Friday, May 27, 2022

Review: The Sex Pistols' 'The Original Recordings'

Blame good timing, blame ineffable charisma, blame pure luck or Steve Jones for calling Bill Grundy a "fucking rotter" on live TV (at Grundy's prompting, mind you), but for better or worse, deservedly or non-deservedly, The Sex Pistols have long been punk's highest-profile poster boys. Yes, they had the look, Johnny Rotten had the definitive sneer, and non-musician member Sid Vicious was genuinely dangerous in ways that only a total asshole would romanticize, but their sole proper album never sounded that definitively punk to me. In fact, with its consistently mid-speed tempos and Chris Thomas's thick, classic rock production, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols always sounded way less punk to my ears than the speedy, raggedly produced debuts by those next in line punk definers, The Damned, The Clash, and The Ramones. Which is why I actually prefer a new Pistols compilation to their one and only album, which regularly finds a sacred place on all sorts of "Best Albums of All Time!!!" lists. 

By boggling up all but three tracks from Bollocks with weedier productions from the Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle soundtrack and a quartet of non-LP B-sides, The Original Recordings is way less monotonous than Never Mind the Bollocks despite the utter genericness of its title. Hearing stuff like "Pretty Vacant","Anarchy in the UK", and "Holidays in the Sun" shuffled with covers of classics by The Monkees, The Who, The Stooges, and Eddie Cochran helps those great songs stand out from the murk better. I would have chucked the unfortunately timely "Bodies" (sorry, Johnny, but there's no way to read this song as anything but an anti-abortion belch, and your half-hearted protests to the contrary are as rich as Keith Richards's recent claim that "Brown Sugar" is about "the horrors of slavery" and not just a witlessly ugly joke) and the idiotically misplaced ire of "New York" (a confounding criticism of the spectacularly influential New York Dolls, loaded with homophobia Rotten later tried to sell as references to meatballs!) and brought in the more righteous anger of "EMI" and "Liar". But overall, The Original Recordings is a good way to get most of the Pistols' you'll ever need. Plus the mastering sounds great and the vinyl is perfectly cut.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Review: 'The Police: Around the World' Restored and Expanded Blu-ray

On the precipice of world domination, The Police embarked on a tour of all six populated continents with camera in hand in 1979/'80. When not blazing through numbers from their first three albums on stage, they were filming touristy skits involving Andy Summers sumo wrestling in Japan, Stewart Copeland arguing with a camel rider near the pyramids in Egypt, and Sting taking a fast-motion rickshaw ride in Hong Kong. The Police are often labeled as a new wave or punk-lite trio, but they clearly were a Monkees for the eighties. 

That's actually not entirely a joke and hardly an insult (faithful Psychobabble readers know I love The Monkees). The Police were heart-throb cute, had a bunch of exhilarating hits, made audiences crazy, liked to be on screen, and were incorrigibly silly and corny. All of these qualities are captured in the tremendously fun travelogue The Police: Around the World, which really does seem to use Bob Rafelson's "Monkees On Tour" episode as a template... though with a lot less sobriety. The doc's only moments of genuine off-stage sincerity seem to be when the guys lose themselves in a groovy raga jam (Andy plays sitar, Sting plucks tamboura, Stu taps the tabla) and when Sting expresses genuine horror at the sight a snake charmer feeding a live cobra to a mongoose. Around the World also captures The Police at a moment when they seem to actually enjoy each other's company, and that joy spills over to the stage where the band's musicianship admittedly outclasses The Monkees' by several kilometers. 

Friday, May 20, 2022

Review: The Rolling Stones' 'El Mocambo 1977'

The Rolling Stones' most creative and vital period was well behind them by 1977. While young punk bands picked up the torch, the Stones settled into their role as a hardworking, reliable, arena rock band, and quite comfortably at that. Fans could expect a few manufactured thrills in Jagger's carefully composed off-color remarks into the mic and the fact that Keith Richards was still somehow standing, but they mostly received rote, overly mannered performances of safe warhorses like "Honky Tonky Women" and "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and limp recent numbers like "Fool to Cry" and "Hot Stuff". What could you expect from a band that had spent the past eight years playing to vast audiences that probably looked more like pink pinpricks awash in darkness than human beings from the distance of the stage? 

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Review: 'It's Alive'

A film as timeless and iconic as James Whale's Frankenstein is going to stir its share of myths and mysteries. Why exactly did Bela Lugosi not end up playing the Monster? Why did Universal's studio chief, Carl Laemmle, allow son Junior to make another one of those gruesome horrors dad found so detestable? How did the virtually unknown character actor Boris Karloff land such a career-making role? 

I won't go into the multitudinous theoretical answers to all these questions because Julian David Stone already did it for me. His new book, It's Alive, is a work of historical fiction that provides confident answers to the big questions floating around Frankenstein. Since his book includes no foreword or afterword, just the story, I'm not sure what Stone's methodology was or what sources he consulted, but ultimately when dealing with historical fiction, it's best to treat the material more as fiction than history. Otherwise, you may come away from watching Ed Wood believing all the incredibly entertaining bunk Tim Burton slapped up on the screen.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Review: RSD Edition of The Rolling Stones' 'More Hot Rocks (Big Hits and Fazed Cookies)'

Sure Hot Rocks: 1964 - 1971 had "Satisfaction", "Jumpin' Jack Flash", "Honky Tonk Women", and plenty of other examples of what made The Rolling Stones such a superior blues and R&B-based rock band, but it was missing a really key component of the Stones' story: they could be pretty fucking weird. Aside from a bit of sitar on "Paint It Black", some dissonant guitar effects on "Mother's Little Helper", Brian Jones's pastoral recorder on "Ruby Tuesday", and that choir on "You Can't Always Get What You Want", Hot Rocks generally presented the Stones as a more conventional band than they'd been from 1964 to 1971 (more consistently conventional days were ahead of them after '71, but that's another, less interesting story). Where was the psychedelia? Where were the fey Elizabethan ballads? Where was whatever the hell "I'm Free" is? 

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Review: The Police's 'Greatest Hits' Vinyl Half-Speed Remaster

The Police were one of the most reliable hit machines of the first half of the eighties. Sting churned out killer songs like "Don't Stand So Close to Me", "Spirits in the Material World" and "King of Pain". Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland kept his sappier tendencies in check and provided some of the most creative and off-kilter guitar and drum work (respectively) to adorn outrageously popular songs. All was right with the world until they broke up in a slow-fuse sonic boom of ego and acrimony at the height of their popularity. So The Police were no more, but they'd left behind five pretty damn perfect albums and a bushel of pretty damn perfect singles. It was all over but the greatest hits-ing.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Review: 'American TV Comic Books: 1940s-1980s'

We all know that Wonder Woman, Plastic Man, and The Crypt Keeper are classic comics characters. But what about Emma Peel, Davy Jones, and Ed Sullivan? Indeed, comic artists have transformed a whole bunch of TV personalities and characters into caricatures on funny-book pages. Most TV-based comics didn't last long, most were published by Dell, and most were written and illustrated with all the care and artistry one puts into something intended as a quick cash-in.

Peter Bosch collates these sundry cash-ins in his new book American TV Comic Books: 1940s-1980s. The book consists of very tidy entries on everything from a 1949 comic based on Suspense to well past his titles' timeline for an entry on Stranger Things comics. Each entry includes a short paragraph about the history of the given TV show and an even shorter paragraph on the comic adaptation, which mostly consists of a list of the involved artists and a critique rarely more extensive than "good" or "bad." 

Considering how goofy fun Bosch's topic is, it's a shame that his writing is so dry (paging Dr. Mark Voger... ). But the copious illustrations spread throughout the book, which include full comics pages and covers and such delightful oddities as a handy page translating Edd "Kookie" Byrnes's 77 Sunset Strip lingo for anyone unhip enough to not know what "fill me in" means, are a gas.

Monday, May 2, 2022

Review: 'The Clash: All the Albums, All the Songs'

That old "Only Band That Matters" sobriquet may sound a bit more pompous today than it did in 1977, but there's no denying that The Clash was one of the most literate groups in the often borderline-illiterate British punk scene. Don't get me wrong--I'd no sooner knock the primal joys of shouting "Neat! Neat! Neat!" than I would knock the thrill of crying "A-Wop-Bop-a-Loo-Bop", but such things don't exactly demand deep decoding. Joe Strummer's words are more in need of explanation than most because he tackled so many topics in his songs and because a good number of those topics are either very specifically dated or regionalized. A twenty-first century American can still easily grok the righteous rhythms and melodies The Clash laid down, but I often have no idea exactly what Strummer is shouting about. 

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