Monday, March 7, 2011

The Only Ones - Even Serpents Shine

Even Serpents Shine (1979) ****

Without a standout "hit" like "Another Girl, Another Planet," the second Only Ones album doesn't catch you with a hook that's going to blow you away, but if anything it's more consistently good than the debut and that means it's pretty great - ten solidly rocking, emotionally wreaked tunes plus one instrumental that is titled, appropriately "Instrumental".  Peter Perrett reminds me of Steve Harley (remember him?  Anyone?  Anyone?) in the way that he combines several bog-standard mid-'70s elements and just does his job by delivering some good music:  nothing special, nothing fancy, just some great rock'n'roll.  A slapdash of Dylan in the croaky vocals, a bit of Ray Davies nonchalance Englishness, slubby NY Dolls/Crazy Horse garage hard rock, a Lou Reed-ish attraction to the seamy side of drugs & sleaze, some Who-ish power pop and Television-esque guitar soloing - if you're going to whip up a formula, get the derivatives right.  Anyway, Perrett's tortured romantic whiner personality is entirely his own, and that's what matters.  The highlight for me is "Out There In The Night," an emotionally devastated slab of melodically uplifting/anthemic power-pop bliss that on first listen appears to be about a one night stand that Perrett wishes had blossomed into a relationship, but on closer listen turns out to be about his lost pet cat.  Well, hey, haven't we all been emotionally devastated by the disappearance of a beloved pet running away?  It's about damn time somebody wrote a deeply heartbroken lyric about the subject.  "Miles From Nowhere," inexplicably buried on side two near the end, might be even better and is even more emotionally pained.  As someone born in the provincial hinterlands, to say that I can identify with the lyric, "I want to die in the same place I was born / Miles from nowhere / I used to reach for the stars but now I've reformed," is understatement.  And it contains some of John Perry's most expressive soloing.  I find "Curtains For You," a bit plodding in its hard rock paces and "In Betweens," is a rewrite of the first album's "The Beast," and that's it for the low-ish points; elsewhere Perrett issues ballads bitter ("You've Got to Pay") and tender ("Someone Who Cares"), the band gets mildly punky ("No Solution," "Programme"), and shine their brightest in mid-tempo ("From Here To Eternity," "Flaming Torch").  Don't judge a band by its hideous cover, listen to the music inside, it's great, it's brill, it's pleasing to the ear, it stands the test of time.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Slackening the pace for a while....

50 reviews in one month is taxing for even the most hardy of mortals, especially if that month is February, and so I'll be taking a breather in March, for two reasons.  First, I have some grad school obligations that include writing a pair of hefty academic papers (one on Yukio Mishima & Theravada Buddhism, and the other on Tamerlane the Great, in case you're curious), plus a hefty reading list for examinations that has me reading at least a couple of novels per week + a few plays and essays and poems that I cram in on the side.  Secondly, reviewing music is a two-part process:  listening and writing.  I'm not the type of reviewer who can listen to an album three times in a row and then compose a review the next day.  I like to give music more of a time to sink in.  Some albums you can write off or proclaim masterpieces after only two or three listens, but as most music falls somewhere in the vast grey between genius and garbage, it can take some time to evaluate a fair opinion.  I started a page for the Go-Betweens, a band whose music is a perfect example of this - if you've read my introduction to that page, hopefully I've explained why throwing on one of their discs and then writing a review the next day is problematic.  Plus, all of the reissues have an insane amount of high-quality bonus tracks - I haven't come close to absorbing the entire 24 tracks on Send Me a Lullaby, and I'd like to review the bands I cover chronologically (ideally; my Cure, Genesis, Hall & Oates, and King Crimson pages are a bit messy at this point).  So I'm going to spend the rest of the month doing a lot more listening than reviewing, in other words.  Not that I'm going to go on hiatus - it's going to be more like an album or two per week, rather than an album or two per day.

And yes, I do plan on eventually reviewing every STUDIO album by the Fall, every which one.  Perhaps completed by 2012, by which time Mark E. should have a couple of new albums out, unless the Mayan sky-gods come back to wreak their vengeance on humanity as the soothsayers predict. 


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Television Personalities - ...and Don't the Kids Just Love It

...and Don't the Kids Just Love It (1981) ***1/2

Lo-fi, amateurish, and shambolic, but it's not punk, it's pop, and thus we witness the beginnings of twee indie-pop: this may or may not be the album that launched a thousand bands from Beat Happening to Belle & Sebastian to Apples in Stereo to whatever flavour-of-the-month Huggy Minus the Be(a)er is getting raved about in the hipster blogosphere, because who knows whether any of those bands actually heard the Television Personalities?  Like the Ramones a half decade before, the TV P's showed youths starting bands that you didn't need traditional musical expertise to make good music.  The songs employ efficient one-hook construction and winsome nursery cryme/pub sing-a-long melodies, as the band shambles along on charmingly sloppily strummed acoustic guitars and thumpy little bass line hooks and trapkit drums.  The Personalities aim at mid-'60s scooter-mod pop for the post-punk age (just look at the Avengers cover!  Retro, 'tis) succeeds with surf-spy guitar hooks and a Village Green-Kinks/softer-folkier side of early Genesis sound, if not entirely spirit (much too self-conscious and post-modernistically ironic).  That is, the TV Personalities aren't just wimps, they are self-aware wimps self-knowledgable to use their average-schmuck wimpiness to play to the advantages of wimpiness.  Thus the fey, laconically sung vocals, absence of macho rockist aggression, and a rewrite of "David Watts," in "Geoffrey Ingham".

If anything lets the album down, it's the songs, which even at their best reek too much of slightness, which is to say that there are an awful lot of good to average songs on their first longplayer (14, in sum) and not a single what I'd call classic.  The most famous track here is "I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives," which is kinda lovely and all, but also kinda gonowhere, and let's face it, really only famous because of the novelty of its subject matter and title.  Yes, it's nice to know that leader Dan Treacy (writes all the songs, you see) sips tea with Syd in Cambridge under the willow-in-the-wind trees, but if you're going to write a title like that, I'd expect something a bit more relevatory the name of Syd's pet.  Anyway, it's one of the weaker tracks, for all its fame:  "Jackanory Stories," "Look Back in Anger," (which isn't very convincingly angry), "Silly Girl," "Glittering Prizes," and maybe a couple of others, are much better, and they're all bouncy, bright, simple, and one-hookily memorable.  That's the most I can say of'em; I mean, I could say more, but the effort expended on analyzing and then explicating these slight, throwaway-ish tunes seems an inefficient expenditure of mental energy.  In toto, an utterly wonderful album with a delightfully enjoyable sound that's piffle-weight meaningless, and not just English but "soft Southern fairies" English as those hard northern Englishmen put it.