Saturday, April 6, 2024

Review: Vinyl Reissues of Billy Joel Albums

Everyone thinks of Jimmy Stewart as a sanitized "oh gosh" icon of apple-pie Americana, but when you look at his body of work, there are a lot of disturbed characters in there. The voyeur and the sexually obsessive freak he played for Hitchcock are obvious examples, but even his George Bailey in that allegedly saccharine but actually coal-dark holiday classic It's a Wonderful life is scary and intense for most of the film.

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Review: 'Cannibal Error: Anti-Film Propaganda and the 'Video Nasties' Panic of the 1980s'

When home video took off in the early eighties, the main concern in the United States was that videotape enthusiasts would start recording copyrighted films and programs off of TV. In Great Britain, the main concern would be that they'd go on murder rampages. 

What followed was the so-called Video Nasty panic, which not only plopped a very, very silly term into the British lexicon but also spawned a great song by The Damned ("Nasty") and one of the best episodes of "The Young Ones" ("Nasty"), which also happened to feature The Damned singing that great song ("Nasty"). 

But the whole Video Nasty thing wasn't all rockin' tunes and hilarious TV. People's homes were raided by British authorities. Video collections were confiscated. Video store proprietors and private collectors were arrested or detained. Lives were seriously upended. Heinous crimes committed by heinous criminals were blamed on Chucky and Rambo. 

Friday, March 22, 2024

Review: 'All You Need Is Love: The Beatles In Their Own Words'

According to its press release, Peter Brown and Steven Gaines's All You Need Is Love: The Beatles In Their Own Words is "A LANDMARK ORAL HISTORY ON THE BEATLES" (their caps). 

There are several problems in that last sentence: 

A) Only 20% of All You Need Is Love consists of The Beatles' own words (The Beatles being Paul, George, and Ringo, but not John). The other words are supplied by Yoko Ono, Cynthia Lennon, Pattie Boyd, Maureen Starkey, Derek Taylor, Neil Aspinall, "Magic" Alex Mardas, and twenty or so others in or around The Beatles' circle.

B) All You Need Is Love is not an oral history. An oral history interweaves carefully selected quotations and anecdotes from numerous sources to tell a chronological story. All You Need Is Love is a collection of unedited transcribed interviews, complete with every "uh" and "um."

Monday, March 18, 2024

Review: 'It Rose from the Tomb'

It's kind of funny that, in his new book It Rose from the Tomb, Peter Normanton expresses surprise that TwoMorrows was interested in publishing a book on the history of horror comics, considering that this would not be the first horror-centric book that comics-centric publisher has published (if you have not checked out Mark Voger's Monster Mash, you need to get it together, Daddy-O!) and that horror is so integral to comics history. It's the main reason why kids devoured funny books in the fifties and why the comics code shut them down. Marvel and DC were known to dabble in horror, and it was the life's blood of E.C. and Warren. And because even the chintziest horror comics were outlandishly visual and vivid, horror comics is the perfect theme for one of TwoMorrows' visual and vivid volumes.

Saturday, March 16, 2024

Review- Alice in Chains' 'Jar of Flies' 30th Anniversary Vinyl

Grunge took over the early-nineties rock scene more on the strength of its refreshingly unvarnished sound and relatably sullen attitude than because its purveyors wrote great songs. There were a few exceptions. Kurt Cobain is the obvious numero uno, but Mark Lanegan was a great writer too. 

The Alice in Chains guys took a little longer to achieve the right balance between their sound and songs, but they were dropping some pretty strong ones by the time they put out Dirt in late 1992. However, it was 1994's groundbreaking Jar of Flies EP on which Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell's writing fully matured. As a lyricist, Staley had already been laser focused, specifically on the heroin addiction that was wracking his body and mind, but the subtler approach to his problem he took on Jar of Flies served his songs particularly well. 

Saturday, March 9, 2024

Review: Vinyl Reissues of Nico's 'The Marble Index' and 'Desertshore'

Nico had little control over the beginning of her music career, when she sang a couple of pop songs for Andrew Oldham's Immediate label. Another Andy gave her a shotgun marriage to The Velvet Underground, with which she had nearly no creative input despite being the comely commercial face of the band. Nevertheless, her unforgettable turns on the few songs she got to sing were definitely steps in a more natural direction for Nico and her avant garde sensibilities. 

When she got to make her first solo LP a few months after The Velvet Underground & Nico was released, members of the VU (as well as future MOR superstar Jackson Browne, of all people) still provided most of the songs and instrumentation, and she ultimately expressed a distaste for the prettiness of it all. The one song Nico co-wrote on Chelsea Girl, "It was a Pleasure Then", gave a taste of her true ambitions: uncompromisingly dark, borderline queasy music seemingly designed to give her listeners a severe case of the heebie jeebies. Plus, harmonium. Lots and lots of harmonium.

Friday, March 1, 2024

Review: The Rolling Stones' 'Live at the Wiltern'

2003 was a big year for The Rolling Stones. That was when the group turned forty, released their very first career-spanning greatest hits album, and went on an international tour that became the second most profitable one in history at the time (The most profitable? Their own Voodoo Lounge tour of eight years earlier). 

Monday, February 26, 2024

Review: 'Teenage Wasteland: The Who at Winterland, 1968 and 1976'

There have been so many books about The Who that it only makes sense that, sixty years after the band's formation, a new entry in their library would be almost unbelievably specific. The very title of Edoardo Genzolini's Teenage Wasteland: The Who at Winterland, 1968 and 1976 announces its specificity. That is not a mistyped conjunction; this book does not track the years 1968 through 1976, when The Who were pretty much the greatest live band in the world. Genzolini's only covers two years in The Who's history, and not conspicuously auspicious ones either. 1968 was the first year The Who did not release an LP since their beginning, and the few singles they managed to squeak out in '68 are often dismissed as novelties made by an out-of-touch band desperate for fresh material (I'm not one of those dismissers though, largely because the zany "Dogs" is one of my faves). In 1976, they were touring their most troubled album, the virtual suicide-note The Who By Numbers, with rapidly deteriorating intraband relationships and a rapidly deteriorating drummer with just two years left in the world.

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Review: 'The Rolling Stones Singles 1966 - 1971'

*It's been twenty months since the release of The Rolling Stones Singles 1963 - 1966, and though that set's press release promised the inevitable sequel would arrive in 2023, vinyl reissues of the Stones' U.S. LPs were apparently ABKCO's main concern that year. In 2024, the label has wasted little time in finally making good on that 2022 promise. 

Thursday, February 8, 2024

Review: Wings' 'Band on the Run' 50th Anniversary Set

If there's a word that sums up Paul McCartney's work-approach with The Beatles, that word could be "perfectionism." That was certainly one of the things that drove his band-mates up a tree when he insisted on take after take of things like "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" and "Maxwell's Silver Hammer", although the cutesiness of those songs surely rubbed John, George, and Ringo the wrong way too. So it was a shock when McCartney began his solo career by bucking that perfectionism, if not the cutesiness. McCartney was a homemade, one-man-band record full of non-songs and only intermittent flashes of his perfect song craft, "Maybe I'm Amazed" being the most obvious example. If RAM suggested that the perfect old Paul was back, then Macca continued to confound with an album of jams with a new band called Wings, which he then followed with a Whitman's sampler of nutrient-free confectionary experiments he titled Red Rose Speedway.
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