Friday, September 21, 2018

Review: 'Rock and Roll Woman: The 50 Fiercest Female Rockers'

Who would you select if tasked with choosing “The 50 Fiercest Female Rockers”? Once I was through grumbling about that measly number, I wouldn’t select a lot of the ones who make it into Meredith Ochs’s new book Rock and Roll Woman: The 50 Fiercest Female Rockers. To the writer’s credit, she makes a strong case for even the ones who made my eyes roll while perusing the table of contents. Ochs’s colorful prose and infectious love for her subjects nearly brought me to the precipice of reconsidering the artistry of Gwen Stefani or Sheryl Crow.

As you may have already sussed, it wasn’t Ochs’s main concern to just pick the coolest or finest female artists; she wanted to represent a wider spectrum from the unquestionable legends (Aretha, Chrissie, Janis, Debbie, Tina, Patti) to the critical darlings (Siouxsie, Sleater-Kinney, Kathleen Hanna, PJ Harvey, Kim Gordon) to somewhat cultier figures (The Slits, Fanny, Poison Ivy, L7) to totally mainstream MOR types (Linda Ronstadt, Melissa Etheridge, Alanis Morissette, Crow, Stefani). In doing so, Ochs comes a bit closer to telling a more satisfying story of female artists fighting their way into every basic nook of the infuriatingly male-dominated Rock world. She also unifies these disparate artists through a feminist lens that makes even relatively apolitical artists, such as Kim Deal, seem like righteous soldiers in the cause.

Of course, with just 50 artists, Ochs cannot help but make the slightest indent in the surface of a rich, versatile vein of Rock music. With any luck, she’s already toiling away on a second volume that doesn’t leave out Darlene Love, Kristin Hersh, Liz Phair, Kate Bush, Carol Kaye, Tanya Donelly, Leslie Langston, Holly Golightly, P.P. Arnold, Meg White, Aimee Mann, Suzanne Vega, Sharon Tandy, Martha Reeves, Bjork, Kelley Deal, Julee Cruise, LaVern Baker, Nico, Kate Pierson & Cindy Wilson, Mary Timony, Juliana Hatfield, Carol van Dijk, Nina Persson, Angie Hart, La La Brooks and the Crystals, The Supremes, Gaye Advert, Cat Power, Mary Weiss and The Shangri-Las, Louise Post and Nina Gordon, Elizabeth Fraser, Team Dresch, Nina Simone, Courtney Barnett, Neko Case, KatieJane Garside, Donna Summer, Justine Frischmann, Dorothy Moskowitz, Laetitia Sadler, Patty Donahue, Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Colman, Rebecca Gates, Sandy Denny, Lene Lovitch, Mo Tucker, Shirley Ellis, Cynthia Robinson, Bilinda Butcher, Joni Mitchell, Laura Nyro, Leslie Gore, Nancy Sinatra, Linda Thompson, Luscious Jackson, Linda Hopper & Ruthie Morris, Mama Cass Elliott, Mary Wells, Dale Bozzio, Carla Thomas, Petra Haden, Poly Styrene, The Raincoats, Fay Fife, Yoko Ono…

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Review: 'John Waters: Indecent Exposure'

Wait a minute. John Waters is an artist? A rather multifaceted artist? I consider myself a fan, but this is news to me. That Waters is not just the uncontested King of Trash-ola but also a photographer and collaborative sculptor who has been the subject of his own art show is a revelation. The works displayed in that show at the Baltimore Museum of Art (of course) are featured in a new book called John Waters: Indecent Exposure.

So what should you expect from Waters’s non-cinematic art? Oh honey, you know what to expect! You’ll laugh! You’ll die from shock! You’ll puke! You’ll see the faces of Hollywood stars projected onto butt cheeks (Rear Projection, 2009)! You’ll see a disturbing 3D tableaux involving an infant with Michael Jackson’s adult head crawling toward a tyke with Charles Manson’s deranged coconut (Playdate, 2006). You’ll see some of cinema’s most iconic moments subtitled in pig Latin (Pig Latin, 2008)! You’ll see a Jackie O doll dolled up as Divine (Jackie Copies Divine’s Look, 2001)! You’ll see Twelve Assholes and a Dirty Foot (Twelve Assholes and a Dirty Foot, 1996)!

So like Pink Flamingos and Polyester, Waters’s museum-worthy work delights in scatology, celebrity, and hilarity. One does not usually expect to laugh out loud when viewing fine art, so prepare yourself for that shocker too.

Waters’s work will be a gas for those with a taste for bad taste, which makes the presentation in Indecent Exposure a bit frustrating. While his photos of his TV screen and weird sculptures completely lack pretension, the layout and text content of this book sometimes succumbs to that vice. The images are often shrunk down to postage-stamp size to make room for vast vistas of empty, white space, which is a crime that too many art books commit. 

As for a series of analytical essays, the only writer who really taps into the spirit of Waters’s work is Robert Starr, whose “Queering the Pitch” is both enlightening and funny. The others feel inappropriately academic. Initially, I wondered how Waters, himself, would react to such pieces. Would he roll his eyes at them or revel in them as scrumptiously kitsch? Based on the lengthy interview with the artist that wraps up the text side of Indecent Exposure, I think Waters may unironically approve. Here he reveals that there is actually serious, artistic consideration behind works depicting title cards of the shitty movies that were supposed  be screened on the planes destroyed on 9/11 or a picture of a flower that squirts viewers in the face if they get too close to it. The interview is also very valuable for what it reveals about Waters’s artistic process, such as the fact that he conceptualizes his sculptures while Tony Gardener, the guy who created killer-doll Chuckie and the fake breasts Selma Blair wears in A Dirty Shame, sculpts those uncanny likenesses of Jackson, Manson, and the rest. Needless to say, the interview is the biggest kick textual kick in Indecent Exposure

Monday, September 17, 2018

Review: 'The Definitive Guide to Horror Movies: 365 Films to Scare You to Death'

In 2006, monster authorities James Marriott and Kim Newman published the first edition of The Definitive Guide to Horror Movies: 333 Films to Scare You to Death. With our current decade slouching toward its conclusion, Marriott and Newman have updated their guide to a neat 365 films, so it can serve as a demon-a-day calendar for horror freaks with plenty of spare time.

The additions are all limited to the eight years that have passed since The Definitive Guide to Horror Movies was last updated, and like the rest of the book, the addendums consist of the essential (instant cult smashes A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, The Babadook, It Follows, Get Out), the awful (V/H/S), and “How’d this get in here?” non-genre pictures (A Field in England). The new material also commits some glaring oversights. How did great stuff such as Black Swan, The Skin I Live In, Kill List, and The Cabin in the Woods not make the cut? Surely there must be a better explanation than “We needed to make room for The Human Centipede 2.”

For those who’ve never read any edition of Marriott and Newman’s tome, it consists of half-page reviews written with an analytical eye and a blob of cheeky wit. Finding 365 great movies in any one genre is pretty tough, and the write ups are not always favorable, so don’t get too bent out of shape about the inclusion of crap such as Last House on the Left, Friday the 13th, Sleepy Hollow, and Saw. Seven guest critics join the main writers, yet the guests are the only contributors whose reviews receive bylines. It would have been helpful if we’d known which of the others were written by Newman or Marriott since there are sometimes conflicting opinions about certain films (for example, the introduction to the chapter on 1930s films is way more complimentary toward Tod Browning’s Dracula than the specific review of the film is).

It also would have been nice if the expanded format extended before 2010 so that absolute essentials such as Gojira, The Stepford Wives, Gremlins, 28 Days Later, and Shadow of the Vampire could finally take their rightful places in this book. The older entries haven’t even been updated for this new edition, so an insert about made-for-TV horror peters out in 2007, missing the rich vein of today’s scary small-screen choices and the piece on Suspiria indicates that the final chapter of Dario Argento’s Three Mothers Trilogy has yet to be released when Mother of Tears came out all the way back in 2007. There’s also no introductory chapter for all the new entries for 2010s films.

While no one ever pleases all fans with movie guides such as these, Marriott and Newman get it righter than most. If you already own 333 Films to Scare You to Death, 365 Films to Scare You to Death may be worth a double dip, and if you don’t, you’ll probably want to add it to your Halloween wish list… and be sure to check back here on Psychobabble this coming Halloween season, because I’ll be putting my copy to good use.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Review: 'The Cure: A Perfect Dream'

Best known for their gloomy worldview and cobweb-coiffed front man, The Cure do not seem like an expected topic for one of Sterling Publishing’s slick, coffee table-style Rock biographies. Yet much about The Cure is unexpected. Mixed amongst the dirges were near-bubblegum confections such as “Just Like Heaven” and “Friday I’m in Love”, and for a band that seemed consciously designed for cult status, they’ve sold millions of albums and stadium-seat tickets. So unlikely stars The Cure may be, but they are stars nonetheless and perhaps not such a bizarre choice for a jolly old pictorial history such as Ian Gittins’s The Cure: A Perfect Dream.

Fortunately, A Perfect Dream isn’t really that jolly, because that would be dishonest to The Cure story. Theirs is a history with all the demon-wracked turmoil of “From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea” or “Give Me It”. The group was beset from within with substance abuse, legal, and interpersonal issues. Robert Smith was a sometimes-cruel control freak. Lol Tolhurst was regularly a victim of that cruelty yet often unable to contribute anything to the band because of his constant inebriation. Even those adjacent to the band could be rather difficult, such as Siouxsie Sioux, who dismissed Robert as “Fatboy Smith” when he decided to quit being a part-time Banshee to re-commit himself to The Cure, or Ross Robinson, the nu-metal producer who helmed The Cure and sounds like an absolute dickhead.

A Perfect Dream certainly isn’t a sanitized version of the Cure story, but it does have a whiff of redundancy considering how heavily Gittins leans on quotes from Tolhurst’s recent autobiography Cured and the old biography Ten Imaginary Years. His writing is generally crisp, but he has a tendency to lapse into pretentiousness when analyzing the music. To their credit, those analyses steer clear of hero worship, but they can also be a tad confusing. Why after giving Pornography a veritable track-by-track drubbing does the author conclude that it is “oddly addictive?” Despite such issues, A Perfect Dream still works as a pithy biography that refuses to pull punches and provides plenty of color images of some of Rock’s most photogenic freaks.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

50th Anniversary Edition of Hendrix's 'Electric Ladyland' Coming...

This October 16 will mark the 50th Anniversary of Jimi Hendrix's masterpiece Electric Ladyland, and the following November 9 will see the release of a deluxe box set to commemorate the event. The set will include the original album remastered from the analog tapes, a new 5.1 mix, a collection of early takes that will include a few tracks that did not make it to the finished album, and a previously unreleased live set from the Hollywood Bowl captured a month before the album was released. The set will also include a Blu-ray disc containing a documentary on the album's making and the requisite book.

Nicest of all is the fact that all the box's material--original tracks and outtakes alike-- will be included in the vinyl incarnation. This is a neat bonus considering how many deluxe editions limit the vinyl component to the original album while bonus tracks only appear on CD.

Here's the complete track listing:

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Psychobabble’s Perfect Monkees Box Set Recipe!

The Monkees were once a punch line to every joke about inauthentic, cheesy pop for toddlers. In a century in which pop is no longer a pejorative, few care about the manufactured manner in which Mike, Micky, Davy, and Peter were assembled, and many now know about their victorious struggle to wrest control of their music. Today, The Monkees are more respected than they ever were in the days when they outsold The Beatles and the Stones.

As all of you Psychobabblers know, Psychobabble loves The Monkees, but that doesn’t mean their back catalog is unimpeachable. The fact that an uncountable multitude of writers, producers, and musicians contributed to The Monkees’ output means that some really bad stuff was recorded (see “Teen Tiny Gnome”, the juvenile junk allegedly responsible for Boyce & Hart’s ousting as main Monkees producers) and released (see “The Day We Fall in Love”, the sappy pap regularly regarded as worst Monkees track of all time). Frankly, The Monkees never released a perfect album. Even the wonderful Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, & Jones, LTD. contains one “this does not belong” track, both because “Hard to Believe” was not as edgy as its LP mates (on which the cutesiest sounding track is about a “Hell’s Angels gang bang.” Gross.) and because it was not made with the democratic band input that went into the other tracks. I’ve tried to maintain the chronology of when the tracks were recorded as much as possible, though Instant Replay is still a bit of a chronological hodgepodge in keeping with the original album’s semi-compilation format.

Consequently, it has become mildly fashionable among Monkees fans to “re-imagine” each of the group’s albums. What follows is Psychobabble’s bid in this pre-fab fad and my personal attempt to best the two Monkees box sets already in existence. Within the confines of four CDs, you will have alternate and utterly perfect versions of each of The Monkees’ nine original-phase albums. Therefore we shall call this edition of Psychobabble’s Perfect Box Set Recipe Alternate Titles (see the UK single release of “Randy Scouse Git).

On Alternate Titles, you will find a reduction in the more bubblegum side of The Monkees (which means more Mike but less Davy—sorry, Marcia Brady). You’ll also notice that Peter finally gets his due on The Birds, The Bees, & The Monkees and Mike now classes up Changes. Since there’s more good stuff than would fit onto a standard twelve-track album, some of the discs include a few bonus tracks as well. The selection is also not solely based on personal opinion. I never had a beef with “Laugh”, but since it is one of the least-loved tracks among my fellow Monkee Maniacs, I ditched it. On the flip side, I included “Daydream Believer” even though Im not a fan of it because most of my fellow Monkee Maniacs looooove it.  And as always, Psychobabble’s Perfect Box Set Recipe requires you to actually burn some discs—mere playlists will not suffice and may result in your expulsion from the Psychobabble Secret Society of Groovy Ghouls, Retro Rockers, & Kooky Cultists ©!

NOTE! Disc Three will require you to make two edits using Audacity or some other such audio file-editing tool. Since Head is pretty much a perfect album, and we want to include as much of it as possible, you will have to edit the whole “Swami” section out of its final track, leaving only Ken Thorne’s “Plus Strings”. Because “Porpoise Song” must have its mesmerizing drone coda not included on the soundtrack album, you’ll either have to clip that coda from the single version on Listen to the Band box set and include it as its own track or live with a very awkward transition from “Opening Ceremony” to the single version of “Porpoise Song”. I never said this would not involve a bit of elbow grease.

ALSO NOTE! All songs are their standard versions released in the sixties and seventies unless otherwise noted. Whether you use the stereo or mono mixes is entirely up to you, though I personally recommend mono for the first two albums (which is why I went with the Deluxe Edition as opposed to the stereo-only standard edition) and “Magnolia Simms” and stereo for all else.

Psychobabble’s Perfect Box Set Recipe: The Monkees: Alternate Titles

4 Blank CDRs
The Monkees (Deluxe Edition)
More of The Monkees (Deluxe Edition)
Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, & Jones, LTD.
The Birds, The Bees, & The Monkees (Rhino Handmade Deluxe Edition)
Instant Replay
The Monkees Present
Missing Links
Missing Links Vol. 2
Missing Links Vol. 3
Listen to the Band (Box Set)


Disc One

Monday, September 10, 2018

Review: Vinyl Reissue of Matthew Sweet's 'Altered Beast'

When critics fell over themselves to praise Matthew Sweet’s breakthrough, Girlfriend, they tended to focus on the music’s sweetness: the glimmering jangle of his overdubbed guitars, the comforting retro-ness of his Beatles and Byrds references, the classic concision of his songs, the lushness of Fred Maher’s production. So when Sweet followed that big hit with the deliberately messy and acidic Altered Beast, a lot of the critics were baffled. Perhaps they hadn’t been listening close enough to the underlying nastiness of Girlfriend tracks such as “Thought I Knew You”, “Does She Talk?”, and “Holy War”. If they had been, Altered Beast would have seemed like a more logical progression as Sweet builds on the bitterness of such songs with production to match. Yes, Richard Dashut is best known as Fleetwood Mac’s smash-era producer, but Sweet didn’t hire Dashut for his pristine work on Rumours. Sweet was more interested in channeling the sloppy derangement of Tusk, and just as Tusk was more fascinating and challenging than Rumours, Altered Beast is—in this reviewer’s perhaps unpopular opinion—a similar improvement over Girlfriend. 

The polish flakes away as rusty guitars roar, well-deep drums bash, and Sweet sneers and spits. “Dinosaur Act”, “Devil with the Green Eyes”, “Ugly Truth Rock”, “In Too Deep”, and especially “Knowing People” are straight-up mean, and their loathing feels more authentic than the mass of Sweet’s grungier contemporaries because of his pop rep. It sounds like he was willing to burn down his critical good will for the sake of getting something toxic off his chest. He did make room for some of the more soothing pop styles of Girlfriend, though “Life without You”, “Time Capsule”, “What Do You Know?”, and “Someone to Pull the Trigger” do not skimp on the despair. So while the production sounds messy, the vision is actually quite focused, and for my money, Altered Beast is Matthew Sweet’s underappreciated peak.

Intervention Records’ 100% analog audiophile edition of Altered Beast—the second release in its trilogy of Sweet reissues—doesn’t clean up that messy sound; it just presents its with startling clarity, authenticity, and sonic might. Guitars are remarkably present whether grinding out on “Dinosaur Act”, shimmering on “Time Capsule”, or booming from a bottomless pit on “In Too Deep”. Details reveal themselves. Until now I’d never really noticed that weird percussive touch on “Someone to Pull the Trigger” that sounds like Sweet brushing his teeth.

Intervention’s vinyl is presented as a double album with bonus tracks on Side Four, which shifts the natural side divider—that goofy audio clip from Caligula—to the middle of Side Two (an even weirder Caligula clip hidden at the end of the original CD edition is left out entirely). Bonus tracks are stronger than those on Intervention’s recent edition of 100% Fun. They include what may be Sweet’s best non-LP tracks—the corrosive “Superdeformed” from the No Alternative compilation—and all B-sides from the “Ugly Truth” and “Time Capsule” singles (though not the “Devil with the Green Eyes” single), as well as “Bovine Connection” from the extended Japanese edition of Son of Altered Beast. The American edition of that E.P. will presumably be the next installment of Intervention’s Matthew Sweet vinyl campaign, which remains the vinyl reissue campaign to beat in 2018.

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