Monday, December 29, 2008

Flipper - Get Away

(Subterranean, 1982)

Remember the time Paul McCartney covered “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and released it as a single? Sure you do! That shit, screamed stunned listeners far and wide, was FUCKED. Well, Flipper’s not about to let Paulie hold a monopoly on all of the world’s zany ideas, so they respond ten years later with their own noize-smear take on “The Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly.” The playing is a loosey-goosey racket, the singing some inspired Dave E-style snottery – whole thing’s like a doped-out Electric Eels. Then, unpredictable as ever, the B-side is the more serious and melodic “Get Away.” With its dense, weirdly distorted guitar and crunchy drums, it should probably be considered a chunk of scuzzpsych rock rather than a “punk” song; in fact, I think the Brian Jonestown Massacre might’ve “borrowed” the first 15 or so seconds of it on one of their early tracks, the scoundrels. Oh, and guess what? There’s nothing happening at work today, so this one’s coming to you STRAIGHT FROM MY OFFICE, THE ROCKIN’EST OFFICE IN TOWN. Now I’m going to make some coffee, some real stickin’-it-to-the-suits coffee.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Flipper - Sex Bomb

(Subterranean, 1981)

The goofy single! The mindnumbingly-repetitious single! The famous single! And why not? “Sex Bomb” is a masterpiece of half-assed, drunk-assed songwriting, with chunky, noisy Flipperisms underneath happy/maniacal whooping and hollering that mainly consists of the line “SHE’S A SEX BOMB, BABY! YEAH!!” over and over. Stupid. And perfect. I actually hear a lot of David Baker’s live style (see: “Very Sleepy Rivers”) in the way Will Shatter grunts and screams here, bending the line to make it sound new each time he lets it loose. And even if the joke gets old after about 60 seconds, the inarticulate hardcore lunk (Bruce Lose) who stammers over the standard-issue thunka-thunka backing of “Brainwash” is extremely funny once or twice. Complete lyrics: “Um… OK, like… see, there’s this… and… but, and then uh… nevermind… forget it… you wouldn’t understand anyway.” Too bad the band decided to loop the same snippet over and over again for six wrist-slit-inducing minutes! OK, OK, it’s also kinda funny that the disc ends with a lockgroove on the final “forget it… you wouldn’t understand” for maximum annoyance.

There appear to be many sleeve variations, most (all?) of them involving simply the “dead fish” logo and band name hand-stamped on white paper in some fashion. Collect ’em all!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Flipper - Ha Ha Ha

(Alternative Tentacles, 1981)

Good ol’ Flipper. This first single gives Joe Listener a good idea of how the band was out to stick a finger up the rump of punk convention from the get-go: It’s slow (relative to their peers), bleak sludgepunk that could perhaps musically be considered an uglified descendent of the VU’s backing on “The Gift.” The horror and disgust of the lyrics, however, are cut with some degree of wiseacre humor, as on the jaded suburban observations and obnoxious laff-riot chorus of “Ha Ha Ha.” Adding a further level of weirdness, tape fuckery abounds on the vocals – speed-ups, extreme reverb, etc. The whole thing’s wasted, lumbering, and unpretty, but at the same time cutting, smart, and funny. Nice fold-out sleeve on this one, too!

The Flipper catalog was finally reissued a few weeks back – a happening that long ran neck and neck with the recent Loop reissues in the “believe it when I see it” sweeps – and this material is included, alongside the other ’80s singles, on the 100% awright Sex Bomb Baby comp.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Flaming Lips - Silent Night/Lord, Can You Hear Me

(Warner Bros., 2008)

Yet more Christmas music from the Flaming Lips, courtesy of this white-vinyl 7” included as a freebie in the limited Christmas On Mars LP. The material included here is more “song-y” than the largely instrumental selections heard on the album; we get a perverse, non-soundtrack medley of a hymn (“Silent Night”) merged with a drug-damaged plea (Spacemen 3’s “Lord Can You Hear Me” – a song the band has been covering off and on since at least the mid-’90s), backed by the mournful “It’s Christmas Time Again.” The latter’s crushing orchestral seriousness and thematic joyfulness sums up the actual film better than any other Mars recording, with the A-side a close second, making it odd that these two songs have been relegated to “bonus single” obscurity. Truly confounding. But worrywart completists need not fret: In keeping with recent form, the band has since made this music available elsewhere as an overpriced picture disc. Uh… great. Keep them wallets open, kids.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Flaming Lips - She Don't Use Jelly (Live)

(Warner Bros., 2007)

A rather pointless vinyl tie-in released alongside the band’s UFOs at the Zoo live DVD. The A-side is, of all things, a perfunctory run-through of “She Don’t Use Jelly” that sounds almost identical to the album version (with the exception of a chaotic climax followed by the stripped-down singalong the Lips have been doing for almost ten years), and the B is a ripping “W.A.N.D.” that, again, is too close to the LP recording to be of much interest. If nothing else, this 7” at least shows how much more exciting the group has become in concert since adding Kliph Scurlock as live drummer; jettisoning the pre-recorded drum tapes has given them considerable punch, even if they do fail to stretch/reimagine their songs as extensively as one might hope.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Flaming Lips - The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song

(Warner Bros., 2006)

While the Flaming Lips never worried about being ridiculous, for decades they at least tried to either challenge the audience or simply make it laugh… and can either of those things honestly be said about the insipid “Yeah Yeah Yeah Song”? Come on. No need to mince words: this is retard-pop. It’s lovely that the band brought the guitars back after two electronics-based albums, but they’re more “bounce” than “crunch” here, and the total package, with the fuzzy political sentiments and embarassing vocal effects, is pure kiddie fare in the worst, most dumbed-down sense. Meanwhile, the excellent “Why Does it End” would have fit quite well on The Soft Bulletin, all thunderous crescendos and bittersweet ruminations as it is – the song’s sophisticated emotional with-it-ness makes “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song” seem even more pathetic by comparison.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Flaming Lips - Christmas On Mars

(Warner Bros., 2004)

Don’t get too excited. First the Flaming Lips released “Syrtis Major” on one of the U.K. “Do You Realize” singles. Then they paired it with “Protonilus Death March” on a 7” picture disc and sold it as part of an expensive photo-book package through their website. Then they divorced the vinyl from the book and sold the standalone single as a web-only exclusive. Then they renamed both songs (“Space Bible With Volume Lumps” and “The Gleaming Armament of Marching Genitilia,” respectively) and hawked ’em to the public via the Christmas On Mars soundtrack. So pardon me for my muted enthusiasm as I dust this fugger off.

And yet… the music’s not terrible.

Whereas the softball instrumentals on The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots evoked intergalactic grocery shopping above all else, these two brief songs have a dramatic edginess that does anything but soothe. The mix of chilly, futuristic electronics and more “classical” soundtrack elements create an unsettling, unearthly atmosphere that works well on disc and even better on film when paired with the visuals for which the music was composed. So ultimately, the low-budget, sci-fi psych-out Christmas On Mars DVD is a safe recommendation, the various repackagings of its score significantly less so. Particularly this 7”; avoid chumpdom and don’t bother to lose any sleep or cash over it.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Flaming Lips - Do You Realize??

(Warner Bros., 2002)

Wayne Coyne has recently said in several interviews that “Do You Realize” will probably end up being what the Flaming Lips are best remembered for, and I think that’s a canny (and, coming from a musician, uncharacteristically honest) read on things, as the song is the clearest summation of the blend of Christmas-y optimism and death-acceptance that has colored the band’s work since Clouds Taste Metallic. Production-wise, it also stands as the ultimate late-period Lips/Fridmann song, with rich acoustic guitars a-strummin’, bells a-clangin’, drums a-poundin’, and synth flourishes a-burblin’. Heavenly stuff for sure, and while it does seem to be fairly well-known thanks to its many appearances in TV commercials, it’s surprising that “Do You Realize” didn’t do so well on the charts – it never appeared on Billboard in the U.S., and only made it to 32 in the U.K. Given that the subsequent Yoshimi singles performed better as critics slobbered all over the album throughout the year, it seems a missed opportunity that Warner failed to reissue and re-promote such an accessible song (as Mercury Rev did with “Goddess on a Hiway”).

“Up Above the Daily Hum,” which is on the other side of this fancy picture disc, is a reworking of a song from the Soft Bulletin days (a 1999 radio performance is on the Bulletin 5.1 DVD). The vocal melody in the bridge is extremely nice, but the treacly muzak quality of the electronics/piano-based instrumental track stands as a warning of what bland paths the Flaming Lips could have easily followed from here. While I’m no huge fan of At War With the Mystics, a descent into cosmic alt-Manilow crooning would have been much, much worse.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Flaming Lips - What's The New Mary Jane?

(Warner Bros., 1995)

WB beats the boots (Sorta! Says “Sweet Jesus…It’s the Lords of Love Noise” later re-bootleged these tracks) with this promotional release of two live songs from an October 18, 1994, Flaming Lips show in Minneapolis. It’s the Moles getting the cover treatment on the A-side, as the sonically-intense Coyne-Ivins-Drozd-Jones lineup saws and thunders its way through “What’s the New Mary Jane.” An absolutely psychedelic and gigantic-sounding hunk of music; Ronald Jones’s guitar playing is practically orchestral in its effects-laden weirdness (though Wayne’s singing has sounded far better…). The other side is a shaggy, largely by-the-book garage-band thrashing of “Under Pressure,” which ends with the incredible time-capsule absurdity of Coyne saying, “Thanks a lot everybody. Candlebox is up next.” Yikes.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Flaming Lips - Drug Machine

(Glitterhouse, 1988)

No! No! NO this is not the same version of “Drug Machine” that appears on the unfairly-trashed Telepathic Surgery, so you best get that STRAIGHT. It’s slower, sludgier, druggier, heavier, though with the same frantic helium-gtr solo that makes the doggone thing so spiffy on the LP. Actually, I have a sneaking suspicion (OR IS IT AN EARTH-SHAKING ACCUSATION?!?!) that the 7” is in fact just Wayne singing over a slowed-down instrumental of the album take – anyone out there agree? Either way, AGREE that it’s mighty clever to use the B-side in order to cram-jam the self-consciously evil Sonics (
“Strychnine”) and the self-consciously AWARE Nick Lowe/Elvis Costello (“Peace, Love, and Understanding”) into a seamless, nonsensical medley that musta been all kindsa cool/uncool back in ’88. Whatever. This is a definite pair of dandies, and both are included on Finally the Punk Rockers are Taking Acid, a compilation that’s a shocking, fried-amp wonderland for those youngsters who know the Flaming Lips only as over-earnest orchestro-beards who are so reliant on pre-recorded tapes in concert and ultra-spiff production in the studio that they couldn’t possibly handle “sloppy.” No? Well. Buy the early stuff and hear ’em when they wuz FUN and LOUD!!

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Flame - See The Light

(Brother, 1970)

In 1969, the Beach Boys signed up these South African sharpies and brought ’em over to the U.S. to record for the band’s new Brother label. A Carl Wilson-produced album later, guitarist Blondie Chaplin and drummer Ricky Fataar (a.k.a. Stig O’Hara) would join up with Da Boys themselves and play on the So Tough, Holland, and In Concert records, and this single does a fine job of showing why the flailing Beach Boys would be interested in enlisting such tuff-rockin’ pals in a bid for continued credibility. “See the Light” and “Get Your Mind Made Up” are both a slightly funkier take on the Badfinger success formula, and their hooky, harmony-spanked groove-pop would sit well among the best of albums like Straight Up and No Dice. The Beach Boys had hinted at a similar direction on “It’s About Time” and “Got to Know the Woman,” but the Flame sounds far more effortless and seamless in its stinging boogie here, and it’s fairly clear that the successful rockers of So Tough and Holland – some of which were actually written by the new members – owed plenty to the introduction of Chaplin-Fataar. Unfortunate that excellent songs such as these two end up getting footnoted due to the sexy Wilson connection; a reissue and wider objective (re-) appraisal is in order. Rhino…?

Friday, December 5, 2008

Fe Fi Fo Fums - In The Summertime

(Boom-Boom, 2006)

This one’s more about posture and aggression than stoopid, boozefaced good-timeyness, I think, and it ultimately just ain’t as fine as the first Fe Fi Fo Fums single. Really: Feels like the fun and spontaneity of that earlier 45 has GONE FORMULAIAC this time around, with unexciting, shitty-Ramones style lunk-punk and faux-bankrupt production dominating. Four songs cranked out over two sides, but it’s hard to brush off the sense that more effort went into the “ultra-garage-y” sound than the actual songwriting. A real disappointment, and probably the last record by these fellers you should bother to dig up. BUT SO WHAT!!! BECAUSE OF THIS MUFFLE-HEAVY GARAGE-PUNK/POP PURITY, DUMMY REKKID COLLECTORS OF THE FUTURE WILL GO GA-GA OVER THE FE FI FO FUMS FOR YEARS TO COME – GUARANTEED!! – SO BUY ’EM UP NOW, EACH AND EVERY ONE. NO KIDDIN, NO JOKE! MAKE YOUR ZILLIONS TODAY!! Solid investment info like that should earn me some tithing down the road, yeh?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Fe Fi Fo Fums - Electrofize Me

(Boom-Boom, 2004)

Absolute party trash from defunct Northwest-U.S. Pebbles-luvers! The usual: A swingin’ stomper for delinquents that sounds like it was recorded on an underwater boombox. While drunk. Song’s nothing but boss (w/ hot solo!), though, so no gripes allowed, even if “Wild One” kinda disappointingly fast-forwards a decade to do it Cleveland-style. Far worse crimes have been perpetrated. But! Both of these rockin’ cheezeburgers are on the band’s Shake All Night LP, so think things over carefully before writing out that Postal Money Order – the album’s definitely a better deal. But BUT! This particular pressing (2nd?) of the single does score big for having three different covers – representing the three members of the Fums, see – each limited to a ridiculous 33 copies. The choice is yours, gentle spender.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Feelies - Everybody's Got Something To Hide (Except Me And My Monkey)

(Stiff, 1980)

I’m not quite sure why Stiff chose “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide (Except Me and My Monkey)” as the single from Crazy Rhythms… maybe there was hope that the novelty appeal of such an unusual cover selection would sell a few copies? No idea. Anyway, the Feelies replace the Beatles’ aggressive clang with nervous jitter here, but there’s definitely some AOK muscle behind the wisely-emphasized drumming. While totally inconsequential, it’s a fast, fun version of a rarely-covered Lennon toss-off. The more serious “Original Love” is similar in feel, with some nice Velvets-style guitar playing and deep vocals that make the whole thing oddly reminiscent of early Dream Syndicate. Just… geekier. Listening to this stuff after a few years of experiencing the bands in the extended NYC Cake Shop family, there’s no denying that the herky-jerky college-rockers of yesterday and today owe a heapin’ helpin’ of thankya to these goofs. Kiss their tennis shoes, fellas.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Faxed Head - The Four Freshmen

(Japan Overseas, 1996)

Shucks, one more Faxed Head 7” to review, and this one’s a knee-slapper, hoo boy! The A side is a tribute of sorts to the Four Freshmen, a drug-addled love letter to the famed vocal group that drops samples of horn-kissed harmony goodness from that band into Faxed Head’s comically sludgy grind. The sense of loss and disappointment is palpable as the vocalist notes that, when he attended the group’s Reno concert in the early ’90s, there was “only one Freshman left / The others had quit and died” – who sez goof-metal can’t be moving? On the other side, “Heavy Metal Cookie Cutter” is the standard metal-plus-electronics schtick, but it has tuff-guy-in-the-kitchen lyrics that stand proud next to anything else the band – or even Zip Code Rapists – released. Overall, this is one of the better Faxed Head records, and, as an Asian import, a swell reminder of their head-scratchin’ popularity in Japan. (Speaking of which, that new “live in Osaka” DVD, which also features coveted footage of rival act The Bon Larvis Band, currently tops my Christmas list.)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Faxed Head - Necrogenometry EP

(Amarillo, 1993)

It’s a more musically “together” Faxed Head this time around, with mucho-macho metal vocals and prominent electronic scree that occasionally sounds like it might be a ghastly approximation of a bagpipe. The lyrics remain right-on in their violent stoopidity (“Pantera takes the stage / The girls, the coke, the rage / I’m shifting my weight around / I have 20 pounds of shit stored up / But these people and I are one / Rockin’ together / I’m uncomfortable but free!”), but the relatively tighter playing sacrifices some of the yuks, and the total package just isn’t as conceptually delightful as the “Coalinga” single. The turntable-less curious can investigate both records – plus more more more! – on the Uncomfortable But Free compilation, at which point they’ll admit that I’m right on all counts.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Faxed Head - Show Pride In Coalinga

(Coalinga, 1993)

Amarillo Records’ contribution to (and send-up of) the world of death metal, Faxed Head is a costume band with one of the best backstories in town: A group of depressed teens is left mentally and physically ruined after a botched shotgun-suicide pact, and while rehabilitating they form a band as a therapeutic/inspirational exercise. Decked out in masks to cover their disfigured faces, they play fast, ugly metal and growl about civic pride, drug abuse, and Al Gore. This single, a tribute to the group’s hometown, comes packaged with a hilarious letter from the mayor and a sticker outlining the city’s history – which also announces that the record is brought to you courtesy of the Coalinga Area Chamber of Commerce and Taco Bell, Burger King, BP Service Station, Chevron Food Mart, Coalinga Sporting Goods, Texaco Service Station, Motel 6 of Coalinga, and the Coalinga Inn. “Show Pride in Coalinga” rather innovatively mixes a pep-squad cheer with ridiculous shit-thrash, while the semi-competent, speedy “The Colors of Coalinga” is overlaid with random explosions of brutal electronic noise. The choked, guttural vocals are tough to make out, but there are some lyrical doozies here: “In spring, at Burger King / They put up orange banners / In December they put up red / In their parking lot I shot myself / As I bled into my can of glue / I felt a communion with my hometown.” As with many of the projects coming out of the larger Amarillo camp, Trey Spruance, Brandan Kearney, and Gregg Turkington are all involved.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Favourite Sons - No One Ever Dies Young

(GSL, 2005)

Favourite Sons exists as something of a supergroup in my mind, as the lineup consists of Ken Griffin from Rollerskate Skinny backed by most of Aspera Ad Astra. Both source bands have been personal top-shelfers for a long time, and Aspera’s best period (the Insound Tour Support EP, TigerStyle split with the Lilys, and Sugar & Feathered album) showed that those guys were themselves big fans of Rollerskate Skinny’s two mid-’90s LPs, records that combined the huge melodies of Jones-era Flaming Lips with the sonic maximalism of My Bloody Valentine. The Favourite Sons don’t wander too far from those roots on this first single, though the dizzying layers of sound get peeled back a little for a more streamlined rock sound that emphasizes punchy drums and Griffin’s commanding lead vocal. And while parts of the subsequent Down Beside Your Beauty do indeed get a shade too rawk-y for me at the expense of the shoegaze/weird-out elements, the band’s loopy songwriting smarts are firing full-on with this early stab at “No One Ever Dies Young,” a driving, shoulda-been hit that flips easily between jagged and blissed out in a doggone AOK synthesis of pop, dreamcore, semi-punkiness, and basic r’n’r. Hear it before death, or feel like a chump as the worms get at you; this as good as such things get. No kiddin’. “Pistols and Girls,” however, appearing here in what may be demo form, lacks the creepy psychedelic doominess of the album version and suffers for it; it’s messy, third-tier material in this state and hardly shows any glimmer of what the band would later whip it into.

Inconveniently, this single was made available only through GSL’s “Special 12” singles series, which had to be bought online – expensively – as either a set or a half-set. Since the label’s shuttering in 2007 I’m not too sure where one would come by the record, so be sure to keep them fingers crossed as you paw through the used bins, if such a thing is physically possible. Betcha it isn’t!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Faust - Faust Party 3 Extracts #2

(Recommended, 1980)

During Faust’s retirement period, outtakes from the early ’70s trickled out on a series of generally interesting EPs and LPs released by the Recommended label. This hand-colored and hand-stamped 7” is one of the earliest, and it shows off the band’s dual tendencies of either pounding a melody/riff into the ground or absolutely refusing to stay in the same place musically for more than a few instants. “Extract 2” (also called “J’ai Mal Aux Dents”) is the same acoustic guitar, drum part, and vocal chant repeated for seven minutes, with heavy waves of distortion and narration weaving in and out of the song. Hypnotic, catchy, and rhythmically light on its feet, it would have fit well on the relatively accessible So Far or Faust IV. A bit closer to the hyperactive cut-up styles of the band’s first and third albums, “Extract 6” (a.k.a. “Lieber Herr Deutschland”) begins with a field recording of a student protest, explodes into a freeform freakout from which a stoner-Kraut groove emerges, gets chopped apart in a brief tape-manipulation section, and then closes with a Floyd-style relaxo-jam. At under five minutes, it’s a maddening simulation of being stuck in a car with a compulsive radio-knob spinner. Pieces like this work better when stretched over a full album, as on the debut LP, but, even if it is frustrating to hear them presented in collage form, the individual elements of “Extract 6” are at least interesting glimpses at studio sketches.

This material, and all of the label’s companion releases, ended up (sometimes with new titles) on the five-disc Wumme Years box set in 2000, by which time Faust was again putting out new, still-unclassifiable records. Many of those – particularly You Know FaUSt, Faust Wakes Nosferatu, Ravvivando, and the untitled “gold” album – stand up surprisingly well next to the original lineup’s work and make for good supplements to the must-have box.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Fat Worm Of Error - Feelin' Fine

(Yeay, 2003)

Man is it frosty inside my apartment. And whyzat? Aha! Because my landlord, forgetting that it’s mid-November, hasn’t gotten ’round to turning on the building’s heat quite yet. Perhaps tonight’s snowfall will remind him – stay tuned! But, in honor of this single’s title, I’m flipping the old bird to the elements and still “FEELIN’ FINE” right now, bundled as I am in my $1.99 Street Stylez sweats, trusty bathrobe, and a pair of woolly slippers better described as “booties.” Roasty toasty! It’s like I always say to friends and strangers: might as well be comfortable in a, like, bodily sorta way while listening to Fat Worm of Error, cuz your EARS are sure gonna get yanked around in a manner not so gentle. Ho ho?? This is freewheeling clatter-crash at its extremiest, with extra studio-fuck manipulation steamshoveled on top to further de-rockify things. The blurps and urps of the costumed singerlady offer the closest hints of underlying structural semi-sanity, but instrumentally, everything handy seems to be getting abused with top force at, for the most part, random – the sound of noizeboyz getting thrown down the stairs, the breaking of eggs before the omelet. Meaning, uh, it’s a fun and unsettling record for all seasons, to be sure. Please note that the dancers in the crowd might want to ease into FWOE’s universe with drummer Neil’s unbeatable dubtown crushers, released solo under the name Bromp Treb.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Julian Fane - Special Forces Promo

(Planet Mu, 2004)

Planet Mu shipped this 7” as a limited, not-for-sale promo pushing Julian Fane’s first record, Special Forces, and I, as the warehouse boy for the label’s American distributor at the time, dutifully slipped a few copies into each big mailing over the course of that summer (so what’d YOU think of it, Revolver, Carrot Top, Caroline, and etc.?). I also “slipped” one into my own pocket, of course, and listening to it now, four years later, I remain impressed by the warm, Caribou-like, one-man beat-psychedelia that Fane pulls. “Safety Man” swipes Sigur Ros’ cooing falsetto for maximum creepy-crawliness, while non-album rarity “Joyce Lang” is startling in its resemblance to a glitchy Kid A outtake. As software psych goes, it’s surprisingly human and accessible; the flesh-n-bones aspect hasn’t been killed off by tech obsession. I’d recommend the full album over the promo single, obviously, but the decent B-side certainly deserves to be heard by those who generally dig Fane’s work. Worth tracking down on the cheap, so hop to it if you’ve got both legs.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Family Fodder - Playing Golf (With My Flesh Crawling)

(Parole/Fresh, 1979)

Cheeky UK/French artoids with a strong fondness for percussion and stronger attraction to the bizarre. Even if the band’s debut, “Playing Golf (With My Flesh Crawling),” isn’t a classic on the level of subsequent Dominique Levillain-sung LSD-dub-punkers like “Debbie Harry” or “Savoir Faire,” the chanting gnomes, dark/surreal lyrics, and unpredictable synth abuse that make up the song give a decent sense of where Family Fodder was coming from. Just as freaked lyrically and choppy musically as Barrett’s ultimate Floydian weird-out, this one is essentially “Scream Thy Last Scream” rethunk for the late ’70s. “My Baby Takes Valium,” overtly jokey and cheerfully bloop-bloopy, sounds like a Talking Heads novelty record: obviously not a good thing at all. Still, the single remains well worth having for the A-side.

Even today, those original discs are surprisingly cheap when they turn up (why haven’t collectors glommed onto this stuff?), but those interested in efficiency should note that most of the best songs are crammed onto an out-of-print Dark Beloved Cloud comp and a more comprehensive double CD from Jungle.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Harold Faltermeyer - Axel F Theme

(MCA, 1985)

So… apparently I own “Axel F Theme.” Far as I can remember – and there’s some foggin’ in my noggin what with the passage of time – I picked this up as part of a large box of 7”s that had been discarded in the lobby of my apartment building when I was a senior in college. Well! Nice thinkin’, younger me, because now, years later, I can slip into my Kmart robe and hear Kool Keyboard Kat Harold Faltermeyer give his synthy all on this wannabe-Moroder soundtrack jive whenever I please. Antiseptic cocaine funk for taste-free sleazebags everywhere, the A-side remains a classic with both the braindead and mall-display keyboard autoplay-demos alike. Yes, truly it stinks, friends, but let’s accentuate the positives and note that there’s at least some catchy fake clave on B-side “Shoot Out,” and of course we must grant that no one who ever hears that stupid, funky synth hook on “Axel F” is ever going to dislodge it from their brain region. Ever.

Damn you, Eddie Murphy! Not even the pleasures of Norbit or Pluto Nash will let me forgive you for this Beverly Hills Cop soundtracking travesty! Harumph.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Jad Fair - In A Haunted House

(Derivative, 1995)

Skinnyboy Jad nerds it up vocally with some retro-suits from Shadowy Men On a Shadowy Planet, singing dud Halloween lyrics over semi-meaty old-timey tom-heavy instro-blugh. OK. Sure. B’s a buncha un-song ghost sounds a whoooo-in’ and a-howlin’ and a-screamin’, but gosh, I heard the same shit while trick-or-treating back in the ’80s, and don’t need to re-hear it now minus the miniature Milky Ways and Three Musketeers. Record’s definitely Not Cute. That Jad was always a Forced Exposure fave, yeah, but then again they also dug that clown Dredd Foole for years, so take any such rec with a poopload o’ saltiness.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Fablefactory - Fowell Byrd

(Uncomfortable Chair Co., 1997)

Waitin’, waitin’, waitin’ for my Papa John’s pizza to arrive. Doodly doodly doo, I’m just waitin’ for that pizza to make it to my mouth. Hum. Hum. Hum da dum hum. (END OF SONG.) Yes, life sure is good when you’re waiting for some tasty pizza and singing a song to yourself about it. Reckon those PRICKS in Fablefactory are just as whimsical as I, for here they are with a concept record about the life and death of wing’d things spread over a MERE 7”!! The music’s the kind of wobbly, 4-track-y, fuzz-loaded psychpop that the Elephant 6ers built their reps on, with – hang on, pizza’s here.

Boy. I don’t know exactly who the individual was who came up with the idea of offering miniature tubs of butter for customers to POUR ONTO THEIR PIZZA, but that person deserves the Congressional Medal of Honor. None more tasty. None. Thank you, Papa John, wherever you are. Now I am fat.

But as I was saying: the music’s about what you’d expect from the E6 camp in the ’90s, though the lyrics veer a little too far into the cutesy lane for me to handle. Like: “You make me feel like an idiot, bumble bee / A woodywoody pecker picking pickled peppers over me.” Gnash, o teeth! Grind, too! Side two is stonger overall, with its dark melodicism and stronger lyrics, sounding much like the excellent records Elf Power was releasing at the time, and is perhaps good enough to nudge the record just over the E6 par line. Not a bad effort at all. I’d maybe sell/trade my fifth-born for a copy of this??

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Experimental Audio Research - Data Rape (Part 9)

(Earworm, 1999)

“Data Rape (Part 9)” is, you guessed it, a companion to the Data Rape album, and Sonic Boom uses his banks of modified Speak & Spells to create chattering, insectile noises over a machinelike throb. Alienating and distinctly unpleasant; soundtrack to a bad hell-trip. Furthering the scam is the non-audio side B, which is your standard monsters-chasing-each-other Savage Pencil etching… Aw yeh, and KILL YOURSELF NOW if you forget to nab the “special” limited edition, which comes wrapped in a blue outer sleeve. Are you doing it? Are you killing yourself? Wheeeeeeeee!

On that upbeat note, I’ll mention that I’ve been reviewing these crazy 7”s for exactly one year now. So color me thrilled! Thrilled in a blue outer sleeve!

Experimental Audio Research - Transistor Music

(Earworm, 1998)

Releases by Experimental Audio Research tend to deliver what the group name implies, as Sonic Boom and a rotating cast of friends screw around with various electronics in a non-pop, non-“song” context. Unfortunately, with the exception of some early drone-oriented discs, these recordings come across as far more interesting to create than to listen to, a problem that worsened as the ’90s dragged on. The “Transistor Music” single is all Sonic Boom (credited with E.M.S. Synthi VCS 3 & AKS, Serge Modular Music System, OSCar & Custom Human Voice Synthesizer), who produces layered whooshes, whirs, and voop-voop-voops in a chilly, Doctor Who-esque spacescape that’s admirable for its ambition, but not a whole lotta fun coming through the hi-fi. A much more intriguing failure is the near-contemporaneous Forever Alien album (released as Spectrum), which marries EAR’s electronic fiddling to semi-traditional rock/pop structures for a way-out, uncompromising take-off on what mid-period Kraftwerk only hinted at.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Evil Army - Conquer Human Life

(Contaminated, 2003)

Yeepers, these are some pissed off fellas. Fast, angry thrash with a dirty garage-style production (by Jay Reatard, it seems) that does a swell job of avoiding anything you might consider “messing around.” All fist-clench power, esp in the vocal department. Lyrics about killing abound, making this an appropriate musical companion to my afternoon viewing of Last House on the Left, a blood-soaked flick I betcha the gentlemen of Evil Army have also seen once or twice in their day. Brutal. If anyone out there remains on the fence, get tipped to the “buy now” side with this money quote from a mag interview: “The album cover just has our logo and a skeleton soldier impaling human soldiers on a bayonet, and I think it’s straight to the point, just like I like our songs to be.” I’ll tip a hat to that any day of any week.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Essex Green - Happy Happy Birthday To Me Singles Club, April

(Happy Happy Birthday To Me, 2000)

Four gentle, folksy pop nuggets that, home-recorded as they are, take a more sparse instrumental approach than any of the Essex Green’s full-lengths. And while none of the music on here is as necessary as what’s on the first EP and LP, a rougher version of the group’s chamber folk still makes for a pleasant late-night listen. The band, in its early days, was interesting in a mid-60s Kinks style for writing pretty guy- and gal-sung songs about mundane subjects – cats, golf, the weather – and these lyrics are suitably rootsy and down to earth (the in-defense-of-squares Dylan parody “My Guitar’s Too Cool For Me” is a fine joke). The band later reissued most of this single on an obscure, self-released version of its debut EP, but mysteriously left off both “Yesterday & Today” and the radio static that linked each track.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Enon - Enon

(Do Tell, 2002)

I’ve inadvertently seen Enon play four times over the years – twice opening for the Flaming Lips on the Soft Bulletin tour, once in a New Haven bar, and once at the Touch & Go 25th anniversary show – and the wacky sounds of this 7” don’t jibe with the polished, jumpy electro-rock I seem to recall from those live performances. And that’s REAL fine, because the seven songs heard here are happily the sort of squelchy weirdo pop that could have easily come out of the Elephant 6 camp: short bursts of imaginative, melodic kitchen-sinkery taking left turn after left turn. Keyboards, clarinets, easy-listening samples, fuzz guitar, boombox-fi recording… check off all those boxes. The wobbly, old-timey snippet “Eggshells Are Now Chicken Bones” is an especially dead-on echo of the Music Tapes, though every track on here has sonic cousins in E6, whether Of Montreal, Elf Power, Olivia Tremor Control, Neutral Milk Hotel, or even Major Organ. An unexpected surprise from a band I’ve either ignored or derided (or, uh, openly heckled) since its formation. I’ll admit now to the presence of at least a little egg on my face. Tasty, tasty egg.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Elf Power - Interlude #87

(Arena Rock, 1999)

This 7” comes tucked inside the Dream in Sound LP, and THERE IT CAN STAY for all I care. Cuz it’s a dog! WOOF! “Interlude #87,” which also appears unlisted at the end of the CD, is loopy sound collage wankery of the OTC variety, while hot guitar makes the sloppy psych jam “Wrinkles” at least slightly interesting. But interesting enough to justify the man-sized eBay prices for this rare thingamajig? No sir, I cannot in good conscience say that that is the case. So keep on walkin’, smart shopper.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Elf Power - The Winter Hawk EP

(Kindercore, 1996)

Elf Power is generally less given to whimsy than other Elephant 6 bands, and over the years they’ve developed into the most “professional,” straight-sounding rock group of the bunch. This early single – their first – is a nice reminder of rawer days, when Rieger and pals were turning out bedroom psychedelia that ranged from folksy (“The Winter Hawk”) to droning (“Heroes and Insects”) to acid-damaged (“Exalted Exit Wound”). The savvy arrangements, incorporating violin, flute, accordion, and Moog, give the record an expansive sound that, overall, isn’t too far from what the similarly-ambitious (though less sober) Olivia Tremor Control was doing on its first few 7”s. The streamlined Elf Power of later years is a fine thing, but these songs have a baby’s-first-steps charm that has since been lost.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Elevator Drops - Lennon's Dead

(Curve of the Earth, 1994)

I’m not familiar with the
Elevator Drops beyond this single, but it seems that, like the early Flaming Lips, the group is trying, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, to needlessly walk a fine line between silly and sincere. The sleeve pimps a photo of John Lennon’s corpse, and the band inserts a clever/creepy “authentic” swatch of Lennon’s bedsheet, which, further perverting the idea of the hocked Beatlemania hotel linens it’s meant to evoke, is here presumably a piece of deathbed fabric. Which is quite funny, actually! So, given all that, it’s a bit of a surprise to find that the record is catchy, heartfelt, and exuberant, with a big, noisy pop sound reminiscent of Jesus Hits-era Tripping Daisy, both musically and vocally. The band goes for the occasional glammy posturing in its hooky guitarwork on “Lennon’s Dead” (which swipes the “Day in the Life” piano crash for its conclusion), but the more subtle “Elevator to Heaven,” alternating as it does between quiet, spacey verses and hard-hitting bits of amplifier-crunch, ends up the king of this little piece of musical plastic. All in all, good stuff that begs questions of larger-scale, major-label coulda-shoulda. I mean, why not? People, if copies of this are still hanging around the dollar bins of the few remaining record stores in the greater Boston area (as they definitely were ten years ago), then by all means, spend a buck and give a listen.

Electro Group - Line Of Sight

(Omnibus, 2000)

A rare Electro Group-only single – the band has split 7”s with Rocking Horse Winner, St. Avalanche, and Hirameka Hi-Fi – this one pushes all the right buttons: sighing vocals and woozy waves of distortion that crest and break in a manner that calls to mind all the obvious shoegaze forebears, a rougher-around-the-edges All Natural Lemon And Lime Flavors in particular. While there are indeed strong melodies underneath the layers of sonic cotton-candy (“Allstar” would remain quite satisfying if stripped down to its bare bones), the sheer density of sound on these two songs is to be applauded; with at least one former member of Dusty Reske’s band in the lineup, the Electro Group apple clearly didn’t fall too far from the Rocketship tree. I really oughta mention the boss packaging as well, which is an attractive, screenprinted, drawstring cloth bag (housing creamy blue vinyl) that must have set poor Omnibus Records back a few clams. But remember: a classy product is its own reward! The only serious complaint here is that the aforementioned “Allstar” is NOT a shoegaze cover of the universally-beloved Smash Mouth classic. Hopefully scene daddies My Bloody Valentine will be tackling that particular challenge on their reunion album.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Electric Light Orchestra - Don't Bring Me Down

(Jet, 1979)

WOE unto any fun-hating joker out there who has the stones to poo-poo this scorcher, this perennial radio fave, this karaoke show-stopper, this finest of all Electric Light Orchestra moments. And the fact that it is the best of the band’s catalog is sorta funny, because “Don’t Bring Me Down,” despite the typical fancypants production touches from Jeff Lynne, isn’t very representative of ELO’s general sound before the Discovery LP: it’s a sweaty, strings-free, non-cerebral, glammy stomp that runs far away from the group’s standard outer-space orchestro-rock. Thundering drums and occasional handclaps provide the rhythmic bed for the deep-bottomed, synthy heaviness Jeff & Co. are laying down in devastatingly PERFECT dancefloor-pop fashion. Lynne’s massed vocals are at their finest, and the expertly-deployed falsetto earns the ultimate praise of being deemed Bee Gee-worthy. Sure, I like the six-minute strings-n-synth prog workouts on earlier records (got no beef with rockin’ ELOldie “Dreaming of 4000” on the B), dig as well the tech-conscious ballads and radio-ready nuggets on those discs, but can only stand up and shout to the world that I LOVE this song. Simply everything a HIT oughta be. Propose to me a better non-booze mood corrective than “Don’t Bring Me Down” and LIAR-FRAUD-CHARLATAN is what I’ll call you, Jack.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Eggs - Sexual Tension

(Jade Tree, 1993)

Geese! There are geese flying over my apartment on this brisk October Friday! Wow! Keep on honkin’ down that inky skyway, geese of the night; you’ve got great style.

But: Eggs? I must admit I never bothered myself with any of those TeenBeat bands, so I’m going to have to wing it here and offer a brief biographical sketch that slyly disguises my total ignorance of these fellows’ work. Ahem. You see, Eggs was a several-membered music-making band from well-known country The United States of America that put out a buncha records in the vinyl, tape, and compact disc formats that have long been so popular among consumers. Famous for their songs featuring guitars and drums and bass and singing and sometimes other instruments, Eggs was truly a band loved by all, and it was a sad day for the nation’s young and old alike when the local news organ finally announced that our heroes were to hang up their various tools of noise-making and take on new challenges. What with the changing times and the shifting sands of fortune, etc.

I think I got through that pretty well.

Now we can cover this single, which has a slooooooow, gently grinding one called “Sexual Tension” followed by flutey pepster “In State” and old-as-wrinkles loungescum classic “Fever.” Never mind tracks one and three; “In State” is the tune that justifies this thing’s existence, what with its sunny woodwind tootling, snappy drumbeat, and subtle trombone. None of the goofiness of the other two songs, just doggone-fine songwriting and a bright pop delivery. A lovely bit of work. Did Eggs have more like that one? Can we ever know?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Easy Goings - Cigarettes

(Nuf Sed, 1992)

The Easy Goings are back for their second and last single, and they’re feelin’ especially cover-y this time around, bringing their beautiful magic to songs by the Beach Boys, Springsteen, and Black Flag. Much more in line with the obnoxious EZ-listening terror of the breakaway Zip Code Rapists than the comparatively tame first single, this record offers fans a smooth torch-passing to that group and its vicious dismantling of “hits” both real and alternate-universe. The demented cheerfulness of musical pep-talk “Life is For the Living” (“Don’t sit around on your ass / Smokin’ grass”) actually keeps quite close to Brian Wilson’s unreleased version, though the addition of John Singer’s noise-guitar and Turkington’s phlegmy bark puncture the unsettling bubble-world naivete of Wilson’s original with their self-consciousness. Still, it’s a typically inspired choice for a cover, and the band even went to the trouble of putting together a video to help this keyboardcheez-driven song on its way to the top of the charts; sure nuff, pairing the music with forehead LP-smashing and glass-cleaner consumption earns the vid the gold medal for Ultimate Easy Goings Thingy. And itself NO SLOUCH is “Born in the USA” (split over both sides of the single), here retaining its signature keyboard line while being otherwise destroyed by Turkington’s increasingly choked gargle/scream, which eventually degenerates into a subhuman bleating of “BORN!” “BORN!” “BORN!” over and over; a nearly perfect cover. Rollins gets it worst, though, as a pressed-at-the-wrong-speed “Scream” turns him into the bawling, pre-adolescent whiner you mighta suspected he was all along. “Boo-hoo” cries the band as the song fades, and “boo-hoo” cries the listener as the record ends. Even more than the previous Easy Goings disc, it’s a hop-to-it gotta-get.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Easy Goings - Most Of All There's You

(Bee-Fast, 1989)

Released by the Breakfast Without Meat folks, and performed by Gregg Turkington and John Singer of the Zip Code Rapists accompanied by Gary Strasburg and Stephen Hanson, the first Easy Goings single is a natural musical outgrowth of that magazine and its various obsessions: two bizarre/obscure genre-tribute cover songs, artwork that nods to cigarette ads and Solo plastic-cup queen Dora Hall, and a general air of mind-bending in-jokiness that hangs around the sonic weirdness. Much more “musical” than the work of ZCR, the band delivers its lewd charms via a half-hokey, half-creepy sound best heard on “Most of All There’s You,” with its wheezing carnival keyboard and Turkington’s insect-like croon. It’s sentimental sap done in a nightmarishly psychedelic fashion, but still catchy as all heck – a repulsive triumph. “The Straight Life” and “Hoboes Need Lovin’” (an original) take a rootsier, more stripped-down approach, the latter being the disc’s closest stab at an outright joke; it even features a Neil Hamburger-esque apology for poor sound quality at its end. This single is a tough one to find, but it’s a pretty vital precursor/companion to the Amarillo catalog that makes for some fun listenin’.

Historical notes for the nerdy: According to an ad in Breakfast Without Meat issue 14, this was a record the band was “trying to sell in order to raise enough money to build a 40 feet high, 20 tons of steel monument to the human thumb.” Or howzabout this description, from an ad in issue 13? “Wildness at its way-out-est, to the pitch of furious frenzy – the height, apex, acme, epitome – the living END!!! That is The Easy Goings. Singing and playing the young sounds of today. Wind up the Gramaphone, turn the horn towards the action and let’s dance, let’s listen…it’s the sound you asked for! This rocking group, with all its many knobs, buttons, and doo-dads, looks and sounds like it might launch a rocket. The sounds of ‘freakout’ heard on this record are sure to please the most discerning palate.” Sounds about right.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Earthmen - Cool Chick #59

(Slumberland, 1993)

A luddite, I only recently – and reluctantly – bought my first iPod after getting the chance to cautiously fool around with one a generous dame loaned me for a few days. Thing’s pretty neat, I must admit, and I’ve been listening to a lot more music thanks to its convenience. Unfortunately, I’m just playing the same old stuff on endless repeat: My Bloody Valentine, Wipers, Flipper, Galaxie 500, and (while charging through Times Square each morning) Pussy Galore. I tend to get into musical ruts, and this doggone iPod is helping me dig ever deeper with greater speed. But at least I’m diggin’ in the most technologically with-it fashion available!

The early Slumberland Records roster, with its noisy Americanized tweegaze, has long fit nicely into that sweet rut o’ mine. Really, almost anything the label released through the mid-’90s will satisfy fuzzheads and rockin’ lo-budget MBV popjunkies alike. Crazy reliable, its records are some of the safest buys out there, so I felt mighty OK about picking up this Earthmen single based solely on the presence of the Slumberland logo. And LO! For once I found myself nonplussed. While it’s definitely not bad, it, like late Drop Nineteens, betrays a few too many hints of the mainstream alt-explosion in its clear vocals and clean power-guitar to make me comfortable. “Momentum” does burst into an extended, distorted frenzy that stamps it as a keeper, but even that song isn’t so very nifty that I can imagine ever wanting to find out more about the Earthmen. So stay in Australia, you crazy band that I know almost nothing about! I’m perfectly happy with my Black Tambourine and my Lilys. And will be.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Early Day Miners - Southern Myth

(Zeal, 2001)

Tonight’s Presidential debate, semi-moderated by the somniferous Tom Brokaw, was boring as sin, so it’s certainly timely that this 7” is a stone-cold drag as well. Thanks for being current, Early Day Miners! Brushed drums and gentle vocals in the American Analog Set style mark “Southern Myth,” but without that electric keyboard zing that keeps even the sleepiest of AmAnSet songs crackling, it’s an exercise in feather-light tedium. “Room and Pillar” scuffles along, attempting a rural, after-hours Tortoise-like instrumental dynamism that fails to make an impression. A rather specific kind of 1990’s indie subgenre hangover, this, and one that can be safely ignored, whether you own it or not. Snooze away, America. Barack wins.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Earlimart - Answers And Questions

(Suicide Squeeze, 2006)

Lush drama from these underdoggies. I’m kinda puzzled as to why there isn’t more lovin’ thrown Earlimart’s way; they’ve put together a solid catalog reminiscent of disbanded peers like the Delgados or a bleepsnbloops-free Grandaddy, but haven’t seemed to ever receive the attention those groups did. Oh well and oh shucks – they soldier onward. “Answers and Questions” came out in advance of album no. 5, Mentor Tormentor (where it also appears), and showed off the band’s continuing mastery of the dense, dreamy, mildly-psychedelic (are those mellotrons?) midtempo pop it jumped into on Everyone Down Here. Thanks to the meaty drums and churning guitars at the end, the song’s not too adulty, as these things can sometimes be, and thus it’s not too bad. Is outta sight, in fact. “Carruthers Boy,” which is on this single and this single only, focuses on vocal interplay and strips away most of the sonic layers of the A-side to show without distraction that Aaron Espinoza knows his way around a melody like a something knows its way around a whatsit. By which I mean: Yep!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Dave E. & The Cool Marriage Counselors - Searching Through Sears

(Christmas Pets, 2008)

HOLY MACKEREL! Absolute must-have boot reissue of three post-Eels Dave E. songs. Better than Palin, these! Elect ’em VEEP! Why NOT?! In the scumfreak Electric Eels, Dave tended to project a mix of snottiness and vulnerable bafflement; with “Searching Through Sears” (originally on a flexi back in ’81), any punk leanings get chucked for a full-on frazzled oddity that out-weirds and out-laffs anything else I’ve heard from Cleveland, ’70s onward. Anti-social to be sure, but SMART and FUNNY up the rearhole. And how! The horrors of modern life writ ’n’ sung loud – with a LISP – as only this skronky horn + xylophone-backed goof can do. “Look at this underwear / It’s a value beyond compare / I’ll take it home and set it up in a chair,” he sings as he aimlessly tours the city’s department stores, consumer-nation terror barely tamped down beneath the ridiculous shower-croon pop facade. A riot. Hilarious. Scary. Whatever; it’s the bestest. The B-sides – a surprisingly straight a cappella love-gone-wrong song from a radio broadcast and a rough Eels-esque live track – are nothing to wait in line for, but with an A so swell, who cares? Miss the boat on this one and you better be ready to regret it. Like, for life.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Bob Dylan - Tight Connection To My Heart

(Columbia, 1985)

It occurs to me: you know what Bob Dylan needs? Synthesized horns and strings, drum machines, guitar solos, a laid-back vibe, state-of-the-’80s production, and – most important of all! – a bunch of terrible songs. Imagine such a thing! It’d be peachyperfect, a real creative and commercial step forward for America’s #1-favorite Voice Of A Generation. OH WAIT, WHAT’S THIS?? HELLO, HIT LP EMPIRE BURLESQUE! My prayers iz answered!

Now pardon me please while I go throw up for entirely unrelated reasons.

Hi! I’m back! Embarrassing as it is, at least “Tight Connection to My Heart” isn’t as rotten as the other songs on the album, and in fact gets the honor of being the best of the bunch, aside from the incongruous acoustic throwback “Dark Eyes.” Yes, Dylan’s weird, hiccupy vocal performance sounds like a self parody, and yes, he is swallowed up by the wholly inappropriate use of then-modern musical technology, but the song is catchy in its own knuckleheaded way and gets to function today as a novelty item that succeeds at bringing on laughter and groans, and maybe a tapping toe or two. It’s memorable, even. Perhaps not for the reasons Dylan might have liked, but memorable nonetheless. As far as these “aging rock-guy trying to update his sound” things go, the single is hardly a disaster.

But get this. “We Better Talk This Over,” from Street Legal, turns up on the B-side, and I’ll be damned if I know why. It’s certainly not a song that needed or deserved to be resurrected seven years after its original release, and its appearance here is very strange indeed. Maybe Bob wanted to rehabilitate the reps of those older records by demonstrating how comparatively not-shitty they were when placed next to his current material?

Bob Dylan - Heart Of Mine

(Columbia, 1981)

I appreciate the loose feel Dylan achieves on “Heart of Mine” – especially after the embalmed sound of the last few records – I just wish he’d bother to write COMPELLING songs instead of tossed-off forgettables like this. Backing him and sharing the blame are fellow celebs Ringo Starr and Ron Wood, who shuffle in and barely earn their paychecks with ragged, unexciting performances… on full display are the horrors of musical middle age. Making matters somewhat baffling after sitting through that yawner are the surprise energy and QUALITY of Shot of Love outtake “The Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar” on the other side, its mid-’60s-style electric blues and raw vocal showing that yeah, Dylan still has some gas sloshing around in the ol’ musical tank as the ’80s begin. It also shows that he has very questionable judgment when it comes to selecting what makes it onto any given album and what gets tossed aside. Some Columbia exec apparently agrees with me, since “Groom” has subsequently been added to CD copies of Shot of Love, which, I oughta note, is otherwise a turd of an album that should remain far, far away from your precious collection. Advice you can use, see?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Bob Dylan - Solid Rock

(Columbia, 1980)

The studio sheen, backing singers, and Godtalk are back for another round of bloated blandness, but at least this time there’s some slightly muscular rhythmic chug that gives “Solid Rock” a life-support-level pulse. In fact, the arrangement is, overall, quite like a flaccid attempt at The Concert for Bangladesh’s big-band Harrisonisms; a failed attempt, certainly, and yet fascinating in its grotesque overkill. “Covenant Woman” is a dull karaoke exercise as wretched as the worst of Slow Train Coming, and makes it clear that no matter how many expensive session pros he surrounded himself with at this point, Dylan really just didn’t seem to give a shit anymore. Offensively boring tripe that’s both lazy and soulless – an insult to anyone stupid enough to listen.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Bob Dylan - Slow Train

(Columbia, 1979)

Sleazy wheeze, Bobert! What happened to that forceful singing from just a few years back, my newly-mellow friend? GOD HAPPENED! And there’s nuthin wrong with that; I don’t react with much more than a shrug to Dylan’s religious phase from a general philosophical or political or even lyrical standpoint – whatever floats the guy’s thingy is AOK with me – but this glossy Vegas act does bug me. Horns and fancy gee-tar and backup ladies can be deployed with taste and grace, and this sure nuff ain’t it. “Slow Train” (edited by a minute here!) is a passable bore, yes, but “Do Right to Me Baby” is a disco-mega-lite horrorshow that sounds like the worst of George Harrison’s late-’70s creative death whimpers. Awful. They can’t possibly dig this stuff in heaven, can they??

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Bob Dylan - Hurricane (promo)

(Columbia, 1975)

The promo release of “Hurricane,” which features 33rpm full-length versions of the song on each side, one in dead-sounding mono and one in godly stereo. The lyrics remain well-written, but as I listen I can’t help but think of an even better Dylan story, also set in New Jersey: “Tweeter and the Monkey Man.” Dang, that song has it all! Including Jeff Lynne. And naked Springsteen mockery. And, thankfully, no congas. Did you know I suffer this weekend from mild food poisoning?

Bob Dylan - Hurricane

(Columbia 1975)

Dylan’s back into storytelling mode, laying out over two sides of a 7” single the story (or a Dylanized version of it, at least) of Rubin Carter’s arrest and conviction. The lyrics are as direct and cutting as anything else he’d done in some time, but his sympathy for a coulda-been “champion of the world” ends up less affecting than earlier songs about nameless hobos and working stiffs. Beyond the celeb aspect, part of that is due to the damn violin-and-conga backing that places the song firmly in mid-’70s sleeksville – it’s easy to imagine a Mellencamp recording such a song ten years later. Old Bob’s in good voice, though, and the brisk tempo keeps things moving along nicely. So I dunno… call it socially-conscious wallpaper. Sure.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Bob Dylan - A Fool Such As I

(Columbia, 1973)

A Self-Portrait outtake on the A and a New Morning outtake on the B, so you know it’s gonna be good – no shittin’! That handful of post-Blonde, pre-Geffen records might’ve peeved self-described brainiacs aplenty by refusing to offer Grand And Obscure Statements, but I prefer the entertaining cheeziness-breeziness of this stuff a lot more than I do the serious-minded hackery that makes up most of
Dylan’s ’70s work. “A Fool Such as I” is funky lounge-soul that struts nimbly where similar-sounding late-period Elvis material would have lumbered, and “Lily of the West” races along on some fine guitar strummin’ and layered instrumentation. Production values rule the day: Female backing vocals! Strings! Session musicians! You betcha it’s gooey. Better believe it. AND IT WORKS! So what if both songs on here are covers? So what if they’re more about THE SONGS THEMSELVES than about DYLAN? Songs as songs, rather than missives from on-high to be ripped apart and studied. In other words: simple musical kicks. It’s a gas.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Bob Dylan - Wigwam

(Columbia, 1970)

Yes, I am one of those people who unapologetically enjoys the much-hated Self-Portrait, but I can’t and won’t engage in a passionate defense of it; I’m neither a Dylan mind-reader nor a Dylan garbage-picker, so I refuse to concern myself too much with the mobius-strip mindgames that the record might or might not play. I just like the thing… it’s a bizarro, tossed-off, living-room relaxathon that is at the same time carefully and lavishly arranged, somehow pulling off what the Beatles wanted to do with the “warts and all” Get Back concept while still retaining Let it Be’s Phil Spector overkill. A lazy musical raspberry, perhaps, but an utterly charming one. “Wigwam,” the only single lifted from the album, is a syrupy – yet evocative – brass-laden piece that features a “la-da-da-da” semi-vocal crooned in Dylan’s froggy Nashville Skyline voice. Coming across less like a pop single than a musical link track, it prefigures his soundtrack work on Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid and ably proves his aptitude for stirring schmaltz. Tear-jerk strings come to the fore on “Copper Kettle,” an old-timey booze ballad that walks a fine line between delicate and over the top; a strong vocal grounds it. Both songs rather bravely abandon any rock or progressive trappings and manage to sound – even now – oddly detached from any easily identifiable time period. While the album from which these tracks come has enough overt jokiness to make one conscious of some larger artistic artifice behind the whole thing, this single is simply a strange, compelling coupling of two examples of free-floating, era-condensing, pure American sap. If it’s a joke, it’s a good one.