltzer water as a pitcher topper, forgo the Silver Bullet and ask him to "Gimme, Gimme, Gimme" a shot of the hard stuff. Medlocke and Hargrett's aggressive axework turns the page on mellow and puzzles the patrons who want that old-time rock 'n' roll. When Rickey bellows the "Ain't got no money to buy me a beer" portion of the refrain, some straggler in a ZZ tee cracks open the tip jar and hands over the dough. Whatcha got to say 'bout it, Mr. Businessman? Seger's bites can also be felt on "Rattlesnake Rock 'N' Roller." While the GPS in his Chevy Tahoe points to the direction of Katmandu, Shorty Medlocke's brief banjo intro sticks its thumbtack on a map of Campbell County. Bob might work in a climb of Mount Everest during his vacay, but the boys in Blackfoot have simpler plans ("Well I'm a-headin' for the country/With the stars shinin' up above/Gonna do me some fishin'/Instead of just a-wishin' I was"). The thick-thighed chaquitas from Mexico who are "Too Hard To Handle" can be every bit as bawdy as Mountain's "Mississippi Queen." Choose to ignore the similarly sly precautions of AC/DC's "The Jack," and you could bring home a nasty souvenir ("Small time gambler lays down his money/To play some five-card stud/But the big time winner really was the loser/He caught a case of an unlucky love"). Lend me a few pennies for the jukebox, and I'll happily let Blackfoot throw them into Free's "Wishing Well." Medlocke's rich voice puts him in good stead with original throat Paul Rodgers. Quite possibly the only tune covered by both 'Foot AND The Mission U.K. Wait, did Rickey tackle Neil Young's "Like A Hurricane"? I'd sure as hell like to hear the result.

Uh-oh, my Durabrand TV set's on the fritz. I'm already planning my list for the next gift card. Any suggestions?
-Gunther 8544

Exploding Hearts- Guitar Romantic (Screaming Apple Records, 2002; Dirtnap Records, 2003)

I never was able to give the Exploding Hearts an unbiased review. First there was the initial hype, and then quickly came the tragedy. Under the heavy influence of both, I touted the Hearts’ recordings as not only some of the finest pieces of music ever released, but also as some of the greatest accomplishments in human history, ranking somewhere up there between the invention of the wheel and a cure for cancer. It’s been six years now since the world lost Adam Cox, Jeremy Gage, and Matt Fitzgerald, and the passing of time has done nothing to diminish the Hearts’ musical standing. Emotion no longer clouding my judgment, I coolly hail Guitar Romantic one of the greatest punk rock debut LPs ever.

That Guitar Romantic is far from perfect is one of its greatest charms. Like many of the great early punk debuts it resembles, it’s far from a polished product. The production is raw, almost demo-like. The musicianship is basic, even sloppy in spots. It just feels like classic '70s punk rock, and not just because the Hearts had the good sense to emulate all the right bands. Guitar Romantic sounds not like a pale imitation of the Undertones' or Boys' debuts, but rather like an album that easily could have come out that very same year. Little attempt is made to mask sources of inspiration – “I’m a Pretender” is unabashedly Jam-like; “Rumors in Town” sounds uncannily like Mick Jones fronted Clash. Yet the Hearts were very much their own band, thanks in no small part to the adolescent, lovelorn snarl of one Adam Cox. The kid was no crooner, but he was a dynamite punk singer, capable of imbuing the standard snot-nosed vocal style with the plaintive tinge of heartbreak. And with his passing, we lost an immensely talented lyricist. By turns funny (“And ya say you know what's best for me/Well if you got your way/I'd have a lobotomy”) and poignant ("Weeds have grown over our camp site/I know 'cause I sleep there every night/Without you"), his wordplay was wise beyond his years. And who else could have spun this tender yarn about co-dependent glue-sniffers in love?

We snuck rubber cement into the fair/
We rode all the rides, but you wanted to fly/
So you jumped off into the air/
The neon lights and cotton candy skies/
Couldn't bring you down from those highs/
Oh now, you're so sad, oh girl/
I see you talking to a squirrel/
Kissing its lips, why not mine?

If Guitar Romantic gets the obligatory A+ for style, it scores just as highly for overall quality. The songs, mostly co-written by indie rock n’ roll vagabond King Louie (Hearts fans should definitely seek out his 2007 solo effort Memphis Treet), blend pop hooks with buzzsaw guitars as well as any punk band save The Ramones. It’s not stretching it to call “I’m a Pretender” and “Jailbird” modern classics, and the same could be said of “Throwaway Style” and “Sleeping Aids and Razor Blades”. “Modern Kicks” boasts one of the all-time great punk riffs - and some epic guitar leads from Mr. Terry Six. Even the lesser, filler type songs, like the Boys-inspired rocker “Still Crazy”, are pretty damn good.

So maybe now, I finally give the Exploding Hearts their long-deserved fully unbiased review. Guitar Romantic, all these years later, sounds just as good to my ears. Give it a special place on your shelf next to your well-worn copies of In the City and Incredible Shrinking Dickies. It’s earned it.
-Josh Rutledge

The Venue - Mmhm! (Bella Union, 2002)

Upon receiving this compact disc, I immediately tore into it. Literally. Confused by the non-traditional packaging, I shredded the cover in bits and pieces until my failing paws were clutching the silver 'n' gold goodness of plasticity. Luckily, no audio damage was done to the twelve tracks from this youthful bunch (save for the grandfatherly figure holding a snare drum) of Swedish garage-rockers. Along with The Hives' Veni Vidi Vicious and The Soundtrack Of Our Lives' Origin Vol. 1 -- two other classics served up from the land of Bjorn Borg this decade -- The Venue's debut album hoists the blue 'n' yellow flag in the faces of rock 'n' roll cognoscenti throughout Scandinavia and beyond. Tapping from the same wells of their fellow countrymen (Beatles, Kinks, Zombies, Hollies, etc.), this listener's only course of action is to salute.

Speaking of national pride, Mmhm!'s lead-off title track was used as background music for the Swedish handball team's section of the national Sports TV annual review. Huh? With minor vocal inflections, the harmonica-driven raver kicks like an inebriated Pretty Things/Yardbirds practice session that's sure to motivate Sven Lastnameunknown and the other fellows in Beijing come August. "So Much Too Much" reveals how dedicated followers of fashion are faring these days ("Look at the diamond rings in her lips/And the one in her nose"). Don't know exactly "What's In His Head?", but swimming in the self-absorption are sticky Fab Four-ish choruses that impress with every stroke. "Deep-Fried Sinfulness" has a Marlboro-smoking DJ who can't stay confined to a studio. If the Hives-like power chords and carefree attitude are a barometer of his playlist, then I'll see him at the next live remote. Would somebody please fix the time machine in "Instant Pleasure"? I mean, the great hook around the 2:30 mark transports me to when the Stones were more pop 'n' jangle than rough 'n' tumble, but "1995, we're almost there" would mean enduring the likes of Dishwalla (the whitest band of all-time?) and Pearl Jam rip-offs for a second time in my existence. Moods for Mod-erns in "Sentimental Ode (O.D.)" include "sudden attacks of happiness." The scratchy vinyl tics and plenty of alcohol make life for commitment-phobes "too good to waste on thinking." "Love Monster" doesn't smear his lover with grease or EVOO (in case it's Rachael Ray), though he serenades his woman with enough fuzz to break up a drug ring.

Mmhm = Ymym. U figure it out.
- Gunther 8544

Galaxie 500 - Today (Aurora, 1988/Rough Trade, 1991/Rykodisc, 1997)

Like many college students seeking a respite from exhaustive studies, Dean Wareham (guitar, vocals), Damon Krukowski (drums) and Naomi Yang (bass) spent their formative years at Harvard University playing sloppy punk rock to drunk undergraduates. Conan O' Brien -- who'd dabbled in percussion long before enlisting E. Street drummer Max Weinberg to keep time for his late-night talk fest -- offered Krukowski the gently-used kit. Although Galaxie 500's light 'n' airy sound led many in the Boston scene to tag the group as "wimps," local radio grew fond of their demo tape. With producer Mark Kramer at the helm, the band realized a goal when the "Tugboat" b/w "King Of Spain" 45 hit the racks in 1988. Treating the vocals with tons of reverb and delivering the instrumentation in a soft-but-loud dynamic, Galaxie 500's A-side was an addictive slab of mopishness on par with the best of The Smiths. The words were simplistic ("I don't wanna stay at your party/I don't wanna talk with your friends/ I don't wanna vote for your president/I just wanna be your tugboat captain"), but the strum 'n' jangle and hypnotic traces proved irresistible to devotees of The Velvet Underground and Spacemen 3. On the flip, "King Of Spain" conveyed a state of dementia which ran counter to the gentle bed of musicianship.

Despite critical praise generated by the 45, only Slash stepped up to the plate in Galaxie 500's attempt to land a U.S. record deal. The label double-backed when the band adamantly refused to add a light show to the live set. Returning to their old home, Today was released in '88 on Aurora to well-deserved accolades. Three years later, Rough Trade reissued the album shortly before declaring bankruptcy. The band who'd caught nary a break severed when Wareham left to form Luna. Krukowski and Yang gained control of Galaxie 500's catalog by acquiring the masters at auction. Today saw a re-release in 1997 on Rykodisc. What Thurston Moore called his "favorite guitar record of 1988" would soon influence a new crop of noisemakers.

Besides the attendant cuts from the 45, Today flashes eight glimpses of VU-inspired beauty with the rough edges left intact. "Instrumental" is perhaps the best-known Galaxie tune, due to its placement in an Acura commercial. The free-form exhibition could've been performed by Reed, Cale, Morrison and Tucker at a Max's Kansas City after-party circa 1971. "Flowers" smell like they've been picked from a mental institution's gift shop. The seeds of lunacy and schizophrenia germinate in a climate-controlled greenhouse filled with mysterious whispers. If you're "Oblivious" to a love interest, he or she might crash a 1960s Ford in a driving rainstorm of indifference and lies. Thus, please invite your beau inside for an evening of bed activities and beverages. Polaroid has announced a halt on the production of instant cameras, so be hasty on snapping mental "Pictures" of colorful wishes involving the person closest to your heart. A Morse code transcription of Jonathan Richman's "Don't Let Our Youth Go To Waste" brings back "memories to rival Berlin in the '30s." When played backwards, the message says, "Fall Out Boy will be blamed for the fallout." Take shelter, Ashlee Simpson. Sometimes, you just wanna hang out in a "Parking Lot" to watch people fall apart. That's fine. However, your tingling fingers and shaking hands are the results of chemically-induced behavior. Whenever the "Temperature's Rising," call Mo Tucker at Wal-Mart and ask her for a cocktail of methadone and Sam's Choice cola. You should come down in no time. There's one more song to talk about, but "It's Getting Late."

Saying much more would be as dangerous as a blindfolded Nico pedaling a unicycle, so I'll leave you with this Galaxie 500 lyrical aside: "I'm hyperventilating."
- Gunther 8544

Sidewinders - Auntie Ramos' Pool Hall (Mammoth/RCA, 1990)

I've mentioned the influence of the defunct 92.1 WOFM on my tinnitus-coated ears in the past. The legendary station turned me on to staples such as Husker Du's Candy Apple Grey, Dinosaur Jr.'s Fossils, the Meat Puppets' No Strings Attached and Das Damen's Mousetrap. When either Al Mitchell, Sara Trexler or a janitor filling in for the evening spun the title track from the ' Winders' Witchdoctor, I instantly fell in love and asked for the cassette's ribbon in marriage the next day.

With acceptance of the proposal, the time was ripe to discover its family history. The ten-times-heavier-than-REM behavior of the initial wax had stolen my heart, of course. But the Neil Young-ish slo-burn of "What She Said" and a striking glance of Neil Diamond's "Solitary Man" appealed with the freshness of lunar turf marked upon by a third Neil. After taking one giant step to the music store, I caught the band's radio interview announcing a stop at the Peppermint Beach Club in Va. Beach. Unfortunately, I couldn't get out of asking consumers about cans of dry cat food. The following year, I met Bease -- the man who would pen a new name for me. Our discussions on music turned sour, when my new bud told me he'd seen the 'Winders at PBC. "Did they play 'Witchdoctor'?" I posed. "OH, YEAH!" Bease replied. Must've been a bad spell or something...

Housed at the intersection of Byrds Way and Crazy Horse Avenue in Tucson, AZ, Auntie Ramos' Pool Hall serves flowing beer, jangly guitars and gritty tales to its cue-wielding patrons. Opening break "We Don't Do That Anymore" explores the differences between settled-in adulthood and carefree adolescence. The lush in "Sara's Not Sober" attracts a gentleman's attention, though wanton lust is rejected in favor of getting to know her post-hangover ("If you're tryin' to hit on me/You might try a different strategy"). Loved ones of the deserter who wants to "Get Out Of That Town" plead with the U-Haul driver to double-back, for the intended destination "thinks it's Los Angeles." Love's "7 & 7 Is" has long been a popular bar order, but the ' Winders' sustained roll and added power to the '60s cocktail make for the definitive drink. Promises of flowers, lawn-mowing and shopping in "If I Can't Have You" are messages left on a "phone machine (that) knows me more than you." "Came On Like The Sun" is a shining light of a woman to a depressed drunk. Despite pawning jewelry and going on days-long benders, he's always welcomed back into her loving arms ("I say I'm coming home/All you ask is 'When?'/Strangest thing I've ever heard/Please say it again"). No chance of reunification for the two who have "Blood On Our Hands." Soon, the dude will be long-gone in his F-150, but not before a final contemplative drag ("I need another cigarette to figure out what to do/But maybe I'll just sit here and watch the sweat pour out of you").

At ARPH, many relationships are just scratches on the 8-ball. But as long as you have change for a buck, finding the right woman is as simple as a change in luck.
- Gunther 8544

Naked Raygun - Understand? (Caroline, 1989/Quarterstick, 1999)

Last week produced one of the oddest items I've ever taken home from a second-hand store. No, it wasn't Volume One of The Onion's Finest News Reporting collection with a strange insect glued to the first page. While the dead invertebrate and spoof articles under headings such as "Christ Returns To NBA," "Clinton Deploys Vowels To Bosnia" and "Area Bassist Fellated" were plenty peculiar, it was a clone version of my favorite board game that instantly brought to mind the consonants W, T and F. To my mind, SCRABBLE is a wonderfully constructed masterpiece which can be equally enjoyed by a ten-year-old tyke and his ten-years-shy-of-a-century great-grandfather. On the other hand, SCRAMBLE is a jumbled mess of a pastime that defecates all over SCRABBLE inventor Alfred Mosher Butts' original intentions. The saboteur's box art promises an interlocking board, sturdy tiles, a bag, score sheets, tile racks and a bonus "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" game. Unfortunately, the removal of plastic paints a much different portrait. A folded sheet of paper with the appropriate 225-squared design serves as the playing area. The tiles (English on one side, Arabic on the flip) have to be cut with scissors from a grid. Score sheets and the bag are nowhere in sight. The racks are made from hard plastic. Regis Philbin's baby is out with the bath water. All flaws understood, what makes SCRAMBLE most unplayable is the faulty number of tiles assigned to each letter. One blank? Less than twelve Es? Perhaps a "bingo" (when all seven tiles on the rack are used in a single turn, earning a 50-point bonus) in this pisstake is called a "bimbo." Hey, why not have twenty Qs? It would make sense to Shaquille O'Neal, at least. SHAQTUS!!! SHAQTASTIC!!! SHAQEDELIC!!! SHAQAZULU!!!

The languages spoken by Naked Raygun are much easier to translate. This Windy City quartet's past communications have included readings from the fake books of Stiff Little Fingers, Buzzcocks and Wire. An energetic mix of street punk with arty touches dictated early essentials such as "New Dreams," "Metastasis," "Soldier's Requiem," "Backlash Jack" and "Home Of The Brave." These compositions would later come to my attention via musical backtracking, but hearing the first cut from Understand? on 92.1 WOFM was more of a Rosetta Stone than the Spanish I'd been taught by an irrepressible instructor at Green Run High School. "Treason" perfectly conveys distrustful feelings of those in power ("In their faces I see lies/While they try to hide their eyes"). Endlessly questioning the world in which one inhabits, the position of governing your own affairs becomes top priority ("What I feel makes me alive/Goes beyond what they decide"). Jeff Pezzati's martial chants (enough "Whoas!" for a Misfits Fiend Club meeting in Lodi, NJ), John Haggerty's nervy guitar, Pierre Kezdy's thick bass and Eric Spicer's on-a-dime drumming launch the missile command with a 100,000 pound trackball. But there are more Scuds pointed in your direction. Ten-hut, soldier!

When the Delta Force imposes Americanization on little Spanish-speaking countries, the charge will not be led by a "Hips Swingin'" Southern boy with a curled lip. Instead, a muscular version of Peter Garrett (remember the bald-headed giant from Midnight Oil?) donned in Mad Max gear will perform the majority of the pelvis-grinding. Promising the nations in the takeover will "still have a bit of their own personality left," homegrown bananas are slated to join imported peanut butter in the form of sandwiches. How's that for diplomacy? A protestor from Honduras with the unusual code name of Skippy is not too happy being on the Dole, so he hides behind thick brush and starts humming a few bars of "The Sniper Song." But the cue-ball commander already has a rifle-toting GI stationed in a blind ("Peering down through my scope with an amoral code/The view is fantastic/From my aerie on high/I laugh at your pleading"). Finally fed up with their leader's halo for a hat, mutiny occurs when the Force peels off fatigues and tells "Garrett" there's been entirely "Too Much Of You" ("I see you think you're a savior/You think you're Jesus Christ/From what I've seen of our shepherds/Your type had best think twice/Your master plan to save me/Just doesn't suit me right"). "Wonder Beer" is the celebratory drink of choice, as the Force toasts cold ones with Skippy and the bunch. Though imbibing is as much of a daily exercise for these guys as push-ups, three acclaimed fitness coaches are sought to improve the regimen ("Drunk again - where is Lou Reed?/Come on, Iggy - tell me true/Wish Roy Orbison could tell me what to do").

Naked Raygun's SHAQFU is better than your SHAQFU. Understand, Grasshopper?
-Gunther 8544

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Foster & Lloyd - Faster And Llouder (RCA, 1989)

Before teaming with Radney Foster, Bill Lloyd was a Nashville-based musician specializing in power pop. Demos from this era (1983-86) were later collected on an album entitled Feeling The Elephant. Would Lloyd's Byrds-y guitars and Foster's cutting-edge songwriting be the stuff of y'allternative programming a la WCMS' "Ahead Of The Herd"? Hardly. Between 1987-90, F & L charted nine singles on the Billboard country charts. Sometimes, sheep steer you in the right direction.

"She Knows What She Wants" is the clingy woman brought home after a heavy night of boozing at Miss Kitty's. Even though a bond exists between the two lip-lockers, the relationship is largely one-sided ("She needs someone who will need her/The very same way she needs me"). Special guest Marshall Crenshaw is a heavy contributor to the cut, offering his services on rhythm guitar and six-string bass. On "Faster And Louder," the cowgirl's daddy -- with a cocked Smith And Wesson in hand -- tells her dancing partner that "the state of Tennessee's better without you around." Well, maybe a move to Texas is in the cards, since this is the kinda Chuck Berry-meets-The Blasters firecracker you'd see ignite on "Austin City Limits." Twangin'-n-bangin' leads come courtesy of Vince Gill. Once the tear-filled accusations of a neighbor hiding under the bed and a ghost in the closet cease, "I'll Always Be Here Loving You" will soothe jealous feelings like a cool balm. The Lloyd-sung "Suzette" references Springsteen's "Born To Run" in a back-and-forth lovers' quarrel. "Leaving you" letters on the turntable turn into Hallmark cards at the drop of a Stetson. "After I'm Gone" furthers the indecisiveness ("You want out/You want in/You always stop to start again/Every time you change your mind/Nobody wins"). Love may contain many hard times and slick lines, but it's worth giving a "Fair Shake." Loosen your hair clip and let past regrets stay that way.

Buy this album for the Dave Edmunds fan from Massachusetts with whom you trade tapes and your nose-shaving uncle who constantly raves about seeing 38 Special at Town Point Park last year.
- Gunther 8544

The Sleepy Jackson - Personality (One Was a Spider, One Was a Bird) [Astralwerks, 2006]

Add Luke Steele's name to the list of five people you'll meet in heaven. Then scratch off all the rest.

Personality, the second album by Australia's The Sleepy Jackson, is heaven encompassed in thirteen songs. This is the music of mountaintops. Grand. Sweeping. Epic. The album opens on the most fragile of wisps, Luke's almost-whispered vocal floating on a gentle summer breeze, and then explodes into the most bombastic stomp this side of ELO. The vessel is shattered, but Jeff Lynne's prints are all over the glass. As you ascend farther into the clouds, the familiar sounds of George Harrison's slide guitar and Phil Spector's wall-of-sound production serenade and reassure your weary soul. The devil may be in your yard, but you don't have a care in the world.

And what's that up ahead? God may be leading your soul, but Brian Wilson is directing his choir of angels. Stop along the path for a brief respite and, at first sound, you'll think heaven has a disco. But I just don't agree. A bit of pensively dark twang follows and will have you wondering if those religious Celibates were on to something. If only you had your Rifle. As you reach the highest of peaks, you can safely declare yourself "Higher Than Hell." Shout into the chasms and canyons below and listen as the sound echoes in harmonies so gorgeous they rival The Beatles' "Because." Now kick back to your eternal rest, a soft pillow of strings creating a score to accompany your dreams.

In short, this path to heaven is paved with the same mix of lushness and power that has characterized such great orchestral pop albums as All Things Must Pass, Eldorado, and Skylarking. Luke is the latest torchbearer in a grand tradition stretching back to the days of Sgt. Pepper and Pet Sounds. Teenage symphonies to God, indeed.

Eddie Money and Pat Robertson are still sitting outside the gate, tickets in hand. Luke can get you in.
-jOhn A.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Spread Eagle - s/t (MCA, 1990)

Underrated. Underappreciated. Overlooked.

Peruse any review of this skillful foursome from NYC. The accolades will join comments regarding a second-tier status. Let the likes of posers such as Warrant revel in what's left of their dirty, rotten, filthy, stinking riches. Twenty years after the label advances have been cashed, Spread Eagle's ATM card is still loaded with respect. Unlike cherry pies or democracy in China, that admirable quality knows no price tag.

I'd like for you to meet a guitar hero without a gaming console. Paul DiBartolo strikes the orange, blue, yellow, red and green notes with the expertise of a shiftless layabout who occasionally strums the demo set-up at Wal-Mart in order to impress onlookers. If Aerosmith needed a replacement axe-grinder in the game called rock 'n' roll, the band would make a wise choice in recruiting him. Vocalist Ray West fills the Steven Tyler-via-Vince Neil-via-Axl Rose slot to a tee. His gifted pipes tell the sleazy tales by passionately screaming to the lungs' apex. Tommi Gallo performs enough tricks on the sticks to be more than Tommy Lee's stunt double. Bassist Rob De Luca plays the part of Michael Anthony by forming SE's backbone and contributing key harmonies to the busy mix.

Umlauts unite! Thanks to the double-bass rhythms from Gallo, "Suzy Suicide" ingests the chalky pill of Too Fast For Love-era Mötley Crüe and chases the grit with a glass of Motörhead's toxic tempo. When starry eyes become glazed in the throes of an addictive lifestyle, no ace of spade can be traded for a get-out-of-jail-free card. Apartment dwellers in the "Broken City" confront rats in the kitchen nibbling on pizza crust and strange faces in the hallways on a nightly basis. Slumlords and shattered glass are part of the rental agreement at a complex called Hades' Hollow, but having leaky roofs is a better housing option than an intact cardboard box. "Scratch Like A Cat" claws at "law dogs (who) come sniffin' around" the alleyways after dark. Rumor has it that a particular feline named Sebastian watched an unlucky mouse on skid row get mangled beyond recognition at the paws of the SE crew. Combative sounds of whiskey-fueled domestic quarrels are the ones that cut the deepest on "Switchblade Serenade." As West's throat gymnastics recall the slinky tumbles of vintage Aerosmith, the eats on the table rotate between a menu of love and hate. "Shotgun Kiss" is another choice weapon. The good girl in the pretty white dress transforms from a maiden into a minx, and DiBartolo's Slash-y leads blend G N' R shells and T & A lipstick.

Talons gripping and wings extending, SE's confident debut wipes the floor with many higher-profile albums of its era and leaves 'em there.

Assume the position.
- Gunther 8544

Badfinger - Ass (Apple Records, 1973)

Read any biography of Badfinger and it'll mention how, during their heyday, the band were dogged by critics who hounded them for sounding too much like the Beatles. This makes absolutely no sense to me. In the early 70s, when the public was clamoring for the Fab Four to reunite, shouldn't a band who carried on the Beatles' torch have been universally acclaimed? Sure, Badfinger were handpicked by McCartney, worked closely with Harrison, and played supporting roles for Lennon and Starr, but that should tell you something in itself. Would these obvious talents ever allow, if you'll pardon the pun, half-assed musicians to back them up? Badfinger were fellow masters of melody, harmony, tight arrangements, and hooks, but they were hardly copycats. Their music was their own.

Which brings me to Ass. Ass was the fourth and final album Badfinger recorded for the Apple label, and, if you go by what the critics say, it was also their worst. They insist this album should be flushed. Sometimes I wonder if, after lauding a certain band, critics feel as though they must follow their praise up with a public disembowelment of that same group to bring the whole affair back down to earth. I've seen it time and time again. I also have to wonder if these critics bothered to listen to this album more than once, because it happens to be filled with some kick-ass tunes. Yes, go ahead and gasp. I'm going to draw some comparisons to the Beatles. Perish the thought. But in 1973, at a time when all four of the former Beatles were putting out their share of filler, Badfinger put out an album that put those guys to shame.

I can see McCartney spinning the opening track - "Apple of My Eye," a weepy, pathos-filled ballad disguising a kiss-off to Apple Records - and fretting that he'd lost it... and Pete Ham had found it! This song is followed by the rollicking rocker "Get Away," which itself features some downright McCartney-esque basslines. At this point tears are streaming down Paul's face as he listens to Joey Molland's "Icicles." Weren't those chiming guitars culled straight off Abbey Road? And how about that theme of never taking love for granted? It's enough to make Macca think he was right there in the studio with them during one of his more drugged-out moments.

But wait, there's more! "The Winner" sounds like a new take on "Drive My Car" and even opens with the lines "You can drive a car/be a movie star." And what about the song "Cowboy"? That's one the critics really pounced on because it was written by Mike Gibbons, Badfinger's drummer, and doesn't seem to fit with the rest of the album because of its country-ish feel. Now wait just a cotton-pickin' minute! Does anyone else happen to remember another famous foursome whose drummer also used to do the countrified numbers on their pop albums? How was this any different? Sure, it's a little corny and goofy (like most country music, eh?) and plenty twangy, but to these ears it fits just fine.

To wrap things up, let's take a peek at that final entry, "Timeless." Here we find it's not just Joey, but Pete who was dipping into Abbey Road for inspiration. This eight-minute rocker, an exercise (or exorcise) in pure angst, employs a spiraling crescendo that's a direct nod to John Winston Ono Lennon a la "I Want You (She's So Heavy)." In fact, it's so good it'll give you shivers.

To all you Beatles fans who've contemplated discovering what Badfinger is all about, Ass is as fine a starting place as any. And to you critics?

Well, you know where you can stick it.
-jOhn A.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Throbs - The Language Of Thieves & Vagabonds (Geffen, 1991)

Why did I take so long to polish this buried gem? It had been waiting to be extracted from the depths of the CD racks at Cash Converters (Chesapeake location) for over seven years. Being a veteran scavenger who mines for treasures that are considered pyrite to many, I have an almost innate tendency to memorize inventory bins. My compartmentalization has pick-axed the way to finds such as a sealed Steve Diggle album for under two bones, Guadalcanal Diary's 2 X 4 priced at a dollar, multiple volumes of Rhino's D.I.Y. series with $2.99 stickers (thanks, Big Lots!), Jawbox's self-titled for 66 cents and The Weird Lovemakers' Flu Shot tagged at $1.99 (kudos, Skinnie's Records!). If these don't mean a thing and ain't got that swing, I could tell you where to score a plastic-wrapped copy of The Brian Setzer Orchestra's X-Mas album for under $3.50. Then I'd suffocate your two-months-too-late taste with a Glad kitchen bag. Doo wrap doo wrap doo wrap doo wrap...

Pillaging from the linguistic lessons of the Rolling Stones, New York Dolls, Stiv Bators and Hanoi Rocks, The Throbs speak to those fluent in the lapping tongues of sleazy-but-stylized rock 'n' roll. "Underground" plays up the Johnny Thunders gypsy vibe right from the jump with a baglama intro. However, insanity delays further nomadic travels. The tragedies may be a figment of imagination, but our rover still holes himself in a castle for 60 days and nights. Get off the phone, because he'll tell you nobody's home. This dude doesn't wanna be loved; he wants to be left alone. Once the yellow orb in the sky turns into green cheese, fucked-up friends are proud to be loud and intend to "Rip It Up" on the town. In a boast worthy of Adam Ant, the narrator declares, "I'm no prince/But I sure am charming." Out-of-control raves continue with "Ecstasy," as guest pianist Little Richard tickles the ivories for a thousand sleepless nights. Back at the castle, some "Wild Horses"-like countrified balladry of a "Honey Child" couldn't drag away the sounds of loneliness filling empty hallways and naked walls. Tunnel visions of Friday night in "Come Down Sister" resume the party. Guests like looking-down skyscrapers and dim streets of NYC bring enough favors to excite any vampiric junkie. "It's Not The End Of The World" counters REM's sentiments with a simplistic kiss-off ("But it's over for you"). Hang on to your cheesecakes, Lester Bangs and Leonard Bernstein!

New York City's answer to Guns 'N Roses' Appetite For Destruction is arguably a superior interpretation of the form. The Throbs were in the jungle, baby! Too bad their discography died after one release. But if you slither like a snake in the Amazon, Thieves & Vagabonds can be had for less than a few tokens on the subway train. For the pirate love you're looking for, this talks the talk.
- Gunther 8544

The Gears - Rockin' At Ground Zero (Four Speed Music, 1980/Iloki, 1992/Bacchus Archives, 1999)

Los Angeles in the late 1970s brings two things to my wandering mind: great punk rock and a pair of steel-horse officers from the California Highway Patrol. Had the wild scenes surrounding jumpin' venues like The Masque and Hong Kong Cafe been aligned with the hijinks from the briefing room of nearby law enforcement, perhaps the partners would've taken in a show or two. Alas, Ponch's macho leanings and outlandish disco attire led to temporal couplings found in the sleaziest of adult books. As for Jon, his never-ending flashbacks of Vietnam stints kept him shackled in a cell of solitary confinement.

On-duty actions of the men known to dispatchers as 7-Mary-3 and 7-Mary-4 would've greatly assisted The Gears in their early days. In 1977, would-be vocalist Axxel G. Reese convinced L.A. Shakers drummer Dave Drive to put together a new band in an oil-stained garage. Guitarist Crazy Ruben and bassist Gabriel Shock also went along for the ride. Among the initial cuts pressed to wax were "Let's Go To The Beach" and "Don't Be Afraid To Pogo." Copping a fun-all-the-time attitude (surfing during the day, dancing to punk after sunset) and cut-to-the-quick beats, both perfect waves suggested a Left Coast Ramones who rode swells at Huntington rather than Rockaway and smoothed their boards with wheel grease. Once out of the water, however, Crazy Ruben became a cretin. Confusing a roadie's head for a "13" in the corner pocket, Ruben tossed a cue ball at the intended target and disappeared without a trace of chalk. After a short break, The Gears returned with new guitarist Kidd Spike (ex-Controllers) and replacement bassist Brian Redz in tow. Would this lineup be safe from the use of billiard balls as projectiles?

Minnesota Fats-cum-Nolan Ryan was absent this go 'round, thus The Gears took their time at the table seriously and recorded the masterful debut album in just several hours. The 15 selections continued the 1-2-3-4 punch of the pre-LP knockouts (both are reprised on the album and given a sponge bath) and blended twangy uppercuts to the fight plan. "Baby Runaround" jabs relentlessly at the opening bell. Cheatin' hussies are locked out of the homes of spurned lovers and told to keep their pretty faces away. One tip is offered to Jezebels looking for greener pastures: "Better make sure the diamonds are the genuine thing." Whether it's Gerald with a 14-carat jewel from Jared or Jared from Subway sporting a five-dollar foot-long, be certain the trade is worth the tears. Expectations of making out and getting drunk with a cute girl called "Trudie Trudie" would alleviate the earlier pain, but the lessons learned breach the first kiss ("What do you think I'd do/If you said, 'I don't like you' "). Back at the squat, whistling to no tune in particular and twiddling thumbs at the television are ways of "Wasting Time." If laziness is your only crime, that's not as offensive as kidnapping. Ask O.J. Simpson. Maybe he'll offer you a Snickers. Rockin' like a cat named Billy, the title cut warns of radiation attacks and atomic blasts on the air-raid siren, but all of the nuclear weapons in the world can never stop the feet from "dancing to the rhythm beat." You hear that, 3 Doors Down? Quit muddying the water, 'cause we want Muddy Waters. Pompadour intact, "Keep Movin'" advises, "When that bullshit starts to get too thick/You know it's time you'd better get out quick."

7-Mary-5: over and out.
-Gunther 8544

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Billy Joel - Glass Houses (Columbia, 1980)

Much like Brady Anderson's 1996 season or Tom Cruise's performance in Magnolia, Billy Joel's seventh album was so surprisingly great that it left millions of people shaking their heads and asking, "How did he do that?!" Commercially successful but critically panned for his insidiously catchy soft rock output, Joel deliberately delivered an album that could rock with the best of the critics' new wave darlings. It was, granted, a laughable premise. Yet somehow, someway, dude actually pulled it off! Who knew that Billy Joel could rock? Who knew that he could be cool? Glass Houses is, if nothing else, bad-ass. It's a complete anomaly in the Joel catalog, casting aside the sensitive singer/songwriter persona in favor of the leather-clad lunatic who walks through Bedford-Stuy alone and calls women in the middle of the night for phone sex. While it has its moments of standard-issue Joel filler (the fluffy McCartney rip "Don't Ask Me Why", or the sappy "Through the Long Night", which foreshadowed his horrendous River of Dreams period), Glass Houses mostly adheres to a straight-ahead blend of edgy arena rock and radio-friendly new wave pop. Joel's backing band is more than up to the task, while producer Phil Ramone holds back the usual gloss and dials up the guitars and drums. This may be poser rock n' roll, but it's still great rock n' roll"! "Sometimes A Fantasy" comes off like The Cars' "Just What I Needed" on steroids, while the diatribe "It's Still Rock n' Roll To Me" really does manage to marry the rhythms of new wave to the spirit of pre-Beatles rock. Seeming homages to new wavers like Elvis Costello ("Sleeping with the Television On") and stadium bands like Foreigner ("All for Leyna") rate as some of Joel's most underrated cuts ever, and who doesn't love "You May Be Right"? The album's leadoff track, a winning emulation of late '70s Stones, offers up a brazen celebration of relationship dysfunction to counter the sentimental schlock of Joel's previous mega-hits. And as a lyricist, Joel is on-point like never before (or after!), borrowing from the punks their warped humor and bitter outlook.

I know what you're thinking: Come on, man! Billy Joel sucks balls! Fine, fine. I suppose you have a point. Based upon the past 25 years of the man's music, it's hard to argue in favor of anything he's done. So alright, ok, he sucks. But Glass Houses does not.
-Josh Rutledge

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Prissteens - Scandal, Controversy & Romance (Almo Sounds, 1998)

"When guys tell me like, 'Oh, girls can't rock,' I feel like saying, 'Yeah? Well, what's your fucking excuse? How come you can't rock, you fuck?' "

Defending his band mates, skin-basher Joe Vincent delivered this set-em'-straight declaration in the Nov./Dec. 1997 issue of Flipside magazine. Earlier that year, Joey Ramone had appeared on an MTV program and called The Prissteens, "The best band to come out of New York in years." His brother-in-rock, Dee Dee, would later run into lead vocalist/bassist Lori Yorkman on a street corner. He enthusiastically told her, "I'm trying to get your band signed!" Though no deal was struck via the wining-and-dining with the major labels, the quartet found a stable home for their 13-track full-length. Like Fur -- another great NYC outfit with a one-and-done album history -- the "Why can't they rock?" question concerning the 'Teens was one laced with obvious stupidity.

On S, C & R, big, wet kisses plant themselves all over the boys from the Bowery, Blackhearts-era Joan Jett and a smattering of '60s girl groups. The cavewoman stomp of "The Hound" beats like Billy Childish's beau hitting him over the head with a rolling pin. Another case of nice guys finishing last? "The sweetest boy in town" gets a peck on the cheek; the leery lothario gets laid. Dateless on a Saturday night, the gal in "I Don't Cry" refuses to be a sympathy token for a dude she despises. Conversely, the doormat of a dame tries to fight "Sorrow," but she concedes to an imperfect love instead of loneliness. An adventurous sort makes no bones 'bout "Going Out Tonight" ("Gonna pick me up in a hearse/Got a bottle of whiskey in my purse"). Remember when an IRS auditor named Harold Crick serenaded the lovely Ana Pascal with "(I'd Go The) Whole Wide World" in "Stranger Than Fiction"? Here, the Wreckless Eric tune undergoes a lyrical switch in gender, a la KISS' treatment of "Then (S)he Kissed Me." Be it Tahiti, Bahamas or Bahrain, true love has no passport restrictions. "Party Girl" organizes a 20-year class reunion and turns into Miss Maudlin at the end of the get-together ("When everyone's laughing/I sit here crying/When everyone's dancing/I don't bother trying"). Make sexual suggestions to the cute blonde in line, and her boyfriend will "Beat You Up." Prospective suitors, beware!

Key lines on the disc plainly state, "It's no business of yours who I love or how I live." Talk about not giving a damn about a reputation!
- Gunther 8544

Teenage Fanclub- Bandwagonesque (DGC/Creation, 1991)

Spin magazine named Bandwagonesque the best album of 1991. I wasn’t reading Spin in ’91, but I did see Bandwagonesque reviewed in Playboy (which, apparently, I read for the articles, and not just the best-ever Girls of the Big Ten spread). There was this brief period in time – just a few months, it turned out – when major label alternative rock didn’t suck and really good ex-indie bands were getting massive exposure via ultra-mainstream channels. Teenage Fanclub even got to play Saturday Night Live! With a roster that also included Nirvana, The Posies, Sloan, and Sonic Youth, DGC was angling itself to be the Sire Records of the ‘90s, and for a moment it seemed that 1991 really was going to be the new 1977. Well, we know how that turned out! But Bandwagonesque is still a great album.

Critics who called the Glasgow quartet on its blatant Big Star thievery were only half-right. True enough, the Chilton/Bell influence is almost comically transparent throughout TFC’s sophomore long player. Yet it somehow rings fresh, thanks in no small part to the dense guitars and stormy feedback that typified the first wave of “grunge” music. And as a pop record, Bandwagonesque holds up marvelously to 18 years (God! Am I really that old?!) of repeated spins. The harmonies are drop-dead gorgeous, the melodies are instantly memorable, and the songs are consistently good. Norman Blake’s six-minute opus “The Concept” is like the power pop “Freebird”, while Gerard Love’s “December” foreshadows the pristine Byrds-y pop that would become the band’s specialty in its later, “mature” years. “What You Do To Me”, with its inanely simple lyrics and razor-sharp hooks, is the kind of perfect pop song that ought to be easy to write, but clearly is not.

For all of its overt Big Star/Badfinger classicism, Bandwagonesque sounds totally 1991. It's one of our finest time capsules of post hair metal, pre Pearl Jam alt-rock, yet it’s the superb songcrafting that keeps it in my CD player. And for exactly that reason, TFC is still going strong today, on the eve of 2010.
-Josh Rutledge

Raging Slab - s/t (RCA, 1989)

This stuff was made in...New York City?

Like a Mexican restaurant that serves guitar riffs with tortilla chips, the 'Slab dip into eleven plates of power chords smeared with thick 'n' chunky picante sauce. Producer Daniel Rey must've morphed into Ted Templeman, since the free-for-all good times of Montrose's classic debut leave their stains all over the place. Indeed, Gregory Strzempka's strong pipes recall a young 'n' hungry Sammy Hagar on offerings like "Don't Dog Me" and "Joy Ride." Both are hard, sweet and sticky chunks of rock candy with simple-yet-sly lyricism. Another highlight of the party platter is Elyse Steinman slidin' her way across some tasty lines of bottleneck guitar.

The laid-back element is sure to go down smoother than a Corona with lime wedge for aficionados of Foghat. Looking for somethin' raunchy? "Get Off My Jollies" strokes heavy-as-shit Molly Hatchet/Blackfoot axe work that cums at you like a two-ton sac of scrotum. Dunno what the hell a dobro solo is or even the instrument in question, but there's a killer one in "Sorry's All I Got." No apologies are necessary. "Love Comes Loose" has Greg alone with an acoustic-laden blooz, while the rest of the band partakes in recreational pleasures. "Geronimo" sees the main character walking down Fifth Avenue and "eating danger like it tastes alright." The Apache leader's fun in the Big Apple lasts until he "kissed the sidewalk with his blood."

If an album is to be judged by its cover, then Raging Slab are guilty of suvvern-fried rock 'n' roll in the first degree.

Grab a rope.
- Gunther 8544

The Vacant Lot - ...Because They Can (Shake/Cargo, 1992)

Lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Pete Ciccone is no stranger to the NYC rock 'n' roll nightlife. Partnering with Steve Baise and company as a member of The Rat Bastards in 1988, the band's rockin' sound and drunken antics caught the ears of Crypt Records. The legendary Billy Childish was designated to oversee the recording of 14 tracks intended for the first album. However, two of the Bastards gave songs such as "Gimme That Girl," "C'Mon Lil Baby" and "Suck The Dog" thumbs-down due to their rawness. The entire project was re-recorded in March '89, but complaints about the vulgarity of the material being inappropriate for outlets like Sam Goody eventually splintered the group. Dirty birds Baise and guitarist Andy G -- now calling themselves The Devil Dogs -- remained in the nest. Before flying away to The Vacant Lot with Ciccone, drummer Paul Corio put the finishing touches on the ' Dogs' self-titled debut. The results were stellar, but would the departed doves lay a rotten egg in their next outfit?

Not a chance! Exhibiting the 1-2-3-4 street smarts and lovelorn styles of the Ramones and Dictators, TVL hatch twelve golden yolks worthy of stacked breakfast trays at the finest 24-hour diner. When regrets of hurtful things you said to your girl cause wasted days and nights, count on her being "Good As Gone." Next time, bite your tongue and pick up the empty boxes of chicken vindaloo. Is it difficult to maintain self-control when seeing your ex on her way to school? Please try to avoid shouting "Miss You Baby" in front of the police station, because it could introduce you to a girl named Miranda who's into handcuffs. Toughening the hide, you stare into your former love's face and realize the warm feelings are forever lost. You're glad she's experiencing some of your pain. Therefore, "I Won't Say I'm Sorry" is a proud stance. Several months later, the not-so-much-missed miss wants another crack at the relationship and is giving you a "Hard Hard Time." Not desiring the static cling and empty conversation, you ixnay the second-round possibility. Finding someone else to "Take Her Place," the new lady performs some of the ex's old tricks ("I came in outta town/Couldn't believe my eyes/There she was rolling on the floor/She's with some other guy"). The exuberance of the wanna-be rock 'n' roll star in The Dictators' "Loyola" counters with the troubled soul of We Five's "You Were On My Mind," but TVL blanket both with the same degree of electricity and reverence.

Why do some women play upon men's emotions like Fido's chew toy? Because they can.
- Gunther 8544

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Overwhelming Colorfast - s/t (Relativity, 1992)

If you're a 135-pound tennis scrub and see an admired band's T-shirt sized in an XXXL cut, please consider purchasing said item as a cover-of-coolness tent for your future beer belly.

Not anticipating my weight gain cost me some killer tees from the likes of XTC (Drums & Wires priced at $2.98 in the clearance rack of a long-closed Oceanfront locale), New York Dolls (1st album pose for less than ten smackers at the fondly remembered The Music Man at Military Circle Mall), Ramones (Road To Ruin comical pic also found in TMM's bins) and the explosion in a paint factory that is the cover shot of Overwhelming Colorfast's debut. If the friendly and somewhat attractive miss still ran the heat-transfer machine at the kiosk inside Greenbrier Mall just steps away from the food court, I'd be fashioning OC on my chest and a C-f-A sandwich in my mouth. Instead, I'm left holding the CD insert against my bosom and dreaming of happier times. At least I can realize the Chick-fil-A cravings. Wait a second, it's the day believers sing some dude's praises -- good for monster truck shows, bad for chicken sandwich eaters and my beloved Baltimore Orioles. In order, S. Truett Cathy's favorite words of all-time: 1)never, 2)on, and 3)Sunday. Of course, Mr. Cathy could've gotten his most treasured Statler Brothers full-length screened onto his Hanes pullover and six nuggets shoved into his gizzard eight days a week, holy or otherwise. But the man is believed to be deceased. So, too, is the hope of finding a 3XL garment from a decent band ever again.

Clothing nightmares aside, 1992 was a hefty year for fans of the Mould-guitar sound. The master himself formed Sugar (an outfit one clever writer referred to as "Husker Two") and sweetened the buds of Du-heads with the pleasing tastes of Copper Blue. Flavored by raspberries and lemonzingers on the tart 'n' crunchy Smeared, Sloan offered a Canadian take. Overwhelming Colorfast, a NorCal quartet fronted by Bob Reed (guitars/vocals), contributed to the buzz amid descriptions of "sweet pop mixed with punky guitar roar" and "sings like Bob Mould in his Husker Du days" from favorable critics. Painting themselves into a corner shone brightly on lead track "It's Tomorrow." Originally released on a 45 from SFTRI the previous year, OC stroked the right brushes of a not-so-cheery disposition surrounded by familiar axe-clanging. Hey, why not stay bed-bound if you're only gonna fall down later in the day? Besides, the alarm clock that you forgot to turn off spins quite a tune. Should you decide to greet the sun with "Good morning!" and other pleasantries, be sure to pack some "Arrows." One aim between the orb's eyes will stab at the heart of deception, and the Beatlesque fade-out can renew your interest in the thing called life. Tipping the O's cap to the Fab Four, "She Said, She Said" is like hitting two grand slams in an inning. The vocalization and noisy guitar outro on the composition are Hu Du perfect. Like a skipper scratching his head from the dugout, you'll wonder why Mould/Hart/Norton didn't cut a version of their own. Butch Vig -- who produced the disc and added some percussion -- also leaves a couple footprints. "Fearless" is unafraid to pound like Bricks Are Heavy-era L7. In fact, the pacing is very reminiscent of the square chicks' "One More Thing." "Try" succeeds with the intensity of the better side-B cuts on Nirvana's Nevermind, a la "Territorial Pissings" and "Lounge Act." Mould was never shy about exhibiting his instrumental prowess (spin Sugar's "Clownmaster" for a prime example), and "Yap" is a burner in that tradition. Handclaps, car keys, scorched amps, kitchen sinks -- the whole bit. The last line in "Totally Gorgeous Foreign Chick" is, "Do you remember?" Translated into a Scandinavian language, the phrase reads, "Husker Du?"

Oh, my old Husker shirts were given to a smaller-sized friend in 1995. He has outgrown them as well. There's six cans of beer in his fridge. Want one?
-Gunther 8544

The Mojomatics - Don't Pretend That You Know Me (Ghost, 2008)

Pizza Hut went all the way to Rome for the purpose of serving lasagna to paid-off diners in a phony restaurant. On their third album, The Mojomatics prepare a twelve-sliced pie topped with generous handfuls of blues, twang, power pop, punk and rock 'n' roll. Had the Flat Duo Jets shared kitchen space with The Plimsouls, maybe the aromas would've replicated the anticipatory goodness emanating from these Venetians' brick oven. Contrary to PH's deceptive advertising tactics -- those Mias are $5 each ONLY when you buy three, and Mama's been freezing 'em -- chefs MojoMatt (vocals, guitar, harmonica) and DavMatic (drums, percussion) post their deals in plain language on the front door.

In the clip for first piece "Wait A While," two beauties relax in comfortable chairs and nod along to the band's hyperactive jangle. After the camera catches several glimpses of exotic beasts captured on a stuffed-animal expedition, another attractive lady joins the party. The tuneage has stopped, but her bedroom eyes transfix upon the red-headed doll in the right recliner. Thank you for making the choice for me, hon, 'cause the pick would've been agonizing. Most heterosexual males and bi femmes would be pleased as a Rocky Marciano punch to orient themselves with the mysterious maiden seated stage left. Kudos to the talent, for bashing out early-Stones-on-speed mood music. I'm feeling rather amorous, so let me take a couple shots of Tom's Of Maine mouthwash. Back in a bit, baby!

Thanks for holding my favorite well drink (orange juice on the rocks) in your soft hands. If I can't attend the next show in this delightfully dingy bar, will you "Miss Me When I'm Gone"? Forget the stand-in bassist we saw tonight and preserve the righteous sound of a blues harp from the field recording in your memory bank. Remember the rooty jaunt of the platter's fourth track made you want to snap the rustic images found in iconography from the 1950s? Though the flower in your hair sure was purdy, the absence of tumbleweeds and invasive growths left the shutterbug in you "Askin' For A Better Circumstance." At the hoedown last Saturday evening, your graceful movements and glowing cheeks outshined the "Stars Above." Would your predilection for Pepsi, Paul Newman flicks and pop music in its most infectious strain "Complicate My Life"? Not at all, precious. Please pour me a glass of Wild Cherry soda, show me The Color Of Money and blast The Beat's CD containing their first two albums in my earholes. As Paul Collins once commented on the subject of life: "It's the little things that really count." You're a different kind of girl. I promise to never walk out on our love.

Unlike PH's stale promotions, The Mojomatics are the "Real Deal." Ask for 'em.
- Gunther 8544

Dwight Twilley Band - Sincerely/Twilley Don't Mind (Shelter, 1976/Arista, 1977; Raven, 2007)

Even in tranquil Oklahoma swimming pools, shark attacks can happen with one quick ripple.

Longtime friends and collaborators, Dwight Twilley and Phil Seymour dove head-first into the charts with the smokin' "I'm On Fire." Reaching #16 on Billboard in June 1975, the catchy choruses and clanging guitars made for a Badfinger/Hollies hybrid forever imprinted on receptive ears. For a shit-hot live take, watch the clip on YouTube. Striking while the iron was hot, DTB laid down the follow-up single at Leon Russell's studio in Tulsa. "Shark (In The Dark)" was another bite of British Invasion goodness. However, a higher-up at Shelter Records shelved the recording. In light of a smash release at the box office called Jaws, the executive didn't want his boys to become a two-hit novelty. Caging them did DTB no favors. Coupled with a delayed street date of the debut album, the band never again swam in commercial waters.

Thirty years on, Raven Records from the infested island of Australia dumps a generous 2-in-1 chum bucket into the mouths of pop aficionados the world over. "Looking For The Magic" is regarded by many as the centerpiece of DTB's catalog. Jittery vocals, echoes of studio trickery and a credible Macca-like performance by stand-in bassist Bill Pitcock IV do little to conflict with that opinion. The Seymour-sung "Could Be Love" suggests a collision of organ-based pop with the theme from "Sesame Street." Josh Rutledge from Now Wave Magazine (R.I.P.) once said that many Big Star songs reminded him of a warmed-over Atlanta Rhythm Section. Since I'm a fan of both acts, the "spooky" undercurrents of "Feeling In The Dark" don't bother me one bit. For a quick hit of Eddie Cochran-like rockabilly, turn on "TV." There's plenty of Cheap Trick swagger and attitude on "Here She Come." Look out for the girl rock 'n' rollin' in a wet T-shirt ("If she was just a little bit older/I'd be next to her"). Along with a horn section and the glam-but-not-really sophistication of Mott The Hoople, CT also figure prominently into "Rock 'N' Roll '47." "Chance To Get Away" escapes to jangly heaven and spins like a lost Flamin' Groovies side. When rest is in order, "Sleeping" wraps you in a string-laden, comfortable blanket that's perfect for an 8,000-year nap.

Watch for the great whites in three-piece suits. They're not just bluefish.
- Gunther 8544