Monday, August 31, 2009

Jon/Dave - Land Beyond The Sun

(Earworm, 1998)

I know you. So I know you’re all like, “HEY WHERE HAVE THE REVIEWS BEEN THESE PAST FEW WEEKS?” And I’m all like, “HEY I LOVE THIS SQUASH SOUP CUZ WHAT I DID WAS PUT SOME GOAT CHEESE AND SOME BLACK PEPPER INTO IT AND STIR IT UP REAL GOOD.” And you’re all like, “HEY THAT DOESN’T ANSWER MY QUESTION.” And I’m all like winking and sidling towards the door because I can’t be held accountable for my whereabouts and actions/non-actions on these Hot August Nights. And HEY now some cats are fighting outside my window! That happens from time to time. As does the release of a single by Jon & Dave, except here “from time to time” means ONCE EVER, this being a never-again vault-trickle from Flying Saucer Attack poobah Dave Pearce as he deigns to give us an audio-glimpse into his pre-FSA days. Which is mighty kind of him, going to that trouble and all, and so I reckon it makes me a churl for sitting here in my undies and coldly looking a DaveHorse in the mouth. It’s just, see, given that both songs were eventually re-recorded and released through the ’90s in forms not terribly different from what’s on this single (OK, OK, with vocals, heft, and noisy coda added to “Instrumental For Silence”), I’m kinda scratching my head over why Pearce decided to pluck such non-revelatory songs from his big box o’ tapes. Makes him look good, sure, what with the basic FSA thingy having apparently been figgered out by the late ’80s (assuming these tracks are representative), but aside from it all being wobblier and reedier than the full-bodied fuzzathons of the “official” versions, I’m not sure that we gain much at all from hearing this demo-esque pre-historical document. Thing’s kinda, well, POINTLESS. Which isn’t to say it won’t look good next to your other Flying Saucer Attack singles, cuz it will – the b&w artwork and lime-green vinyl are all up to the Earworm collector-dink standards, and you’ll certainly sleep well knowing that the whatsit was and is limited to 500 copies. And sleeping well’s important. SHADDUP YOU CATS.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Billy Joel - It's Still Rock And Roll To Me

(Columbia, 1980)

This is hardly a bold opinion to toss out there, but Billy Joel’s a hack. He threw stylistic poo at the wall for a while with the Hassles and Attila, then finally hit with his solo balladeer persona, so he went and rode that for as long as he could. Nothing necessarily wrong there, fellow strivers, just saying we might as well be frank about the fact that most of his career consisted of sub-Wings rips or, to be more generous, sub-versions of McCartney’s neverending string of Big Piano Songs (“Lady Madonna,” “Hey Jude,” “Let it Be,” “Maybe I’m Amazed,” etc.). Again: In spite of the obvious hackery, nothing particularly awful about that, I reckon. So it’s with some appreciable amount of non-backhandedness that I praise “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” for breaking out of that mold by instead ripping off Elvis Costello for a snappy, relatively hard-edged, nasty-voiced popper that digs its heels in against new-wave fashion while, uh, sounding really new-wavey. And whatever the obvious self-contradictions present, it’s a fun song! Bitter, but FUN! Outta touch, but FUN! FUN, I say! Fuh-fuh-FUN! And FUN is what we need in these weird times, yeh? YEH!

Then there’s “Through the Long Night” on the B-side, where BillyBoy reverts to form, the track sounding as it does shockingly like something off of London Town, both musically and vocally. And yet I actually have to give the guy credit for again approximating tasteful, hyper-melodic McCartneyisms better than anyone else in the worldiverse…it is a REAL SKILL to be able to ape that rather special form so successfully. Begrudgingly I do applaud you, William Joel!

Also, I might as well mention that, for reasons we don’t need to get into, Billy Joel used to call my apartment on an irregular basis when I was a senior in college (wasn’t looking to talk to me, sadly). Think I’m japing? Nope. Strange but true, as they say.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Job's Daughters - The Prophecy Of Daniel And John The Divine

(Nuf Sed, 1991)

Look, I’m on the record as adoring “The Prophecy of Daniel and John the Divine” as sung by the Cowsills; it’s fantastic, weird, and catchy. Still, blasphemous though it may be to say, Job’s Daughters (built this time around a core of Mark Davies, Brandan Kearney, and Neil Foot) actually IMPROVE here upon the whacked-out glory of the Cowsills’ version, remaining faithful to the creepy apocalyptic candy-psych pop groove of the original while adding a stronger vocal performance and a meatier instrumental backing. Yes, it loses the sick novelty of having a group of kids singing “six-six-six” over and over, but it has a non-haw-haw power perhaps lacking in the earlier recording, sending it rocketing outta any sort of Dr. Demento gag-bin and straight into the upper stratosphere of Total Greatness. So let me come out and say it: That awe-inspiring greatness is, to be honest, pretty much why I’ve waited a week to write about this one. It’s been hard to get myself to sit down and do a review simply because I feel I owe the disc maximum enthusiasm, ACTUAL EFFORT, not just the standard slap-dash rush-job at 2am before I hit the sack. BECAUSE – ready for this? – THIS IS THE BEST 7” I OWN, HANDS DOWN. Really! I ain’t kidding. I love this thing. LOVE IT. There is no other single in my collection that I can listen to as often and as happily as this one, no other single that I’m more excited about playing for friends than this one, no other single that I TREASURE more than this one. This is IT. Whatever you need to do to find a copy, please DO IT. Trust me. KILL if you must.

(But buy or steal, preferably.)

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Job's Daughters - Cannibal

(Nuf Sed, 1993)

I’ll admit it. I’LL FINALLY ADMIT IT. Job’s Daughters are, for my money, the greatest of the Nuf Sed bands. Yup! Like the more conceptually-focused Heavenly Ten Stems (almost all of whom appear on this record in some capacity), there’s an incredible devotion to musical/instrumental whiz-kiddery, versatility, and no-genre-left-unexamined obscurity-mining. The A-side is an Ennio Morricone cover – from the soundtrack to the rare-butt film I Cannibali – and its lyrics, which proudly extol the total freedom enjoyed by the song’s cannibalistic hero, are delivered with the necessary hamminess by a fella named Livingstone Semakula (who actually has a vocal delivery similar to that of label-buddy Gregg Turkington). It’s tough to express just how bizarre and hilarious those sing-words are, but please understand that lines such as these are bellowed over the sort of big-band, heavenly-choir pop production that one might hear on a Richard Harris or late-’60s Sinatra record: “I won’t die! / I WON’T DIE!! / Kill me if you can / I will happily fly away / I’ll just fly away / On my sky-blue horse / I’ll just fly away / Happy that my mind is freeeeeeeee.” Insane? Yes! Terrific? Yes again! Hear it and love it! You will! That’s what you’ll do!

According to bandman Brandan Kearney’s Eabla site, the Asian song on the B-side is called “Quiet Night Rain,” but I can’t turn up any further info about its origins. Whatever the thing’s obscuro provenance, it’s a dramatic pop ballad that’s both entertaining and well-played (not to mention well-sung, thanks to the multilingual Mark Davies of Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 superstardom), and it points the way to the similar work undertaken by the Heavenly Ten Stems in ’94. A fine and ambitious cover, yet it pales considerably next to the majesty of “Cannibal,” as, to be fair, do most songs that we have heard and will hear in these lifetimes of ours. So that ain’t no knock. BUT! HOLD THE PHONE AND HOLD THAT THOUGHT BECAUSE ON THEIR PREVIOUS SINGLE JOB’S DAUGHTERS MIRACULOUSLY TOPPED THEIR FUTURE 1993-SELVES BY RELEASING THE GREATEST PIECE O’ MUSIC EVER TO KISS A MAMMAL’S EARS, YES, A RECORDING SPECTACULAR ENOUGH TO RENDER “CANNIBAL” FORGOTTEN. Can this BE? Am I a LIAR? Stay tuned, cliffhangerfans!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Jesus & Mary Chain - Trip You Up

(Bad Trip, 19??)

Oh goody! A lousy bootleg of three songs from an October 5, 1988, Jesus & Mary Chain concert in Los Angeles! What’s on it? Glad you asked! One song from Psychocandy (“You Trip Me Up,” mislabeled here as “Trip You Up”), one from Darklands (“Fall,” mislabeled here as “?”), and one from Automatic (“Coast to Coast,” somehow not mislabeled here). I’m impressed that the band managed to replicate its echo-y drum sound in concert, and “Coast to Coast” rocks rawer/harder than the sleek album version (I’d love to hear a full concert’s worth of songs from that record with live, human-played drums), but for the most part these are just sloppier, uglier, boring-er run-throughs of the LP takes, little more. Yes, proudly boasting a flat performance, crappy audio, and moronic packaging, it’s safe to say that “Trip You Up,” from the famed and reputable Bad Trip Records of Denmark, will top many a critic’s list for Single Of The Year. So let us tip our caps, for you’ve done it again, Bad Trip Records! Of Denmark!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Jesus & Mary Chain - Birthday

(Sub Pop, 1998)

As part of the Sub Pop Singles Club, “Birthday” is a “limited” blue-vinyl pressing of 2,000 (snort) made near-pointless by featuring as its A-side a track pulled straight from Munki, the Jesus & Mary Chain’s terminally-dull swan song. The band sleepwalks through the track (and, heck, most of that LP), faking all the old “rock” moves that are pure rote by this point, and the result is essentially a dispiriting zombie-take on the Darklands era. The intimate “Hide Myself” at least has some soul to it, sounding as it does a bit like an outtake from the more homey, rootsy Stoned and Dethroned record; not bad. Still, the song was also made available on the UK “Cracking Up” single at the time, so there’s absolutely no reason to ever have bought this collector-freak 7”, unless the tasteless artwork (naked lady plus “happy toilet” caption) has a spot reserved on your dorm-room Wall O’ Sexism. This record is lifeless and sad in almost every way, and is clearly the end of the road for the JAMC. Trash, this! TRASH!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Jesus & Mary Chain - Far Gone And Out

(Blanco Y Negro, 1992)

I confess: This is the song that made me want to go forth and buy the entirety of the massive Jesus & Mary Chain discography. I’d previously enjoyed scattered tracks here and there, and definitely had a special shelf in my skull on which Darklands gathered dust, but it wasn’t until I sat down with “Far Gone and Out” and its parent LP that I realized how much I was into this band. Which makes sense, I suppose, given that most of the Honey’s Dead album is a refinement of the grinding dance of “Sidewalking” – itself my favorite JAMC track – married to the group’s prettiest melodies and strongest production (and vocals!) yet. The songs from this era are sleek but beefy, baggy but ballsy, dated but nasty – and always with a toe-tappy emphasis on heavy percussion. Meaning: PERFECT. And “Far Gone and Out” is the peppiest track on the alb, a natural choice for a single as it takes early Mary Chain noisiness and tames it within the confines of a classic pop hit as filtered through post-rave chart-awarene$$. Huh…?? Wha?? Whatever, it works! IN SPADES. On the other side of the single – and it’s worth noting that this is about the time when the band stopped requiring you to buy everything they shat out by no longer spreading the B-sides across zillions of overlapping formats – “Why’d You Care” clearly wouldn’t have fit on the album, its rich, chiming, tambourine-n-acoustic-driven sensitivity sharing little with the hips-n-Ecstasy sleeplessness of Honey’s Dead. Still, it’s an extremely fine B-side (mix-disc worthy, even) that oughta be heard widely, preferably via that crazy Power of Negative Thinking box, where it’s surrounded by scads of similarly-OK JAMC castoffs that keep the quality level upper-noggin-high. Basically: Buy EVERYTHING the band did in the early ’90s. Zero kidding. Not enough admit it, but this was the true high point for these goofs – spend accordingly.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Jesus & Mary Chain - RIOT!

(Fierce, 1990)

Ah, Fierce Records. Zany as that label was, this one-sided 7” is the most majestic feather in its quite snazzy cap: a bootleg recording of a riot at an early (March 15, 1985) Jesus & Mary Chain show. Music? None! Lotsa angry smashing and crashing, though, and an interview with some Scottish simp who gives a rundown of the tuff-guy action happening in the background. Plus, hilariously, the disc opens with a tape of Alan McGee’s answering machine. HA! And? HA! Anyway, not having Been There, I’ve never understood the reaction the JAMC apparently provoked back in those babyfaced days; their music was driving and noisy, yeh, but it hardly seems to be conducive to rioting or to any sorta above-average concert violence. So was this “riot” situation mostly media-driven? Or were the band’s fans just a bunch of assholes? Or were people genuinely shocked and offended by the sounds being squawked out by these dudes? Perhaps the UK crowds didn’t appreciate the indoors wearing of sunglasses? Reveal unto me the truth, you crown-ruled gray-hairs of the world.

By the way, I suppose should mention now that, adding to my confusion concerning crowd nuttiness, I saw these guys on their reunion tour a few years back, and it was pretty much a limp skippity-doo through the 21 Singles comp that was heavily lacking in both volume and energy. But: congrats on the paychecks, Reid bros.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Jesus & Mary Chain - Darklands

(Blanco Y Negro, 1987)

The Darklands LP did mark something of a shift away from chaotic amp-skree and towards mainstream professionalism, but, as the title track demonstrates, that’s not necessarily a bad move for a pop-savvy band like JAMC to make. Stripping away the over-use of noise-for-noise’s-sake lets the ear focus on the group’s consistently excellent melodies and, here especially, the breathy vocals and chiming guitars that make this period’s surprisingly mature songs, at their best, stone-cold late-night bummer-classics – indeed, as a front-to-back listen, Darklands is actually a better album experience than the ballyhooed debut. The B-sides to this single, however, are nothing special. “Rider” is basically a sub-Psychocandy rocker with drum-machine backing, and “On the Wall (Portastudio Demo),” while pleasingly morose and featuring a quite different rhythm track from the LP version, isn’t substantial enough to merit any real excitement.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Jesus & Mary Chain - April Skies

(Blanco Y Negro, 1987)

As album number two rolled ’round, JAMC fankiddies had to say bye-bye to thump-man Mr. Gillespie and hello to Mr. Drum Machine, what with Bobby G having various heroin, ecstasy, and trendhopping commitments to take care of with Primal Scream. It was also time to wave so long to the sheets of feedback that had characterized previous releases, as the band took on a more streamlined, goth-pop sound for Darklands. Toodles! Aside from the rather-OK radio alt of the moody A-side, the “April Skies” 2x7” thankfully retains some of the noise-raunch of the Psychocandy days, most notably on the nasty, highly entertaining “Kill Surf City,” which (along with the group’s “Surfin’ USA” cover) is as fine a collision of the JAMC’s surf-rock and amp-freak love-affairs as you’re gonna find. “Bo Diddley is Jesus” attempts to stalk similar hero-nod turf by again marrying old sounds with new, and falls flat in the process thanks to a boring, sloppy performance that lacks entirely the good-natured piss ’n’ vinegar of “Kill Surf City.” Similarly, the live cover of Can’s “Mushroom” (presumably with Gillespie on drums) has nothing on the robotic tension of the original, making it another half-interesting failure, but I do at least have an EXCLUSIVE TALE to relate about this particular song: In 2000, I interviewed Michael Ivins, and, being a young lad who knew no better, “boldly” asked him what the deal was with the Flaming Lips ripping off Can wholesale with “Take Me Ta Mars.” As a chuckling Ivins told it, the Lips weren’t even aware of Can’s recording of “Mushroom” at the time, and actually thought that they were stealing from the Jesus and Mary Chain, who had recently included the song from this 7” on the Barbed Wire Kisses CD. Yeepers! I’ve never read/heard that story anywhere else, before or since… you think Ivins was giving me truth or mere chain-yank?

Monday, August 3, 2009

Jesus & Mary Chain - Some Candy Talking

(Blanco Y Negro, 1986)

For the follow-up to Psychocandy, the Jesus & Mary Chain unleashed this “Just Like Honey”-style narco-ballad via the band’s typical truckload of configurations. The edition I own is the double 7” (as opposed to the 7”, 12”, or poster 12”), with the first disc a relentless, grinding downer that feels like a queasy post-LP hangover, and the second a four-song acoustic EP that shows off a gentler, cuddlier side of the group. Finesse was hardly the JAMC’s strong suit in the early days, so “Honey” is terribly clumsy in a hamfisted, chunka-chunka kind of way, but there’s a yearning, VU-LP3 earnestness that sells it, and the surprisingly lovely acoustic disc shows that the band WAS in fact able to drop the scowls and the hair product long enough to produce believably effective slowies. Shame, then, that half of the hush-slab (acoustic run-throughs of “Psychocandy” and “Some Candy Talking”) never made it to compact disc, even when the JAMC assembled its pseudo-comprehensive Negative Thinking rarities box.

Bad enough, that, but want worse? Here: that casual criticism of said box gives me the opportunity to put on my geek galoshes and wade deeper into the failings of the set. Ready? Now, say that you, like most People of Today, want to make sure you own every song the Jesus & Mary Chain ever released. Well. First you’ve gotta buy all six studio albums, then the three rarities compilations (Barbed Wire Kisses, Sound of Speed, and Hate Rock ’n’ Roll), then the two live records (The Complete BBC Sessions and Live in Concert), then the aforementioned Power of Negative Thinking package. That covers almost everything, but there are still a few stray tracks out there on singles and EPs (ahem, “Some Candy Talking” 2x7”) that have yet to be collected elsewhere. So, as a heroic public service, I’ve compiled a likely-flawed list of those stragglers:

* “Upside Down (demo)” (“Upside Down” 12” test pressing)
* “Psychocandy (acoustic)” (“Some Candy Talking” 2x7”)
* “Some Candy Talking (acoustic)” (“Some Candy Talking" 2x7”)
* “April Skies (extended version)” (“April Skies” 12”)
* “Happy When it Rains (extended version)” (“Happy When it Rains” 12”/10”)
* “Taste of Cindy (live in Detroit)” (“Sidewalking” 12”/CDEP)
* “April Skies (live in Detroit)” (“Sidewalking” 12”)
* “Sidewalking (Chilled to the Bone)” (“Sidewalking” CDEP)
* “Reverence (Jim and William Reid Mix)” (“Reverence” CDEP/12” promo)
* “Reverence (Al Jourgensen Mix)” (“Reverence” CDEP/12” promo)
* “Reverence (Mark Stent Mix)” (“Reverence” CDEP/12” promo)
* “Reverence (Mark Stent Extended Mix)” (“Reverence” 12” promo)
* “Far Gone and Out (Arc Weld Mix)” (“Far Gone and Out” CDEP/12” promo)
* “Far Gone and Out (Dance Mix)” (“Far Gone and Out” 12” promo)
* “Far Gone and Out (Instrumental Dance Mix)” (“Far Gone and Out” 12” promo)
* “Far Gone and Out (Just for Fun Mix)” (“Far Gone and Out” 12” promo)
* “Teenage Lust (Pimpin’ Ain’t Eazy Mix)” (“Rollercoaster U.S.” CD promo)
* “A New Kind of Kick (live)” (“Come On” CDEP #2)
* “I Hate Rock ’n’ Roll (Fascist Record Company Edit)” (“I Hate Rock ’n’ Roll” CDEP promo)
* “I Hate Rock ’n’ Roll (edit)” (“I Hate Rock ’n’ Roll” CDEP promo)
* “I Hate Rock ’n’ Roll (clean album version)” (“I Hate Rock ’n’ Roll” CDEP promo)
* “Cracking Up (live)” (“’98 Tour EP”)
* “Moe Tucker (live)” (“’98 Tour EP”)
* “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll (live)” (“’98 Tour EP”)

Nothing earth-shattering here, given that these are all alternate mixes and live recordings, but can you really make it through your day – CAN YOU FACE YOUR SPOUSE AND KIDS – knowing that you don’t own, for example, the “Just for Fun” remix of “Far Gone and Out”? And that’s precisely why I – though a childless bachelor – spent many sweaty years hunting these releases down, until at last, one by one, I clutched each elusive disc to my bosom.

Thus: things are much better now. I am so calm.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Jesus & Mary Chain - Never Understand

(Blanco Y Negro, 1985)

Prominent beneath the fa├žade of druggy torpor, there’s more than a bit of surfy twang in “Never Understand,” both in the string-pluckin’ and the uh-huh-huh refrain (ahem: whole thing’s basically the source point for popular new-shot youths Crystal Stilts). It doesn’t depart too far from the formula laid out on “Upside Down,” though the feedback/echo is dialed back a little here and that extreme pop-catchiness isn’t quite present, making it a baby-half-step in the wrong direction and yet nothing worthy of significant boo-hooing. The song crops on Psychocandy as well, and it should be noted that the 7” sounds FAR superior to the muffled, sonically-dead CD release of said album, so please give consideration to going vinyl on this tune if you care about receiving full aural impact. Really! On the unfortunate flip, the appropriately-titled “Suck” (ZING!!) is a brief, paint-by-JAMC-numbers throwaway that sounds like an uninspired – and possibly drunken – studio jam. Hardly worth your ear or your curren—HOLY BEJEEZUS! STOP EVERYTHING! I just got a text from a chum who is RIGHT NOW sitting on a Baltimore-bound bus next to the mother of the guy who composed a forthcoming LIVE Garfield stadium spectacular! And I thought Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties was to be the final word in Garf-stravaganzas! Apparently not!! Rejoice, ye!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Jesus & Mary Chain - Upside Down

(Creation, 1984)

While I’m probably in the minority on this one, I’ll go to the wormy grave swearing that the first Jesus & Mary Chain single is also the best they ever released. Both sides are deliriously noisy boppery free of much of the haircut-n-mope posturing that hung over later JAMC discs with increasingly self-parodic silliness. And yes, those endless Velvets comparisons are valid insofar as the shade-wearing and the fact that the drums here are pure cymbal-free Tucker-style cavestomp, but the Jesus & Mary Chain were always far more “pop” than the VU were – they just do a good job of obscuring it with sheets of feedback and a generally rotten attitude. “Upside Down,” for example, is all sullen moaning and mountains of echo and white noise wrapped around some uptempo Buddy Holly r’n’r. Simple, concise, GLORIOUS! Just a follicle behind in the quality race is “Vegetable Man,” a near-perfect cover of the blown-mind, ultra-fucked, loony-psych Pink Floyd outtake, one that destroys the Soft Boys recording from a few years earlier, and one that is in fact excellent enough to stand atop the winner’s podium as THE version of the song (unless the Floyd guys are hiding some incredible unbooted take in the vaults). Nothing revolutionary on either side, just a savvy rethink of ’50s and ’60s rock as informed by the sundry weirdnesses of the intervening decades. The Power of Negative Thinking box finally made both of these songs available on CD (“Upside Down” was previously reissued as part of Barbed Wire Kisses), but as a self-contained release, it’s tough – NO! IMPOSSIBLE! – to beat the original 7” for sheer, giddy wunnerfulness.

One thing I still haven’t figured out, though: Which is the actual FIRST edition of the single? I’ve seen folks claim that status for each cover variation – red, black, blue (which is what I own), and yellow – but nobody seems to be speaking from any real position of authority. Clue me in if you can!