Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Psychedelic Furs- Talk Talk Talk (Columbia Records, 1981)

Every time I've ever tried to name the most underrated rock bands of all-time, The Psychedelic Furs have been one of the first groups to come to mind. In fact, I'd be hard pressed to think of a more underrated band, ever, than the Furs. It's not that the Furs have been completely forgotten. And I certainly can't say that they didn't sell a lot of records. But for the most part, I don't think people realize just how good this band was - especially in its early days. In an era in which so much incredible music was being made, The Furs were one of the most creative and unique bands going. They may be best known for their slicker new wave pop hits, but prior to that they made two of the greatest post-punk LPs of the early '80s. The second of the two makes my short list of desert island discs.

In contrast to the Furs' dense, brooding debut, Talk Talk Talk is a bundle of energy. It adds a brighter pop sensibility to the band's modernized fusion of Berlin-era Bowie and Roxy Music, and it's the one Psychedelic Furs album that clearly shows the group's punk roots. Compared to its predecessor, it's a far more accessible record. Yet it's no less of an artistic achievement. From start to finish, it's the finest collection of songs the Furs ever wrote. And Steve Lillywhite's large-scale production, which came off a bit "grandiose" in his work with U2, is a perfect fit for the Furs' crackling wall of sound. Spearheaded by Vince Ely's powerhouse drumming, Duncan Kilburn's ebullient saxophone, and John Ashton's textured guitar lines, Talk Talk Talk is as rocking as it is arty. And it is both, with a huge injection of '60s pop melody to boot. The influences at play are hard to miss, yet the Furs were a classic case of a band that borrowed certain elements and proceeded to "make them their own". Sure, there's a little bit of David Bowie in Richard Butler's vocals. But ultimately, no one in the world sounds like Richard Butler (although many have tried!). Gravelly-voiced and emotionally charged, he's an absolute force on Talk Talk Talk. This is an album chock full of classic tracks ("Pretty In Pink", "Into You Like A Train", "Mrs. Jones", "Dumb Waiters"), and it's hard to imagine any of them with a different singer. No doubt about it: Richard Butler is the man!

Talk Talk Talk would be the Psychedelic Furs' last album as a six-piece. With the departure of Kilburn and second guitarist Roger Morris, the band's sound was scaled back and gradually commercialized (their next album was produced by Todd Rundgren - talk about a dramatic change!). And while I'd classify all of the Furs' later records as good to very good, there's something truly special about their first two. Talk Talk Talk in particular is one of the seminal works of "alternative" rock. It's the perfect bridge between the band's arty beginnings and later pop success, and in a good way it brings together all the best qualities of early '80s new wave rock. If you mixed the sexy sophistication of Roxy Music with the sonic experimentation of Kraut rock and the "edginess" of punk, then somehow made it all appealing to the masses without sacrificing an ounce of artistry, that would be the Furs in their prime. I won't discourage anyone from going out and buying a quality Furs best-of collection. But this is one of those bands, like the Pretenders, where you really miss out if you pass on their best album. Save the greatest hits package for later. Talk Talk Talk is where you have to start with The Psychedelic Furs.

-Josh Rutledge

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Nine Pound Hammer- Hayseed Timebomb (Crypt Records, 1994)

I'd love to tell y'all cowpokes that this Kentucky-bred bunch of shitkickers coined their band after a reactionary tool used to drive Trent Reznor's industrial-lined nails nine feet into the ground.  Sure, you could rank Nine Pound Hammer alongside REO Speedealer and Jon Cougar Concentration Camp as hefty handles dumping fescue all over established artists.  The stupendous name, however, is lifted from an early country classic by the rather refined Merle Travis.  Because the fine folks in NPH were raised amongst agriculture, the twang in their bang comes across as naturally as sipping 'shine outside the general store.  Indeed, the amphetamine-laced readings of jukebox joints from Johnny Cash, Buck Owens and Hank, Sr. split the toxic shots between reverent and ragged.  Early shows at dives like Great Scotts Depot in Lexington added cover tunes from the likes of Ramones, The Clash and Eddie Cochran to the raging repertoire.  Lest you think heavy metal gets the shaft, Ozzy Osbourne receives a dual citation in the band's own "Headbangin' Stockboy" ("I'm the 'Iron Man' of the produce aisle" and "Sharing SpaghettiOs with 'Mr. Crowley'").  Conversely, an American Eagle is defeathered in the absolutely scathing "Bye, Bye Glen Frey" (sic) ["Gonna get a gun/Shoot Glen Frey/Radio's playing/Reason why"].  Pile on terse comments on religion ("Jesus or Jack Daniel's/Fuck, it's all the same to me"), family relations ("He and his brother/Married the same girl/If you're still confused...") and pop culture ("Chuck Norris is her favorite movie star"), and Nine Pound Hammer sizzle the thick-cut bacon like a suvvern-fried Dictators or a displaced Devil Dogs.  If the producers of "My Name Is Earl" had been more in tune to good music, the Smokin' Taters! collection would've been blasting outta Mr. Hickey's beater.

For the Earl in all of us, Scott Luallen (vocals), Blaine Cartwright (guitar), Matt Bartholomy (bass) and Bill Waldron (drums) team up on Hayseed Timebomb and further their tongue-in-cheek tales of backwoods behavior.  "Shakey Puddin'" runs the going-after-girls gamut from fooling around with a sister's friend as a youngin' to pondering marriage and kids later in life.  'Tween those years, the "little cad" thumbs thru his father's Playboys and puts fingers on "Catholic girls (who) like to play along."  Two slices of "Fuck Pie" are filled with the respective fruits of inexperience ("Back when I was young and naive/I wore my influences on my sleeve/Preached from the safety of my bedroom floor") and wisdom ("One day, you're gonna see/That all the powers that be/Always make enough crosses to go around").  "Skin A Buck" emanates with the joint aromas of skunk piss and cheap brew.  While endlessly perched in a tree stand, the would-be Ted Nugent slips into the stranglehold of a camo-covered coma ("Last night while I was huntin'/I fell asleep and had a dream/That all the deer had rifles/An' they were comin' after me").  The two-fisted roughneck in the title track subsists on an anti-Dr. Oz diet of crank, pork rinds and cold beer.  Profits from the sale of his worn boots are used to line the pockets of one-eyed hookers.  "Outta The Way, Pigfuckers" steers the rusty F-150 towards an off-ramp leading to pastures away from Podunk ("With your Wal-Mart gossip and country-fried philosophy/Toothless witticisms about farm machinery").  Weary truckers "Stranded Outside Tater Knob" only have a "wax museum of dead 'Hee Haw' stars" and "fat girls stripping to Molly Hatchet songs" to decompress from long hauls.  The whorehouse that "used to give special rates before the Baptists burned it down" is greatly missed.

Fun fact:  I've never eaten pork rinds.  Maybe Burger King will soon serve them in their sundaes.  That's no less bonkers than the chain selling pulled BBQ sandwiches.  WTF?

-Gunther 8544