Archive for the ‘Record reviews’ Category

This week I fired my wife. And my dog. I voted three times to do things I didn’t want to do and that my neighbors begged me not to do in the first place. I took away people’s rights. Why are people always whining about their rights? I’m white, I’m male, I’m straight, and I’m good. What else did I do? Oh right. I harvested enough secondhand CDs to build a wall around Mexico. Mexico will pay for it!

As we move deeper into the Digitazoic Era, people are abandoning physical forms of music like Republicans abandoning Trump in 2018. Over the next few weeks I’ll present some of my findings from a recent selection of Portland yard sales. I’ll also testify about my meeting with those nice Russians I met at my chess club.

When an entire neighborhood puts on a sale, I am there
Even if you love the music of the 1980s – even if you know so much about synth pop that people turn the hose on you when you show up at their parties – you may be forgiven for not knowing the British band Level 42.

I only know them because of one song, and I didn’t hear that one until the ’90s. I liked it a lot, so when I found two of their CDs, World Machine (1985) and Level Best (1989), at a yard sale in the middle of a heat wave, where I had several competitive shoppers and a rapidly wilting wife to consider, I grabbed ’em (the CDs).

The gentlemen in Level 42 started out in life playing smooth jazz. They dropped the jazz, kept their synthesizers, and added ordinary singing, melodies less memorable than Spandau Ballet’s, and a glaze of funk, as in Stevie-Wonder-WomaninRed, Chaka-Khan-is-sleeping-in-this-morning funk.

Level 42’s commercial breaththrough was World Machine, which included their only U.S. Top 10 hit, “Something About You.” It’s a pop diamond, the only time all of Level 42’s strengths came together: their excellent playing skills (I particularly admire the drummer), their ability to follow a musical theme without wandering into a cul de sac, their generally upbeat approach to life even when love goes awry, and the way their songs all seem to tell a story. “Something About You” is far and away their best hook, too.

World Machine has some sweet moments, and you can find a few more on their greatest hits, Level Best. I really want to love Level 42. Sadly, though they aspired to be Tears For Fears, they were instead an underpowered Steely Dan.

Hard-core CD buyers are like the defensive line in a hockey game
At the same sale, and despite having been illegally cross-checked and fouled twice, I spotted P.M. Dawn’s Of the Heart, of the Soul, and of the Cross: The Utopian Experience (1991). The only thing I knew about P.M. Dawn is that they contributed the most fun track to the Jimi Hendrix tribute album Stone Free (1993). Given how cheap these things were on that scorching early-summer day, that one data point was sufficient to close the deal.

As I eased my way into traffic Monday morning I fired up the first track, which was a minute of electronic doodling with a few thoughts directed at God. I decided that if the next song was more of the same, I’d hit Eject.

But the next song was one I remembered, and it was awesome: “Reality Used to Be a Friend of Mine,” one of the greatest titles in the history of everything. It’s a meditation on discovering that we humans could blow up the world at any moment. Or maybe it’s about a break-up with a girl named Sandy. Springsteen had problems with her, too. “Reality and life are not the same,” P.M. Dawn informs us, and if there are seven words that explain the presidency of Donald Trump, those are them.

I was expecting a rap album and I got one, but not the one I expected. This is a rap, rock, dance, and R&B album WITH SYNTHESIZERS, as you can hear on the album’s No. 1 hit, “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss,” a song that samples “True” by…Spandau Ballet! And you were wondering how I was going to tie all this together.

Princess Internet tells me that P.M. Dawn was two brothers from New Jersey. The Utopian Experience contains plenty of teenage philosophizing (our heroes were about 20 in 1991), and song titles such as “To Serenade a Rainbow” belong in the My Little Pony musical, but guess what you won’t find here: gangsters, pimps, whores, guns, body counts, or any song that proceeds from the theory that women are subhuman breeding stock.

There’s scratching, but only on one track. They name-check themselves three times, ask Prince what he’s up to, and quote The Beatles twice. The rhyme scheme follows the standard rap aabb, but they can work cleverly within this restriction: “The breeze, the wind…/It fluctuates my adrenaline.”

Prince could do just about anything, but he couldn’t rap. He would’ve been proud to have recorded The Utopian Experience. He would’ve kicked the guitars up a notch, too.

Next yard sale: Classic rock!

 

The Very Best of The Righteous Brothers: Unchained Melody
The Righteous Brothers
1990

For all of you who read my title and are now trying to drag me out of the seat I paid for: Hear me, my people!

I’m not disputing the angelic status of Bobby Hatfield and Bill Medley. They sang with the power of 10 Grinches, plus 2. I’d rather listen to the two of them than to The Three Tenors, The Three Tenors and a Soprano, The Three Sopranos, Three Mo’ Tenors, or the four second basemen the Red Sox had in 1978. (Nothing got through that infield.)

But after hand-to-hand combat with the dozen songs on this disc, I came to some unexpected conclusions.

1) This is an outstanding example of a record where everything is either timeless or timed to expire.

Unchained Melody offers three icons of the 1960s: the title track, “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin’,” and “(You’re My) Soul and Inspiration.” There’s also one pretty good song, “Little Latin Lupe Lu,” the only time The Righteous Brothers ever got any cardio.

The remaining eight songs are wedges of frozen tundra. Four out of 12 is a fantastic success rate for a baseball player, but Unchained Melody is the equivalent of hitting three grand slams and a single while grounding into eight triple plays.

2) The message of “Just Once in My Life” –

Once in my life, let me get what I want
Girl, don’t let me down!
Just once in my life, let me hold on to one good thing I found!

– was echoed 20 years later by The Smiths’ “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want,” with a postmodern twist:

So for once in my life
Let me get what I want
Lord knows, it would be the first time

3) Medley and Hatfield were like so emo. If they were starting out today, they’d wash that Brylcream right out of their hair and let it fall in uneven bangs across their field of vision. These sad boys are always being pushed out the emergency exit. Even on “(You’re My) Soul and Inspiration,” they’re trying too hard – no woman could be all of that for one man. She’d feel trapped. Look in her eyes, kid, she’s packing her bags.

4) Excuse me for taking forever to figure this out. When The Walker Brothers recorded “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore,” they were imitating The Righteous Brothers. “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” even has that fake Phil Spector production – something Bill Medley pulled off when he gave “(You’re My) Soul and Inspiration” that fake Phil Spector production.

The Righteous Brothers vs. The Walker Brothers: An analysis

The Righteous Brothers:
– Two guys who weren’t brothers
– Weren’t named Righteous
– Formed in California

The Walker Brothers:
– Three guys who weren’t brothers
– Weren’t named Walker, but they all changed their names to Walker
– Formed in California, pretended to be English

DJs today have a concept called “deep cuts,” which means playing songs that don’t get played much. No DJ is going to look to this disc for deep cuts, not even “Ebb Tide,” which in 1965 was a super explosive smash-hit explosion but today smells like everything the sea leaves behind.

Sadly, the good songs on Unchained Melody are also term-limited. Per order of the National Popular Music Safety Board, “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin’ ” and its equals can only be played at weddings.

Rock on Brother Medley, and rest in peace Brother Hatfield.

Random Pick of the Day
A Tribe Called Quest, We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service (2016)
This is the band that gave us Q-Tip. I can’t believe that I’ve been fighting all my life for a good nickname and this gentleman renames himself after something you stick in your ear and everybody thinks it’s totally cool! I should’ve called myself Magic Wand years ago.

We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service is the Tribe’s first record since 1998. The title is a tribute to their bandmate Phife Dawg, who died earlier in 2016.

When We Got It is good, which it is about half the time, it cuts you with a scalpel, then turns around and hands you a suture. This is jazz- and hard-rock inflected rap that takes turns having fun and having a meltdown over how fucked up this country is. “Space Program” is angry, “Dis Generation” is about cultural milestones, most of which I don’t understand, and “The Killing Season,” once it gets going, is just plain killing.

Random Pan of the Day
United Airlines

United. Meet United.
They’re the modern fascist family
With their
Cops and goon squads
They’re rewriting hospitality.

Someday, when I’m training for a fight
I’ll book me a United Airlines flight

When you’re
with United
You’ll have a yabba dabba doo time
A dabba doo time
You’ll have a – Hey! Don’t break my guitar! Don’t Tase me, bro!
Wiiiiilllllllllllllllma!

 

My mother and I have battled over my clothes, my career choices, my hair, why I don’t put on a hat when it rains, whom I married and whom I didn’t, but I love my mother and I think of her as the light that warms the room on a bright morning in May. Alzheimer’s has not changed her sunny personality.

Following a series of unfortunate events, we had to place Mom in a nursing home. She’s within eight miles of the house she lived in for 59 years, but she’ll never see that house again. This has been traumatic for everyone except Mom, who has a limited ability to form new memories.

Surprise! A few weeks in the dementia unit did wonders for her physically. She’s been transferred into the general population. Mom now has people she can talk with (she can hold up her end of a conversation, if you don’t mind that she forgets everything). She’s not surrounded by unfortunate souls who have lost the power of speech or who can only converse in disjointed sounds or who aren’t aware of their surroundings. Though she asks every day if today is the day she’s going home, she also says about her current circumstances, “I can’t complain.”

Meanwhile, my Dad’s health and morale have also improved. He can sleep through the night because there are no more emergencies. For the first time in years, he has a schedule: Eat breakfast, play with the cat, get dressed and go spend the day with Mom. They play bingo and word games, drink coffee and talk to people. If they’re sitting together and the nurses put a blanket on Mom, they put one on Dad, too. “I look like one of the inmates,” he says. He’s almost 90 – he’s older than most of the inmates.

A couple of weeks before Chuck Berry died, Dad gave me a clue to help me understand Berry’s legacy. A rotating cast of musicians give concerts at the nursing home, including a guitar player who, according to Dad, “plays all the old songs.” He and Mom love them. That includes “Roll Over, Beethoven.” Berry’s obituaries and appreciations have all mentioned how his songs have been “stitched into our DNA.” I thought this was only true for people born after the war. No, it includes everyone, even Dad, who was born a few months after Berry. Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll.

If Alzheimer’s ever sneaks into my head and the doc recommends I be packed off to a dementia unit, please euthanize me in front of a wall of boom boxes all playing U2’s “Gloria” with the volume at 11.

Random Pick of the Day
Hoodoo Gurus, Stoneage Romeos (1984), Mars Needs Guitars! (1985), Blow Your Cool! (1987)
A friend of a friend died recently. Her nickname was Boz. I never knew her real name, and in fact I only met her three or four times in 30 years. But through our mutual friends I heard about her often. I felt she was part of my life, though occupying a distant orbit.

The only time I was ever alone with Boz, we talked about her favorite band, The Hoodoo Gurus. I like them, too. They’re an Australian band with a dark sense of humor, maybe too hard-edged for pop but definitely too good to miss. These are their three best records. They’re uneven – if I had my choice, I’d siphon the best tracks onto one disc and call it Cool Stoneage Guitars. Give them a listen in Boz’s memory, or at least try their one almost-hit, “Bittersweet.”

Random Pan of the Day
Donald Trump
It’s too easy to make fun of Donald Trump and his rants, lies, delusions, wet dreams, and fourth-grade mental fitness. He’s lived in this country all his life and yet he doesn’t understand our history, culture, language, or even the government he’s now in charge of.

It’s also too easy to point out that he’s stocked his administration with fuckwads, dipshits, shitburgers, hairballs, ass kissers, racists, ninnies, and swimming-pool goicks.

The real tragedy of Donald Trump is not the lives he’s going to wreck or the money his family will strip-mine from the Treasury or the planet he’ll pollute. The tragedy is how he’s teaching our children – excuse me, he’s teaching our male children – that you can spend your life lying and cheating and treating women like serfs and never reading a book, not even your own, and 60 million people will happily vote for you to be their leader. You can merit nothing and win everything.

This shit just got real.

 

The Best of Richard Wagner
Various artists
1994

Masters of Classical Music, Vol. 5: Richard Wagner
Various artists
1988

Richard Wagner believed his greatest talent was for comedy. Friends recalled his laugh as “a steadily increasing rumble, as from Krakatoa” [citation needed]. He loved tall tales, double entendres, put-downs, smack downs, non sequiturs, slapstick, sarcasm, and knock-knock jokes. What that man couldn’t do with five flights of stairs and a runaway piano!

If Wagner and his best friend, Franz Kafka, weren’t up to something, you can be sure they were up to something else. Wagner dared Kafka to write a story about a man who transforms into a bug; Kafka bet Wagner he couldn’t steal Alsace-Lorraine without waking up the French. They had fun fun fun until Otto von Bismarck took their T-bird away.

Scholars believe that Kafka was an uncredited writer on Wagner’s 1867 musical-comedy smash, Die Meistersinger of Nurnberg. You can easily spot Kafka’s influence in this recounting of the plot:

  1. A group of men compete in a singing tournament.
  2. First prize is a female virgin.
  3. Somebody wins.

Wagner’s biggest joke of all was Der Ring des Nibelungen. One night when he and Kafka were stoned and waiting for the pizza to arrive, Wagner said, “My operas are just as histrionic as Italian and French operas. Why am I not famous? What am I missing?”

Kafka released all the smoke from his lungs and said, “Norse gods, Richie.”

The next morning Kafka couldn’t remember anything, but was he surprised 25 years later when Wagner sent him a truck full of manuscript!

Purists will call The Best of Richard Wagner blasphemy for compacting Der Ring des Nibelungen into 60 hair-raising minutes when it normally takes eight and a half weeks to perform everything from the opening roll call through the incest and the attack by American helicopters until the final annihilation of the Valhalla Metropolitan Statistical Area. But this Reader’s Digest version keeps Wagner’s love of practical jokes alive long after Wagner faked his own death in a kiln explosion just to scare Kafka but while he was sneaking away he stepped on the tines of a rake, the handle hit him in the head, and he fell into a hole and died.

If you liked The Best of Richard Wagner, you might also like Masters of Classical Music, Vol. 5: Richard Wagner, which includes highlights from Der Ring plus hits that were never collected on Wagner’s studio albums, including “Tannhäuser,” “O Tannenbaum,” “Bob & Carol & Tristan & Isolde,” and “My Way.”

By our standards, Wagner’s music is about as subtle as a brick soufflé, but his sense of humor lives on. And of course we can rejoice in the 20,000 letters he and Kafka exchanged, including the fantasy animal drawings.

Richard Wagner loved to laugh, but even he had his limits. If he were alive today he’d totally beat the crap out of Coldplay.

Random Pick of the Day
Sonny Clark, Cool Struttin’ (1958)
The only music I listen to from the 1950s is jazz. I don’t know why that is. While the ’50s were actually going on, I didn’t know much beyond Mickey Mouse vs. Mighty Mouse.

But in the ’50s, jazz wasn’t what they hid on an obscure college radio station. Jazz wasn’t something that had an annual festival where the headliner was always somebody like Crosby, Stills & Nash because when a jazz festival wants to make money, the first thing they do is get rid of the jazz.

Jazz in the ’50s was still the soundtrack for movies and television. My parents danced to jazz. There was even a button on our radio that said “Jazz.” When you pressed it, a pleasing red color popped up behind a tiny plastic window. I don’t remember what pressing the Jazz button did if you were listening to Mozart or the Red Sox, but I still think of jazz as something that’s red.

Maybe I came to associate jazz with the unreachable world of grown-ups. The music has an allure, a sophistication, and a mystery only grown-ups possess. Wait a second, I am one. Oh shoot.

I suspect that in 1958 and for many years after, Cool Struttin’ was the smooth platter you placed on the turntable when you threw a party for all your jazz cat friends. You’d let it spin while you all stood around drinking cheap red wine and pretending to understand Ulysses. If you like jazz but you can’t approach hard bop without first waving a white flag, give Cool Struttin’ a try.

 

The result of the recent presidential election resembles nothing in the history of the United States. It looks more like the final convulsions of the ruling white elites in Rhodesia and South Africa. This resemblance doesn’t help me sleep at night.

his-back-to-the-wall
Lucky has his back to the wall.

Barack Obama, whom I admire, urged the nation to keep an open mind about our new commander-in-chief. Keep an open mind about a man who does not read. A man who has never had a pet. A man who has bragged about not wasting any time raising his own children. Has he ever played with his kids? What music does he like? (I know what he’d say: “Only the best!”) He is the fattest man to hold the office since William Howard Taft got stuck in his bathtub.

Note: William Howard Taft never got stuck in his bathtub; that story was invented years after his death. But he did own a custom-built bathtub that four non-Tafts could sit in.

Each half of our politically divided country voted for a candidate that made the other half want to kick a hole in a stained glass window. From here to eternity, will each side spend its years in power dismantling the work of the other? I am so flabbergasted by this election that I am reduced to quoting Sting, God help me:

“We all sink or we all float. We are all in the same big boat.”

In the alternate universe that has inexplicably ejected me, Hillary Clinton is right now selecting experienced, serious, boring people to help her run the government. In the universe where I’ve landed like Dorothy and Toto in their windblown house, our new leader is picking weirdos with no experience in what they’ve been picked for. That worked well during Hurricane Katrina so I won’t spend another second worrying about it.

“The revolution will not be televised,” Gil Scott-Heron told us. He was wrong. “But it will put you in the driver’s seat.” Maybe. But what is the nature of the man who is now behind the wheel?

No more politics.

Let’s talk about…chess!

Bone-crunching industrial thud machine Magnus Carlsen holds world championship with move so awesome that the planet increased its rotation and now the day is an hour shorter
In case you haven’t been keeping up with current events, Magnus Carlsen won the last game of the championship against Sergey Karjakin by sacrificing his queen, motherfuckers. When has that ever happened in championship chess? How about never! Not in 130 years!

No one has ever won the world championship on the last move in the last game by saying Oh I don’t need this thing anymore and then sacrificing the strongest piece on the board. The 13-year-old Bobby Fischer sacrificed his queen for a rook, two bishops, and a pawn in 1956 in what was later called “The Game of the Century,” and yeah it was stunning but it wasn’t the world championship, was it? It was not!

Are you getting this now? Do you understand that less than a month after reality shifted on November 8, reality shifted AGAIN this week, or do I have to come over there and clap your heads together like chalkboard erasers?

I have to reach into another sport to find something comparable. Travel with me now to the 1960 World Series, when the Pittsburgh Pirates, losing to the New York Yankees in game 7, came back IN THE BOTTOM OF THE NINTH thanks to Bill Mazeroski’s homerun – the only World Series to end with a homerun.

But Carlsen is even more amazing than Maz because Carlsen ONLY NEEDED A DRAW in that game to keep his title. He could’ve played it safe. He chose not to. You can bet your ass and six of your goats that this is why Magnus Carlsen is a champion and Run-DMSteve is an idiot blogger.

doh
A blunder by Emma gives Sailor the win!

I’m back, my friends. Thanks for sticking around, all three of you. I was immersed in an eight-week novel-writing class, faced another emergency in Antique Parent Land, endured my worst Thanksgiving in 36 years, and played with my dog. Details to come, along with more of the forgettable musical opinions you crave.

I hope you’re all well and following your dreams instead of that person who got the restraining order against you. Happy holidays!

Random Pick of the Day
Hillary Clinton.

Sorry.

Random Pick of the Day
Sonny Rollins, Saxophone Colossus (1956)
This milestone in postwar jazz whacks you in the head and throws you up on the roof with the Frisbees. It’s usually seen as a showcase for Rollins and his tenor sax, but the whole quartet is spectacular, particularly Tommy Flanagan on piano and Max Roach on drums. Max Roach must have had a Max Roach clone playing alongside him to lay down all those grooves.

I don’t know how to judge the bass player, Doug Watkins. I can only assume that Sonny, Tommy, and Max wouldn’t have let Doug join in their reindeer games unless he was spectacular, too.

This brilliant set was recorded in one fucking day in Hackensack, New Jersey.

 

I’m taking another break from blogging. I’ll be back in November, and with a story, too, if this goes well.

Today I want to salute my most loyal readers – those generous people who take the time to write comments no matter what stupid things I’ve said. Some of them write under more than one alias. I’m grateful to all of them, whatever name they choose. Here they are – and, because they are such a modest bunch, for the first time ever I will reveal their most impressive accomplishments!

Accused of Lurking: Invented Post-Its.

frostybooboo: Commercial fish farmer who tags his fish with Post-Its.

number9: Snowbird who splits her year between a yellow submarine and an octopus’ garden.

Ofelia: Master of the Brazilian freehand accordion.

seasidedave: International clam thief.

Sherry: Scared Kenny G so badly, he stopped using his last name.

thecorncobb: Sailed alone around the world in a balloon-rigged sloop.

Wm Seabrook: His Mad Men-style ad agency named the Euro, the TiVo, and the Yugo.

Thanks, everyone. Enjoy the rest of your summer, if you’re north of the Equator. If you’re not – bundle up!

Random Pick of the Day 1
Talking Heads, Fear of Music (1979)
Fear of Music has “Cities,” “Life During Wartime,” and “Heaven,” three of the best songs of the ’70s. This is an awesome album.

Particularly interesting are the final three tracks: “Animals,” “Electric Guitar,” and “Drugs.” They point toward the dark, strange band Talking Heads threatened to become. Even amid the darkness and the strangeness, however, you can count on David Byrne to stop making sense. For example, he’s angry that animals don’t help. “They’re never there when you need them,” he complains. Who does that bring to mind? I’m about to tell you!

Random Pick of the Day 2
Talking Heads, Little Creatures (1985)
This album disappointed me when it was released. I’d heard all this before. I admit, though, that I would’ve had trouble with anything released in the shadow of Stop Making Sense. Listening to this album 30 years later, I’ve changed my mind. It’s solid. But the most important thing about Little Creatures is that it’s the closest Talking Heads ever came to making a B-52s record.

You think The B-52s couldn’t create a song like “And She Was”? They did – it’s called “Roam.” You say The B-52s could never match “Stay Up Late,” a vaguely sinister song about a baby? How about “Quiche Lorraine,” a vaguely sinister song about a poodle? And what’s that line in “Creatures of Love”? “Well I’ve seen sex and I think it’s alright.” That’s great, David, but have you ever made love under a strobe light?

It would be wrong to say that Talking Heads are The B-52s with more words and funkier baselines. Wrong, but with some traces of truth. There are several points in the space-time continuum where these bands intersect.

True, their only IRL meeting, when David Byrne produced Mesopotamia, sucked. As much as I love the title song, I’m the first to admit that no one knows how to play it, not even the band that wrote it. And I think I know why: “Mesopotamia” is a slower version of “Cities.”

 

We just saw the third film in the reboot of my favorite TV series: Star Trek: Beyond. Once again, the plot was driven by a bitter middle-aged man who vows to make the universe run red with the blood of vengeance. Haven’t we had enough of this from Donald Trump?

I’m a middle-aged man, and there are things in my life I’m not happy about, but I don’t feel like making humanity pay for my unhappiness. In fact, it’s none of humanity’s business.

So are these films an expression of angst by the middle-aged men who write them? Or, if they’re written by younger men, are these films an attack on their fathers? There’s a lot of male stuff here. To quote an illustrious film critic well-versed in gender issues: “What is going on?”

I don’t know. But I know this: A woman will become president of the United States before Paramount allows a woman to write a Star Trek movie.

Sad.

Random Pan of the Day
Supertramp, Breakfast in America (1979)

I’m so pissed off by Star Trek I don’t feel like making anything a Pick.

Some of the songs on Breakfast in America are pleasant; they could’ve been dashed off by John or Paul while they were down with the flu. Supertramp’s big bad insanely sentimental epic, “Take the Long Way Home,” offers a cascade of ooooohs and aaaaahs around the 4:17 mark. I guess this is where they eased themselves into the hot tub.

Breakfast in America has one of the iconic album jackets of the 1970s. Keep the jacket and recycle the record.

Random Pan of the Day
Depeche Mode, Depeche Mode 101 (1989)
I’m still pissed.

A live album where the songs don’t budge a centimeter from the studio versions. Sorry, boys, but a concert is more than a crowd screaming with joy because you blew up a firecracker. AC/DC would’ve fired a cannon out of a bagpipe.

Random Pan of the Day
Mugstar, anything
Contemporary English prog rockers who go on. And on and on. The Doors in “The End” said everything Mugstar is still stumbling over 40 years later. However, Mugstar has a talent for song names. Two examples: “European Nihilism” and “Children of the Gravy.”