Monday, November 29, 2010

Roky Erickson - I Have Always Been Here Before (the Anthology)

Roky Ericson

I Have Always Been Here Before (the Anthology) (1965-1995):  Now if you really want to hear some Texas psycho-hippie freakout, this old boy’s the genu-wine article. Actually, aside from his demonic vocal screech and decidedly odd (and certainly drug-damaged) subject matter, nearly all of the songs here are pretty conventional in structure – just sturdy folk-rocky pop. Almost all of the songs reach the level of ‘good’ if only time to time reaching ‘great’ (“Two Headed Dog” is a garage rock screamer worthy of the Stooges). Even his ‘80s and ‘90s material show his talent undiminished by time – this is perhaps one of the most consistently enjoyable two-disc career anthologies I have in my collection. At times recalling Buddy Holly, Jefferson Airplane, CCR (Stu Cook produced some of his ‘70s work), and presaging Guided By Voices, he’s clearly an American original. If only the 13th Floor Elevators hadn’t overabused that electric jug gimmick on their ‘60s albums. ****

The Flaming Lips - Finally the Punk Rockers are Taking Acid

The Flaming Lips

Finally the Punk Rockers Are Taking Acid (Disc One) (1984-1986):  What the hell do people see in this band? This shit is awful: all the songs go on for five minutes (two or three minutes too long for this basic garage rock), the singer is uninteresting and uncharismatic and out of tune, the entire band is out of tune (and not in a charming way), and they have the WORST guitar tone EVER: it’s fuzzy and trebly and screechy and despite its excessive volume does not rock, at all. This is the first disc of a 3-disc box set and consists of their first EP and first LP plus 4 bonus tracks. The early Lips’ saving grace is that even at that point, they were occasionally decent songwriters – a few of these tunes would not have been out of place on a Nuggets-style collection of mid-‘60s garage rock. And I suppose I should give them bonus points for establishing a sorta-intriguing and definitely unique “creepy psycho-hippie” acid-damaged atmosphere. If you’re interested in this band, this is definitely NOT the place to start. **

The Church - Priest=Aura

The Church

Priest=Aura (1992):  I can imagine the record executives’ reaction

upon hearing this: “What? You’re going to follow up two hit albums that broke you through in America with a nearly 70 minutes of hookless goth dirges?” Give them credit, I enjoy the dark atmosphere on this disc, but when the closest thing to ‘hit single material’ you have is a six-minute tune based on a neo-Gregorian chant as a hook, I believe the term is ‘not commercially viable’. And the problem is, all of the songs are in the same dark, groggy vein, which means that over the course of 14 songs stretching by at well over an hour, it feels like it lasts forever, without a bright hook of relief in sight. While I sort of like, I really can’t recommend this to anyone but diehard Church-heads. **

The Church - Heyday

The Church

Heyday (1986):  I totally forgot what a wonderful album this is, the Church spinning intricate guitar lines and creamy melodies as they do at their very best, and without the overproduction that would mar later albums such as Starfish. Songs such as “Disenchanted” and “Tristesse” are as soaringly Byrdsey as contemporary R.E.M., dodgy stoner-baked lyrics and all. This could’ve been their masterpiece, if not for a few problems. A pointless instrumental that goes nowhere interrupts the flow halfway through the album, “Tantalized” is too brassy by half, and a couple of other tracks are just sort of there. Well-recommended despite its inconsistency, though. A very solid ***1/2, would’ve been **** if not for the dodgy tracks.

The Gigolo Aunts - Minor Chords and Major Themes

The Gigolo Aunts

Minor Chords and Major Themes (1999):  The first track “C’mon, C’mon” comes roaring out of the gate as if they intentionally sat down and tried their hardest to come up with an exciting album opening track, which by this evidence I wholeheartedly believe more bands should do – it’s darn good, as anthemically worthy as anything by early Cheap Trick, which is as high as praise gets given out to bands in this genre called Power Pop. Which the Aunts most certainly self-consciously are – and there has never been in rock music a genre as self-conscious of its history as power-pop (dorks with guitars) – the very title of the opening track is shared by an unrelated Cheap Trick song, though it actually reminds me more of the opening track of In Color, “Hello There”. The next couple of songs are more balladic, reminding me somewhat of Badfinger, less exciting but more emotionally enriching. The fourth track, the hideously titled “Super Ultra Wicked Mega Love” on initial listen brought the distasteful whiff of Fountains of Wayne at their smarmiest, but I’ve eventually warmed to this “Dedicated Follower of Fashion” descendant that every power-pop feels compelled to write when they want to dip into social satire. And then the disc slips into a long slump of pleasing but not terribly memorable tunes, the professionally competent but unexceptional musicianship mirroring the competent but unmoving songwriting. Ah, the bane of power-pop – catchily melodic facelessness. ***

Dag Nasty - Can I Say / Wig Out at Denko's

Dag Nasty

Can I Say (1986) + Wig Out At Denko’s (1987): Two LPs on one CD. Did the Minor Threat boys ever go in different musical directions after they broke – while Ian McKaye continued to pursue innovative and challenging music in Fugazi, guitarist Brian Baker’s next band continued to pursue the Minor Threat sound in its exact purist form, without a hint of surprise or innovation. The new vocalist tries to imitate McKaye way too much and even worse for comfort, the lyrics are too close to traditional Threat concerns as well, only even dumber. Worse, the sound is all slicked up, which means that this sounds like Minor Threat gone pop-metal. Horrifying as that sounds. Green Day wrote catchier and smarter songs. Worthless crap. *1/2

Richard X. Heyman - Living Room

Richard X. Heyman

Living Room (1990): DIY singer/songwriter power-pop that Heyman recorded in his living room as a one-man (multi-tracked) band and its rough edges sound it, but that’s part of the rough-hewn charm, as are his scratchy cat vocals. Genre hops all over the place with some unsurprising Johnny Cash-style country touches (“Night Ride Rail”) and  Lyle Lovett-style gospel country on one track (“Deep Down in My Heart”), but mostly this is melodic guitar pop. The main problem’s the inconsistent songwriting – several of the songs are sublime, most are ordinary and unexceptional, and a small number actually grate. ***1/2

Walt Mink - Miss Happiness

Walt Mink

Miss Happiness (1992) – In the early ‘70s, T. Rex made a career out the one-trick pony ride of marrying wimpy vocals and equally airy, wimpy pop melodies to hard-hitting metallic guitar hooks (well, hard metal by early ‘70s standards, which isn’t very hard these days). Walt Mink try the same trick with a ‘90s update. The problem is that poppy late ‘80s speedy metal has dated horribly. The glam-metal slam runs through a cheese grater and the power-pop vocals are way too abrasively wimpy even by that genre’s standards. There’s a Nick Drake cover (“Pink Moon”) that comes out sounding as annoyingly clueless and dated as the rest. *1/2

Pulp - Different Class


Different Class (1995):  A decade and a half on, this certainly holds up as possibly the best album of the ‘90s, though I don’t think anyone suspected so at the time (I certainly didn’t). You could say that some of the synth-pop sound is dated, except that mainstream pop music hasn’t exactly altered by more than a fraction since 1995. But it’s the words that make this record: Jarvis Cocker seizes the mantle that Ray Davies gave up many, many decades ago as the finest working British lyricist of his generation. I could write a few paragraphs on Cocker’s insightful observations on sex, raves, and the class system, but instead I’ll just observe that the social protest songs ring out like anthems and the interpersonal relationship songs don’t rely on romantic clich├ęs, and both display an acute eye for detail and an adult sense of emotional complexity. A classic? Yeah. Now I’m off to dance, drink, and screw because there’s nothing else to do. *****

Paul McCartney - Ram

Paul McCartney

Ram (1971):  And people call the Fall obnoxious and abrasive? This shit is excruciating. Sure, it’s got plenty of hooks, but it’s as if Paul was simply throwing those hooks on a wall and seeing what stuck, without a care for meaning, emotional depth, or lyrical coherence. Frustrating because his obvious talent is still on display but he could just as obviously do much better. I mean, he was never a lyrical genius, but crap like, “Some dogs got three legs / Mine got none”, “Man, I can smell yo feet a mile away! Smile away! Smile away!” – dude, do you just not even CARE anymore? The only Beatles-worthy song is “Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey” and it’s meaningless gibberish. I suppose some people could consider this mindless “fun” in a sub-B-52s kind of way but most this makes me go aaaagggghhhh!!! Yeah, a surprising if reluctant *** because his ability to craft Beatles-esque pop songs is still in evidence.

The Complete Stone Roses

The Stone Roses

he Complete Stone Roses (1985-1990): The sharp overflagellated guitar punch and compellingly oh-so-pale-and-British atmosphere introduced in the first song made me wonder whether I’d seriously underrated these guys in the past. However, I had yet to make it all the way through this 21-track compilation of singles A’s ‘n B’s and tracks from their LP debut (the title is a lie). Damn, the jingle-jangle mope-rock vibe sure gets monotonous and for a supposedly great dance band the beats sure are fey and wimpy (but hey, they are pale, skinny, and British). In small doses some of these songs can be quite bracing, but way too samey-sounding for more than two or three at a time. ***

The Fastbacks - New Mansions in Sound

The Fastbacks

New Mansions in Sound (1996):  A few years later and they’re a competent, professional grunge-pop band. Ho-hum. Totally generic garage rock by the numbers, nothing to see here, folks. It says something about their songwriting skills that the only song that sticks in my head after two or three spins is a Who cover. By far the best tune on this disc…..and it’s a Keith Moon Who song. That’s not a good sign. **

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Fastbacks - The Question Is No

The Fastbacks

The Question is No (1981-1992)

 A career-spanning comp from a grungy pop-punk band from Seattle that didn’t make it. Two girls, one guy, a rotating drummer, and lots of scrappy garage spunk. Their attitude is so winsome and love of rock’n’roll so infectious that it’s almost easy to overlook their garage-band borderline incompetence and inconsistent songwriting. Almost, but not quite. This is fun but only a handful of numbers stand out (“My Letters”, “Everything I Don’t Need”). ***

Why These Early Reviews Are So Short

This first batch of reviews were originally written as one long entry on my Facebook page. As I transferred the original text to my blog, I broke the reviews up into separate entries. Future reviews will be more in-depth. I might even revisit some of these records at a later point and give them more substantive reviews. Anyhow, conscision is rarely a vice.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Love Junk

The Pursuit of Happiness

Love Junk (1988): The lead singer of TPOH is a good songwriter, if by good songwriter you mean a good lyricist. He’s not so strong on the melodies and the musical backing of the band is strictly generic faceless hard rock. Still, this is reasonably entertaining and competent, and a few numbers are knock-outs, particularly their big hit, ‘I’m an Adult Now’ – “I don’t hate my parents / I don’t get drunk just to spite’em / I got my own reasons to drink now / I think I’ll call my Dad up and invite him.”

Ratings System

All reviews are on the standard 1 to 5 star rating system,, which in actuality is a 10-point system given the 1/2 stars.  I trust you can figure it out, but for those in need of further explanation, using the Beatles as a benchmark:

5 stars - A classic.  Revolver, Rubber Soul, Abbey Road, need I go on?
4 stars - Most excellent.  Magical Mystery Tour, A Hard Day's Night.
3 stars - Good.  Please Please Me, Beatles For Sale.
2 stars - Below Average.  The Beatles did not record any albums of that description.  But solo albums abound.  Wings at the Speed of SoundGeorge Harrison (s/t, 1979). 
1 star - Poor.  Don't waste either money or time.  Scraping the barrel.  A 1980s Paul McCartney album where he duets with Michael Jackson.  Any Ringo Starr album where he didn't have a little help from his friends.

That clear?  Good ***

First Blog Post

In the late '90s I ran a website featuring record reviews called Creative Noise.  Eventually I grew bored and burnt out on it, and abandoned the site.  It hasn't been updated since 2001, but an archive of my old site can be found here:

This site picks up where my old site left off.  Naturally, as a decade or so has passed, some of my opinions have changed (and some haven't), and there are parts of my old site that make me cringe with embarassment at the amateurish writing or ill-conceived opinionating.  Not that I'm disowning the juvenalia written in my mid-20s; some of the pages on Creative Noise contain some fine writing and assessments that I still stand by.  But onward to the future!, as this site is about.  Like my old site, this blog will contain record reviews of various artists flying under the pop/rock banner.  I also plan on adding top ten (or five, or fifteen) lists, essays, whimsey, or whatever strikes me as worth blogging.  The plan here isn't quite no plan, but an intentionally vague plan - the idea here is to play it loose.  Otherwise it wouldn't be fun and I'd grow bored quickly, which is why I quit in the first place, all those years ago.

That brief intro out of my system, on to the reviews!  I trust they'll speak for themselves.