Tuesday, September 29, 2015

#491 – Beastie Boys – Ill Communication

First let me apologize for the lack of reviews recently, some work commitments prevented me from doing anything but work, sleep, and wonder why that girl from match never called me back. So with a good night's sleep under my belt I'm getting back to posting. For those who don't know or are tardy to the party this blog started when my friend Andrew gave me the book “1,001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die” for my birthday a few years ago. He made a simple request along with his gift. Since I have a rather sizable music collection and have varied listening interests he wanted to know how many of the albums in it I owned. So I sat and made a list of the albums I owned that were in the book, they're listed in orange in the index if your curious. On that list I included this album. However, after closer inspection I realized that I didn’t actually own it. I think I must’ve confused it with “Check Your Head” which I own but isn't in the book. So I think it was 109 but in reality I owned 108 of the titles on the list which also includes The Beastie Boys debut album, "License To Ill."So somewhere between album titles with the word ill in the title and “Check Your Head” which also has a black and white cover photo, I think I combined all of those things in my head and assumed I owned this album. I rectified that situation earlier this year when I was in LA for work. I made a trip to the world famous Amoeba Records on my night off and this was one of the titles I put in my bag. I paid $3.99 for it but recently saw the deluxe version for sale. It was $25 or $30 so I figured this version was beastly enough for me. The book calls it “…a snapshot of the three protagonists (meditation, rocking out, or being twice as cool and unique as anyone else), it is a key turning point in their career…Ill Communication…is an album about having a good time.” It certainly seems like the band was having a good time anyway. The album is divided between raucous singles like “Sabotage,” “Root Down,” and “Sure Shot” and more experimental studio tracks like “Futterman’s Rule” and “Sabrosa.” (OK, the book credits three types of songs, dividing the album into three distinct parts, “short lived thrash outs,” “smooth jazz workouts or chant infused mantras,” and “stunning sample based loops”)“Root Down” contains a sample from our friend organ virtuoso Jimmy Smith while “Sure Shot” contains one of the catchier hooks out there. The wide variance of sounds and tempos, while showing the growth and depth of the group, does make the album a bit scattershot and hard to take in one listen. It has too many slow moments, like “Eugene’s Lament” and “Shambala,” to be a true party album, despite the book’s claim that “as a party record Ill Communication ticks all the right boxes.” It does however sound like the soundtrack to a 70’s cop movie, as evidenced by the video for “Sabotage.” Some of the instrumental tracks, which they would explore in greater depth on future albums, reminded me of the “Bombay The Hard Way” albums (of which I’m quite fond). Overall, this is a really solid album with some outstanding tracks. However, I think on repeated listens even the most hard core fans probably skip around to their favorite tracks.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

#492 – The Pretty Things – S.F. Sorrow

“This is the story of a remarkable record, made at a remarkable time in the short history of rock music which, remains to this day, the best kept secret of the 1960’s.” – Mark St. John, from the linear notes

secret, secret, I've got a secret
I am used to reading a fair amount of hype and hyperbole from linear notes; I mean after all they are there to extol the virtues of the album with which they are packaged. After recently making my way through Small Faces’ “Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake” (which was also released in 1968) I wasn’t sure I was quite ready for another psychedelic rock odyssey so soon. I was casually glancing through the liner notes before playing the album and they compare the album to some of its contemporaries which were recorded at Abbey Road around the same time, Pink Floyd’s “Piper At The GatesOf Dawn” and The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (both albums reside on the book's list as well).“We’ll see,” I said to myself. I continued reading reviews and the book’s mentions the influence this had on Pete Townshend and lead him to write a rock opera of his own, The Who’s “Tommy.” So I put the album on and was quite surprised to find that yes, traces of “Tommy” could easily be heard. The album opens with a song about the birth of Sebastian F. Sorrow and while listening I had “It’s A Boy” echoing in my head the entire time. Then came the harmonies of The Beatles on “Bracelets OF Fingers” and I defy you to listen to it and not hear the similarities. If you played it for a fan and said it was an unreleased track from the Sgt. Pepper sessions they’d believe you without a doubt. There’s also plenty of The Beatles’ sitar (literally, they “borrowed” the instrument from George Harrison when he wasn’t around according to the notes), a staple of their sound at the time, on this song and on “Death”. I was stunned I was hearing all of this for the first time and wondering how no one had ever mentioned this album to me previously. I said, “Man, if this had had a catchy single it would be right up there with “Tommy,” “Quadrophenia," or “The Wall.”” Then I heard “Baron Saturday” and I couldn’t believe it or the psychedelic wonderland of “The Journey” had never been big hits or even singles. I was beginning to buy into the hype that this is indeed a lost masterpiece of modern rock. “I See You” is another strong track with the potential to be a single. Like most rock operas there’s a slow part and indeed “Well Of Destiny” can probably be skipped over. They return with some lovely harmonizing on “Trust” and the acoustic guitar riff of “Old Man Song” both again reminded me of The Who. Norman Smith, who engineered the early Beatles albums (through “Rubber Soul”) and several early Floyd albums (The Beatles were more pleased with him than The Floyd), is often credited as a member of the band for his work on this album. It closes with the lonely acoustic ballad, “Loneliest Person” which I can’t believe I’ve never seen over a break-up scene in a movie. I went back and listened to a few of the songs again and felt that yes, indeed, this is one really that good and quite overlooked. The CD I have was purchased at the same time as Wire’s “Pink Flag” at aka music for $8.99. It includes four bonus tracks all recorded as part of the albums sessions. While I disagree with the linear notes assertion that “Talkin’ About The Good Times” could be put out as a current single on Creation it’s still a solid single. There is apparently another version released in 2003 with three more bonus tracks, different versions of album tracks. It was released in the UK the same week as “The White Album” and The Kinks “The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society” which clearly didn’t help sales. It wasn’t even released in the US until the next year where it was seen as a cash-in attempt on The Who’s massively successful “Tommy.” The book says, “The fact is, fans might never have gotten to hear Tommy, scale Pink Floyd’s The Wall, or even mosh along with Green Day’s American Idiot if The Pretty Things had not come of age first with S.F. Sorrow.” For once I’m going to agree with the book and the liner notes, this is one underappreciated album.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

#493 – Wire – Pink Flag

did Elastica make a Connection to this album?
The last review contained a cover version I’d never heard before (Siouxse And The Banshees’ version of “Helter Skelter) while this one has a song I never knew was a cover. Henry Rollins, in one of the earliest Rollins Band configurations, did an EP called “Drive By Shooting” credited to Henrietta Collins And The Wifebeating  Childhaters. The EP was included on the CD version of the “Hot Animal Machine” album and it includes their cover of “Ex Lion Tamer” whose original version was, unbeknownst to me, done by Wire. Elastica, whose debut I reviewed back in 2011, cited Wire as an influence (you say influence, I say blatant rip-off). The book’s review puts it gently saying “Elastica’s borrowing from “Three Girl Rhumba” for 1994’s “Connection” confirmed Wire’s lasting influence.” If you listen to them side-by-side you can easily hear the the extent of that influence. “Three Girl Rhumba”'s intro is borrowed, pretty much note-for-note, on “Connection.” They settled out of court for royalties as did The Stranglers who also have an album in the book (I have yet to find a copy however). I found a copy of this one at aka music where it cost me $7.99. It is the 1994 import version (which includes a pair of bonus tracks). I hadn’t come across it prior to then so I gladly scooped it up. I almost bought “Chairs Missing” when I saw it the other day at Jupiter Records thinking momentarily that it might be in the book too (it isn’t) but it was the first time I could remember seeing another used Wire album. Opening track “Reuters” is a blast to hear and one of the best album opening tracks I’ve heard in a long time. “Feeling Called Love” made me think REM might have been listening to some Wire too as it reminded me of “Pop Song 89.” Minor Threat cover “12 X U” and I think I’ve heard that version too. Other highlights for me include the title track, “106 Beats That,” and “Dot Dash” which is one of the bonus tracks. It was dropped along with “Options R” from subsequent reissues as the band felt they didn’t fit with the album proper. The album itself crams 21 songs into 35 minutes. The book’s review says: “few of the tracks follow traditional verse/chorus patterns, with the band grinding to a halt once they had run out of lyrics or had become tired of repeating a riff or hook.” Speaking of hooks the one that opens “Pink Flag” reminds me of Motörhead’s “Orgasmatron.” Clearly it’s an influential album and one worth repeated listening. It’s also one I’d never have heard without the book.

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.