Monday, August 31, 2015

#494 – Siouxsie And The Banshees – The Scream

so tell me who are Sioux...
The things you find while going through “1,001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.” I own the soundtrack to the movie "The Jackal." It features a bunch of electronica artist from the late 90's. Always looking for something interesting to listen to I bought it after seeing the film and liking the song that played over the opening credits. The film is OK too and it features a young Jack Black in one of his early, more understated, roles as a weapons designer of all things. Anyway the riff for the song“Superpredators (Metal Postcard)”is killer and I always attributed it to Massive Attack, (who like Siouxsie And The Banshees have two albums in the book) that is, until I heard this album. John McKay’s guitar playing is called “screechy” by the book but clearly makes a memorable riff. Massive Attack clearly thought thought so too and sampled that riff for “Superpredators (Metal Postcard)” from “Metal Postcard (Mittageisen).” And I never realized that until now. I guess I should've read the liner notes or ya know, paid attention to the title of the song. So while reminding me you never know what you're going to find it also made me realize I have to find another Massive Attack album and "Juju," the other entry from The Banshees. Other things I learned include how many ways one can pronounce the word “Carcass.” Siouxsie Sioux hammers out at least a half a dozen on the track of the same name. The books says: “…the tight interplay between Steve Severin’s buoyant bass guitar and Kenny Morris’ pounding drum work stand out even more strikingly than Sioux’s punchy vocals.” I disagree and thought her vocals were quite prominent. Apparently I wasn't the only one who disagreed as Morris left the band after only one more album. McKay left at the same time but was replaced on tour by Robert Smith of The Cure who were serving as the tour’s opener. He did another stint in the band a few years later too. Other notable alumni include Sid Vicious who played drums for their debut performance before they had a record deal or were a band really. In fact the band formed as Sioux and McKay, who were fans of The Sex Pistols, realized they could form their own band. Surprisingly, at least to me, Severin gets credit for many of the lyrics including my favorite in “Mirage:”  “My limbs are like palm trees/swaying in no breeze/my body’s an oasis/to drink from as you please.”  Sioux of course brings the flavor to these compositions especially their radical deconstruction of The Beatles’ “Helter Skelter.” I used to like U2’s version but I may have a new favorite now. McKay’s sax playing stands out on album closer “Switch.” It was a worthwhile listen and the album has an enduring legacy as a founder of post-punk and goth rock for those who like labels. The album has been reissued a couple of times with bonus tracks but I had to settle for the original CD issue. It was $4.99 at Princeton Record Exchange and before I bought it I would’ve never guessed I’d have one of their CDs in my collection but it looks like I’ll have two by the time I’m done.

Monday, August 24, 2015

#495 – Waylon Jennings – Honky Tonk Heroes

grew up to be a cowboy
Prior to starting this blog and buying this album for $5.99 at Princeton Record Exchange I owned no actual Waylon Jennings albums. However I do own not one but two Waylon Jennings tribute albums (one for a Henry Rollins appearance and the other for a take by Ben Harper). Both tribute albums contain a version of “You Asked Me To” (one by Allison Krauss and one from Nanci Griffith if you’re wondering) which is the only track from this album represented. Oddly, the song is listed as “You Ask Me To” on the actual album (there’s two versions on the album, a single edit included as a bonus track and the original). I’m not sure where the change came from but it’s certainly the same song (for comparison I had them all play together at the same time, which was kind of trippy). Jennings passed away in 2002 the year prior to those tribute albums’ release. Somehow I doubt the timing of those releases is a coincidence. I had seen this album in the country section at PREX but passed it up not realizing it was in the book. It took a few more return trips for me to find another copy. This album is generally regarded as the beginning of the “outlaw country” movement. Jennings had originally been the bassist in Buddy Holly’s Crickets. In fact he’s the one who gave up his seat on the plane that eventually crashed on “the day the music died.” After years as a songwriter and DJ he had become disillusioned with the Nashville music industry and was about to retire before a management change enabled him to record what he wanted to. He then teamed up with Billy Joe Shaver to write the songs on this album. The results are country that most folks who claim to listen to “country music” today wouldn’t be able to handle. Most fans probably recognize Jennings’ voice from “The Dukes Of Hazzard.” He wrote and sang the theme song as well as serving as the narrator for the series. You know the one who always wondered what them Duke boys had got themselves into now as they General Lee froze in midair over a gully. His songwriting and signing is a little sharper here and isn’t nearly as light-hearted. “Black Rose” is a great track (“the devil made me do it the first time/the second time I done it on my own”) and probably my favorite on the album. “Willy The Wandering Gypsy And Me” is presumably about longtime friend Willie Nelson. I think “We Had It All” sounds like the perfect closing time anthem if you want to watch a broken-hearted cowboy cry. I thoroughly enjoyed this album and will probably revisit those tribute albums now too.   

Friday, August 21, 2015

#496 – Syd Barrett – The Madcap Laughs

it's only gonna get weirder...
I’m not even sure where to begin with this album. When I told a friend, a big Pink Floyd fan, that it was in the book he stared at me in disbelief (I imagine similarly to how Barrett’s bandmates in The Floyd looked at him during some of his odder on-stage antics before he was fired/quit). He managed a quick “that album sucks” before moving on to discussing the rest of their catalog. For those who don’t know Syd Barrett was the original guitarist and vocalist in Pink Floyd ("Piper At The Gates Of Dawn" is in the book) until his increasingly erratic behavior lead to his leaving the group. The band brought David Gilmour into the fold to play/sing some of Barrett’s parts while he occasionally played, sang off key, or just wandered around the stage. Originally the plan was to have Barrett remain a part of the band in the studio a la Brian Wilson in The Beach Boys. This proved unworkable and on the way to a gig, according to legend, the band just didn’t bother to pick Barrett up. He then retreated into semi-seclusion. The recording of this album took place in several different sessions beginning in May of 1968 and ending in August of 1969. The book says: “Recorded over a few days, Madcap sounds hastily prepared…” Saying it was “over a few days” doesn’t really do it justice. It’d be like saying that most albums today use “a little auto-tuning.” Yes, the bulk of the recording was done in a few days but that makes it sound like he pounded all this material out over the course of a long weekend. The reality is that there were several different producers brought in at various different sessions over the course of a year and a half. Barrett eventually turned to his former bandmates David Gilmour and Roger Waters to help him finish the album. It is far from a highly polished product like the future Floyd albums. The book says: “Barrett’s guitar playing is patchy, and his voice is often a tuneless wail. You hear the rustle of lyric sheets being turned mid-song.” Indeed, you can hear all of those things on “If It’s In You” for example. “Late Night” is probably the best song here. “Octopus,” whose the lyrics are the source of the album’s title, is a prime example of Barrett at his weirdest. I figured this one was going to be pretty hard to track down and indeed it was. After looking for a copy for a long time I finally came across one for $4.99 at Princeton Record Exchange. Upon closer inspection I noticed it said “Disc One” on the spine. I was confused at first and hoped it wasn’t like when I had to buy two copies of “Sign O’ The Times.” As far as I knew this was a single album and I compared the track list on the sleeve with the one in the book and found them to match, save the half dozen bonus tracks on my copy. It turns out I have the first of a three disc box of Barrett’s three solo albums called “Crazy Diamond.” That explains why there were no real liner notes and the previous owner had turned the booklet inside out to display the original cover art (which is also featured in the book). The box set used different cover art and included a 24 page book with details about each album. As for my friend’s opinion, I’d put it a little more politely, I’d say I probably didn’t need to hear this before I died.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

#497 – The Go-Go’s – Beauty And The Beat

A towel seemed like the only way to go for this picture
I was surprised to find this album is in “1,001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die” and Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums Of All Time.” When I came across a copy in aka music’s bargain section I cheated and checked the index on my phone to make sure it was on the list. It was and for $3.99 I bought this copy. It was not my first go round with this album. When I was a kid my dad got my older brother a subscription to Columbia House (10 Records for 1 cent! – remember those ads? I heard they recently ceased operations, sadly). One of the conditions was he had to let his brothers pick some albums too. My musical tastes were undefined at the time but Michael Jackson was probably  my favorite. However, I’m pretty sure I wanted the “Raiders Of The Lost Ark” soundtrack. What makes that odd is the fact that I didn’t see that movie until years later on home video. It was most likely that I’d recently seen “Indiana Jones and The Temple Of Doom.” It would’ve been in theaters around the time my brother got that subscription. That would make it about three years after this album came out. So timeline-wise that fits well as I was 9 or 10 and my older brother was on the cusp of young manhood at 13 or 14. It would make sense then that an album with young women wrapped only in towels on the cover would be one of his choices (I guess he hadn’t heard of Roxy Music yet). Besides its alluring cover it also contains a pair of quintessentially 80’s songs, “Our Lips Are Sealed” and “We Got The Beat.” They make this essential listening as one could say pop-punk starts here. “Automatic” and “You Can’t Walk In Your Sleep (If You Can’t Sleep)” were pleasant surprises as well. “Skidmarks On My Heart” is probably the weakest song here containing a trunkload of bad car metaphors.  It does however include Belinda Carlisle yelling “I’m covered in grease!” I’m not saying that’s why it was included on the album but I have my suspicions. The album closer, “Can’t Stop The World” is also well worth a listen, leaning towards punk. Taking a cue from girl groups and adding fresh pop beats was quite the formula for success as the album eventually hit #1 on the Billboard chart. It even warranted a 30th Anniversary deluxe edition a few years ago. The group has clearly influenced a number of artists in the years since my brother first got this one on vinyl. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

#498 – Fleetwood Mac – Tusk

What does it take to follow-up an album that sells 40 million copies? If you’re Fleetwood Mac the answer is apparently everything. It took them 10 months to record this album at a cost of over a million dollars (a staggering amount for the time - "Pet Sounds" comes to mind). It even features the USC marching band, as the book mentions: “…the money seems well spent – including whatever it cost to rent out Dodger Stadium and hire the USC marching band to record the title track.” Despite that praise I remember this album being the punchline to jokes when I was a kid. The book’s review says: “…few have fallen in such epic fashion as the Mac did with Tusk.” The double album eventually sold 2 million copies or 1/20th of its predecessor thus condemning it to be considered a failure no matter how good the album may or may not be. If you’re gonna go out, you might as well go out with a bang. Lindsey Buckingham  certainly felt that way by including the new wave flavored “Not That Funny” which includes the lyrics “Don’t blame me!/Please, please, please!/You’re here because I say so/Didn’t want to be this late/So don’t make me/Don’t make me wait!” To me this sounds like a the desperate cry from Buckingham to his bandmates to get it together considering most of the blame for the album’s perceived failure would eventually rest with him (this has been called his "Pet Sounds"). If you look at the titles of the tracks Buckingham wrote it does appear he was under a bit of stress. In addition to the aforementioned “Not That Funny” they are: “The Ledge,” “What Makes You Think You’re The One,” “That’s All For Everyone,” “That’s Enough For Me, “I Know I’m Not Wrong,” “Walk A Thin Line,” and the title track. To me, with the exception of “Tusk” which does include the line “Why don’t you ask him if he’s going to stay?,” they could all be answers on “Family Feud” if the category was “Things You Yell At Your Bandmates.” In fact the booklet’s back cover shows the band about to embrace Buckingham and like they’re about to bring him back into the fold. Opinions in the band vary with John McVie saying it sounds like the work of three solo artists (Buckingham, Stevie Nicks, and Christine McVie) while Mick Fleetwood proclaims it his favorite Mac album and some of their best studio work (from Wikipedia). There are some lovely moments, like Nicks’ vocal on “Sara,” which was edited to fit this album on one disc. Speaking of one disc, I think the problem is that the album is a 20 song monstrosity. The lack of a catchy single coupled with the higher price presumably hurt sales too. I think if this was one disc it might have fared better. While the music is sparser and it lacks the instant hits of its predecessor buried somewhere in here is a really good 12 song album. If you’re wondering I’d drop “The Ledge,” “Not That Funny,” Honey Hi,” Walk A Thin Line,” “I Know I’m Not Wrong,” “Brown Eyes,” “Never Make Me Cry,” and despite its grandiosity and cost the title track. It took me quite a while to find a copy of this one, finally tracking one down at FYE for $7.99. It’s the only copy I’ve ever seen in any store since I've started buying albums for this blog. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

#499 – Small Faces – Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake

I took a little break after hitting review #500 but I’m back. I took the next CD in the rack and promptly let it sit there for a week. While I was putting off listening to this I gave the blog a little facelift, no pun intended. If you see anything out of place or links not working let me know. There should be buttons at the bottom of every post now as well as the facebook page and a way to easily follow me on twitter over there à

reception to this album was flaky

I noted that “1,001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die” lists the title and band as “The Small Faces | Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake.” There are two minor issues with listing it like this: 1) The band is generally called Small Faces, not to be confused with The Faces, eliminating the need for the modifier and 2) Ogdens is plural, necessitating the plural possessive with the accent mark after the s. The book is the only place I’ve seen it listed like this although some versions of the CD apparently list it the other way. Since this is how it’s spelled consistently on my copy and in the reviews I've read I’m going with it as the correct version and assume the book is incorrect. I’ve corrected my notations accordingly. As for this album, I saw a deluxe set version yesterday but knowing I had this one waiting at home I resisted buying it. This copy I found at aka music for $6.99. It had probably been there a while as the price had been marked down a couple of times. It opens with the psychedelic swirl of the instrumental title track. I got hooked right away. I found the album more interesting musically than vocally, especially on Side One. The second half of the album encompasses a concept album tracing Happiness Stan’s journey to find the dark side of the moon. Since the bulk of the vocals are narration from a non-band member it's a little tougher to judge the lyrics. While the narration can lag at points musically the book says: “The second side, however is what makes the music on the album so memorable.” “Rollin’ Over” conjured memories of The Faces and Rod Stewart for me. With the narration and additional studio instrumentation the band, not surprisingly, found they couldn’t perform these songs live. They would disbanded shortly before their next album. Steve Marriott went off to form Humble Pie while the rest of the band formed Jeff Beck’s band before Ronnie Wood and Stewart eventually formed The Faces. Drummer Kenney Jones eventually replaced Keith Moon in The Who after the latter’s death. Ronnie Lane also had ties with The Who’s Pete Townshend who worked on a few albums together. It’s certainly an interesting listen but if I was ranking these in order instead of randomly reviewing them it would definitely fall on the other side of 500. 

Sunday, August 2, 2015

#500 – Radiohead – In Rainbows

buy it? You know music is free now, right?
Radiohead Week #5: Did anyone download this one for free back in 2007? I remember there being quite a bit of hype surrounding the “pay what you wish” pricing for this release. It still sold 3 million digital and physical units which made me wonder why it was so hard to find a copy. I finally tracked one down earlier this year at Princeton Record Exchange for $3.99. It was by far the hardest one of the five Radiohead albums in the book to find. This album, like its predecessors in Radiohead’s catalog “The Bends,” “OK Computer,” "Kid A,” and “Amnesiac,” also has spot on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time. There are also two deluxe editions that featured different bonus tracks. There was a limited edition CD with three bonus tracks and another “diskbox” version with a second disc with 25 minutes worth of different bonus material. Unlike the deluxe versions of those prior albums these tracks were selected by the band and obviously were released at the same time not in a later version. There were partial lyrics included with “Hail To The Thief” and they return in full here for each track. They can occasionally be difficult to follow along with if you read them while listening to the album but they are there. The booklet is similar in design to the “OK Computer” booklet minus the obfuscations of certain lyrics or added ephemera. The album opens with a bang with “15 Steps.” The book’s review notes “From the very start it’s clear that this is something special…” It is certainly at times more upbeat than the previous few albums. “All I Need” is probably my favorite track, a ballad built on a heavy drone with pretty flourishes and Thom Yorke’s distinctive vocals. The book calls “Faust Arp” “loveliness itself with a Cat Stevens guitar hook, violins, and harmonies that would put the most hardworking boy band to shame.” The book’s review concludes by saying “Whether you download the album for free or pay the full whack, rest assured that In Rainbows is a staggeringly good listen – priceless in fact.”  I liked this album and would rank it behind “OK Computer” and “The Bends” if I was ranking their catalog. I wasn’t staggered by it by any means except my foot fell asleep while I was sitting here and I think $3.99 was a fair price for it. Nowit looks like I’m going to have to find a copy of “King Of Limbs” now to finish up the Radiohead catalog and see what else I’ve missed.

As a sidenote, I wanted to say thanks to everyone who has stopped by in the last four years to check out my silly blog about buying and listening to CDs. I certainly appreciate it and look forward to getting through another 500 reviews in a timely fashion. I’ve got a few hundred CDs waiting in the blograck to go with the other 108 I had at the beginning. I’ll get started on those first thing tomorrow…