Let me count the ways: Brought to you by the numbers 83-182

Posted: September 2, 2013 in music, Record reviews
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

I hope all of you reading this in the United States are enjoying the end of the Labor Day weekend and not freaking too much over the resumption of gainful employment tomorrow.

We had dinner with touring relatives at our favorite Italian restaurant, Portofino, to which I bestow my highest rating: five spicy meatballs. The following day we had lunch at a place they introduced us to, Corbett Fish House. Corbett’s serves food without gluten unless you insist they inject some. Normally, I enjoy gluten, in my bread, as a skin cleanser, and to keep my chess clock greased. I had some misgivings about the gluten-free fish and chips they were whipping up for me in the kitchen, but they turned out to be absolutely fabulous!

One disqualification today:

The Century Men
This was an intriguing name until I discovered that it’s a Baptist men’s chorus. If they’re willing to put down their Christmas carols and pick up Afroman’s “Because I Got High,” I’ll reconsider.

All right. Let’s go…83!

Launched by two Frenchmen, Anthony Gonzalez and Nicolas Fromageau, though only Messr. Gonzalez remains today. They formed in 2001 and four years later took the bold step of introducing singing to their records. Gonzalez makes epic pop music that’s not afraid of large gestures and sweeping emotions or of riding dangerously close to the border of Mordor. Excuse me, the border of prog-rock.

The album I’ve heard is the two-CD set Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (2011), which is probably the closest M83 gets to the mainstream. The mournful and oh-so-very Depeche Mode “Midnight City” deserved all of its air time on alt-rock stations. “Reunion” is like a brighter Depeche Mode, as if Gonzalez added a few drops of The Police. “Claudia Lewis” sounds like the fun side of the New Wave, like a Gonzalez collaboration with Heaven 17 (but not Haircut 100).

This year, Gonzalez finally got a project that, on paper, matched his musical ambitions: the soundtrack to the science-fiction film Oblivion. Unfortunately, Oblivion barely broke even with the critics on Rottentomatoes.com, and I can’t say that the soundtrack fared much better. However, “Waking Up” would’ve been perfect on the soundtrack of the new Superman movie. It stops at a svelte 4 minutes and is better than almost everything in Man of Steel ‘s overstuffed score.

The Old 97’s
More alt-country, dammit. At least it’s not more folk-rock. I listened to most of their second album, Wreck Your Life (1995). The first track, “Victoria,” sums things up: Good writing (“This is the story of Victoria Lee/she started off on Percodan and ended up with me”), but music that wobbles between country-rock and country-country. There’s not enough rock for me, plus Rhett Miller cannot sing. Too bad, I love his first name. There’s some twangy Duane Eddy guitar on “Bel Air,” although it doesn’t go with this very angry song.

I also listened to 1999’s Fight Songs, but naturally the tracks I liked best, “What We Talk About” and “Murder (Or a Heart Attack),” are the ones that have the least to do with anything country.

Apollo 100
As they used to say on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea before the stunt man in the monster scuba-diving suit started wrestling with the model of the Seaview, “Rig for collision!”

Apollo 100 will forever be remembered for their 1972 instrumental hit, “Joy,” which is based on Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” not counting the guitar solo and the part that sounds like a sea chantey. The final 30 seconds, though, are unexpectedly strong.

Among the songs that Apollo 100 singed with their retro rockets were “Hang On Sloopy,” “Lady Madonna,” and the William Tell overture.

The only significant thing about Apollo 100 is that their guitarist, Vic Flick (now that’s a name!!), was the first guitarist to play the James Bond theme. He was also a session musician for A Hard Day’s Night. Vic Flick knows all the chords. Mind he’s strictly rhythm, he doesn’t want to make it cry or sing. An old guitar is all he can afford, when he gets up under the lights to play his thing.

Haircut 100
As New Wave bands go, I can objectively state that Haircut 100 is more boring than a 45-minute PowerPoint presentation read aloud word for word by a guy whose sole ambition is to stick with the company for another 20 years and then retire. The shock waves still echo from their debut, Pelican West (1982), which gave us two sand traps that invade every ’80s hit package: “Love Plus One,” which sucks, and “Favourite Shirts (Boy Meets Girl),” which – what a coincidence – also sucks.

101 Strings
When I was 11 or 12 I had a friend named Bobby. We both went through an intense ship-building stage. We’d get together at his house (which was quieter, and where there was no danger of my 4-year-old sister and her pre-school thugs destroying our models) and set out our battleships and cruisers in intricate fleet patterns in his huge living room. Bobby’s family had something I’d never seen before: shag carpeting. The deep pile was perfect for our navy, helping to disguise how out-of-scale the ships were to each other.

They had a huge console stereo system in the same room, and so we played records while we played. Bobby’s mother (who was infinitely patient) and father had a collection of Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, who at that time were bigger than Jesus. We went straight for those. Other records in the stack were puzzling. What were we supposed to do with How to Strip for Your Husband ? We somehow knew to stay away from it. We also knew, without any guidance, that we shouldn’t play anything by 101 Strings.

101 Strings were launched in 1957 with the mission of  warming over, cooling off, and de-boning popular hits, movie scores, classical themes, and anything with a whiff of ethnicity. If in 1957 or 1967 or 1977 you believed that that Perry Como ruffian should take it down a notch, then you probably had a 101 Strings record in your collection. Or two. Or a hundred.

For this project, I put on my favorite button-down sweater vest, cranked the volume to an ear-bleeding 3, and listened to 101 Strings smother “Love Is Blue,” “Riverdance,” and “Tubular Bells.” If we lived in a taller house, I would’ve jumped.

These California skateboarders have been playing the same kind of music for 20 years: pop-styled punk or punk-styled pop (The Ramones wrote the original playbook) from the point of view of the older male teenager. They were in their 20s when they started, for godsakes, but in their 30s they were still writing about kissing some girl and what they’d like to do to that girl’s mom, all with plenty of bathroom jokes and eye-rolling contempt for adults (which, as I’ve already noted, they are).

Their music sounds monolithic to me; bad singing, enthusiastic but sloppy drumming, the same Foo Fighter guitar licks. If you were making a party mix, you’d slip in a blink-182 as part of the buildup to the really good songs. I should mention that “All the Small Things” (from Enema of the State, 1999) would’ve been perfect for The Donnas, the female version of the Ramones, and that on the album blink-182 (2003) they performed a duet with Robert Smith of The Cure on “All of This” and even played the piano. (Don’t rush off to download it.)

blink-182 and Take Off Your Pants and Jacket (2001) are the albums to listen to. Take Off Your Pants includes a song we never hear but desperately need at Christmas, “Happy Holidays, You Bastard.” Radio stations should play it as the lead-in to “Santa Claus and His Old Lady.”

Tomorrow: I’ll start with Galaxie 500 and see if I can go home already!

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