Thursday, August 31, 2017

New Promo Video for Stones' "2000 Light Years from Home"

As part of the promotion for the new 50th Anniversary Edition of The Rolling Stones' Their Satanic Majesties Request, Yes Please Productions has created a new promo for that album's masterpiece (and my personal fave Stones song) "2000 Light Years from Home". The animation is inspired by/based on the album's inner gatefold and has more than a whiff of Terry Gilliam's signature work. Watch it here:

However, if you are disappointed by the lack of Mick Jagger in druid headdress, you can always check out the track's original promo vid here:

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Review: 50th Anniversary Edition of The Rolling Stones''Their Satanic Majesties Request'

In his liner notes to last year’s Rolling Stones in Mono box set, David Fricke wrote that Their Satanic Majesties Request “is no one’s favorite Rolling Stones album of the 1960s.” Loyal Psychobabble readers know that I take great issue with that conclusion. Not only is the Stones’ one concentrated trip into dizzying psychedelia my favorite Rolling Stones album of the 1960s, but it is also my favorite Rolling Stones album, period. I find it endlessly more alluring than the album to which it is endlessly compared: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I do not see it as an aberration as so many critics do. I do not dismiss it as nothing more than a stepping stone to the Stones’ “peak” period of 1968-1972. I see it as the peak.

If Fricke had done a little research, he might have concluded that I’m not completely alone in this opinion (one of my favorite defenses of the album is a blog comment left by Captain Sensible of my favorite punk band, The Damned). Still, it is not a particularly popular opinion, so when I saw the press release for a multi-disc, fiftieth anniversary edition of Their Satanic Majesties Request, I literally gasped. My delight turned to disappointment when I saw that the four-disc package was to contain remasters of the original stereo and mono mixes spread over two LPs and two hybrid SACD/CDs and nothing else. This struck me as a major missed opportunity considering how much fascinating material could have been appended to this set. There are a few outtakes, such as the winding instrumental listed on bootlegs as “5 Part Jam”, the Procol Harum-esque “Majesty Honky Tonk”, and the bluesy (though less interesting) “Gold Painted Nails”. The Satanic sessions also produced such interesting items as takes that really showcase the Mellotron in “Citadel” and “2000 Light Years from Home”, early acoustic takes of “Jigsaw Puzzle” and “Child of the Moon” (though some estimates place these tracks in the Beggars Banquet era), and most revelatory of all, the fifteen-minute jam that was ultimately edited down to create the two versions of “Sing This All Together” on the completed album. The period single “We Love You” b/w “Dandelion” and its sundry sessions and alternates (including the famed “Sometimes Happy, Sometimes Blue” demo of “Dandelion”) could have also found a place in a truly deluxe Satanic Majesties Request.

That is not the edition we received though, so let’s look at what is here instead of what isn’t. Mastering was not performed through an analog process but with Direct Stream Digital, which is very faithful as far as digital processes go. Compared to 1967 stereo vinyl and 2002 stereo SACD/CD release, this remaster is louder though not brick walled, with pleasing high ends and much more dynamic bass. That bass could get a tad overpowering at times on punchier tracks such as Citadel” and 2000 Man”, but it sounds good overall and didn’t give me a headache. To my naked ear, the mono vinyl sounds identical to the one included in the Rolling Stones in Mono set so I’ll assume that the CDs are the same too.

The heavy-duty packaging is a major improvement over any version of Satanic Majesties since the original release. This fiftieth anniversary edition is the first since the mid-seventies to restore the 3D, lenticular cover, though the image is slightly bigger yet also slightly cropped compared to the original. While the low-quality, misproportioned, 2D cover included in The Rolling Stones in Mono held a plain, white inner sleeve, the deluxe set reproduces the clouds-on-a-red background sleeve of the original release for the mono LP and a blue version similar to the front-cover border for the stereo disc. Unfortunately, it’s a tight fit and a bit of a chore to get the vinyl in and out of the sleeves.

The big, unexpected boon of this set is Rob Bowman’s essay in the booklet slipped inside the gatefold. There are no apologies in this essay. No dismissals. Bowman treats Their Satanic Majesties Request like the psychedelic royalty it is, providing history, a track-by-track analysis, and some truly valuable nuggets of trivia that answered some of my own questions about the pinging sounds on Citadel”, the weird backing vocals on Shes a Rainbow and other behind-the-scenes details. I could read an entire book of this stuff (get cracking, Rob). The booklet also contains some very groovy photos of the Stones trying on their wizard costumes and constructing the fantasy tableau on the front cover.

So while this might not be ideal as a deluxe edition of Their Satanic Majesties Request, its a very nice fiftieth anniversary re-release, and really, Im just grateful that this thing exists at all. Spotlighting Their Satanic Majesties Request with any kind of special edition will hopefully draw more attention to it, win some new fans, and make opinions like David Fricke’s even more inaccurate and irrelevant.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

'The Old Dark House' Coming to Blu-Ray This Halloween Season

The Old Dark House is one of Universal's best and most underrated horror films of the 1930s. It's the movie on which director James Whale really started exploring the humor that would blossom in his twin masterworks The Invisible Man and Bride of Frankenstein, and features a killer cast that includes Boris Karloff, Ernest Thesiger, Charles Laughton, Gloria Stuart, and Melvyn Douglas. 

This October 24, Cohen Media Groups will give this underrated picture its due with the first Blu-ray presentation of The Old Dark House. No word on the bonus features yet, but a 4K restoration of this ooky, kooky classic is reason to start celebrating now. Have a potato!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Review: Deluxe Edition of Chris Bell's 'I Am the Cosmos'

In the mid-seventies, Chris Bell was messing with hard drugs and Jesus and exploring his own music apart from Big Star. Like Third/Sister Lovers, Bell’s new music was troubled, sometimes preachy, sometimes a sheer mess, and almost always lovely. Although he was working with Geoff Emerick, who’d engineered so many of Bell’s beloved Beatles records, the production rarely reflected the Fabs’ polish—“Get Away” being a particularly defiant mass of echo-chamber noise. However, the melodies were consistently enchanting even as the songs were as eclectic as the jumbled production approach. Bell whipped up some bleary psychedelia (“I Am the Cosmos”), spare intimacy (“You and Your Sister”), crashing Rock & Roll (“I Got Kinda Lost”), and burbling bluesy funk (“Fight at the Table”). Bell’s recordings amounted to the finest marriage of Rock and religion since George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, another chunk of poppy testifying that even an old atheist like me can love.

Sadly, Bell only got the chance to release a mere single from his clutch of recordings before he died in a late-1978 car crash. The rest would not release until Rykodisc’s 1992 collection I Am the Cosmos. Seventeen years later, Rhino expanded that 15-track disc to a 27-track deluxe edition with tracks by Bell’s pre-Big Star groups Icewater and Rock City and numerous alternate versions and mixes of his solo material. Now Omnivore Recordings is expanding it further (though losing the Icewater and Rock City tracks, which Omnivore recently reissued on a comp called Looking Forward: The Roots of Big Star) with a double-disc edition of I Am the Cosmos. The new additions include more alternate mixes, which often strip away most of the electric instrumentation to reveal simpler, cleaner renditions, and a couple of good instrumentals. These extras are nice but not as essential as the missing Icewater and Rock City tracks. Nevertheless, the core album remains an ecstatic listen in any format.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Review: 'The Comic Book History of Comics'

The history of comics told in comic format is such a simple concept that it seems deceptively obvious, yet there’s little that’s simple about that history and little that’s obvious about The Comic Book History of Comics. Perhaps the most impressive thing about this book (which collects a previously published six-issue comic series) is how much stuff writer Fred Van Lente crams into its 150 pages, tracing the history of storytelling through pictures all the way back to prehistoric cave paintings through the first political cartoons to “The Yellow Kid” to cinematic animation to the superhero era to the congressional inquiry on the effects of comics on juvenile delinquency to the pop-art sixties and finally ending with the underground comics of the seventies. Within this story is genuine drama as Max Fleischer and Walt Disney vie for the crown of animation king and Stan Lee and Steve Ditko clash.

Van Lente’s storytelling has a definite perspective, and one that may rankle comics freaks as he sneers at some of the medium’s more revered figures (Stan Lee; William Gaines) while taking an unfashionably even view of the man who may be its easiest-target villain, noting the numerous accomplishments of Fredric Wertham that have nothing to do with that guy’s dopey crusade against comic books. Most welcome is the isolated profiles of a number of women in the comics industry since women are generally shut out of this story’s primary arch for the usual patriarchal reasons.

Ryan Dunlavey’s artwork is sometimes a bit too cutesy for my tastes, but I liked his outlandish tendency to fuse creators with creations, as when he imagines Disney as a mutant man-faced Mickey Mouse, and there are some clever visual references and in jokes. The cutesiness also gets downright subversive when Dunlavey depicts beheadings, lynchings, and Adam West and Frank Gorshin yucking it up at an orgy.

Review: 'Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of ’70s and ’80s Horror Fiction'

So you just took a nice leisurely ride in the front seat of a shopping cart and successfully fooled your mom into buying you a box of teeth-rotting Fruit Brute. Things have been going pretty well during this supermarket outing. But then, just as you’re about to leave, you catch sight of a young girl’s face absolutely bulging with terror as she peers through a tiny die-cut window. What could be destroying this child’s nerves? As your mom rummages in her handbag for a ten-cents-off Palmolive coupon, you pull the cover open and are assaulted by the terrifying image of that girl in the arms of some sort of skeleton-faced demon.

These days, the scariest thing you’re likely to see at the checkout counter is the latest issue of The Enquirer. In the seventies and eighties, genuinely frightening artwork was splattered across the covers of cheap paperbacks by the likes of Peter Saxon, V.C. Andrews, and other “literary” conglomerates. In the wake of the success of Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, and The Others, the (super)market was flooded with tales that promised to be more terrifying, more traumatizing, more soul shattering than these three acknowledged classics. While works such as Satan’s Love Child and Crabs: The Human Sacrifice weren’t necessarily scarier than what Ira Levin and William Peter Blatty unleashed, they managed to up the level of outrageousness. Ehren M. Ehly’s The Obelisk stars a “were-Egyptian” who hangs severed dicks off a Central Park landmark and eats orangutans. The hero of James Herbert’s Rats takes care of the swarming rodents by punching them to death between rounds of playing “football with a severed head.” The title characters of John Christopher’s The Little People are Nazi leprechauns with a yen for S&M.

The sheer absurdity of these tales is not lost on Grady Hendrix, who has composed a loving tribute in Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of ’70s and ’80s Horror Fiction. The great value of this book is that Hendrix has done all the hard work for us. His summaries of these monstrosities are hilarious…and probably a lot more fun than actually reading things like Dogkill, The Face That Must Die, and tales that sound as though they were written by ultra-conservatives during spring break from the fourth grade.

Paperbacks from Hell also doesn’t skimp on the other essential element of these books: their wild cover art. The book overflows with full-cover images of giants worms slithering around Big Ben, monster bunnies, skeletons galore, and yes, whip-wielding Nazi leprechauns. In the case of some of these covers, such as Jim Thiesen’s truly scary monster-bride sculpture for the cover of The Gilgul, they achieve a real artfulness. So does Hendrix’s prose, which will have you rolling in the checkout aisle.
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