Monday, November 27, 2017

Review: 3 Billy Idol Vinyl Reissues

It didn’t really matter what tube you were in. In the eighties, you could grock Billy Idol if you were a metal head, a top-40 fluff head, a new waver, or even a less dogmatic goth or punk, particularly if you’d been following Idol since his Generation X days. With his cross-over appeal, personal style that felt more like a personal brand (the bleached spikes; the leather wardrobe; the Elvis sneer), and a sound that was really more pop than anything else, Billy Idol could have been little more than generic “Rocker” for the eighties if he and his hits didn’t exude so much personality.  The best of them are on his first two albums, which have just been remastered and reissued on vinyl by Universal Music.

Idol’s eponymous debut doesn’t give us much of a peek at his punk roots. The key hit “White Wedding” is fairly sinister stuff, but the rest of the album is straight pop with enough variety and tunefulness to keep it fun. However, choruses of “If you wanna rub-a-dub, rub-a-dub” and a closing number that sounds like it could have easily fit on a Tina Turner album help build a case that Idol needed to tap more into the darkness of “White Wedding”.

He managed to do that without alienating the hit parade on the classic Rebel Yell, which is both atmospheric and tirelessly catchy. Idol’s eternal compadre Steve Stevens, who’d been pretty restrained on Billy Idol, gets to show off his six-string flamboyancy to his heart’s content as Idol gets to do some legitimate sneering on the bourbon-soaked title track, the beautiful/absurd “Eyes without a Face”, and the appealingly sleazy “Flesh for Fantasy”. Those are the hits, but album tracks such as the brooding “Daytime Drama”, the crazy catchy “(Do Not) Stand in the Shadow”, and the celestial “Dead Next Door” are excellent too. The only misstep is some farty sax on the flop single “Catch My Fall”, but cut him some slack. It was the eighties.

Sweeping up the essential tunes that weren’t on Idols two best albums is the vinyl debut of the 2008 compilation The Very Best of Billy Idol: Idolize Yourself. This set is necessary for “Dancing with Myself” in its original Generation X version, Idol’s big chart return “Cradle of Love”, “Sweet Sixteen” (which suggests that Idol was listening to Chris Isaak before Heart Shaped World became a smash), and “World Comin’ Down”, a 2005 number that shows that Idol had not forgotten his stint as a member of the Bromley Contingent. The more synth-drunk singles from Whiplash Smile and covers of “L.A. Woman” and “Mony Mony” are not among Idol’s most timeless recordings, and the two tracks recorded for the compilation are pretty cheesy, but a track from the dated-upon-release Cyberpunk is actually not at all embarrassing.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Review: 'Mummies: Classic Monsters of Pre-Code Horror Comics'

Mummies are the least interesting of the classic movie monsters because there’s never much personality under all those bandages. They don’t get to say creepy things like Dracula or project pathos like the Frankenstein Monster. That’s why Boris Karloff spent the majority of the best mummy movie out of swaddling. Subsequent mummy movies The Mummy’s Hand, The Curse of of the Mummy’s Tomb, and Bubba Ho-Tep are only interesting because of their human characters. The monster is never much more than a leg-dragging drag.

Because they are so one-note with their shuffling and gaits outstretched arms, mummies are more at home on the pages of horror comics where depth is not nearly as important as a good drawing of a slimy thing from the grave (or sarcophagus, as they case may be). Mummies: Classic Monsters of Pre-Code Horror Comics, Craig Yoe’s latest anthology of forgotten horror comic tales, pays tribute to the Egyptian wings of also-ran titles such as Web of Mystery, Web of Evil, Baffling Mysteries, A Hand of Fate Mystery, and a couple of comics with neither Web nor Mystery in its title. 

The nice thing about the off-the-wall nature of the lesser horror comics is that common tropes often went out the window, so in addition to the standard grunting ghouls, there’s also room for loquacious mummies, a tribe of mummies, phony mummies, a mummy necklace, quite a few amorous mummies, and in the absolutely bonkers (and atrociously illustrated) “Vault of the Winged Spectres”, a sort of mummy bird. My favorites of the bunch are Bob Powell and Howard Nostrand’s “Servants of the Tomb”, which is kind of like a cross between one of those gruesome E.C. fairy tales and a Masters of the Universe mini-comic, and Charles Nicholas’s more sensible “The Demon Coat”, which simply squirms with monsters mummified and otherwise. There’s also a neat 15-page history of mummies from ancient Egypt days through the horror comics era. Neatest factoid: John Balderston, writer of Karloff’s The Mummy, was supposedly present at the discovery of King Tut’s mummy!

Friday, November 24, 2017

Review: 'Gold Dust Woman: The Biography of Stevie Nicks'

Stephen Davis’s The Hammer of the Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga is the infamously salacious story of the seventies’ hugest hard rock group, and often considered to be the definitive rock biography for its grotesque tales of sex slavery, Satanism, and sand sharks. The decade’s hugest soft rock group, Fleetwood Mac, perhaps didn’t slam out riffs as devastatingly as Zeppelin did, and they certainly never did half the horrid things Davis accused Zeppelin of doing, but their self-zombification through cocaine is legendarily decadent.

However, Davis’s new biography of the Mac’s central star, Gold Dust Woman: The Biography of Stevie Nicks is more relentlessly sad than page-turningly sleazy √† la Hammer of the Gods. This is due to the main villain of a story with quite a few of them. Lindsey Buckingham apparently subjected the singer to decades of mental and physical abuse, from the relatively early days of their musical/“romantic” relationship when he browbeat her into posing nude on the cover of their Buckingham/Nicks LP to when he physically attacked her in front of the entire band while planning to tour behind Tango in the Night to his general cold, calculated, and creepy behavior toward her through the more recent reunions. It’s painful to read about how her successful solo career seemed to free her from Buckingham’s proximity yet she serially fell back into working with him again for various reasons. The devastating punch-line of this story that comes with the birth of Buckingham’s first child in 1998 is even more painful and a sad statement on the dependent nature of abusive relationships.

There isn’t much that lightens the mood of Gold Dust Woman, though the fact that Davis is so firmly in Nicks’s corner is heartening, and he reaffirms his mastery of writing a rock biography that is more than a rock biography by creating actual atmosphere, which is not necessarily considered an essential element of the rock biography. He does so by setting an appropriately witchy mood by delving into the mystical history of Wales to build Nicks’s cultural background or recreating the dank, stygian atmosphere of the “Gold Dust Woman” recording session. At times, Davis can get a bit repetitious—we could feed the world’s poor with a dollar for every time he refers to “Rhiannon” as the “old Welsh witch”—but as a whole Gold Dust Woman is a fine biography— though a depressing one that may make you want to take a long break from the music Lindsey Buckingham masterminded.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Review: 'Tears for Fears Rule the World: The Greatest Hits'

Tears for Fears Rule the World: The Greatest Hits is not the group’s first greatest hits compilation, but it is necessary since 25 years have elapsed since the release of Tears Roll Down (Greatest Hits 82-92) and Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith have kept the group going since then, producing such greatest hits-worthy tracks as “Break It Down Again”, “Closest Thing to Heaven”, and the majestic “Raoul And The Kings Of Spain” in the interim. Aside from these three tracks, the other two unique to Rule the World are new recordings. “I Love You But I’m Lost” is the bigger contender for hit status because of a production that is both very contemporary and noticeably eighties, yet it might be a bit too entrenched in the generic bombast of contemporary pop production and sounds so little like the Tears for Fears we’ve come to know and love that I can’t even tell who is singing lead. The pretty “Stay” is the more appealing track with its moody atmosphere that feels like a cross between “I Believe” and “Listen” from Songs from the Big Chair. Of course the biggest draw is going to be the classic hits, and the presence of  “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”, “Shout”, “Sowing the Seeds of Love”, and the divine “Head over Heels” ensure that Rule the World is necessary for the less committed fan or the merely curious.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Review: 'Groovy: When Flower Power Bloomed in Pop Culture'

In Mark Voger’s world, the lava lamp is always fired up, psychedelia and sunshine pop are always blaring from the jukebox, there are nightly screenings of Head and Easy Rider, the magazine rack is always stocked with the latest issues of Josie and the Pussycats and Zap Comix, and H.R. Pufnstuf, The Banana Splits, and Laugh-In are in constant rotation on the tube (and make no mistake, his TV has a tube… and rabbit ears). These are the things Voger defines as “groovy,” and these are the groovy things that he uses to build a groovy world in his groovy new book Groovy: When Flower Power Bloomed in Pop Culture.

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Summer of Love, and there have been no shortage or reverent, historically conscious books to commemorate the Aquarian age. Groovy is the first one I’ve read that actually captures the full flowering fun of that period. I love, love, love the fact that Voger makes room for the things Jann Wenner types consciously leave out of the discussion. Our author betrays no snobbery, placing the perennial critical darlings beside the less revered but no less lovable sorts. So in this lively, ping-ponging survey of the late sixties and early seventies, there are places for The Buckinghams next to The Beatles, The Guess Who next to The Who, The Cowsills next to The Beach Boys, Tommy James next to Dylan, and Tiny Tim next to Hendrix. A lot of these folks stop in to gab with Voger too, and the book is liberally seasoned with recent and less recent interviews with fab folks such as Donovan, Maureen McCormick, the Smothers Brothers, Brian Wilson, Ruth Buzzi, Mick Taylor, Paul Kantner, Shirley Jones, Bill Wyman, John Entwistle, Lily Tomlin, Roger McGuinn, all four Monkess, and many others. What a gas! However, Groovy’s grooviest feature may be its acid-cartoon design, which explodes with colorful portraits, period art, album jackets, and memorabilia galore.

Mark Voger is also the author of Monster Mash, a book about the Monster Kid phenomenon I gushed over a couple of years ago. I can’t help but think that with his wonderfully definitive volumes on classic monsters and now the psychedelic age, Voger has managed to distill everything I’ve attempted to do with Psychobabble over the past decade in just a couple of handy, dandy hardcovers. He’s a true kindred spirit, Psychobabblers, and judging from his personal, humorous, self-effacing, fun-loving prose, a pretty groovy himself.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Two Horror Classics Coming to Blu-Ray from Criterion This February

Just in time for, errr, Valentine's Day, the Criterion Collection is releasing two classics more befitting Halloween season.  Night of the Living Dead and The Silence of the Lambs have actually already been released on Blu-ray by other companies, but both titles clearly deserve the lavish attention of a Criterion edition. And this is what they apparently shall receive this February 13. Here are the specs straight from

Night of the Living Dead
  • New 4K digital restoration, supervised by director George A. Romero, coscreenwriter John A. Russo, sound engineer Gary R. Streiner, and producer Russell W. Streiner
  • New restoration of the monaural soundtrack, supervised by Romero and Gary R. Streiner, and presented uncompressed on the Blu-ray
  • Night of Anubis, a never-before-presented work-print edit of the film
  • New program featuring filmmakers Frank Darabont, Guillermo del Toro, and Robert Rodriguez
  • Never-before-seen 16 mm dailies reel
  • New piece featuring Russo about the commercial and industrial-film production company where key Night of the Living Dead filmmakers got their start
  • Two audio commentaries from 1994, featuring Romero, Russo, producer Karl Hardman, actor Judith O’Dea, and more
  • Archival interviews with Romero and actors Duane Jones and Judith Ridley
  • New programs about the editing, the score, and directing ghouls
  • New interviews with Gary R. Streiner and Russel W. Streiner
  • Trailer, radio spots, and TV spots
  • More!
  • PLUS: An essay by critic Stuart Klawans
The Silence of the Lambs 
  • New 4K digital restoration, approved by director of photography Tak Fujimoto, with 2.0 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • Alternate 5.1 surround soundtrack, presented in DTS-HD Master Audio on the Blu-ray
  • Audio commentary from 1994 featuring director Jonathan Demme, actors Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins, screenwriter Ted Tally, and former FBI agent John Douglas
  • New interview with critic Maitland McDonagh
  • Thirty-five minutes of deleted scenes
  • Interview from 2005 with Demme and Foster
  • Inside the Labyrinth, a 2001 documentary
  • Page to Screen, a 2002 program about the adaptation
  • Scoring “The Silence,” a 2004 interview program featuring composer Howard Shore
  • Understanding the Madness, a 2008 program featuring interviews with retired FBI special agents
  • Original behind-the-scenes featurette
  • Trailer
  • PLUS: An essay by critic Amy Taubin along with, in the Blu-ray edition, a new introduction by Foster; an account of the origins of the character Hannibal Lecter by author Thomas Harris; and a 1991 interview with Demme

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Review: 'Book of Alien'

Despite the philosophically deep 2001: A Space Odyssey and the generally shocking Clockwork Orange, science-fiction was still pretty much considered a kid’s genre when Alien was released in 1979, so you can forgive Kenner for trying to market the graphically violent, R-rated movie to tykes with a Xenomorph action figure that drew the outrage of parents.

Owen Williams’s new Book of Alien feels like another slightly misguided product for children based on a very adult movie. The book is constructed as a survival guide full of files on the various monsters, past space crews, missions (i.e.: movie plots), and machines for marines dealing with chest bursters, face huggers, queens, and other nasties in that place where no one can hear you scream. That semi-cute conceit is what makes the book feel like it’s intended for kids, and the rah-rah-military attitude feels out of line with films that were often deeply critical of the military industrial complex. Nevertheless, Book of Alien is great to gaze at it with its spiffy design and abundance of photos and illustrations of Aliens, spacecraft, and high-tech weaponry. Interestingly, the series’ casts are almost entirely absent from the visuals—not a single snap of Sigourney in the bunch. But I think anyone who will really be into this book will care less about the film’s human elements more and more about the monsters and gadgetry. Kids love that stuff.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Super Deluxe Edition of 'More of The Monkees' Coming Soon

On December 15, Rhino Records will continue its long-running Monkees Super Deluxe Edition campaign with a triple-disc edition of More of The Monkees. Sessions for The Monkees' second LP were extensive and had the distinction of producing some of the group's best early songs ("Mary Mary", "Steppin' Stone", "She", "Look Out", to name a few) and some of their all-time worst ("The Day We Fall in love","Ladies Aid Society","Kicking Stones", "I Never Thought It Peculiar"... I shall name no more). The sessions also produced quite a few early versions of songs The Monkees would revisit later in their career ("Valleri", "Words","Prithee", "Mr. Webster", "I'll Be Back Up on My Feet", "I Can't Get Her Off My Mind", "Don't Listen to Linda", "The Girl I Left Behind Me", "I'll Spend My Life with You", "Whatever's Right").

Rhino's Super Deluxe More of The Monkees spreads the great, the bad, and the rest across three discs of mono, stereo, alternate, vocals-only, and instrumental mixes. The most intriguing inclusions on this set are a couple of numbers exclusive to the TV series ("I Love You Really"from the "Monkees at the Movies" episode and Mike's wacky version of "Different Drum" from "Too Many Girls") and the earliest live tracks to get official release. These ten numbers caught in Arizona in 1967 include the long-discussed rarity "She's So Far Out, She's In" and the guys' four traditional solo set pieces (Peter's "Cripple Creek", Mike's "You Can't Judge a Book By Its Cover", Micky's "I Got a Woman", and Davy's "Gonna Build  a Mountain").

You can pre-order the Super Deluxe Edition of More of the Monkees at here. And now here's the complete track listing:

Disc 1
She (Remastered) [Mono Mix]
When Love Comes Knockin' (At Your Door) [Remastered] [Mono Mix]

Thursday, November 2, 2017

A Very Beatles Christmas is Coming

Just in time for the holidays, Capitol/UMe will release a genuine and long-desired rarity for the first time. As far as The Beatles' back catalog goes, their fan club-only Christmas records are the most glaring missing pieces of the Livrpudlian puzzle aside from the Let It Be film. Released in the sixties on chintzy flexi-discs, the seven Christmas records the Fabs issued from 1963 to 1969 will be issued on colored vinyl in a limited edition box set this December 15. According to the official press release, the set will include all original picture sleeves and a 16-page booklet with "recording notes and reproductions of the fan club’s National Newsletters, which were mailed to members with the holiday flexi discs." 

As a little seasonal bonus, Capitol/UMe will also issue the recent stereo remix of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band as a limited edition picture disc LP. Happy Crimble!

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Review: 'Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier'

The thirst for more time in Twin Peaks was no doubt largely fueled by the desire to return to a mysterious, alluring, deeply dangerous locale that held a select few of us in its thrall for 25 years. We wanted to find out what happened to Agent Cooper and his evil double. We wanted to know whether Norma and Big Ed ever got together once and for all. We wanted to know if Audrey Horne survived the bank explosion.

But if we are completely honest with ourselves, our desire for more Twin Peaks was also tied to nostalgia, and though Mark Frost and David Lynch did provide answers to most of the questions we’d spent 25 years pondering, they defiantly refused to give in to our desire for nostalgia. Like Agent Cooper, Twin Peaks was back but not quite in the form in which we were expecting it to be. Many questions were answered, but the holes that remained left some viewers feeling challenged a bit out of their comfort zones.

Our first clue that this was what we should have expected from a third season of Twin Peaks is a firm understanding of David Lynch’s uncompromising artistry: there is no way that the man who made Eraserhead, Mulholland Dr., and INLAND EMPIRE was going to take us on a trip back to Twin Peaks just so we could enjoy one more comfy helping of cherry pie. Our second was Mark Frost’s book The Secret History of Twin Peaks, a winding journey through the town’s history that teasingly focused on matters far removed from the original series’ main events and characters.

As stimulating as these new print and screen additions to Twin Peaks lore have been to some of us, other longtime fans have found them understandably frustrating. Such fans should take heart in the publication of what could be the last word on Twin Peaks, because Frost’s latest book, Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier, answers a lot of questions.

While Mark Frost presented The Secret History of Twin Peaks as a near-multimedia collection of newspaper articles, diary entries, memos, footnotes, and other print materials, The Final Dossier is much more straight-forward. It is a series of between-then-and-now narratives that reveal the fates of characters who didn’t show up for the return, such as Sheriff Truman, Leo Johnson, and Donna Hayward, and explanations of some of the more talked-about matters in the latest series. Such questions as who was behind the so-called Manhattan experiment and who was the girl who swallowed the frog-roach are now answered. And, yes, we finally find out how’s Annie.

The Final Dossier is Mark Frost’s satisfying conclusion to Twin Peaks for those who were unsatisfied by Lynch’s elliptical television incarnation, and it is much tidier than Frost’s own Secret History. That means it is also much briefer—The Final Dossier is a scant 145 pages—and much less idly luxurious. Images are few and the design is far more austere than the lovely Secret History. However, we get much more time with our favorite Peaks characters and much more humor than we did in The Secret History.

Those who revel in the unsolved mysteries of the Showtime series might want to steer away from Frost’s book, or at least, parts of it. I personally found the short but illuminating chapter on Audrey Horne a bit too illuminating even as Frost avoids giving us too clear a picture of what her current situation is. Yet, I was not at all sorry I read it, and with all the theories about what really happened in the third season of Twin Peaks already floating out in the zone, I imagine that Frost would delight in having us accept his version of events as just one more theory that may or may not be gospel. As far as theories go, I’ve read none that were more entertaining or compulsively readable than Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier.

Review: 'Star Trek: The Book of Lists'

Star Trek was one of the most thoughtful American shows from a pre-Golden Age period when most series didn’t share a single brain between them (I’m looking at you, Gilligan and Jeannie). Nevertheless, you shouldn’t really expect great thoughtfulness from a book with a title like Star Trek: The Book of Lists. Even as far as a book of 100 lists about topics such as “Kirk’s Most Memorable Kisses” and all the times Shatner appeared on screen shirtless goes, Chip Carter’s Book of Lists is pretty simple-minded. Commentary is minimal, and in some cases, non existent, as lists of characters who appeared in mirror universes and time travel episodes consist of nothing but names and titles.

But the nice thing about Star Trek is that it was thoughtful and fun, and while Star Trek: Book of Lists doesn’t try to deliver thoughtfulness, it does a fairly good job of bringing the fun. Lists of props and costumes that were remade and reused from episode to episode, 21st century devices and technology Star Trek predicted, merchandise, and actors and actresses who appeared on both Star Trek and Batman are a kick. Since the design is image heavy, graphically appealing run downs of the series’ various uniforms and most outr√© fashions, as well as side by side comparisons of how various aliens were depicted across various Star Trek incarnations, are groovy too. Some of this stuff is even informative. I hadn’t realized the Shari “Lambchop’s Mom” Lewis co-wrote the “Lights of Zetar” episode or that none other than MLK was a Trekkie.

There are some questionable inclusions too, though, as “Assignment: Earth” guest star Teri Garr is erroneously credited as a star of High Anxiety and Ronald Reagan is listed among famous Star Trek fans simply because he once screened The Search for Spock at the White House (he didn’t even like it). However, a photo of the U.S.’s last functional president, Barack Obama, snuggling with Nichelle Nichols and flashing the Vulcan salute is a geeky gas, and that’s really the kind of thing you should be hoping for from a book like Star Trek: The Book of Lists.
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