Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Review: 'Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas: Beyond Halloween Town'

Unlike a lot of Generation X'ers with similar sensibilities to my own, I was never overly enthralled with Nightmare Before Christmas because I don't think there's much of a story there. Jack Skellington's biggest problem is he's sick of Halloween? Sorry, but I cannot relate.

However, I think that a lot of the members of the massive Nightmare Before Christmas cult are mostly enthralled by the movie's images, and that is something to which I can relate. It's a friggin' great-looking movie, with delightful character designs brought to life with marvelously organic stop-motion animation. While I tend to zone out half-way through the movie (which I rewatch more than I would if I didn't have a kid), it's impossible to be a total Nightmare Scrooge because of its style, visuals, and technique.

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Review: 'Collecting The Simpsons'

As soon as The Simpsons went from being the thing that made people watch The Tracy Ullman Show to its own weekly entity in early 1990, the merchandising began. After all, no one new how long the bugged-eyed, yellow-faced dysfunctional family would last, so might as well strike while the inanimate carbon rod was still aglow. 

Five billion years later, The Simpsons is still on television, running half-assed Disco Stu cameos into the ground for the remaining cockroaches and a landfill full of plastic Bart Simpsons. 

Monday, December 11, 2023

Review: 'Hardcore: The Cinematic World of Pulp'

Pulp had been at it for close to two decades when they finally joined the upper echelon of contemporary British pop with Different Class in 1995. For a band as erudite and self-aware, that kind of success doesn't go down easily, and their next album was an expression of that hard comedown.

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Review: Vinyl Reissue of Tommy Flanagan's 'The Cats'

With a quartet or his own simple, appealing tunes and one Gershwin classic propped on his piano, Tommy Flanagan led the session that produced his second album on April 18, 1957. However, he ceded credit to the one-off ensemble he put together for the occasion, which is probably what ones does when playing with such luminaries as Kenny Burrell and John Coltrane. Yet The Cats often is very much Flanagan's show. His searching, autumnal keys receive soft support from drummer Louis Hayes and bassist Doug Watkins on Gershwin's "How Long Has This Been Going On" while the rest sit it out. When the whole band joins in, which they do for the rest of these sides, they most definitely play as a very organized ensemble, Coltrane's melodic, tonally complex harmonies with trumpeter Idrees Sulieman providing much of the tangy flavor. 

Friday, December 8, 2023

Review: Nirvana's 'In Utero' 30th Anniversary Box Set

After what seemed like an interminable wait, Nirvana finally released their follow up to Nevermind--the album that almost single-handedly plopped the pre-fab term "Alternative Rock" into the mainstream--in autumn of 1993. The band's purported goal was to shake off all the meat-heady fans they'd acquired since putting out a slick disc of metal-ish sounding drums and guitars and big sing-along choruses. Did it work? Well, although In Utero only sold half of Nevermind's figures, that's still pretty damn good, especially for an album so challenging and, despite some mixed notices, rewarding. Nevermind is a great record, but it lacks the personal atmosphere and unsanitized urgency of the record released just six months before the band's main voice took his own life. And that isn't just romanticizing a tragedy. Even before Kurt Cobain died, In Utero stood out for its perfect mix of classic melodiousness ("All Apologies", "Heart Shaped Box", "Scentless Aprrentice", "Dumb") and terrifying abrasiveness ("Scentless Apprentice", "Milk It", "Tourettes"), Steve Albini's massive and filthily organic production, and the tendrils of sadness twining through Cobain's grisly surrealism. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Review: 'A Disturbance in the Force: How and Why the Star Wars Holiday Special Happened'

For years, it seemed like some sort of weird dream. Yet I could remember every detail of staying up late at the age of four at my grandmother's house to watch the first piece of Star Wars visual entertainment since Star Wars. I could remember sitting right in front of the screen in a wood paneled den and the names of every member of Chewbacca's family and their UFO-shaped house in the trees and dozing off while struggling to remain awake and the creepy sensation of listening to Princess Leia sing that gross song. If my grandma and I hadn't spent the next few years laughing over the names "Lumpy" and "Itchy," I might have concluded that none of it had really happened, because there was no Internet to remind us that The Star Wars Holiday Special really did air on November 17, 1978, on CBS. George Lucas certainly wasn't going to remind us. 

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Review: Guided by Voices' 'Live from Austin, TX'

Although I'd seen Guided by Voices live a number of times, and knew their routine pretty well, I was still shocked to see their performance on the concert series Austin City Limits in 2005. Well-known for lubricating his performances with buckets of Rolling Rock, Robert Pollard held nothing back for his public television debut. His slurring and capering and hilariously inebriated rants were not the kinds of things you usually saw on PBS. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Review: New Editions of The Beatles' '1962-1966' and '1967-1970'

After the super deluxe edition of Revolver was released this time last year, many Beatlemaniacs believed that the next big holiday release would be a similar set devoted to Rubber Soul. Surprise! Instead we're getting new editions of the two essential Beatles compilations, 1962-1966 and 1967-1970, both of which are celebrating their fiftieth anniversary this year. An odd choice, you may think, but this release is mainly serving one very specific purpose, a job that it wouldn't make sense for a deluxe edition of Rubber Soul to do. 

You see, back in the mid-nineties, when Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr were mining rough John Lennon demos for material to spruce up and overdub for release on the Anthology compilations, they began work on a third track in addition to "Free As a Bird" and "Real Love". Then George apparently soured on "Now and Then" and didn't want to complete it. As the story goes, the Quiet One dismissed it as "rubbish." While that assessment may have been a tad harsh, the song didn't exactly scream to be heard. Like the two tracks that were completed and released, "Now and Then" is a down-tempo, down-mood song. It's more melodic than the dreary "Free As a Bird" but less appealing than the pretty and genuinely moving "Real Love". Had John written it during the days when he was coming up with ingenious stuff like "Rain", "Strawberry Fields Forever", and "Happiness Is a Warm Gun", "Now and Then" would never have found a home on a Beatles record... but it might have been worthy of a Double Fantasy or at least a Milk and Honey

Monday, November 13, 2023

Review: 'B-Side'

For every hit that makes it onto the radio or Billboard's Hot 100, there's something more obscure happening on the other side. It might be a piece of tossed off trash, but it might also be of exceptional quality ("Rain"), a chance to throw a less prolific band member some royalty cash ("The Inner Light"), or an excuse to get inspiredly loony ("You Know My Name [Look Up the Number]"). Some B-sides are even better than their smash A-sides... at least that's my stance on all those Beatles flip sides I referenced in the previous sentence. 

Review: 'Jimi Hendrix Experience: Live At The Hollywood Bowl: August 18, 1967'

Two months to the day after The Jimi Hendrix Experience became an overnight stateside phenomenon at the Monterey Pop Festival, the group freaked out California a little further south at the Hollywood Bowl. The band was simply white hot at this point, still flying from rearranging brains en masse at the beginning of the summer and still so fresh that they hadn't even put out a sophomore LP yet. This material must have still been new enough that Jimi hadn't quite gotten it all down yet, as he kept forgetting to sing lines in "The Wind Cries Mary". But such gaffs are part of the charm of hearing a vintage, unadulterated performance, as you can on the new live disc, Jimi Hendrix Experience: Live At The Hollywood Bowl: August 18, 1967. The power of the band at this stage in their career is what makes it electrifying. 

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Review: 'The Wicker Man: The Official Story of the Film'

Like most true cult films, The Wicker Man has certain trappings of a particular genre (horror), but it's actually pretty hard to categorize. For most of its run time, it would be better classified as a police procedural or mystery. Midway through production, director Robin Hardy declared it was a musical. Indeed, The Wicker Man is all these things, which is just one reason it is such a unique viewing experience. However, it can also be frustrating since it exists in so many forms due to a less than respectful release that saw it get chopped to pieces to play second-fiddle to Nic Roeg's Don't Look Now, with which it joined forces for an admittedly excellent double feature in 1973. Complicating the story further, there are questions as to how much it was influenced by David Pinner's novel Ritual, how much it was auteured by Hardy (whom many of the folks involved in the film describe as barely competent), and how miserable the cold, combative, and stressfully compressed shoot was.

Thursday, November 9, 2023

Review: 'Written in Their Soul – The Hits: The Stax Songwriter Demos'

A Stax record is instantly recognizable by a distinctive voice like Otis's or Carla's and the raw but thick backing from house bands Booker T. & The MG's and The Mar-Keys. Of course, a record doesn't begin with what you hear on the radio or vinyl. It usually starts off as lyrics and chords on a piece of paper and then first achieves sound on a rough demo to give producers and artists a clearer taste of the song. 

Friday, November 3, 2023

Review: The Dave Brubeck Quartet's 'Jazz at Oberlin'

For their first LP, The Dave Brubeck Quartet released a live set caught at Oberlin College in Ohio. Although the makeup of the band would change a bit over the years, the cornerstones of Brubeck's elegant yet harmonically adventurous piano and Paul Desmond's cherubic and searching alto sax are in place, although there are not yet those wonderfully imaginative original compositions like "Time Out", "Blue Rondo a La Turk", and "Bluette" that would cause the group's later albums to be widely regarded as classics. Instead the group worked with a quintet of standards such as Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust" and Morgan Lewis's "How High the Moon". Nevertheless, Brubeck and Desmond's effortless interplay is already fully formed, and the latter wastes no time in showing off his fluttering skills on set opener "These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)". The former begins the song in deceptively reserved mode before aggressively stumbling out strident chords that lay waste to his reputation as some sort of purveyor of tepid white-wine jazz. 

Review: 40th Anniversary Reissue of Social Distortion's 'Mommy's Little Monster'

Although Social Distortion emerged from the same West Coast hardcore scene as Black Flag and The Circle Jerks in the early eighties, you could be forgiven for assuming they hailed from across the other coast's pond because of Mike Ness's vocal affectations (reminiscent of Jake Burns) and beret (reminiscent of Captain Sensible) and the group's understanding of dynamics and variety, which were often lost on American punks. 

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Review: 'Stax Christmas'

If Halloween is the super-cool kid sitting in the back row scowling and painting its nails black, Christmas is the one with the billion-watt smile, eager for everyone to be its friend. And because its lights and ornaments and aggressively cheery songs can come off as a bit desperate, not everyone necessarily wants to be Christmas' friend. Some people actively hate it and flick into kill-mode whenever they hear "Jingle Bells" or that Mariah Carey song.

Monday, October 30, 2023

Review: 'In the Groove: The Vinyl Record and Turntable Revolution'

Long ago declared dead, vinyl has made a zombie-like comeback in recent years that doesn't seem in danger of declining. A report on sales published in Variety just three and a half months ago provides strong support for such confidence. 

But if you're the kind of person who reads Psychobabble, you probably already know this. In fact, I'd discontinued music reviews on anything but vinyl quite a while ago and walk it like I talk it with my own music collection: I've sold off almost all of my CDs and replaced almost all of the essentials with their vinyl equivalents in a move I hope I won't regret the way I regret exchanging my original vinyl collection for a handful of magic beans back in 1990. 

Monday, October 16, 2023

Review: 'The Lyrics' by Paul McCartney (Updated Eidition)

From August 2015 to August 2020, Paul McCartney talked to poet Paul Muldoon about songs he'd written since 1956, and these talks became the basis of the 2021 book The Lyrics. In his foreword, McCartney explains that he'd been approached several times to write an autobiography, but the idea never interested him much, so this is the closest we'll probably get. In a non-linear way, it does get the job done, because the guy who wrote "Bip-Bop" and "Wild Honey Pie" often doesn't engage much with his lyrics and instead uses the various songs he discusses as pretexts to open up about The Ed Sullivan Show ("All My Loving"), Jane Asher ("And I Love Her"), the Beatles' decision to quit touring ("Honey Pie", of all things), the Rolling Stones ("I Wanna Be Your Man"), his bass playing ("She's a Woman"), his mum ("Let It Be"), his feelings about being on the receiving end of John Lennon's infamous nastiness ("Too Many People)", and quite a lot more. 

Monday, October 9, 2023

Review: 'Elvis Remembered'

Elvis superfan Shelly Powers chatted with ten people in Elvis's inner circle, posed for pictures with them, and assembled a bunch more vintage ones, and Elvis Remembered is the result. While this may all sound pretty superficial, and not all of Powers's questions are David Frost-quality, she's actually quite good at weaving "What's your favorite Elvis song?" level queries with more probing ones that reveal some fairly personal things about the icon. 

Saturday, October 7, 2023

Review: 'The Spice Must Flow: The Story of Dune from Cult Novels to Visionary Sci-Fi Movies'

We are living through very Duney times. The last thing I reviewed here on Psychobabble was Max Evry's oral history A Masterpiece in Disarray. The latest is Ryan Britt's The Spice Must Flow: The Story of Dune from Cult Novels to Visionary Sci-Fi Movies. This is a very different worm from Evry's hulkingly exhaustive 500-page dive into David Lynch's bizarre adaptation of Frank Herbert's sci-fi franchise. Britt delivers only half the page count but sets his blue-within-blue eyes across a more complete vista, reminding us that Lynch's film is only one stop along a hero's journey that began in the early sixties when Frank Herbert, a struggling writer with a debt to the IRS looming over his head, conceived a far off galaxy in which royal houses squabble over control of a sandy drug empire. Dune World was published as a magazine serial in 1963, fleshed out for the more pithily titled novel in 1965, and further expanded for a series of literary sequels. Then came Alejandro Jodorowsky's doomed aborted attempt to adapt it into a film, Lynch's doomed unaborted attempt to adapt it into a film, John Harrison's TV miniseries for the Sci-Fi channel, and Dennis Villeneuve's ongoing big-screen remake series.

Monday, October 2, 2023

Review: 'A Masterpiece in Disarray: David Lynch's Dune, an Oral History'

Having only made one purely avant garde feature that became a smash by playing to freakos at midnight showings and one Oscar-baity period piece, David Lynch was a real weird choice to helm a blockbuster adaptation of Frank Herbert's space opera Dune. But chosen he was, though he couldn't quite be blamed for the critical and commercial disaster it became. Although Lynch's sensibility has never exactly been commercial, he was also at odds with a producer who didn't quit sync up with his vision on this particular project, a truly harrowing production in an inhospitable environment, source material that may be a bit too convoluted and esoteric to translate into matinee fare fit for Star Wars fans, and a truncated run-time that forced the story to get whittled down to a confusing nub. 

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Review: 'We're Not Worthy: From In Living Color to Mr. Show, How '90s Sketch TV Changed the Face of Comedy'

Over TV's first several decades, there were never many more than two or three sketch comedies vying for American air-space at the same time. Your Show of Shows ruled the fifties. Laugh-In and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour took over in the sixties. The Carol Burnett Show and Saturday Night Live gave the format new life in the seventies. SNL continued its reign in the eighties while  SCTV from Canada and Not Necessarily the News on cable applied some competition. 

Review: 'Opposable Thumbs: How Siskel & Ebert Changed Movies Forever'

Watching Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert's TV reviews in the eighties and nineties was only partially about finding out which new movies were worth watching, especially if, like myself, you often disagreed with them (those guys had little affection for horror movies or David Lynch). Watching two guys who look like fairly benign uncles get genuinely exasperated with each other was a big part of it too. As anyone who reads Matt Singer's new book Opposable Thumbs: How Siskel & Ebert Changed Movies Forever (or watches that infamous behind-the-scenes video of them shooting a TV promo and calling each other assholes) will learn, Siskel and Ebert really didn't like each other. At least at first. After nearly two decades sharing the camera, a sincere love developed between the critics, and viewed from one of several angles, Opposable Thumbs is a sort of Sam-and-Diane love story. 

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Review: 'Nazz' Vinyl Reissue

In a post-John Wesley Harding/post-Music from Big Pink environment, most rock bands were leaving behind the potent influence of the British Invasion to embrace a more staunchly American, borderline rural sound.  Even British bands were following Dylan and The Band's leads, as The Beatles made the New Orleans-influenced "Lady Madonna" and the Stones channelled Delta country and blues into Beggars Banquet

Monday, September 25, 2023

Review: 'The Amplified Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana'

In late 1993, Nirvana was just two years into their global fame and had just three albums under their belts, but they'd already done and experienced enough for young journalist Michael Azerrad to fill a full and eventful biography. Ads for Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana were all over MTV, and for rock geeks of my generation, it became an immediate must read, especially after Kurt Cobain took his own life just a few months after publication. I guess we were a bit desperate to make some sense of what had happened.

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Review: 'Withnail and I: From Cult to Classic '

If you've ever found you've gone on holiday by mistake, drank a bottle of lighter fluid, or recited Hamlet's soliloquy in the rain while your only friend in the world drifted off to a successful acting career, you can relate to Withnail. If you've ever had to endure the madness of someone like that, you can relate to I (not I as in Mike Segretto; I as in Marwood). 

If you have any idea what I'm talking about, you may now or ever have been a member of the Withnail and I cult. Bruce Robinson's 1987 film is famously a comedy without jokes, yet as Toby Benjamin's new book on the film accurately observes, "every single line of the screenplay is superb," which I'd slightly amend to "every single line of the screenplay is superbly funny." Vulgarly funny ("I fuck arses"? Who fucks arses? Maybe he fucks arses!"), demandingly funny ("We want the finest wines available to humanity, we want them here, and we want them now!"), pathetically funny ("We've gone on holiday by mistake!"), insightfully funny ("They're selling hippie wigs in Woolworth's, man."), ominously funny ("If I medicined you, you'd think a brain tumor was a birthday present."), economically funny ("Scrubbers!").

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Review: 'High Bias: The Distorted History of the Cassette Tape'

In the age of streaming, entertainment has become so intangible and ephemeral that it makes sense there would be some pushback. In terms of music, this is most obvious in the vinyl revival, which I consider myself a small part of as both a devoted vinyl consumer and a reviewer of vinyl reissues who excludes other formats. There's no greater antidote to a tinny stream from a tiny phone than a slab of plastic you have to pull from a lovely 12-inch jacket, wipe down, slap onto a turntable, and flip halfway through. It may sound silly, certainly self-contradictory, but vinyl returns the soul to music by making it corporeal again.

Monday, September 18, 2023

Review: Lol Tolhurst's 'Goth: A History'

If you'd asked one of the original punk groups in the seventies--say, the Clash or the Sex Pistols--if they were punks, they would have sneered at you and damned the very idea of being labeled. Same goes for the original Goths--say, Siouxsie and the Banshees or The Cure. Lol Tolhurst, drummer of the latter group, says as much in Goth: A History. But with time comes a certain perspective, and today Tolhurst obviously embraces that old label, hence his new book celebrating some fifty years of pallor, gloomy songs, wiry hairstyles, black garb, and black moods. 

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Review: 'The Alex Ross Marvel Comics Super Villains Poster Book'


In 2019, Marvel artist Alex Ross created a mural of heroes for the comic giant's NY offices. A few years later he followed it up with the natural dark counterpart, and now Abrams ComicArts has compiled these portraits in The Alex Ross Marvel Comics Super Villains Poster Book

Because Ross created each painting individually before situating it in the larger work, he is able to give each baddie his or her own page to be pulled out and pasted on your wall. With nothing but a plain white field for background, each colorful creep is free to pop from the book's 11" x 16" pages. 

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Review: 'The Cinema of Paul Thomas Anderson: American Apocrypha' (Directors' Cuts series)

Paul Thomas Anderson's early career with such a clear and explosive style that you'd think he'd already been making films for decades. His debut, Hard Eight (aka: Sydney), was modest, but he went right from that to a sprawling epic (Boogie Nights) and an even more sprawling epic that was also ferociously outlandish and borderline supernatural (Magnolia). Everything about his filmmaking was so specific and consistent--from his rawly emotional and often juvenile dialogue to his actors' operatic performances to the details of his LA settings to his thrilling tonal shifts to his willingness to dive headlong into wild ideas--that Paul Thomas Anderson didn't seem as if he ever needed to stray from his wholly individual path.

Friday, September 1, 2023

Review: 'Werewolf Stories: Shape-Shifters, Lycanthropes, and Man-Beasts'

Werewolves are many things. They are scary and mystical. They are metaphors and metaphysical. They are the subjects of monsters movies, fairy tales, and folk lore. They are people who transform into four legged animals and furry two-legged weirdies that look suspiciously like Oliver Reed. They are fictions, and for a kooky few, non-fictions.

Saturday, August 19, 2023

Review: 'The Monkees: Made in Hollywood'

The most tiresome avenue of inquiry when discussing the Monkees' project has always been that of whether or not they were "authentic." How Mike Nesmith, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork, and Davy Jones came together as actors, not musicians, to play a band on TV and use their voices to sell records doesn't even qualify as an open secret anymore. It's simply Pop History 101. The truly fascinating part of The Monkees' story is how they staged a revolution to become authentic, how they threatened to walk out on their contracts if they weren't allowed to take charge of their own recordings to make one album fully as a band (Headquarters) and one album mostly as a band (Pisces, Aquarius...) and then continue to produce their own recordings basically as solo artists almost until the end of the enterprise in 1970, the year the most artistically controlling Monkee, Mike, split and left Micky and Davy to churn out one last record in the pre-revolution style. 

Monday, August 14, 2023

Review: 'David Bowie-Rainbowman: 1967-1980'

Originally published in French in 2019, David Bowie-Rainbowman: 1967-1980 took a rather Bowie-esque approach to telling the David Bowie story. Chronicling the career of a guy who refused to ever remain one thing, Jérôme Soligny's book was part biography, part track-by-track album guide, and part oral history. And just as Bowie compartmentalized his ch-ch-changes (sorry) via calculated character switches, Soligny's multi-faceted tome is very neatly organized. Each LP-focused chapter begins with a period-appropriate retrospective quote from the artist, himself, before moving on to the author's history of the period and track-by-track notes and finishing with retrospective comments from Bowie's acquaintances, co-workers, peers, and fans. That's a lot of material, and you really get the sense of the book's expansiveness when you lift it: Rainbowman is a 650-plus page hulking beast. 

Friday, August 11, 2023

Review: 'But Will You Love Me Tomorrow?: An Oral History of the '60s Girl Groups'

Between the original rock and roll era of Chuck, Buddy, and Bo and the British Invasion, the most happening thing happening in rock and roll was the girl group sound. Fresh, sexy, fun, and often emotionally raw, hits by The Supremes, The Marvelettes, The Ronettes, Darlene Love, The Angels, The Vandellas, The Crystals, The Shirelles, and the rest made radio worth listening to. Once The Beatles arrived in the Colonies, only the Motown groups really hung on (and let's not forget that The Supremes remained America's most unstoppable hit machine of the sixties), but the music they all made is timeless.

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Review: Vinyl Debut of The Rolling Stones' 'Forty Licks'

The Rolling Stones' career can be divided very neatly into two distinct eras: the sixties, when they were restlessly searching for the sound that defines them, and everything after they'd found that sound with Beggars Banquet and Let It Bleed. They rarely strayed from it for the next three decades. 

The Stones' movement between labels--Decca (UK)/London (US) in the sixties, then their own Rolling Stones Records in the seventies--further separates the eras and apparently made it impossible for them to mix and mingle too much. Aside from "Brown Sugar" and "Wild Horses," songs recorded during the Decca/London era that were not released until the RS Records one, none of their songs crossed the labels' Iron Curtain whenever it came time to assemble yet another Stones compilation throughout the twentieth century.

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Review: 'Fashioning the Beatles: The Looks That Shook the World'

Along with their myriad musical innovations, The Beatles completely changed the way men were allowed to look when the group invaded the globe with their moppy tops and slender suits. They re-popularized facial hair, made the Cuban heel ubiquitous, and made it okay for guys to wear what were traditionally gals' clothes. For fashion-focused folks, these are developments every bit as earth-quaking as the tape loops of "Tomorrow Never Knows" or the orchestral crescendos of "A Day in the Life". To them, Deirdre Kelly's new book Fashioning the Beatles: The Looks That Shook the World will be what Revolution in the Head is to people who enjoy the group's music.

Monday, July 17, 2023

Review: The Rolling Stones' 'Metamorphosis' Vinyl Reissue

Looking to take advantage of its vast library of vintage Stones tapes, ABKCO started planning an outtakes compilation in the mid-seventies. When Bill Wyman got wind of the project, he assembled his own list of songs he wanted released as Black Box, but Allen Klein supposedly balked at the lack of lucrative Jagger/Richards originals. He probably also wasn't crazy about Bill's reliance on live recordings and unfinished backing tracks. 

Thursday, July 13, 2023

Review: 'The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror Ominous Omnibus 2: Deadtime Stories for Boos & Ghouls'

1993 was a big year for The Simpsons. It was when the series' finest season, number four, aired and when Matt Groening started Bongo Comics to continue the Springfieldians' antics off the small screen. 

The key to The Simpsons' comedic success, way back when the show actually was comedically successful, was its constant barrage of sharp, insightful, and/or outrageously silly jokes that went by so quickly you had to watch the best episodes a dozen times for everything to register. It all comes down to writing, pacing, and editing, most of which goes out the window in the transition from TV to comics. Frankly, The Simpsons comics were not really funny. With their over-reliance on trotting out obscure characters, lazy self-references, lazy puns, and slack pacing, they're not too different from what the TV series would start becoming during its spotty eighth season. 

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Review: Vinyl Reissues of Pete Townshend's 'Rough Mix' and 'Empty Glass'

Because he wrote the vast majority of The Who's songs, Pete Townshend seemed less likely to need a solo career than frustrated songwriter John Entwistle. So, naturally, the bass player was the first member of the band to release a proper solo album, but Townshend had frustrations of his own. Incorrigibly prolific and eclectic beyond The Who's patented bash and bluster, Townshend ended up with a massive backlog of material. Some of it squeaked out on records mostly passed out to followers of his preferred spiritual leader, Meher Baba, and a more widely distributed release called Who Came First that was credited to Townshend but also included songs by fellow followers Billy Nicholls and Face Ronnie Lane.

Monday, July 10, 2023

Review: 'King's Road' Expanded Edition

Carnaby Street may have been synonymous with Swinging London, but the King's Road was swinging centuries before dedicated followers of fashion swarmed Carnaby and a good decade after that street warped into a Disnified version of itself. Henry VIII spent time in the King's Road area. So did Thomas More, Henry James, Noel Coward, Germaine Greer, Christopher Lee, Diana Dors, Aleister Crowley, Bram Stoker, Francis Bacon, and Karl Marx. But it was scene makers like Mary Quant, the Stones, Pete Townshend, and later, the Sex Pistols and The Damned, who really gave the road its character. The Rocky Horror Show debuted there. A Clockwork Orange was filmed at its Chelsea Drug Store, which Jagger immortalized in "You Can't Always Get What You Want". Judy Garland died there. It was where a box for keeping plants alive on long sea voyages was invented, where you could see a monkey ride a pony around a mansion's grounds (if you were around in 1843, that is), where a "mad idiot" was known to visit the night spots with a dyed-green rabbit he loaded up with LSD until the poor pet committed suicide, where a wombat suffocated in a box of cigars, and where the British Spaghetti Queen slipped into a dress comprised of thirty helpings of macaroni. Thirty!

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Review: 'Dead Funny: The Humor of American Horror'

Serious horror fans may argue that humor undercuts terror, but the two emotions come from similar places. A laugh and a shriek are both spontaneous reactions often brought on by a surprise and/or a stimulus often (but not always) specifically designed to elicit such a reaction. Horror and humor can enhance each other when dealt out piggyback style. Think of how the hideous Deadites generate wails of horror when they fly up from the fruit cellar in Evil Dead II but then immediately cause wails of laughter when they start behaving more like Moe and Curly. Think of how a humorously foul-mouthed conversation amongst starship crew members suddenly turns terrifying when the titular Alien bursts through one of their chests. 

Monday, July 3, 2023

Review: Vinyl Reissues of 4 Rolling Stones LPs

When the Rolling Stones' sixties albums made their first appearance on digitally remastered CDs in the mid-eighties, ABKCO made the fairly controversial decision to issue them in their American iterations rather than the UK originals. At the same time, the label also issued these American versions on vinyl.

That was 37 years ago. Since then, the UK albums have become the standard in the US during the current vinyl resurgence, although most of the American albums were included on ABKCO's Rolling Stones in Mono box set from 2016. Long story short, ABKCO recently began reissuing each of the American albums in the U.S. as standalone vinyl releases for the first time since 1986. Some of these LPs, such as Aftermath, Between the Buttons, and Flowers, have not been issued in the states on stereo vinyl in any way since 1986. The campaign also includes a few UK records that have never been given standard (i.e.: non-RSD or non-box set) releases in the States before.

Saturday, July 1, 2023

Review: Bill Evans' Trio's 'Waltz for Debby'

Just a few months after Riverside released the first live album by the Bill Evans' Trio, it released the tracks that didn't make it onto Sunday at the Village Vanguard and as Waltz for Debby. Hearing the record 61 years later, it sounds like anything but some sort of barrel scraping or closet cleaning. These sparse, autumnal, extraordinarily romantic, yet never saccharine, recordings by pianist Evans, drummer Paul Motian, and bassist Scott LaFaro (who'd die in a car crash less than two weeks after the date that spawned these albums) are beautifully played and beautifully captured. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Review: 'Feel My Big Guitar: Prince and the Sound He Helped Create'

In the introduction to their new book, Feel My Big Guitar: Prince and the Sound He Helped Create (the first installment of a two-volume series), editors Judson L. Jeffries, Shannon M. Cochran, and Molly Reinhoudt define the Artist as "unquestionably a political animal." As unquenchable creativity seemed to fuel Prince above all else, the editors' statement may be questionable, but there's no question that much of their book is political. Most of its essays tend to frame Prince's life and music through a lens that puts race front and center, which is valuable as it shows how racism helped determine the verging fortunes of Prince and Rick James, an artist with whom he was often compared early in his career, or played a major role in the incessant comparisons with Jimi Hendrix, whose guitar technique, writer Ignatius Calabria quite effectively demonstrates, was very different from Prince's. Matters of gender come to the fore in Jude De Lima's exploration of Prince's songwriting techniques, while Fred Mark Shaheen's piece on Joni Mitchell's influence helps clarify one of the curiouser tributaries of Prince lore.  

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Review: 'Corman/Poe: Interviews and Essays Exploring the Making of Roger Corman's Edgar Allan Poe Films, 1960-1964'

In the late fifties, Hammer Film Productions struck a blow for Gothic horror just when it seemed as though bulb-headed martians and giant bugs had banished vampires, Frankensteins, and spooky cobwebs for good. That was great for UK, birthplace of Gothic horror, but what of the U.S.? Without having even seen Hammer's Curse of Frankenstein or Dracula, all-American Roger Corman came to the stateside rescue with a series of horrors based on stories by America's premiere Gothicist, Edgar Allan Poe. With more than a little help from screenwriters like Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont (both veterans of the Twilight Zone writers' room, not incidentally), producer/director Corman managed to inflate Poe's exceedingly short, not-exactly-action-packed tales of mystery and imagination into crowd-pleasing features. The guy who gave the world highly enjoyable but undeniably schlocky fare like A Bucket of Blood and Little Shop of Horrors suddenly displayed a true artist's eye, with his rainbow palette, brilliant use of foreground set dressing, and zeal for psychedelic dream sequences. With a stock team of iconic actors such as Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Jack Nicholson, Boris Karloff, Ray Milland, and Hazel Court, Roger Corman had found the formula for iconic, unforgettable, enduring films. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Review: 'Alternative Anthems' LP

The alternative scene feels like the great forgotten era in rock history. Although it was the most potent period in my own "coming of age"--the only rock movement I fully embraced as it was happening (although I lived through the new wave era, I didn't fully appreciate it until the eighties were a fart in the breeze), there are scant references to it today. There are no jukebox musicals that feature the songs of Pavement, no Belly biopic. They won't even put the goddamn Pixies into the idiotic Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, even though nineties rock would have been nowhere without their influence. 

Monday, June 19, 2023

Review: 'Worlds Beyond Time: Sci-Fi Art of the 1970s'

The mutual explosion of sci-fi and cheap paperbacks in the seventies necessitated a similar boom in sci-fi art. Near household names like Ralph McQuarrie, Roger Dean, Frank Frazetta, Robert McCall, and Alan Aldridge helped fulfill industry needs with nearly photorealistic depictions of otherworldly worlds, freaky tech, weird monsters, and excessively sinewed and/or buxom humanoids. The art adorning books by the likes of Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke, and Ellison were often selling points as major as the words within. Some of it was garish or tacky, but even the most ghastly covers displayed a wealth of imagination and technique. A good deal of it was truly beautiful.

Friday, June 16, 2023

Review: 'Running Up That Hill: 50 Visions of Kate Bush'

While many of the hugest pop stars live lives of such strangeness that their music may only seem like a minor player in their biographies, Kate Bush's life has always been an extreme dichotomy between outlandishly rich artistry on vinyl and stage and utmost simplicity in her private life. There are no tales of Bush dumping TVs out of hotel windows or snorting ants. She was more likely hanging out with her brothers or Hoovering the living room. Of course, her music is so deep, startling, original, and infectious, so incomparably magical and obsession-inviting, that fans naturally want to know every little thing about her. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Review: 'Parachute Women'

The Rolling Stones have long been celebrated for their glamorous, titillating rock and roll decadence, but before hooking up with two remarkable women, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were basically a couple of low-key, awkward, middle-class English boys. It was Marianne Faithfull and, especially, Anita Pallenberg who helped elevate their art and personas by exposing them to culture outside of Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry. It was these women who imbued them with black magic mystique by pushing Jagger and Richards out of their comfort zones and into the more liberated/dangerous realms of sexual exploration and hard drug use. And while Jagger and Richards were lauded as "bad boy" templates for the male rock star, Faithfull and Pallenberg were held up as examples for how women should never behave and practically destroyed by both the men they loved and Britain's misogynistic tabloid press.

Saturday, June 10, 2023

Review: 'E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial' 40th Anniversary Soundtrack

His scores for Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark may have yielded more instantly recognizable themes, but John Williams composed some of his loveliest melodies and most varied arrangements when scoring E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. The stirring theme used to euphoric effect when Elliott and his alien companion take flight on a bike, is the most famous and Williamsy number, but the eerie, unresolved main theme, the sparse harp arpeggios that color Elliott's budding friendship with E.T., and the rippling piano piece that introduces the closing credits may be the composer's most enchantingly pretty and atypically reserved music. Despite its reputation for being saccharine, E.T. is actually fairly dark and surprisingly poetic, and Williams reflects those tones with the foreboding piece that accompanies the extraterrestrials' late-night botany hunt in the woods, the eerie drones heard inside their spacecraft, and an ominous theme that shudders as a team of mysterious scientists invade Elliott's home.

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Review: 'Cliffhanger! Cinematic Superheroes of the Serials: 1941-1952'

Well before superheroes became staples of feature films, or even TV shows like the Superman series of the fifties or the Batman one of the sixties, muscled men in tights most regularly appeared on screen in matinee serials. Both Superman and Batman got their live-action starts in serials. So did future TV and movie stars such as Captain Marvel, Captain America, Flash Gordon, and Dick Tracy. It was a very sensible way to bring these characters to the screen, as the short, action-packed, cliffhanger-beholden structure of a serial episode was pretty similar to that of a comic issue. 
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