Thursday, March 25, 2010

Fleetwood Mac "Tusk" memories

October 19, 1979. It was a Friday, and I was a senior in high school in Knoxville, Tennessee. I should have been running in a cross-country meet, but I had quit the team a few weeks earlier for various reasons, not the least of which was so I could play basketball again instead. At any rate, I was a Fleetwood Mac fan, and this was the day that their new album "Tusk" was to be released. Their last album, "Rumours," had been released during my 9th grade year and had conquered the world, so there was rampant excitement and expectation swirling in anticipation of this new DOUBLE album, basically 3 years in the making! The local album rock station had played the album in its entirety the day before, but I missed out on the whole preview except for the last song "Never Forget - " a little piano ditty by Christine McVie that was definitely "Rumours-"like. So, on my way to the high school football game that night, I stopped in a record store near Suburban Center and bought "Tusk." At halftime of the football game, me and a friend went out to my car to open it up and look at the inner-sleeve stuff - liner notes/photos. No liner notes. No lyrics. Just a weird photo montage on every side of the sleeves. But what REALLY struck us the most was....what the hell happened to Lindsey Buckingham?! Did he quit the band? Who was this new clean-cut looking dude in the pictures? After a few seconds we realized it WAS Lindsey Buckingham after all, shorn of his big, moppy, fro-like locks. He looked like Jamie Mitchell now, who was a friend of ours at school. Crazy. So...after the my room....under the headphones I went. Always my favorite thing about music in those days....sitting down comfortably....breaking the album open....carefully putting it on the turntable...and then waiting....waiting to hear, like a gold miner or gambler or speculator, if there was going to be anything on this album that would be breath-taking, historic, life-changing, beautiful. You just don't get that with cd's in the 21st century for a number of reasons which we will save for another time. The album began with this slow, torchy, sort of bluesy song by Christine McVie, "Over and Over." Nice enough, but hardly an album opener! But then came the 2nd song, "The Ledge," a sort of punky ramble with a lot of echo (it was mainly recorded in Lindsey Buckingham's bathroom), Lindsey and Stevie sort of sharing back and forth. And the next 2 songs on side 2 were more of the same - not radio-friendly, sort of experimental songs by Lindsey. I liked it well enough, but it wasn't Rumours! But then came the last song on the first side...Stevie Nicks' first song on the album...the haunting, lovely, lther-worldly "Sara." I think I played it 3 or 4 times in a row. So amazing. Long story short...I liked "Tusk" a lot, but, being a conservative kid by nature (non-experimental, pop addicted), I was a tad disappointed for a number of years with this album. But, since the late 80's or so, it has not only been my favorite Fleetwood Mac album, I believe it's one of the great albums of all-time. If you skip over all of the Christine McVie songs, it's even better! Buckingham-Nicks at their creative peak. It was all downhill after this for Fleetwood Mac, although Lindsey's songs are great on every album. Or, al least interesting. If you have never checked out "Tusk," but it today!

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Secret History - "The World That Never Was" (8.2 out of 10)

What a joy! What a treat! This is the first album from The Secret History - fronted by Bowies' long-time guitarist Mick Ronson's daughter Lisa. And these kids know what they are doing and know what music is supposed to be, coming right at you with great melodies, a great sound, and great confidence to boot! None of that moping indie crap here! It's sort of a retro-sound - something of the 60's-80's mixed together...sort of like if The Sundays bred with Rilo Kiley and The New Pornographers, with Belle and Sebastian as a 2nd cousin somewhere down the line. And I think I hear some Cars and Pretenders in here as well. I don't know who their producer is, but give them an A+ also! There is no question that this is the best cd I have heard so far this year, discounting Joanna Newsom's release because that one is completely supernatural and beyond the work of a mere mortal. Listening to The Secret History almost makes up for all the dregs that I have to sift through every week. Great, great stuff.

Monday, March 15, 2010

New Releases- March 16 ; Philosophy of My Reviwing

Well boys and girls, I have listened to parts of about 12 new cd's so far today, and absolutely nothing stands out. At all. I could get smarmy and trash a few of these cd's for comic effect, but that's no fun. You may say - "Hey - what kind of a reviewer are you that you don't listen all the way through to every new release?!" Look, I'm 47. I obviously miss a few gems here and there along the way (I'm not perfect), or else something simply isn't my genre, but at this point in my life : 1. I've heard just about everything. I've seen the trends come and go. I remember almost every single one of the "classic" releases from 1968 onward. I just do not have time for cuteness or crap. And 2. I'm really just mining for those rare releases each year that really grab me and there's no real debate about its merit...either in its ability to please in the immediate or else its ability to stand as a work of art that can be admired for years to come. I am aware of the "low art" vs. "high art" arguments, and I can appreciate both well-done pop AND well-done experimental stuff, even though I may not actually like it. Radiohead comes to mind first. And maybe The Flaming Lips. 2 bands that I just don't enjoy, yet I really do APPRECIATE their merit and would honestly try to review them that way....even if I'm not digging it. This is where things can get a little subjective of course. But when I review a cd, I'm bringing all of my 43 years of intent music listening to bear, and I think that counts for a lot. Especially after 3 or 4 years of enduring a lot of "modern," much younger music critics who just frustrated me to no end with what they were affirming. I mean, give me Journey and Foreigner over 3/4ths of what is lauded as great today! That's what I'm saying.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Favorite songs of 2009

Well, I've previously posted my best of songs for 2008, as well as 2006-2007, so I'll close with this list. Not the best year for music ever by a long shot, but certainly there were a few gems. Here we go:

1. "Bang" - The Raveonettes (always puts a smile on my face. Danish pop...sort of)
2. "Dull Life" - Yeah Yeah Yeahs (Does anybody do it better than Karen O and the gang? A national treasure.)
3. "Bless This Mess" - David Bazan (former Pedro the Lion)
4. "What Went Wrong" - Mindy Smith
5. "From Africa to Malaga" - jj
6. "When I Grow Up" - Fever Ray (really weird, but I like the creativity)
7. "1901" - Phoenix
8. "Jump" - Anne Heaton (Just a lovely song)
9. "The Ocean" - Tegan and Sara (If you still haven't bought the cd Sainthood, please do.)
10. "People Got a Lot of Nerve" - Neko Case
11. "Ce N'est Pas Bon" - Amadou and Miriam (West African greatness!)
12. "Telescope"- Mindy Smith

And that's it. I'm already collecting songs for 2010, and it's shaping upto be a much better year so far. Of course if nothing else was released this year, 2010 will always be remembered for Joanna Newsom's landmark cd Have One On Me. I still can't believe how great it is.

Monday, March 8, 2010

New Releases - March 8, 2010

1. Broken Bells - "Broken Bells" Ok - what if you had something that sounded like a cross between Danger Mouse and the dude from the Shins (James Mercer)? Oh wait - IT IS them! Well, I bet they called each other and said - just bring your best song idea and we'll just wing it from there. It's not my bag, but I can sense some merit here, so I'll cut them some slack. But just this once! (7.4 out of 10)

2. Gorillaz - "Plastic Beach" Noel Gallagher said it best when they asked him what he thought of Gorillaz. "Music for 4 year olds," he said. Now, who could say that they couldn't find SOMETHING to like on their first 2 releases - well, HIS first 2 releases - we'll give Damon Albarn his due. In fact, I was a bit sad when I heard that Gorillaz had disbanded. But they are back...but. alas, not as we had hoped. You can either pretend that this is deep, profound, fun and inspired...or you can tell the emperor to put his clothes back on. "Plastic Beach" is like a scrap heap of all the ideas that didn't work on the first 2 Gorillaz cd's. And they tried to spray-paint it gold. I mean, seriously, when you are reduced to having to trot Lou Reed out for a guest appearance to liven things up, you are truly sunk. Off the shore of plastic beach I suppose. And 15 songs - are you joking me? (4.0)

3. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - "Beat the Devils Tatoo" Let's give them some credit here: at least they TRY to rock. If T-Rex and Jack White had 3 boys - this is their band. And it does have its moments, including the great title cut which opens things up. But "Sweet Feeling" sounded just like "Every Rose Has Its Thorn," and I couldn't figure out if that was a plus or a minus. (7.1 out of 10)

4. Morning Benders - "Big Echo" Well, it starts off with a Big Bang that raised my expectations way too much with "Excuses," whose recording was featured on Pitchfork for a while. But, like George Washington, I cannot tell a lie....the album fizzles the rest of the way. I can't tell if they are trying too hard to be derivative or are too self-conscious or what. My fault on that one, but I don't have the energy or interest to figure it out. It sounds like The Shins on a bad day. And please don't name a song "Pleasure Sighs" and then proceed to sing it with complete earnestness. Ugh. (5.5 out of 10)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

April 1976

I was in 8th grade in Knoxville, Tennessee, and at the height of my musical-junkie-ness. It was April, 1976 and it was late - like 11:00, and it was a school night. I had just discovered WWWE - a 50,ooo watt radio station out of Cleveland, Ohio, and had begun to listen to the Cleveland Cavalier and Cleveland Indian games, and they had become my new favorite sports teams. Even in Knoxville, you could really pick this radio station up, especially on clear nights. WWWE even boasted that they covered "38 states and half of Canada." ANYWAY...i was laying in bed, listening to the station after the Indians game, and I don't even recall them ever playing music on that station before or since, but on this night they played a song...some guy in concert...never heard the voice before, but I really, really liked it. It ended up being "Show Me the Way" by a guy named Peter Frampton. Up 'til then, he was as complete a nobody as you could hope to find, at least in terms of popular music. He had released 3 or 4 unheralded albums on A&M Records, and had been a member of a semi, semi-popular band, Humble Pie, and so I was truly shocked to hear his name after the song was over. I thought he was some weird metal guy. Now kids....if you are under, say 40 years old or so...this was truly "back in the day." This was before MTV, even before cable TV, and so over-saturation of your favorite band was a non-issue. Besides the album covers themselves that you bought and the accompanying inner sleeve art work, the ONLY real chance you had of seeing your favorite musical acts was either on American Bandstand on Saturday afternoon, or the Midnight Special TV show which came on on Friday nights at, you guessed it, midnight. So it was extremely rare for me to stay up and watch that show. You were really left to your imagination...and myth...and image... and to what your musical heroes were like or not like. And for a guy like Peter Frampton, who, with his good looks, would have been a star in the hey-day of MTV, the only chance he had was to hope and pray for a hit or 2. Otherwise - no exposure, no concert crowds, no following - outside of your geographical locale.
Ok - here's the deal, April 1976 concerning Peter Frampton: HERE'S a guy who has released 4 albums - all of them flops. NO singles. I'm sure his label was getting very antsy and impatient. So, what does Peter Frampton do for his next career move - a move that might very well be his last chance? HE FREAKING RELEASES A LIVE DOUBLE ALBUM!!!! No one, and I mean NO ONE at my school had ever heard of this guy. And no one - NO ONE released live albums unless they were very established and popular. What a gutsy, gutsy, even FOOLISH move really - all the more so when you consider that "live" albums almost never had singles released. Ever. I still can't believe he did it.
And this brings us back to April, 1976 there in my basement room in Knoxville. Not long after that night, my local pop station started playing "Show Me the Way." It had become a hit! Un-be-lievable ! And, to make a long story short, by the time the 1976 was over, "Frampton Comes Alive" had become one of the biggest selling albums of all time, and was #1 for 10 weeks. It also was awarded 1976 album of the year. Frampton fever had swept America in a true rags-to-riches story. I saw him in concert with a girl named Candy Reynolds in July 1976 at Knoxville Civic Auditorium. Festival seating (standing), and a TON of pot! I'm telling you - when the lights went out, it was like an atomic mushroom cloud at every concert I attended in the 70's. I passed many a joint along the line as a 13 and 14 year old! When I saw Fleetwood Mac in 2003, I was very bitter that there was no haze to be seen; no contact high to be had. Alas. So - that's the way it was in April, 1976 - the same month that "Afternoon Delight" was released. React to that as you wish!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

I remember when....

It was a cold night in 1977. I was in Cincinnati for my 9th grade year - the only year I wasn't in Knoxville - listening to the big FM album rock station as always. Those were truly the days! And then the DJ said something like - "And remember, tonight at 11 we are playing the new album from Fleetwood Mac called "Rumours." I had become a Mac fan, like so many, with the album before that (self-titled), which contained, among other things, "Rhiannon," and "Landslide," so I was very pumped. So, 11 o'clock rolled around, I put my headphones on, and listened to the gradual intro to "Second Hand News" build up, and we were off and running! The funny thing is that, although I really, really liked it...a lot...I still thought the 1st Fleetwood Mac (with the new lineup of Lindsey/Stevie) was better! But I was in 9th grade - what did I know? A few weeks later, on the same station, I heard "Jet Airliner" and "Carry On My Wayward Son" back-to-back for the first time. That would NEVER happen today, so without sounding like an old codger I will say that I do feel lucky to have grown up when I did, musically speaking. Coming Soon: Hearing "In Through the Outdoor" the first time, and, How MTV ruined music.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Emma Pollock - The Law of Large Numbers (7.5 out of 10)

Emma Pollock (formerly of The Delgados) should be at least a minor star outside of her native Scotland, but alas, I doubt it will happen in today's musical climate. I mean, where are you going to hear an Emma Pollock song unless you have a pretty cool local coffee shop playing a good XM station? At any rate, since "Paper and Glue" was, perhaps my favorite song of my least favorite year (2008), she holds a special place in my heart forever. The new album - The Law of Large Numbers - is not quite as accessible as her debut release - opting for the famous "more mature sound" that all-too-often , means that the artist had no inspiration whatsoever or else starting believing their own good press and decided to be more "earnest." Which usually means it really, really sucks. And, outside of the first 2 songs ("Hug the Harbour" and "I Could Be a Saint"), I'm sure that her A&R man is nervous that he doesn't hear a single. But it's enjoyable enough.

Monday, March 1, 2010

New Release: Rogue Wave - "Permalight"

4 songs into this cd I was ready to write Rogue Wave's new one off as sort of Spoon or Phoenix-lite. I've liked their singles in the past, and would probably go see them at a Bonaroo or the like, but I've never been WOWED by them. But once you get to song #6 (and I'm not saying the first 5 suck, but...) and beyond, this is a pretty good cd - with some excellent moments! Even on the first few songs that I wasn't crazy about, I was struck with the excellent production and sound and execution (both vocally and instrumentally) of the songs. They sounded confident and on top of their game; there were just not a lot of melodic ideas floating around to hold interest or even compel. The first 5 songs do sound a little better the 2nd time around by the way, but nothing to write home about. But then Rogue Wave kicks it in gear beginning with "Fear Itself," and then climaxing with the next 2 songs - "Right With You" and "We Will Make a Song Destroy," which will definitely make my Favorite Songs of 2010. Nothing will bump that song out, copying a Dylan riff from "Neighborhood Bully" (Infidels, 1983). The last few songs are very, very good too, and so it actually redeemed itself with the last half. Not amazing, but not bad at all. (7.5 out of 10)