Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Adicts - Songs Of Praise (Dewd, 1982/Cleopatra, 1993)

Along with the Toy Dolls and Peter And The Test Tube Babies, The Adicts were part of a movement within a movement I've seen classified as "fun Oi!". While street-punk pioneers such as Sham 69, Cock Sparrer and The Business occasionally had their humorous turns, the eternal cut-ups were far more interested in going to the pub with Harry rather than using his influence to unite the kids. Donned in droog costumes straight from the wardrobe of "A Clockwork Orange" and fronted by a "Monkey" man in joker paint, The Adicts were the class clowns of '82 UK punk. Stage props like confetti, beach balls, toy instruments and bubbles enhanced their yearbook superlative. Who else would discuss a fruitless search for food ("Chinese Takeaway"), "lament" over a lost love ("My Baby Got Run Over By A Steamroller") and express a genuine appreciation for classical music ("Ode To Joy") in the midst of serious sloganeering from other outfits? Familiar inflections from vocalist Keith "Monkey" Warren are perhaps The Adicts' most amusing aspect. Josh swears up and down that it's Robert Smith from The Cure masquerading as a punk rocker. Sounds legit to me. Maybe Smith listened to The Dickies as much as David Bowie in his early days. Plus, we all know the man's no stranger to applying makeup.

OK, cancel some of what I said above. Songs Of Praise has been in my stash for over fifteen years, and this is the first time I've really studied the lyrics. Behind the cloud of cosmetics is a band who really gives a damn. Didn't mean to imply otherwise. Onward...

"I Don't Wanna Die For England" makes a terse, anti-war statement of not wanting to "hear the bugle call." "Sensitive" adds more heft to the Robert Smith theory ("If I say something wrong/You might start to cry/I don't wanna get you down/Don't wanna make you cry"). "Viva La Revolution" has the empowering lines ("Long live the people/Long live the scheme/Long live our hopes/Long live the dream") and endless title chants to join Jimmy Pursey and his "Borstal Breakout." Individuality is ironically endorsed in "Just Like Me." In lieu of my retraction, there are plenty of party favors. A former friend of mine once termed Pete "Dee" Davison's stringing on "Peculiar Music" as "Egyptian guitar." Well, the reissue of Songs Of Praise is on Cleopatra...Pete's bro, "Kid Dee," adds a lead vocal to his drumsticks on "Mary Whitehouse" and spouts about "pornography on the BBC." "Get Adicted" is a rousing recruiting pitch and a band theme song all in one. The last dance is saved for "Tango" ("We drank champagne/We danced again/We had laughter/And then after...").

I once saw Ozzy Osbourne wearing an Adicts T-shirt in a magazine. What would be the ratio from London oddsmakers that he's actually heard the band? 666:1, most likely.

-Gunther 8544

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Outfield - Bangin' (Columbia, 1987)

Comparing these English popsters' first two full-length slabs to Baltimore Oriole outfielders, Play Deep is to Adam Jones as Bangin' is to Nick Markakis. It's a push, really. Both residents of 2110 Eutaw Street have been putting up big numbers during the O's' current five-game winning streak. Likewise, the albums' lineup cards are inked with cut after cut of undeniable catchiness. Historians might argue that Play Deep enjoyed more success between the lines of radio airplay and fielded a Hall of Fame pop gem ("Your Love") with a hook more irresistible than an Earl Weaver opportunity to swear at an ump. Bangin' sent one single to the plate ("Since You've Been Gone"), but the other nine potential All-Stars weren't even given the chance to aim for the fences. If only there'd been a better manager...

Two of the reasons why Dirty Sheets exists: During Josh's days as skipper for the still-missed Now Wave Magazine, we exchanged numerous e-mails concerning music, sports and food -- a practice still continued on the walls of Facecrack and in other dugouts. One of the inquiries posed to Lord Rutledge: "What do you think of The Outfield?" His response: "They're great wimpy pop!" The banter hadn't been intended as a litmus test for a future DS teammate, but I now smile at the scouting report on what constituted "good" and "bad" music. My "Thrift Scores" piece in Holly Womack's Fresh Rag 'zine circa 2002 also served as Triple-A training for DS. In the review of The Outfield's debut disc, I wrote: "You might think I regard Play Deep as one of the finest one-through-nine-inning collections of WRV T-shirt rock in the record books. You'd be correct in your analysis there, southpaw." Stealing another base from FR: "A swing to the warning track demonstrates (The Outfield) have an MLB-level of craftsmanship akin to first-stringers The Police and Big Country." Go ahead and add Journey's double-play duo of "Stone In Love" and "Anytime" to the squad. Send aging "stars" "Don't Stop Believin'" and "Open Arms" to the showers.

Nine years later, Bangin' is worthy of an examination by the Veterans Committee. "Since You've Been Gone" smears the dirt of denial ("An' I know you're coming back") on the cleats of intense loneliness. If this had been struck by The Police, they would've slammed a four-bagger. "Moving Targets" has Johnny Marr-like jangle behind the plate in spots, even though it lacks Morrissey-style lyrical pitches from the mound. "Playground" swings its lumber with monkey-bar guitars and see-saw drums a la Play Deep's "All My Love" and "Say It Isn't So." Joe DiMaggio would've respected the "This isn't meant to be a backseat love affair" line in the near-power pop "Better Than Nothing," but I'm not so sure about Phil Rizzuto and Meat Loaf.

Calling Bangin' "a bat out of hell" would be a misnomer. All the same, the grip feels pretty good.

-Gunther 8544

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Rick Springfield- Working Class Dog (RCA, 1981)

The mainstream “pop-rock” genre of music has never gotten much respect from the critical establishment. If you record a catchy little pop song on shitty equipment and sell five hundred copies to your cult following, the critics will call you an “artist”. If you record a catchy little pop song on top-of-the-line equipment and sell five million copies to soccer moms and 12-year-old girls, the critics will call you a hack. Well fuck that! Great music is great music! It’s really freaking hard to write a simple three minute pop song! Anyone who can do it brilliantly and consistently gets mad respect in my book. If you think Rick Springfield was just some pretty boy soap star who made records because he could, you’re in need of some serious learnin’! Gather ‘round, ye uninformed, and dig what I’ve got to tell you! Rick Springfield was an artist, and Working Class Dog is the greatest pop-rock album of all-time. Believe it!

True enough: at the time of its release, Working Class Dog seemed an unlikely candidate for enduring artistic significance. Springfield, who’d scored a top 20 hit as a teen idol pop star with 1972’s “Speak to the Sky”, had transitioned to acting after a suspected payola scandal involving his label Capitol had caused many radio stations to boycott his music. He starred as “himself” on the Saturday morning cartoon Mission: Magic! and later played Dr. Noah Drake on the hit soap General Hospital. But Working Class Dog was no opportunistic cash-in. Springfield, in fact, had already finished the album before he took the soap role. That his new-found stardom opened a few doors is hard to dispute. But even harder to dispute is that the music was more than worthy. From the jump, Working Class Dog comes off like an album that was made for the radio. And if you don’t think that’s a compliment, you know nothing about power pop music. Imbuing crunchy, high energy guitar rock with ringing melodies and razor-sharp hooks, opening track “Love Is Alright Tonite” just sounds like a hit. And it was – reaching the U.S. top 20 in late ’81. It was preceded there by two top tens off the same album – the Sammy Hagar penned “I’ve Done Everything For You” (#8) and the #1 smash “Jessie’s Girl”. The latter may be the greatest radio rock song ever recorded, and today it remains a staple of “classic” rock formats. In this current era in which commercial success is equated with well-honed mediocrity and soulless pandering to market demographics, the brilliance of Springfield’s artistry may be lost on most. But it’s not lost on me. Never one to underestimate the importance of a pleasing melody and a stick-in-your-head chorus, I consider the man an all-time great in his field.

It seems unnecessary to elaborate on “Jessie’s Girl”. Anyone with taste will concur that it’s the Mona Lisa of pop-rock songs and the Citizen Kane of top 40 hits. I saw Springfield debut it on the TV program Solid Gold, and it was truly a life-changing experience. The chorus knocked my socks off, and the guitar bridge was epic! I had my mom take me to the record store the next day, and home I went with the “Jessie’s Girl” 45 (Had this series of events never transpired, surely I’d now be a gaming enthusiast or antique collector instead of a music blogger). When a full LP arrived a few weeks later, it was no letdown. Co-produced by industry titan Keith Olsen (Fleetwood Mac, Grateful Dead) and featuring the work of seasoned session players like Robben Ford (George Harrison, Joni Mitchell) and Neil Giraldo (Pat Benatar), Working Class Dog was a polished product in all the best ways. But it was the songs that stood out the most. Springfield wasn’t trying to change the world or revolutionize music, but he sure knew what mattered to people. Who couldn’t relate to songs about broken hearts, unrequited love, and the escape from mundane frustrations afforded by a hot date on Friday night? Not unlike ‘70s acts such as The Babys or even the great Cheap Trick, Springfield achieved a blissful marriage between high-powered arena rock and carefully crafted, melody-driven pop. Fun, energetic, and expertly targeted towards the lovelorn adolescent in all of us, his songs embody the spirit of the early ‘80s in a purely good way. And although Springfield’s romantic frustrations were not as convincing as those of a less photogenic contemporary like Joe Jackson, you just couldn’t hold his good looks against him. So what if he’d banged six chicks since lunchtime? When he got up on stage and sang “Jessie’s Girl”, we didn’t doubt for a second that he felt our pain! He was one of us – singing about the girls he couldn’t have and doing it better than it had ever been done. And the girls, they loved him even more than we fellas did.

Working Class Dog is by no means 100 percent filler-free (few albums of the time were!). But its best tracks are sheer perfection, and even its cheesy moments are not without a certain charm. Lesser known songs such as “Hole in My Heart” and the reggae inflected “Everybody’s Girl” probably could have been hits, while the main departure from the three-minute pop formula, album closer “Inside Silvia”, is oddly trippy yet quite beautiful. Springfield’s songwriting acumen, while surely the vital cog, is just one part of the awesomeness. The man’s vocal chops deserve equal billing, and they especially shine on his impassioned interpretation of Hagar’s “I’ve Done Everything For You”. The world may have first perceived of Rick Springfield as an actor who could sing, but three songs into Working Class Dog, you realized it was the other way around. If you somehow still pegged him for a flash-in-the-pan, another thirteen Top 40 hits over the next seven years would ultimately prove you way wrong.

Perhaps what I love best about Working Class Dog is that it both typifies and transcends its era. When you put the album on, it’s like you’re traveling back in time. It just feels like the early ‘80s, in all the best ways. It transports you to a more innocent age – when young couples didn’t “hook up” but actually went on dates, The Greatest American Hero was killing the Nielsen ratings, and “gaming” meant you went to the mall arcade and fed quarters into the Donkey Kong machine. But whereas most popular recordings from the same period succeed as nostalgia pieces, Working Class Dog just plain succeeds. Like anything well-constructed, its superb songs and indelible melodies have held up over the long haul. The likes of “I’ve Done Everything for You” and “Love Is Alright Tonite” sound as alive and infectious now as they did the day the album was released. Compared to “classic” power pop acts like 20/20, the Plimsouls, and the like, Rick Springfield surely polished and “mainstreamed” the three-minute pop medium for a mass audience. But that’s not always a bad thing. Some music is just meant to be massive. Can you imagine “Jessie’s Girl” as an obscure “cult” hit that only hipsters bought? The mere thought throws me into a near depression. A great pop song that doesn’t get radio airplay is like the proverbial tree falling with no one around to hear it. For a number of years in the early ‘80s, Rick Springfield gave the masses great pop songs. And the masses loved it. Dude gets my Rock and Roll Hall of Fame vote!

-Josh Rutledge

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Registrators- Sixteen Wires from the New Provocate (Mangrove, 1999; Rip Off Records, 2000)

To those of us who lived through it, the latter part of the 1990s clearly rates as one of the all-time classic eras of punk music. Only first wave (’77-’79) and early/pre hardcore (’80-’82) were better. There were SO many great bands going circa ’95-’99, many of whom (Teengenerate, Prostitutes, The Fuses) we’ve previously chronicled on these very pages. While I’d be hard-pressed to name one greatest punk band of the period, Japan’s mighty Registrators have to be in the conversation. How many other punk bands of that era delivered two certifiably classic full-length albums? How many other bands of that era managed to push the envelope of how punk music could sound while still retaining the energy and catchiness of the genre’s original definers? Throw in at least a full album’s worth of good-to-spectacular singles, and you’ve got yourself a recorded output for the ages! Depending on your sub-genre of choice, you could make a case for anyone from The Rip Offs to The Queers to Turbonegro as the supreme punk band of the mid-to-late ’90s. But if your top five doesn’t include The Registrators, I vehemently protest!

The mid-to-late ’90s was the golden era of garage punk LPs. Even amongst a slew of truly legendary titles, the Registrators’ 1996 debut Terminal Boredom stood out as an instant classic of the genre. Had the band chosen to make another album or two just like it, no one would have complained. But like a bunch of evil geniuses toiling away in the lab in pursuit of universal domination, The Registrators had something far more unprecedented in mind for their second LP. They were poised to take punk rock into the future. And initially, I was one of the skeptics. The new wave/post-punk thing was at the time becoming trendy, and I would have preferred more of the early Damned on amphetamines primitive trash-bashing action of Terminal Boredom. I simply didn’t “get it” at first. But I got it soon enough. Given my somewhat notorious appreciation for the “melodic” side of early punk, it was probably a surprise I didn’t immediately flip for the Buzzcockian mutations of Sixteen Wires. To the band’s credit, the “modernization” of its sound was achieved not through the use of electronic instrumentation, but rather through sheer musical inventiveness and the advantageous use of advancing recording technology. While more melody-driven and far “odder” than Terminal Boredom, Sixteen Wires in no way abandoned the band’s trademark hyper speed pogo punk motif. It simply took it to the next level. And in direct contrast to the cold, dark sounds that were passing for “new wave” in the late ’90s, Sixteen Wires is just wild, crazy fun!

From the moment it kicks into action, Sixteen Wires sounds like the work of a band that’s been wearing the grooves out of the Buzzcocks’ Spiral Scratch EP 24/7. You’ll swear that a young Shelley and Diggle are playing the leads and singing the harmonies! But easy as it may be to detect, this influence is just one element of many that make this record so extraordinary and distinctive. Perhaps if the ‘cocks had attempted to replicate the aggro-synth stylings of Ultravox and The Screamers with guitars, gotten hepped up on caffeine, and time traveled to 1999, they may have made a record like Sixteen Wires. Or maybe they wouldn’t have. The beauty of Sixteen Wires is that, really, no band but The Registrators could have made the album. It’s uniquely them - highlighted by Hiroshi’s crazed, wonderfully mangled English vocals, Ren’s out-of-this-world bass playing, and a generally off-kilter take on the punk rock sound that only a Japanese group could have fashioned. Somehow the band mashes together classic punk, lo-fi garage, and futuristic art-rock to create something totally fresh and legitimately “new”. The songs, while inflected with “experimental” tweaks of various sorts, are instantly likable and almost dangerously infectious. Side 1 scorchers like “School’s Lust” and “Panic Action” are as explosively catchy as anything off of Terminal Boredom, and even when the band really pushes the “weird” quotient, the results are massively enjoyable. Songs like “Pink Lipstick” and “Kiss Me Kiss Me” suggest what might happen if an army of aliens got ahold of some '70s punk recordings and started their own Martian new wave band. At times it sounds like The Registrators of old (the blazing “T.V. Hell” and “Automatic Exit” are re-records of A-sides from ’97), and at times it’s completely the opposite. The near-epic “Louder Faster” sounds like a long-lost masterpiece of English post-punk from 1980, while the magnum opus title track brings to mind the experimental side of the Buzzcocks’ A Different Kind of Tension.

It’s interesting to note that The Registrators kind of lost the plot after Sixteen Wires, their scant pre-breakup output ranging from pedestrian power pop to almost unlistenable indie rock. Much like another defining punk band of a particular era, The Clash, they had probably reached such heights of greatness that there was nowhere left to go but off the cliff. But isn’t that the sort of problem almost every band in the world wishes it had? The last time I spoke on the telephone with resident DS pundit Shawn Abnoxious, he told me The Registrators were going to save rock n’ roll. This must have been 1997, ’98 – a couple years before anyone knew what was coming in Sixteen Wires. I can only surmise that Shawn saw the future, that perhaps he’d even traveled there with The Registrators and sat in their luxury sky box. I’m reminded of the plot of that classic American film Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, in which the very foundation of civilization surviving is predicated upon the existence of a rock band. I can truly imagine a future world in which Sixteen Wires is hailed as society’s salvation and all the little cyborg children fall at Hiroshi’s feet. Even in our more primitive early 2000s, we encountered scores of bands that attempted (mostly in vain) to emulate the modern punk sound of Sixteen Wires. If it were simply as easy as utilizing phaser guitar, choppy rhythms, discordant instrumentation, and bizarre vocal effects, this album could have been re-made a dozen times over and perhaps even improved upon. But as we well all know, that wasn’t it at all. Great music results from neither style nor techniques. It results from talent and inspiration, and The Registrators had both in abundance. Sixteen Wires is far more than merely a groundbreaking achievement. It’s simply a great album on every level. It’s fun to listen to and contains a large number of truly classic songs. Here’s a top secret known only by the reptilian hybrid men who live under ground and clandestinely control all the world’s governments: The Registrators did save rock n’ roll. Eventually, we will all be informed.
-Josh Rutledge