Month: March 2019

Sonic Youth – Sister

ARTIST: Sonic Youth                        220px-Sonic_youth_sister

TITLE: Sister

YEAR RELEASED: 1987

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: None

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Schizophrenia, (I Got A) Catholic Block

LINEUP: Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, Lee Ranaldo, Steve Shelley

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Where Sonic Youth’s promise intersects with its reality.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Finally, an album that fulfilled Sonic Youth’s vision and promise. While Evol was a great leap forward, Sister is the culmination of their SST career and put them at the precipice of greatness.

The trend towards recognizable song-structures is there, and they utilize structures to make an impact in lyrics and sound. Still, they allow Kim Gordon to recite powerful feminism over what sounds like free-form noise (but definitely isn’t). The drumming by Steve Shelley is propulsive and evocative (and really drives songs like “Stereo Sanctity”).

The band was able to construct haunting songs (“Schizophrenia”), first person observations (“Tuff Gnarl” and a combo of creepy first person songs (“Pacific Coast Hightway”). It peters out a bit at the end (after a cover of a song by Crime) but really, the cover is probably the cause of the letdown. Had they re-sequenced it and ended with the cover, it would have been nearly perfect.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The first versions, in the UK, had the final two cuts spelled “Kotton Krown” and “White Kross”, while later versions had it as “Cotton Crown” and “White Cross”

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: The CD version appends “Master=Dik”, the first appearance of the Ciccone Youth sound.

 GRADE A: Of course not for everyone (it IS Sonic Youth), but this is one of their must-haves. A great mix of rock song structures and avant-garde tuning and sounds.

Stevie Wonder – Where I’m Coming From

ARTIST: Stevie Wonder 220px-StevieWonderWhereImComingFrom

TITLE: Where I’m Coming From

YEAR RELEASED: 1971

CHART ACTION: #62, #7 R&B

SINGLES: If You Really Love Me (#8 US, #4 R&B, #20 UK), Never Dreamed You’d Leave in Summer (#78 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Not really

LINEUP: Stevie Wonder, James Jamerson, Syretta Wright, other Motown people

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The first album where Stevie Wonder broke free of the Motown machine is tentative, but does have some tracks where his future direction is shown.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Thanks to a brilliant contract negotiation, Stevie Wonder was able to break free of Motown’s artistic control, and allowed Wonder to produce himself, and record an album that he wanted to, without any interference.

(This is why this is the first non-compilation by Wonder I’m reviewing – standard Motown hit+filler infected the previous ones.)

This album doesn’t sound like a typical Motown album of the time, even if the Funk Brothers played on it. The arrangements are varied, and the songs take more chances at times. Sometimes, it works (“Do Yourself a Favor forshadows his funk excursions) and “If You Really Love Me” has an intriguing arrangement for a ballad. Sometimes, like “I Wanna Talk to You”, don’t work but at least it was an attempt to be socially conscious. Other ballads just seem perfunctory, but they were his, at least.

This is a teaser for the great Wonder albums of the 70’s.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: His then-wife, Syreeta Wright, co-wrote each song with Wonder. This is also the first album where Wonder wrote everything.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE B: A great effort at independence, though sometimes he still sounds shackled a bit. “Do Yourself a Favor” is fantastic though.

Tortoise – Millions Now Living Will Never Die

ARTIST: Tortoise                220px-Millions_Now_Living_Will_Never_Die_-_Tortoise

TITLE: Millions Now Living Will Never Die

YEAR RELEASED: 1996

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Djed, The Taut and the Tame

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Nope

LINEUP: Dan Bitney, John Herndon, Douglas McCombs, John McEntire, David Pajo

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A long excursion and some shorter tracks. The long song intrigues, but some of the shorter ones fall flat.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: “Djed” is the centerpiece of this second album by Tortoise, and it’s an almost 21-minute long work that turns and moves through several motifs and styles that challenges and intrigues the listener.

An on the ball listener could probably go through each of the genres referenced in “Djed”, but as a piece it’s evolution between styles make it its own. It’s fascinating and compelling.

There are five other tracks here, and they don’t reach the brilliance of “Djed”. A couple fall short and seem to be just filler or incomplete ideas, but a couple work pretty well. “Djed” though is the main attraction and the one that makes this worthwhile.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: David Pajo from Slint joined the group on bass.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE B+: “Djed” is tremendous but a couple of the other tracks fall short.

Fitz and the Tantrums – Pickin’ Up the Pieces

ARTIST: Fitz and the Tantrums      220px-Pickin'_up_the_pieces

TITLE: Pickin’ Up the Pieces

YEAR RELEASED: 2010

CHART ACTION: #140, #1 Heatseekers

SINGLES: Winds of Change, LOV, Breakin’ the Chains of Love, Moneygrabber (#2 Adult Alternative, #33 Rock), Don’t Gotta Work It Out (#23 Adult Alternative)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: No, but they all could have been on the radio

LINEUP: Michael Fitzpatrick, Noelle Scaggs, James King, Ethan Phillips, Jeremy Ruzumma, John Wicks and others

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: After a successful home-brewed EP and a great set at SXSW, a singing and an album release quickly follow to great success.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Taking three tracks for their debut EP, and recording seven new ones in the same home studio, Fitz and the Tantrums debut record was rolled out and became a hit…slowly. As soon as “Moneygrabber” hit the radio, though, people were enthralled with the neo-soul-pop-retro band.

Featuring hooky melodies, retro-sounding arrangements, and a dynamic vocal duo of Michael Fitzpatrick and Noelle Scaggs, this record is catchy and fun. There’s nothing more you need or want from this kind of album.

You may quibble about the inconsistent pastiches at times, and a couple of songs aren’t top notch, but, again, it’s a fun record. Fun!

NOTES & MINUTIAE: They were signed the morning after their SXSW set.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE A-: Fun, Goddamnit! FUN!

The Goo Goo Dolls – Hold Me Up

ARTIST: The Goo Goo Dolls                 220px-Ggdholdme

TITLE: Hold Me Up

YEAR RELEASED: 1990

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: There You Are (#24 Modern), Just the Way You Are

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: No, unless you’re a superfan

LINEUP: Johnny Rzeznik, Robby Takac, George Tutuska

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Third album by the Buffalo punksters-turned-kinda mainstream rockers illustrates that transition, as Johnny Rzeznik takes over lead vocals on half the tracks.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The first two Goo Goo Dolls records are pretty much standard late 80’s “punk with some pop influences”, and nothing to write home about. But a life of eating cold canned ravioli in vans (well, I’m conjecturing that anyway) wasn’t in the cards, and the band realized that they could make some bank by adding more pop to their punk and become a hybrid band.

That coincided with Johnny Rzeznik taking over as lead vocalist for at least half the tracks (Robby Takac was more of a traditional punk vocalist) and taking over as more of the lead songwriter. Rzeznik really wanted to be Paul Westerburg, and it shows here.

As for the record, it’s OK. It’s an odd mix with the punk and the pop-punk wrestling for control, even in the same songs. There are hooks, but not on every song. “There You Are” was their first MTV video and it’s more of the direction they’d go in the future. For better, or worse.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: They covered “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man” by Prince and had Buffalo legend Lance Diamond sing it. It’s probably the best cut.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE B-: Two sides of the band fighting for control, even if the band was in harmony. It’s OK, and better than their first two, which I’m skipping.

Throwing Muses – House Tornado

ARTIST: Throwing Muses              220px-HouseTornadoUSA

TITLE: House Tornado

YEAR RELEASED: 1988

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Saving Grace, The River

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: No

LINEUP: Kristin Hersh, Tanya Donnelly, Leslie Langston, David Narcizo

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Second 4AD release by the band is fuzzy and unfocused, and suffers from ‘songs sound the same’ syndrome..

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: After a fairly acclaimed debut (not streaming) and two EPs (also not streaming), the second release by Throwing Muses seems to suffer from several maladies. 220px-HouseTornado

There doesn’t seem to be energy, the songs sound the same, the production is muddy, and the songs don’t have pops or energy. Maybe it’s just me, but I tried and tried but couldn’t get into it. It just seems like it’s there, and doesn’t spur one to keep listening.

Of the entire TM catalog, this may be one to skip.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: This was the first record on Sire (it was on 4AD elsewhere).

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: The 4AD version has an EP appended. 

GRADE C: It’s just boring, and alt-rock at that time shouldn’t be boring. The production probably has something to do with this, too. EXILED.

Hall & Oates – War Babies

ARTIST: Hall & Oates              220px-Hall_Oates_War_Babies

TITLE: War Babies

YEAR RELEASED: 1974

CHART ACTION: #86

SINGLES: Can’t Stop the Music (He Played It Much Too Long)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: I don’t think so.

LINEUP: Daryl Hall, John Oates, Todd Rundgren, Richie Cerniglia, Don York, John Siegler, Willie Wilcox, Sandy Allen, Gail Boggs

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A Todd Rundgren production that missed the mark commercially but is very intriguing as a meld between the two artists.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: It’s easy to see how this missed the mark, in retrospect. The sound of this album is miles away from blue-eyed soul and pop, and is definitely in the mold of Todd Rundgren’s mid-70’s records. (He produced this, and had the early version of Utopia play on it). It didn’t sell, and Atlantic dropped them.

But, it’s a fascinating mix of Hall, Oates, and Rundgren. “Is It a Star” should have been the single (that or “You’re Much Too Soon”), and at least should have gotten them some FM radio play. The songs may have odd titles (“War Baby Son of Zorro”, “Beanie G and the Rose Tattoo”, “Johnny Gore and the ‘C’ Eaters) but Daryl Hall was always kind of a closet prog weirdo, it turns out. The songs, despite the arty production and sounds, have hooks and great singing (of course).

It doesn’t have any hits, but it’s worth a listen, especially if you like both Hall & Oates AND Todd Rundgren. That’s not really a weird combo it turns out.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: It was the first album to chart after release, but Abandoned Luncheonette charted higher on re-release a year later.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE A-: Better than I really expected, and only some of the wilder prog excursions in songs don’t work.

The Fall – Slates

ARTIST: The Fall                                  220px-The_Fall_Slates

TITLE: Slates

YEAR RELEASED: 1981

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: It was a six-song EP. A contemporaneous single was a bonus track.

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: I really doubt it.

LINEUP: Mark E. Smith, Marc Riley, Craig Scanlon, Steve Hanley, Paul Hanley with Dave Tucker and Kay Carroll.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: An EP released betwixt albums that showcases the band in fine form.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: A hard record to find for years, this six song EP featured some songs that were some of their best work in the early 80’s.

The songs, as usual, sound shambling and unpredictable, with Smith’s voice lording over the proceedings spouting lyrics that are at times repetitive, and other times dense and impossible. “Prole Art Threat” is a good example of the latter.

The key cut is the final one, “Leave the Capitol”, where Smith eviscerates London and all it stands for. I wish it was longer, but these six tracks fit together well.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: I missed this at first, so I had to go back and grab it. Sorry for those following along in order with me. All one of you.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, with Peel Sessions and the “Lie Dream of a Casino Soul” single (#5 UK Indy).

 GRADE A: With only six tracks, it’s taut and there’s no room for shenanigans – except the usual Fall shenanigans.

Greg Kihn Band – “Best of Beserkley” ’75-’84

ARTIST: Greg Kihn Band             kihn

TITLE: “Best of Beserkley” ’75-‘84

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Charting: Remember (#105 US), The Breakup Song (They Don’t Write ‘Em) (#15 US, #5 Mainstream), Sheila (#102 US, #39 Mainstream), The Girl Most Likely (#104 US, #57 Mainstream), Testify (#5 Mainstream), Happy Man (#62 US, #30 Mainstream), Jeopardy (#2 US, #5 Mainstream, #1 Dance, #63 UK), Love Never Fails (#59 US0, Reunited (#101 US, #9 Mainstream)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Probably not

LINEUP: Greg Kihn, Steve Wright, Larry Lynch, Dave Carpender, Gary Phillips. Later Greg Douglass replaced Carpender. Robbie Dunbar was in the band very early.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Journeyman power popper had a couple of ‘one hit wonder’ records, but this compilation shows off his strengths in power-pop goodness.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: For a nine year period, Greg Kihn and his band did an album and a tour, and slowly built up a fan base who enjoyed his knack for melody and arrangement. Every song on here has redeeming qualities, and in the right universe could have been almost as big as his two well-known tracks.

The core of the band (Kihn, Wright, Lynch) stayed together for several years and built a bedrock for Kihn’s songs. While he was in the power-pop space, he never had one sound or locked-in style. Most everything is pleasant, and harmless.

Kihn is still playing today, as two hits means you can continue for life if you want. This is a good overview and should suffice for your Kihn needs.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Joe Satriani was in a later version of the band and played on one album.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE B+: It’s definitely a better compilation than you’d think – since nothing else but those two songs got airtime for the most part.

ABC – The Lexicon of Love

ARTIST: ABC                                                ABC-Lexicon

TITLE: The Lexicon of Love

YEAR RELEASED: 1982

CHART ACTION: #24 US, #1 UK

SINGLES: Tears Are Not Enough (#19 UK), Poison Arrow (#25 US, #39 Dance, #6 UK), The Look of Love (#18 US, #1 Dance, #4 UK), All of My Heart (#5 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Show Me

LINEUP: Martin Fry, Mark White, Stephen Singleton, David Palmer with Anne Dudley, Brad Lang, and others

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The ultimate sophisticated dance pop album.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: ABC, arragner Anne Dudley and producer Trevor Horn constructed this witty, smart, and sophisticated album that somehow escapes pretention (for the most part) and whisks you into a world of love, loss, and wordplay.

Two tracks “Poison Arrow” and “The Look of Love” are well-known 80’s tracks, but the entire album is full of pop hooks, elegant arrangements, and witty lyrics. Even the requisite ballad “All of My Heart” isn’t just a weepy ballad – the arrangement is exquisite.

ABC wouldn’t scale these heights again, but this record cements their legacy.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: They had a long form video called “Mantrap” directed by Julien Temple.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, versions with B-sides and dance mixes.

 GRADE A+: Best of the new-romantic class.