As a buzz went through social media and the Philadelphia rock scene in the days leading up to The Sonics’ Sunday night appearance at the TLA, I found myself feeling shamefully out of step. It seemed all of my friends would be there, all of my friends, that is, beside my quartet of fellow rock ‘n roll curmudgeons. I wanted to post some holier-than-thou thought on the matter, but that wouldn’t have been cool, not even by my standards. I wanted to pick up the phone and bitch to my friend Anthony, but he was out of town on business. Bitching to Larry wouldn’t have gone any further than, “Most of that Nuggets shit sucks.” Mark wouldn’t have cared quite enough for a satisfying bitch session, and beside, I had another cruel rock observation cued up to share with him. Sam was probably half interested in the show, having played in bands that cut their teeth on that Nuggets shit.
I dig that Nuggets shit, but for all their bit-chomping energy, The Sonics’ comic-book kee-ray-zee lyrics were always a distraction. Rock’s long tradition of Creature Double Feature insanity has never appealed to me. I’m more interested in rock’s true loons, the ones who shine a light on the human condition. Even “Strychnine,” the one song by The Sonics that can make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up rings a bit hollow if I stop to consider the lyrics. You can see why there are only 4 guys on earth I can trust with these feelings. CONTINUED AT PHAWKER…
You may recall this series that Mr. Moderator has run in the past. He posts an album cover and then says:
In 50 words or less, please describe how the album cover for Album Title, by Artist says all that there is to say, for better and for worse, about the music contained within.
It’s gotten to the point where I have trouble listening to new music; too often it’s a letdown. More often than that, the new release lives down to my expectations, expectations based primarily on the album cover art. I know that’s not right; I know I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but I do. As Paula Deen recently said, “I is what I is.” See if you don’t find yourself weeping in my strong embrace after you find yourself in the same boat with your reactions to the following relatively new releases. After the jump…
In past years you could count on me for my patented Insta-Reviews, frequently real-time reviews of the latest releases that I happened to pick up. The past year was not such a year. I was busy. I was bored. Late in the year I did pick up a couple of albums that inspired me to jot down my impressions: Alabama Shakes’ Boys & Girls and Tame Impala’s Lonerism.
Boys & Girls
After months of avoidance as my generation of relatively hip, middle-aged mouthbreathers raved over the debut album by Alabama Shakes I found myself confronted late one night with a performance by the band on PBS. I allowed myself to watch for a minute, thinking I’d chuckle the righteous chuckle of the dismissive rock snob and then move on. But I was wrong. Rather than the mix of college-boy hoodoo, jive, hokum, and beer commercial bluesology that I expected, Alabama Shakes simply hunkered down on some elemental soul music chord progressions and then drove them the fuck home with some Clash-worthy forearm rock and singer Brittany Howard’s Joe Cocker-esque histrionics. Any time I felt ready to reach into my deep bag of hang-ups I was thwarted. A song and a half into their performance I ceased attempting to find fault. Spittle had accumulated on my lips. The band’s charms are presented without distraction on Boys & Girls. The performances are warm and direct. Howard’s got killer pipes, a term that usually induces a cringe but applies here. The slow burn of “Hold On” doesn’t take long to explode. “Hang Loose,” my favorite song of the year, mixes a “Chain of Fools”-style intro and hippie ethos. The cynic in me still ponders whether the band is an indie-rock flipside to Sam Phillips’ ‘If I could find a white man who had the Negro sound and the Negro feel…” dream, but hell, this album is the answers to my prayers.
Australian band Tame Impala’s 2010 debut album, Innerspeaker, mined the best bits of the Nazz’ “Open My Eyes,” leaving out the flowery middle eight section. The stomping fuzz riffs drilled straight into my brain. I dug that feeling. The band’s follow-up, Lonerism, attempts to stretch from its third-generation psychedelia with a gentler, lyrical approach. This approach works best on songs like “Be Above It,” “Mind Mischief,” and “Keep on Lying,” which sound like the sylvan folk of Midlake as produced by the Chemical Brothers. Other times, as on “Apocalypse Dream” and “Music to Walk Home By,” I feel like I’m listening to one of those George Harrison-Jeff Lynne collaborations from the 1980s, the ones I’d spin a couple of times, decide were “better than Gone Troppo,” and never spin again. This aspect of Tame Impala’s growth is not as satisfying as having my brain drilled by the best bits of a Nazz song. Where does one go after the first rush of psychedelia? Tame Impala attempts to move into the light, but sometimes it “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards,” as the band’s take on the Verve is entitled. When in doubt, when the band makes its third album, may I suggest a little skull-piercing fuzz guitar?
I’ve been holding onto this “Insta-Review” for 6 weeks—or the time it takes to listen to Neil Young & Crazy Horse‘s latest release, Psychedelic Pill, all the way through 5 times. What a long, strange drag it’s been.
If I wrote the review in real time, as these review often are written, this post might crash the might RTH server. The 27 minute-plus opener “Driftin’ Back” should spur pharmaceutical companies to develop a drug to treat Faded Idealism Syndrome. An artist who’s made a career of looking back and feeling old even when he was young launches into what essentially ends up being a 90-minute long meditation on sputtered idealism, shit that only means much to you when you get really old, and the Power & Glory of Slowly Jamming in a Pentatonic Scale Over a Minor Chord.
I am thankful to live in a world with Neil Young willing to put out such a long, self-indulgent album of nostalgia and compromised idealism, but 90 minutes of songs threatening to turn into the electric version of “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” yet invariably falling short gets old. There must be 75 minutes of Neil’s patented guitar solos, but only seconds of goosebumps. I can only get so nostalgic about nostalgia.
Maybe this all hits too close to home as I feel myself sliding into my own long, slow struggles with revising my notions of idealism. I still want to walk like a giant, too, but giants don’t have to see the podiatrist.
The first new album by the classic dB’s lineup, Fall Off the Sky, has been available for the last few week for streaming audio at Rolling Stone among other outlets. I keep putting off listening to it, even though I have a deep love for the band’s first 2 albums and everything they seemed to stand for, even though I always hope that they will miraculously recapture what they—and I—once had. Care to listen along with me? I will listen, and I will report my initial impressions. Feel free to do likewise, or if you’re like Townsman Oats and have somehow possessed a copy months before Chris Stamey completed his file naming and filing of mix stems, add your comments as you feel fit.
Since Stamey first left the band, Gene Holder shifted from bass to guitar, and all the wrong people started getting into the band just as their albums were going downhill, I’ve been nothing but disappointed with most releases I’ve heard by anything approaching The dB’s (ie, anything going by that name or anything involving both Stamey and Peter Holsapple). I like some of Stamey’s early solo albums and the one Holsapple solo album I’m aware of, but I share Mr. Moderator‘s dread of the Stamey-Holsapple duo album Mavericks and its use of the 128-string guitar. Will a newly reconstituted dB’s, with all its pieces in their rightful place, allow these guys to pick up even remotely where they left off after Repercussions? We shall see…or hear, in this case. My thoughts follow.
Nick Lowe’s 45-year career as a singer-songwriter, record producer, and all-around musical instigator is a one-man Village Green Preservation Society, to quote the Kinks’ 1968 mission statement. After brief spell in a Cream-influenced psychedelic rock band, Kippington Lodge, Lowe and his fellow UK mates, including future standouts in the late-’70s new wave scene, got an early start on “preserving the old ways” in the Americana roots-rock band, Brinsley Schwarz. A big push to launch the band in the States flamed spectacularly, and in the US their records would be left for music nerds to dig out of the far reaches of used record bins for the next decade.
In 1976, following the demise of the Brinsleys, he hooked up with veteran Welsh musician and producer Dave Edmunds and carved out a role for himself “protecting the new ways,” as house producer for fledgling punk/new wave label Stiff Records. His “So It Goes” b/w “Heart of the City” was the first single on Stiff, and it heralded the artist’s devil-may-care approach to writing subversive takes on AM Top 40 hits of the ‘60s and early ‘70s. His solo output at this time peaked with his second album, Labour of Lust, on which he was backed by Edmunds and fellow members of Rockpile. The single from that album, “Cruel to Be Kind,” with the shaggy video including scenes from his wedding to Carlene Carter, is the most vibrant expression of the new wave era’s cheerful sense of fatalism. He must have been a good fit for the June Carter-Johnny Cash clan.
As a producer, Lowe made his mark helping Elvis Costello & The Attractions craft a diverse, high-octane run of 5 straight albums in 5 years, including their unexpectedly sincere take on one of Lowe’s Brinsley Schwarz-era hippie goofs, “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding.” Known as “The Basher,” for his no-nonsense approach to both work and play, Lowe wasn’t messing around, although frequently it just seemed that way.
By the mid-’80s, despite a few minor hits and continued successful production work, Lowe was losing his way. His records lost their snap. The jokes were growing stale. The snappiest of that run, 1990’s aptly named Party of One, was nevertheless the end of the line for Nick the Knife.
I suppose with my advancing age I’m not quite so interested in tricks in the studio, sort of wham-bam-thank-you-m’am.
A few years later, financially secure thanks to a Curtis Stigers cover of “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding” being included on the soundtrack to Whitney Houston’s schlock smash, The Bodyguard, a mature Nick emerged. He was done chasing pop stardom, done with dick jokes. He embraced his pop classicism on albums like Dig My Mood, The Convincer, and At My Age. His latest album, The Old Magic, goes even further in this vein, skirting the raunch of rock ‘n roll, soul, and country music for something more akin to early ‘60s dinner club pop balladeering. The new album has been a tougher sell for me than his last few gems, but Lowe’s craftsmanship and comfort in his own skin are impressive. Over the phone, Lowe was as warm, open, and engaging as his music might suggest. He made a couple of mentions of the thrill of meeting and playing with one of his own heroes, the recently deceased Levon Helm, and his new musical friends, Wilco. A thrill’s a thrill, whether it’s the thrill of looking backward or the thrill of looking ahead.
RTH: I was looking at your tour schedule and was saddened to see that this coming Saturday you were supposed to play a Midnight Ramble show with Levon Helm. I know you’d appeared with him on Elvis Costello’s Spectacle, which I didn’t get to see. Had you met Levon before, say in the Brinsley Schwarz days?
NICK LOWE: Yes, I sure did. The Brinsleys had a house just outside of London., where we all used to live together. One day some people phoned up and said the Band, who were doing a big show at Wembley, in 1972 or ‘73, needed a place to rehearse. These people said, “Can they come out to your house and rehearse?”
They hadn’t played for a while. We just couldn’t believe it, we were such big fans. Anyway, they all turned up, they played on our equipment, you know, ran once through what they were going to do on the show, and off they went again. I might have said, “Hello.” It was a huge thrill.
RTH: When you played with Levon on Spectacle was that the only time you’d performed with him?Continue reading »