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!

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Review: ‘The Supremes Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland’ Expanded Edition

The covers-laden Supremes A-Go Go was significant because it was the first LP by an all female group to top the Billboard charts, but a much greater musical achievement was The Supremes Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland. With Where Did Our Love Go and More Hits, Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland completed the trio constituting the hit-single makers’ finest albums. The hits—brooding “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”; ethereal “Love Is Here and Now Your Gone”—are among The Supremes’ finest, and might be Motown’s first official acknowledgment of the psychedelic era. Many of the non-hits are nearly as wonderful. Di, Flo, and Mary are at their most ecstatic on the shoulda-been-a-hit “There’s No Stopping Us Now”, their most haltingly dramatic on “Remove This Doubt”, their most grindingly raw on “Going Down for the Third Time”. The other songs that weren’t made famous by other Motown artists are groovy too (only the slightly cornball “Love Is In Our Hearts” is a bit flimsy) and the redundant covers are kept to a relatively minimal three. So don’t be fooled by its generic title and cover. The Supremes Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland is essentially The Supremes’ Revolver: eclectic, a bit dark, a bit trippy, but always colorfully inviting.

Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland is the latest Supremes album to get the expanded, double-disc treatment from Universal Music. Along with very good-sounding presentations of its mono and stereo mixes (no debate here: the mono mix buries the imbalanced stereo one, though the way the morse-code guitar line of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” flits from channel to channel in the stereo mix is pretty neat), there are numerous bonus tracks, the centerpiece of which is a live set at the Copa from May1967. Like the unlistenable second side of The Four Tops’ On Top, this set is one of Motown’s weird attempts to force a teen-oriented act to appeal to boring old people. The big band arrangements are very cabaret, as is the emphasis on show tunes and standards. The group’s biggest early hits are compressed into a medley and “You Can’t Hurry Love” is played at blinding speed, both suggesting that the Powers That Be wanted The Supremes to get the teeny bopper stuff over with as quickly as possible. It’s all so stodgy and stagy that a relatively stripped down “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” stirs visions of a horde of young punks crashing mom and dad’s cocktail party. Diana Ross was also suffering from a cold that shot her voice. Yet the recording is nicely polished and there is significant historic importance since this was the last concert the group recorded before the sad departure of Florence Ballard.

More musically valuable is the inclusion of the peachy single “The Happening” and its fine flip-side “All I Know About You” (though in odd mixes that allow the songs to peter out instead of fade), a powerfully orchestrated revision of “You’re Gone But Always in My Heart”, and a cool extended remix of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” along the lines of the remix of “Love Is Like an Itchin’ in My Heart” that stood out on last year’s deluxe A-Go Go. There are also two booklets worth of vintage press material, a new interview with Lamont Dozier, track notes, essays, an annotated timeline, and lots of period photos. A splashy package, indeed, but the original album in its mono mix remains the uncontested star attraction of The Supremes Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland: Expanded Edition.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Review: 'Just a Shot Away: Peace, Love, and Tragedy with The Rolling Stones at Altamont"

Meredith Hunter. We all know the name Altamont and its associations, but too few know the name of the young man murdered at the hands of the Hell’s Angels at the infamous free concert staged at the Altamont Speedway on December 6, 1969. His name is Meredith Hunter, and in Just a Shot Away, author Saul Austerlitz makes damn sure that we know that Hunter was not just some pawn in an event lazy writers love to use as the anti-Woodstock or as a pat conclusion to the sixties and its peace and love ethos. No biography of The Rolling Stones, the band that headlined Altamont (of course, you already knew that), fails to mention Hunter’s name, but I’ve never read one that gave a full, breathing profile of the man’s life. Even before his tragic end, it was fascinating, horribly troubled, creative, deeply complex. Hunter was raised by a schizophrenic mother whose piece-of-trash husband forced her into prostitution. Hunter was an artist. He was a juvenile delinquent. He was a druggie. He was a loving and devoted uncle and brother. He was a complete human being who lived a multi-faceted life despite its brevity. I never knew any of these things before reading Just a Shot Away: Peace, Love, and Tragedy with The Rolling Stones at Altamont, and that's what makes it such a gift

It is also a genuine horror story as Austerlitz describes the sickeningly unfolding events of Altamont with a masterful grasp of tone, detail, and character (though he is not above a few sloppy gaffes, the most egregious one I caught being his attribution of Paul Kantner’s on-stage barbs against the Angels to the wrong Jefferson Airplane guitarist: Jorma Kaukonen). We learn all the events leading up to the matter that ostensibly justified the Hell’s Angels’ attack. Yes, Hunter had a gun, but he only took it from his car after the notoriously racist biker gang had been beating on the crowd for hours, and if they were treating white people like that, what would they do to him? I can never defend possessing a gun under any circumstances, but simply having one in one’s possession hardly justifies being stabbed multiple times, having your head kicked in and stood on until your nose is left a smashed mess that makes breathing through it impossible. Apparently, the gun wasn’t even loaded.

While the Hell’s Angels are without question the villains of this story, the Stones have also often been criticized for fashioning the situation that put a bunch of scumbag, violence-addicted, racist, right-wingers in the role of security. Austerlitz not only repeats the truth that too few people know—the Grateful Dead’s camp were actually responsible for hiring the Angels—but also emphasizes the Dead’s cowardice in turning tail on an admittedly hellacious scene while the Stones met it head on in a vane attempt to settle the crowd. Without question The Rolling Stones were a great band, but they certainly never seemed heroic. As described by Austerlitz , their taking the stage at Altamont is probably the closest they ever came despite their ineffectualness. Their silence about Hunter immediately following the concert, however, was unconscionable.

But this isn’t the Stones’ story. To a small degree it is the Hell’s Angel’s story, but it is really the tale of a young, black man murdered by racist “upholders of the law.” Sound familiar? The contemporary relevance of this story is not lost on Austerlitz, who explicitly ties it in with the stories of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir, Rice, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, and all the other men who have become the victims of racial violence at the hands of cops and vigilantes. In writing of how the Hell’s Angels acted “out a parodic version of American freedom, where freedom itself was an amoral act, unkind and selfish” and “required tuning out the quiet voices that insisted on the inherent dignity of others, and amplifying the ones that demand that others respect yours,” Austerlitz perhaps inadvertently ties this story to the grotesquely toxic White House of 2018. For such reasons, I defy anyone with a conscience to read this account of a 49-year old crime without getting angry as hell today. As you can probably tell, I did, and for that, Just a Shot Away is not only a great piece of historical journalism but an enduringly vital and relevant one too. 

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Review: 'Star Wars Memorabilia—An Unofficial Guide to Star Wars Collectibles'

Paul Berry is correct when he writes, “For a child growing up in the 1980s, Star Wars….collectibles meant more than the films…” We surrounded ourselves with Star Wars stuff because there was so much available. The plentitude of R2-D2 kitchenware and C-3PO toiletries, as well as the heavy nostalgia value of these things, has made Star Wars collectibles a minor subgenre in Star Wars books. The best of these come from Stephen Sansweet, who is to Star Wars what Forry Ackerman was to monster movies. However, even a book as thick as Sansweet’s Star Wars: 1,000 Collectibles fails to even wipe the dust off the surface. So there is certainly room for a more complete book of Star Wars collectibles, though Berry’s isn’t it. At just 95-pages, Star Wars Memorabilia—An Unofficial Guide to Star Wars Collectibles didn’t have much of a chance.

Berry’s book is skinny and his drily informative text makes no attempt to reflect the fun of his subject matter, but there are some nice images here that do not reproduce those in the other Star Wars collectible books. A UK publication, Star Wars Memorabilia supplies plenty of nice photos of carded Palitoy figures and adverts. There are a few odd images related to Topps’ trading cards that did not make it into Abrams Books’ recent anthologies of Star Wars trading cards. There are also some images of items too recent to appear in the older books, though Berry’s focus is mostly on the original trilogy and classic items as it should be. However, the limitations forced by the paltry page count (the chapters really only focus on toys, games, models, books, periodicals, trading cards, and home video) means that there is no room for the kinds of oddities that make these books really interesting.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Review: Vinyl Reissue of Matthew Sweet's '100% Fun'

Even though he made the albums that defined him during the CD age, Matthew Sweet still went the analog route in the studio. While this may not have been the most practical form of music making in the nineties, it is very faithful to the vintage vibe that Sweet’s best music radiates. 

Girlfriend, the first of Sweet’s classic triad, still tends to get most of the love, but in my estimation, the two albums that followed deserve equal plaudits: the gnarly Altered Beast and 100% Fun, which sits in the zone between Girlfriend’s pristine jingle-jangle and Altered Beast’s mid-fi roar. More concise than either, 100% Fun arrived the latest but it may ultimately prove to be the best entry point into Matthew Sweet fandom. So it makes some sense that 100% Fun is the first entry in Intervention Records’ reissue campaign that will see all three of Sweet’s essentials reissued on vinyl in audiophile quality and with bonus tracks. 

So along with the fundamental joy of hearing great songs such as the head banging “Sick of Myself”, the sadly sunny “We’re the Same”, the Revolver homage “Lost My Mind”, “Get Older”, “Walk Out”, and the rest, there’s the exceptional audio quality that brings out every nuance of the album’s warm, grungy timbers without any surplus, unintended grit. On their website, Intervention Records boldly declares that even attempting to compare their 100% analog edition of 100% Fun to the brittle, two-dimensional CD from 1995 amounts to “a total farce,” and it ain’t no idle boast.

The seven bonus tracks are included on their own LP as a sort of 12-inch E.P., but Intervention makes the most of the format by having the disc spin at an audiophile-friendly 45 rpms. The songs are good, though only the B-sides “Never Said Goodbye” and “You” are excellent enough to have been contenders for the main attraction. It would have been nice if there had been some annotation indicating the sources of these bonus tracks… I had to perform a bit of internet research to find out which ones were B-sides and which ones were outtakes. Hardcore completists may also lament the absence of a couple of demos that were included on the “We’re the Same” single but are missing here. Still those quibbles are totally minor when the sound, packaging, and music are so unquestionably fab. Keep it up with Altered Beast and Girlfriend, Intervention, and you may have the reissue campaign of the year.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Review: Expanded Editions of 3 Procol Harum Albums

Procol Harum through Home constitutes one of the finest four-album runs in Rock—reasonably in the same league as Rubber Soul through “The White Album” (damn you, Yellow Submarine!) and Aftermath through Beggars Banquet (no, that is not a massive typo). 1971’s Broken Barricades broke that spell with indifferent songwriting and some of Keith Reid’s worst lyrics (“Luskus Delph” may set the record for ugliest lyrics matched with prettiest tune), and from there, Procol Harum’s output was pretty hit or miss.

Interestingly, Esoteric Record’s latest wave of expanded Procol reissues focuses only on the hits—at least as far as the seventies are concerned. Grand Hotel and Exotic Birds and Fruit are by far the band’s best two post-Home albums, the former displaying the group at their appropriately grandest and the latter at their most soulful. While neither hits the heights of those first four albums, songs such as “As Strong As Samson”, “The Idol”, “For Licorice John”, and “Grand Hotel” can stand side by side with “A Whiter Shade of Pale” or “A Salty Dog”. 

Perhaps in an effort to bury a low point among two high ones, 1991’s The Prodigal Stranger is also tossed into the latest campaign. From that first super-gated drum fill, you’ll suss that this is not the Procol Harum you’re looking for. The soulless soul choirs and synthetic production that was already dated in the year we were all smelling Teen Spirit has not deepened with age, and the BIG pop choruses are no better. This one is only for those who are terminally addicted to Gary Brooker’s voice, which remains in gorgeous form.

Since I only received MP3s for review purposes, I cannot give a full assessment of the sound, but after running them through Audacity, I can report that the files are brickwalled, though Exotic Birds and Fruit is not as extreme as Repertoire’s edition from 2000.

There’s a lot of variation in terms of the bonus tracks. Grand Hotel receives five while The Prodigal Stranger gets only three. Exotic Birds and Fruit, however, swells to three discs, making it the most appealing collection in terms of the quality of the original album and its supplements. Aside from the good B-side “Drunk Again” and an off-putting remix of “As Strong as Samson” that lowers the key for no sensible reason, the triple-disc Exotic Birds includes very professional live sets recorded for the BBC’s In Concert series and Texas Radio. As well as pricking up your ears for versions of such peak-period classics as “Homburg”, “Whaling Stories”, Long Gone Geek”, “Cerdes”, and “Mabel”, be sure to listen for the weird yelping of some goofball in the audience at the BBC show.

Grand Hotel’s more austere selection of bonuses includes a version of the title track without its signature sumptuous strings and alternate versions of “Bringing Home the Bacon”, “Toujours L’amour”, “Fires (Which Burn Brightly)”, and “Robert’s Box”, none of which are radically different from the familiar recordings. The rougher sound of the two demos appended to The Prodigal Stranger should provide a respite from the main attraction’s slickness, but weak songwriting, poorly recorded drums, and overuse of synthesizers remain issues. A live version of “Holding On” recorded for German radio in 2003 is probably the best thing on the entire disc by default, though we can finally hear the mileage on Brooker’s pipes and the song still stinks... but let’s not end on a sour note when the other two albums are so terrific, Grand Hotel and Exotic Birds and Fruit remain essential albums by one of British Rock’s most essential groups.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Review: 'Retro Fan' Magazine

The very idea of starting a magazine so deep into the digital age is totally retro, so it is appropriate that you can read TwoMorrow Publishing’s Retro Fan without the aid of any electronic device. Reading the quarterly magazine on a kindle would spoil the feeling, and this thing is all about the feeling. Maximum nostalgia is editor Michael Eury’s (author of the excellent Hero A-Go-Go) battle cry as he loads his pages with stories of the TV shows, comics, and toys that defined our mid-twentieth-century childhoods. Think of it as Dynamite for the adults who read Dynamite when they were kids. 

Issue #1 includes Eury’s interview with Lou “The Incredible Hulk” Ferrigno transcribed from a Comic Con appearance, and another with Betty Lynn of The Andy Griffith Show, as well as deep looks at Filmation’s Star Trek cartoon, Mego’s line of Stretch Armstrong rip-offs, and The Phantom. These pieces are all collected in a colorful, glossy package intended to stimulate the nostalgia glands, yet there is also intelligence behind these looks at the trivialities of our youth. Eury’s pieces exude a palpable yearning for a less troubled time in our lives without pretending that the era surrounding our childhoods didn’t have its own troubling baggage (though, as a rebuke to one of that era’s biggest problems, it would have been nice to have some female voices on Retro Fan’s currently all-male writing staff).

Some of the articles are a bit rambling (Ernesto Farenio’s memoire “I Met the Wolf Man”), but even when these pieces are not supremely informative, they always stoke that nostalgic feeling. I never watched The Andy Griffith Show, so I personally wasn’t riveted by the series of pieces on that series, but anyone who spent their childhood whistling down at the waterhole surely will. I never was a fan of The Phantom either, but Martin Pasko’s piece on the pioneer superhero who just can’t seem to endure was fascinating in that it filled valuable details into the more general topic of superhero history. And with a cover depicting Elvira, the Groovie Goolies, and Ben Cooper Halloween costumes, the upcoming autumn issue of Retro Fan looks like a can’t-miss item.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Review: 'Female Trouble' Blu-ray

Dawn Davenport is a thief and a shit kicker and she wants to be famous, and that is exactly what she does in John Waters’s way out Female Trouble. Well, his third feature film is way out by most standards, though compared to Pink Flamingos and its relentless freak parade of atrocities, Waters’ follow-up film is almost quaint. 

In lieu of Flamingos’ genuinely shocking scenes of tuneful sphincters, flaccid blowjobs, chicken murder, and shit eating, Female Trouble has something closer to an actual story as Divine’s Davenport goes through the paces of a twisted Douglas Sirk picture. She’s a juvenile delinquent who runs away from home when she doesn’t get the cha-cha heels she demands for X-mas (who wouldn’t?), gets raped (by a male character also played by Divine, which may defuse the horror of mining rape for laughs for some viewers), gets pregnant, raises a nasty daughter she can’t even control by whipping her with a car aerial, finds stardom as a murderous performance artist, takes a bath in a crib full of fish, and gets the chair. 

With so much to sink his (he always identified as male) teeth into, Divine gives his greatest performance, though Mink Stole as Dawn’s bratty daughter Taffy comes close to stealing the show…as was her tendency. Female Trouble feels a bit overlong and a bit flimsy in comparison to the more audacious pictures that bookend it, but since it is not as polarizing as Pink Flamingoes or as bizarre or Divine-devoid as Desperate Living (my personal favorite of Waters’s early films), it is probably the best entry point for potential new fans before they move onto the director’s hardier and better stuff.

Last year, Multiple Maniacs was the Criterion Collection’s first entry in the John Waters collection, and it’s good to see that the best home video company out there is continuing its relationship with the guy a lot of cineastes consider to be one of the worst filmmakers of all time (he’s not; he’s just the filthiest). Criterion treats this trash like its Citizen Kane, cleaning up the image beautifully—the colors in the X-mas tantrum scene are spectacularly saturated—and piling on the supplements. Waters’s feature commentary has been ported over from the DVD edition, but there are also over two hours of extra goodies, including Dennis Lim’s new interview with Waters, Waters’s charming new interview with the actress who played Taffy as a little girl, and vintage interviews with Mary Vivian Pearce (who seemed somewhat bitter about her director’s demanding methods), casting director Pat Moran, and clothing and makeup master Van Smith. Additional bonuses include 15 minutes of outtakes (mostly musical montages) and 11 minutes of on-set footage with Waters’s commentary (mostly identifying the people in each shot) from the main feature and 17 minutes of Female Trouble-centric interviews and outtakes from Jeffrey Schwarz’s excellent documentary I Am Divine. However, the most substantial supplement is a vintage and very funny 32 minute roundtable discussion featuring Waters, Divine, Stole, and David Lochary.  

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Review: Vinyl Reissue of The Action's 'Rolled Gold'

Do your best to wrap your brain around The Action’s lack of widespread success. Reg King was possibly the UK’s finest smooth soul singer, several members of the band were capable of writing great songs, and they had George Martin in their corner. Perhaps The Action’s early singles were too reliant on previously recorded material and they adapted too late to the age of composing bands. There were certainly management issues. Whatever the case was, The Action made some of the best Mod-infused soul records of the mid-sixties, and when they started producing their own material, there were on the path to creating one of the best albums of 1967: the year that gets my vote for pop’s best one. 

Alas, the band’s shaky foundations crumbled before The Action could finish the LP they intended to call Rolled Gold. George Martin’s interest was never particularly keen and he decided to end his relationship with the band… though he first managed a characteristically grand production for “In My Dream”, the one song that progressed beyond the demo stage. Reg King left, and the remnants reformed as Mighty Baby. The Rolled Gold recordings were shelved for nearly 30 years until Dig the Fuzz Records put them out as Brain (The Lost Recordings 1967/68) in 1995. This selection of tough, intelligent psych pop—too serious to compare to The Who Sell Out (as has often been done), too controlled to be compared to Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake (ditto)—reverted to its intended title in 1997 and Reaction gave it wider release in 2002. Rolled Gold is now getting another go via Spain’s Guerssen with its first vinyl release since ’97. 

Once again, there’s a new cover with a mood-appropriate photo of the band in deep thought and neat gilt lettering, and once again, the music is fresh, powerful, beautiful, and forever provoking frustration that it wasn’t released in 1967. Though one wonders what other feats of magic George Martin might have performed with the other tracks, and the demo-nature of the recordings has always left the sound a touch on the harsh side, there are actually quite a few production strokes beyond the usual austerity of demo-making, such as the flute on “Climbing up the Wall” and the magnificent “Love Is All” and the horse hooves effects at the beginning of “Little Boy”. Bass is very fat on Guerssen’s vinyl, providing a decent counterpoint to the harsher high-end elements. An extensive article originally published in Shindig! last year is included in a large, illustrated insert as a nice supplement with this new LP, and as far as the legendary unfinished albums are concerned, Rolled Gold is still second only to The Beach Boys’ legendary SMiLE in my book. 

Saturday, June 23, 2018

My Story "Denise Bryson" is on Welcome to Twin

To promote Mark Frost's book Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier, the Welcome to Twin Peaks web site called for fans to submit their own dossier entries on Twin Peaks characters whom Frost did not chronicle in his book. Frost himself was the fan-fiction contest's judge. So I whipped up a story about FBI Agent Denise Bryson. Frost didn't pick my story (you can read Matt Latterell's winning entry here), but it is currently posted on Welcome to Twin Peaks as part of the site's ongoing Fan Dossier series, which features one of the non-winning entries every Friday. Last Friday's entry was my own "Denise Bryson", which you can read here. Thanks to Pieter Dom for posting it, hosting this series, and creating the damn fine banner above!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

A Super Deluxe 'White Album' Is Coming According to McCartney

When an anniversary edition of Yellow Submarine was announced for this year, I expressed my hope that it wouldn't come instead of a commemoration of The Beatles (aka "The White Album") in the vein of last year's Sgt. Pepper's box set. According to Paul McCartney in an interview with DIY Magazine, my concerned were unfounded because there will be a Super Deluxe Edition of The Beatles' gloriously messy double album to mark its 50th anniversary this year. Of the set, Macca said, "It’s all in place, I’ve just got a couple of essays [to approve]. It’s all lined up and it’s really good." He mentions demos and a remaster and how "fucking good" John was. Read his comments in that DIY interview here.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Review: 'Bang: The Bert Berns Story'

Bert Berns is not unusual in the pop world because he was a great songwriter who wrote tons of hits; there were quite a few of them. He’s also not unusual because he was a businessman who fancied himself a tough guy; there were lots of those too. Berns is unique because of how completely he played both roles, writing and/or producing some of pop and soul’s A-list classics—“Twist and Shout”, “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love”, “Brown Eyed Girl”, “Tell Him”, “Piece of My Heart”, “I Want Candy”, “Cry to Me”, and too many more—and doing gangster-type stuff with gangster-type guys all in the name of “business.” I wouldn’t blame you for scoffing at the unsavory stuff he was involved in (why is dangling someone out of a window always the go-to business method for music business bullies?), but you cannot minimize the body of work, and that is what makes Bang: The Bert Berns Story an important documentary. Because as well known as Berns’s songs are, he is not a household name, and a Rock & Roll education is incomplete without being able to identify the guy who was largely responsible for so much incredible music. 

With the passage of years, many of the artists in his circle seem to have let bygones be bygones and have no compunction about paying their respects. Watching the film, I was floored by how complimentary the eternally surly Van Morrison was when the notoriously protective artist discussed the guy who’d released Morrison’s first album and packaged it in legendarily tasteless fashion all without the artist’s knowledge (Neil Diamond, who had a friend attacked and a gig ruined with a stink bomb both at Berns’s behest, is probably justifiably still sore, hence his lack of participation).

The good and the bad get full airing in Bang, but there is no judgmental point of view in the filmmaking, which is probably all for the best considering that Berns’s son Brett is the filmmaker and the movie could have just as easily become some sort of straight-up hagiography. Yet, that neutrality also makes a fairly exciting story feel a bit rote. Steven Van Zant’s narration brings some much-needed personality to the picture, and I defy you not to feel as though you’re hanging out in the back room of the Badda Bing while Silvio Dante regales you with tales of his old crew. And though the film is overly reliant on the standard Rock-doc talking heads, the talking heads in question—Paul McCartney, Keith Richards, Solomon Burke, Ellie Greenwich, Ben E. King, Mike Stoller, Andrew Loog Oldham, Van Morrison—are pretty damn impressive.

The 64 minutes of bonus interviews on the DVD edition of Bang: The Bert Berns Story don’t necessarily provide revelations that the feature skips (though it might have if Van Morrison had a slot among the extras), but they flesh out the story a bit with more memories of the man, the music, and the sketchy company he kept.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Review: ''Beside Bowie: The Mick Ronson Story Soundtrack'

Like Steven Van Zandt, Steve Stevens, Lenny Kaye, Robin, and Kato, Mick Ronson was the rare sideman who managed a degree of fame in his own right. Yet most people do not realize the extent of the guitarist’s influence on David Bowie or Ronson’s own talent. He was the ordinary bloke from Hull to Bowie’s Starman from Mars and Bowie’s main man behind the curtain. Mick Ronson wasn’t just the definitive glam guitarist; he was a multi-instrumentalist, producer, and an arranger who actually knew how to write an orchestral score (listen to “Life on Mars?” and succumb to the awe). Without Ronson, the first major phase of David Bowie’s career would have been utterly different, and most likely, not nearly as spectacular.

These are the things we learn in Jon Brewer’s 2017 documentary Beside Bowie: The Mick Ronson Story, and they are somewhat reinforced in the film’s soundtrack now receiving a vinyl and CD release via Universal Music (I received the vinyl edition for review purposes). Ronson’s work was so varied that a 14-track record couldn’t capture it in any complete way. His instrumental, arranging, and production work with Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, The Rich Kids, and Morrissey are not represented, but fortunately, rights were cleared for a dose of classic Bowie (“Moonage Daydream”, “Cracked Actor”, “Time”), Ian Hunter (“Once Bitten, Twice Shy”), Elton John (an early, epic version of “Madman Across the Water” that isn’t used in the film even though it’s a veritable Ronson demo reel), and Michael Chapman (“Soulful Lady”, another cinematic no-show).

Most importantly, there are four representatives of Ronson’s solo career, though they are limited to the material intended to be included on a third album that didn’t materialize until 1999 and the final album he recorded, 1994’s Heaven and Hull. Thus, the representation of his work continues to be lopsided on this soundtrack, and Joe Elliott’s version of “This Is For You”, a rambling bit of improvised piano from Mike Garson, and even Ronson’s own cover of “Like a Rolling Stone” are not especially essential… though that last one may miss the mark simply because a song so associated with its creator doesn’t cover well (no offense, Jimi). “Midnight Love” from Heaven and Hull may be significant because Ronson handles all of its instruments himself, but the song is muzak. Nevertheless, there is an inarguably healthy clutch of essential music on Beside Bowie: The Mick Ronson Story, and you can’t go wrong with the Elton/Bowie/Hunter-dominated first disc.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
All written content of is the property of Mike Segretto and may not be reprinted or reposted without permission.