Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Super Deluxe Edition of 'The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society' Coming!


This November 22 marks the fiftieth anniversary of what I believe to be the finest album in pop's long, long history: The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society. To celebrate this momentous occasion, BMG will be releasing a five-CD, three-LP, 5-single box set of this quiet masterpiece a month earlier on October 26. 

The big story is the release of a rare track called "Time Song" which was to be part of an expanded and updated version of VGPS in the early seventies. This mellow track, which you hear below, will be on the single, which only be included in the first 1,000 copies of this set:

Otherwise, you'll also get (according to Music

Monday, August 13, 2018

Psychobabble's 10 Greatest Albums of 1983!

The eighties were about to go into a sort of lame hibernation. In 1984, the singles chart choked on its own vapidity (Prince seemed like our only savior then). In 1983, however, great tunes were still doing the moonwalk on top-forty radio: “Beat It”, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”, “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me”, “Hungry Like the Wolf”, “Let’s Dance”, “Rock the Casbah”, “Overkill”, “Our House”, “Back on the Chain Gang”, “Electric Avenue”, “1999”. Full disclosure, a lot of these songs were holdovers from LPs released in 1982, but the album line up of 1983 was fabulous…and would go on to supply most of the great non-Prince songs on 1984 radio.

In fact, 1983 is a year of blockbuster albums, many of which are hard not to view as self-conscious responses to the smash status of Thriller. Long standing artists such as David Bowie and The Police seemed intent on dethroning Michael and both made better albums than the self-appointed Prince of Pop ever did. An audacious newcomer in a pink tutu gave those seasoned old boys a run for their money with her own hit-bursting debut. Perhaps most importantly, a couple of smaller acts from Dublin, Milwaukie, and Athens proved that high-art content was still possible in the year of leg warmers, Cabbage Patch Kids, SDI, and Mario Bros. Here are Psychobabble’s personal picks for the Ten Greatest Albums of 1983!

10. Let’s Dance by David Bowie

David Bowie was one of the most popular artists of the seventies, but at least in the U.S., he was not a consistent maker of hit singles. That changed in the early eighties due to two factors: his photogenic puss was all over MTV and he released Let’s Dance, the most commercially savvy album of his career. The title track, his serpentine cover of Iggy Pop’s “China Girl”, and the Motown-channeling “Modern Love” put him over like nothing before. While this more commercially minded Bowie would see his artistry suffer over the course of the decade (that Motown affinity would go horribly awry when Jagger jumped into the mix), Let’s Dance hits a good balance between both branches of success. None of its material has the jagged edges of “Ashes to Ahses” or “Fashion”—the two singles from Bowie’s previous album—but “China Girl” and “Let’s Dance” both sport a thick layer of sweat and grit that masks the polish. “Modern Love” wears its polish proudly in keeping with its inspiration. The rest of the album is similarly catchy and ever so slightly quirky, and at just eight tracks, there isn’t room for a dud. Let’s Dance may not be Bowie’s most challenging work, but it is his very most artistically satisfying bid for mainstream success, and it certainly got the job done. 

9. Power, Corruption, & Lies by New Order

Monday, August 6, 2018

Review: 'Comic Book Implosion: An Oral History of DC Comics Circa 1978'

DC comics was suffering in the late seventies. Some blamed it on the harsh winter of ’78, a period of incessant blizzards that prevented a lot of kids from visiting the newsstand. Some blamed it on DC’s publisher, Jenette Kahn, whose failed scheme to reinvigorate her company involved swelling page counts, cover prices, and titles. Keith Dallas and John Wells accuse unsympathetic distributors in the epilogue of their new book Comic Book Implosion: An Oral History of DC Comics Circa 1978. However, they mostly stay out of the way, allowing quotations from reams of old articles and interviews to tell the story of a topsy-turvy period in comic history.

What we learn is that DC was not the only company in over its head. Golden-boy Marvel was too, only to be rescued from the abyss when it agreed to publish spin offs of a weird new sci-fi movie by the kid who’d made American Graffitti. However, the main focus is on DC, particularly Kahn’s planned “Explosion” that was to see 22 new titles hit the stands in a new longer format only to be cancelled at the last minute. The titles that were to be included in this infamous Cancelled Comic Cavalcade, where those titles ended up, and the reasons for that cancellation are major points of discussion.

There is also a lot of discussion of pricing and the business-side of comics publishing in this book, but all of those facts and figures are the least interesting thing about Comic Book Implosion. What’s more intriguing are the soap-opera drama, the bizarre and desperate ideas (an African-American superhero named Black Bomber whose secret identity is a white racist? Yow.), and the stray triumphs that emerged amidst the turbulence. We see the successful revival of the Teen Titans, the births of Black Lightning and Firestorm, the mania surrounding Superman: The Movie and its handsome star, and the ballyhooed bout between the Man of Steel and Muhammad Ali. And despite the initial failure of Kahn’s planned Explosion, she did a lot of good for DC, such as her cultivation of younger talent and new titles, her abolishment of lazy reprints, and her implementation of profit sharing.

Although Dallas and Wells did not conduct any new interviews for Comic Book Implosion, they culled their quotes from such a wide swath of sources, and from such an interesting line up of industry folk (including Kahn, Larry Hama, Neil Adams, Carmine Infantino, Archie Goodwin, James Warren, Muhammad Ali himself, etc.), that it doesn’t matter much. Yes, it makes for messy storytelling, but that’s basically the case with all oral histories. And Dallas and Wells’s refusal to editorialize allows us readers to decide who are the heroes and who are the villains, who is lying and who is telling the truth, which makes for more involving reading. The cavalcade of photos and illustrations— which includes an 8-page, full-color spread—makes it fun.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Review: Vinyl Reissue of Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66’s 'Greatest Hits'

In the year of such earthquakes as Revolver, Pet Sounds, Aftermath, Blonde on Blonde, and the dawn of Hendrix, Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66— with their airy bossa nova rhythms, Bacharach/David covers, and tropical cocktail party atmosphere— must have seemed terribly unhip to the Now Crowd. Removed from any contemporary matters of what is or ain’t with it, Mendes’s jazzy pop remains eternally refreshing like a sweet island breeze. However, there is a certain power too as the group’s most famous song, “Mas Que Nada”, surges like an ice cream tidal wave, and the group’s cover of “Spanish Flea” picks up momentum that would have swept Herb Alpert out to sea.

Sadly, the latter is one of the tracks missing from Mendes and Brasil ’66’s 1970 Greatest Hits collection, though “Mas Que Nada” naturally leads the way, and essentials such as “Going Out of My Head”, a hip-swiveling cover of “Day Tripper (one of three Beatlesongs), a panoramic one of “Scarborough Fair”, my pick for the ultimate version of “The Look of Love” (sorry, Dusty), and Mendes’s own wonder “Look Around” are on board. Ideally, a couple of the more Muzak-leaning songs (I’m thinking of the non-hits “So Many Stars” and “Pretty World”) would have been trimmed to make way for grander stuff such as “Bim Bom”, “Watch What Happens”, and of course, “One Note Samba/Spanish Flea”, but no use crying over the line up of a nearly 50-year old comp. It’s still groovy.

(Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66’s Greatest Hits is now getting back in print on vinyl via Craft Recordings.)

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Review: 'Twin Peaks and Philosophy: That’s Damn Fine Philosophy'

Appearing at a time when television’s greatest philosophical questions were “How will MacGuyver save the day with nothing but a wad of  gum and an enema bag?” and “Which toddler will fall on his ass this week on America’s Funniest Home Videos?”, Twin Peaks seemed like an intellectual breath of Douglas Fir-scented air. David Lynch and Mark Frost’s series swam in the murky waters of metaphysics, synchronicity, duality, and other philosophical concepts, and these were not just set decorations for a show often dismissed as arbitrarily weird; they were central to its plot and purpose. So Twin Peaks is an ideal topic for Open Court Books’ Popular Culture and Philosophy series.

The nineteen different essays that editors Richard Greene and Rachel Robinson-Greene compiled in Twin Peaks and Philosophy: That’s Damn Fine Philosophy cover much ground incorporating the original series, Fire Walk with Me, and last year’s Return. The writers chew over how the Black Lodge reveals the true self according to Hinduism (Felipe Nogueira de Carvalho’s “Know Thyself, Agent Cooper!”), how Laura Palmer embodies the Madonna/whore complex (Tim Jones’s “Laura Palmer—Madonna and Whore”), the varying degrees to which characters such as Albert Rosenfield and Sheriff Truman live up to Immanuel Kant’s moral code (Jeffrey and Kristopher G.Phillips’s “Albert Among the Chowder-Head Yokels and Blithering Hayseeds”), the degrees to which the series’ female characters possess power (Elizabeth Rard’s “The Miss Twin Peaks Award Goes to…”), the ways The Return reflects the roles of American women (Leigh Kolb’s “The Mother of All Bombs”—my favorite entry in the book), etc.

The two latter pieces I referenced are among the few that deal with the series’ more socio-political point of view, and I would have liked to see more of those types of pieces considering The Return’s more pointed (see Dr. Amp’s rants or Janey-E Jones’s diatribe about being a 99 percenter) yet often muddy (see the way women are often objectified or brutally murdered or the scene in which transgender Denise Bryson is both lauded and mocked) perspective. However, this is not Twin Peaks and Political Philosophy, so fair enough.

Occasionally, writers make the mistakes that are too often made in essays on Twin Peaks, most notably the failure to acknowledge Mark Frost’s role in its creation and writing— a considerable oversight since he is far more aware of philosophical theory than Lynch. Some writers clearly did not read Frost’s Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier, so they dismiss some things that he clarifies in his book as wacky fan theories, such as the fact that girl who swallows the frog-moth in Episode 8 is Sarah Palmer. In “Through Plastic Our Secrets Seen,” Andrew W. Winters makes some comments that will raise eyebrows among the kinds of obsessive fans who’d read this book (Shelly Johnson is discontent at the Double R; a job she specifically says that she loves? Big Ed should be content even though he is married to a woman he never loved? No one but Leland seems troubled by Laura’s death at her funeral?). However, S. Evan Kreider’s “But What Does It Mean?” is probably the only essay guilty of disappearing up its own posterior, which is a great percentage considering how tempting it is to do so when writing about something as byzantine as Twin Peaks. For the most part, the essays are thought provoking, accessibly written, and determinedly entertaining (see “Special Epistemic Agent Dale Cooper”, which Elizabeth Rard writes in character as Cooper). 

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Review: Vinyl Reissues of Three U2 Albums

OK, so in 1987, U2 completed the transition from being a particularly successful college rock band that had not yet cracked the top ten of Billboard’s album charts to the biggest band in the world. The Joshua Tree went to number one in almost every major market in the world, U2 filled stadiums and dominated MTV, Bono became Rock’s hunky conscience, and so on and so on. Yet the edge of a band once edgy enough to deserve a member called The Edge had gone a bit blunt. The punky energy that made Boy and War so invigorating was softening into a sound more befitting top-forty radio, and by the time U2 released the bluesy, snoozy soundtrack for their major motion picture Rattle & Hum in 1988, they were as edgy as a beach ball. Yet they still sold millions of albums, so it is to U2’s credit that they then started fucking with their tried and true formula at the height of their popularity.

U2 wasn’t the first minister to marry Rock & Roll and club-based dance music (that kind of thing had already been happening in the Madchester scene for a few years), but they were certainly the biggest. So new recordings such as “Mysterious Ways” and “Even Better Than the Real Thing” sounded fairly radical when they commandeered the airwaves in 1991. Digging deeper into Achtung Baby, there were somewhat more out-there things such as the sensual “The Fly”, the surging “Acrobat”, and the pounding “Zoo Station”, all of which hinted at what U2 could really do when they let their imaginations go wild.

And that’s just what they did with their next album. Zooropa is divisive not only because Bono’s new yen for adopting obnoxious, ironic personas wore out some less-committed fans but also because the music is so weird. The thing is, U2 could do weird very, very well. If “Mysterious Ways” was a bit of a refreshing change after the tedium of “Angel of Harlem”, then “Numb” was a revivifying plunge in an icy stream, taking everything we came to know about U2—including Bono’s bombastic pipes—and wiping them away. That’s the most revolutionary cut on Zooropa, but the title track, the hilariously discofied “Lemon”, the trashy smash “Daddy’s Gonna Pay for Your Crashed Car”, and “The Wanderer”—starring guest vocalist Johnny Cash and guest instrument a twenty-dollar Casio keyboard—are just as far out. Bono’s withering perspective of contemporary life went down more pleasantly with a less hectoring tone and more humor. The only slight misstep is “Stay (Far Away So Close)”, but only because it doesn’t try to rise to the rest of the album’s level of experimentalism. 

Zooropa is one of the shiniest and most underappreciated gems in U2’s back catalogue, but it isnt for everyone, and those who prefer Larry Mullen, Jr., without the drum machine accompaniment could take solace in The Best of 1980-1990, which gathers up choice tracks from U2’s pre-experimental career. Much of what made the comp is unimpeachable—“New Year’s Day”, “Sunday Bloody Sunday”, “Bad”, “I Will Follow”, “The Unforgettable Fire”—and the Joshua Tree hits sound fresher when cut in among the more vital classics, but there is an over-reliance on Rattle and Hum that blunts the history. Because most of those songs were huge hits, they had to be included, but it would have been nice if some room had been made for minor singles such as “Two Hearts Beat As One”, “Gloria”, and “A Day without Me” to provide a more complete portrait of the early years— and because they’re great tracks.

Yet there are a few slight oddities to mix up the familiarity, most notably a good rerecording of the B-side “Sweetest Thing” (which actually ended up becoming a sizable hit in most of the world) and alternate edits of “New Year’s Day”, “Where the Streets Have No Name”, and “Bad”. The CD also included a hidden track and token obscurity— the title number and only representative of U2’s second album— though “October” is not much of a song.

Nevertheless, while you wouldn’t want to be without Boy or War, The Best of 1980-1990 still presents an adequate picture of U2’s first decade, and Achtung Baby and Zooropa certainly constitute the best of what came next, so these three albums are a pretty good trio to put forth together in a wave of vinyl reissues from Universal Music. Zooropa includes two bonus tracks—long, clubby, nearly unrecognizable remixes of “Lemon” and “Numb”—and The Best includes a bonus track from its Japanese edition, the relatively obscure Joshua Tree track “One Tree Hill”, which was released as a single in Australia and New Zealand. Each album arrives on double, 180-gram vinyl, and each is remastered with a reduction of the CDs’ brightness. 

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Review: 'The Future Then: Fascinating Art & Predictions from 145 years of Popular Science'

For nearly a century and a half, Popular Science magazine has been keeping the world on top of the latest developments in science and technology. Despite its prestigious history, it ain’t always right, and that’s one reason why The Future Then: Fascinating Art & Predictions from 145 years of Popular Science is fun. This attractive, hardcover tome collects everyone of the quarterly’s covers in full-color cover, each one positing some sort of scientific prediction made in the name of the mag. The captions assess whether or not that prediction came true, and they do so with cheeky irreverence. How could you not have your tongue in your cheek when combing over such wild brain waves as underground ice cities, a robotic exoskeleton called the “man amplifier” that can turn anyone into a superhero, and mechanical racehorses constructed from taxidermied stallions? Amazingly, some of this wackadoo stuff actually came to pass (though much did not exactly endure). It’s also interesting to note the particular obsessions of each decade, with the forties depressingly focused on machines of war (and also depressingly, most of those predictions came to pass), the fifties focused on DIY projects for new homeowners, and the sixties focused on…err… James Bond.

But as I suggested, its factoids are just one reason why The Future Then is boss. The artwork is what really makes it a retro rush, as Popular Science’s painted covers look like they should adorn pulp novels for nerds. The magazine’s impressive roster of artists include Norman Rockwell and Reynold Brown, who’d really make a name for himself designing movie posters for such sci-fi classics as The Creature from the Black Lagoon and Attack of the 50-Foot Woman. Sadly, in the nineties, Popular Science discontinued its painted covers for sterile digital images, so the final sixty pages of The Future Then are not nearly as charming as the ones that precede them. It’s also tough to assess whether or not technology predicted so recently was a success or failure since it could still come to pass. So perhaps we should stay tuned for volume two, assuming that such quaint things as magazines, the ability to read, and life on Earth still exist in another 145 years. Have a nice day!

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