Category: Grade: A

Lush – Gala

ARTIST: Lush                                    220px-Lushgalalpcoverjpg

TITLE: Gala

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: None – though Scar hit #3 UK Indie and Mad Love #55 UK Singles chart

SINGLES: Sweetness and Light  (#4 Modern Rock, #47 UK), De-Luxe (#14 Modern Rock)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: They cover Hey Hey Helen 220px-Sweetness_and_Light_-_Lush

LINEUP: Miki Berenyi, Emma Anderson, Steve Rippon, Chris Acland. Phil Overhead helps on percussion.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: One of the best of the first wave of shoegaze bands combines its early EPs into a compilation album.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Lush came out with several EPs before they recorded their first full-length, which was a pretty genius move since it allowed them quality control and development of their sound and material.

At first a UK Indie chart phenomenon, later they achieved mainstream success of sorts with “Sweetness and Light”and the Mad Love EP (which contained “De-Luxe”. The interlocking, hazy guitars of Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson give Lush a distinctive sound, coupled with the ethereal vocals of Berenyi. Unlike other shoegaze bands, the guitars are gentler, but still a wash of chords and distortion.  220px-Mad_Love_-_Lush

This collection whetted the indie rock appetite for Lush, as the shoegaze movement was gaining ground in the underground of the US even as grunge was taking over the alt-rock airwaves. It definitely is good to hear what the shoegaze fuss was about.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The collection is in reverse chronological order. 220px-Scar_-_Lush

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE A-: Some cuts are a bit draggy but when they’re focused they make excellent, gentle, clatter.

Jen Trynin – Cockamamie

ARTIST: Jen Trynin           220px-Cockamamie

TITLE: Cockamamie

YEAR RELEASED: 1994

CHART ACTION: None (sigh…)

SINGLES: Better Than Nothing (#15 Alternative, #40 Mainstream), Happier

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Not really, unless you knew me then.

LINEUP: Jennifer Trynin, Paul Bryan, Jerry Deupree, David Gregory, Mike Levesque, Michael Rivard. Aimee Mann sang backup.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Boston based solo artists records a rockin’ alternative power pop-ish solo album with great songs and no reaction from the public for the most part.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Coming out of Boston, Warner Brothers released this album after local Squint Records put it out to raves in 1994. It deserved the accolades – it didn’t deserve the commercial freeze-out.

MTV played the video for “Better Than Nothing” at times, and that garnered some airplay. Yet the album has several great tracks like “One Year Down”, “Too Bad You’re Such a Loser”, “Knock Me Down and “Happier”. Her guitar tone is fantastically meaty and raw, which adds to the overall sound and mood. The production and her work with the rotating drummers is strong as well.

There are few dull spots or subpar tracks. It’s just a shame it didn’t resonate with the public or radio.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: She later married her producer Mike Denneen.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE A+: Unfairly ignored by the powers that be, it deserved a lot of play.

The Raspberries – Capitol Collectors Series

ARTIST: Raspberries           220px-RaspCapColl

TITLE: Capitol Collectors Series

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Charting: Don’t Want to Say Goodbye (#86), Go All the Way (#5), I Wanna Be With You (#16), Let’s Pretend (#35), Tonight (#69), I’m a Rocker (#94), Overnight Sensation (Hit Record) (#18)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Doubtful, but some should be in the consciousness if the world was right.

LINEUP: Eric Carmen, Wally Bryson, Dave Smalley, Jim Bonfanti. Scott McCarl and Michael McBride were on their last album, and played on a few tracks here.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Power-poppers made inconsistent albums, but this one collects the best tracks from each one.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: After reviewing one individual album and listening to others, the Raspberries were not consistent track over track and seemed to be more of a singles band. An issue is that Eric Carmen tended to go to maudlin ballads to fill time (just like in his solo career), and the other Raspberries had about a 50-50 chance of writing a dream or a dud.

Still, with this collection, you get the good stuff, and not the dross. (Well, mostly, as there are a couple of draggy ballads still hanging around.) Their hits are fantastic power pop, and the contenders (“Let’s Pretend”, “Tonight”, “Hard to Get Over a Heartbreak”, “Nobody Knows”) are coulda shoulda been hits had they gotten the promotion (or weren’t regulated to a B-side or an album cut).

Power poppers should grab this right away – but they probably already have it. As for the rest of you, you need to experience the depth of Carmen and his group. They were fantastic when they were on.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The band formed from the remains of Cleveland bands The Choir and Cyrus Erie with Carmen forming the Quick after Cyrus Erie disbanded.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE A: I can take a mawkish ballad or two if it means the rest of this collection exists.

Devo – Freedom of Choice

ARTIST: Devo                                       DevoFreedomofChoice

TITLE: Freedom of Choice

YEAR RELEASED: 1980

CHART ACTION: #22 US, #47 UK

SINGLES: Whip It (#14 US, #8 Dance, #51 UK), Freedom of Choice (#103 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Girl U Want, Gates of Steel

LINEUP: Mark Motherspaugh, Gerald V. Casale, Bob Motherspaugh, Bob Casale, Alan Myers

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The ‘breakthrough’ thanks to a fluky single, but it was a decent album.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Regrouping after a disappointing second album, Devo moved toward a synth pop sound while keeping guitars for flourishes and fills. The heavy lifting was on keyboards and synths.

Starting off strong with “Girl U Want”, the album announced Devo as a vanguard of synth music in the 80’s. “Whip It”, a fluky hit (catchy as heck, and the meaning zoomed past everyone almost). The closest song to the old sound is the title track, a martial call to individualism and a condemnation of complacency. Normal Devo stuff, as it were.

The album has some filler, but there’s no stunning lows or head scrathers as on their last album. The high points, though (including “Gates of Steel” and “Mr. B’s Ballroom” along with the other cuts listed above) raise up the grade.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: “Gates of Steel” was co-written with two friends from the Akron music scene.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes. Live versions and demos..

 GRADE A-: There’s some real Devo gold here, as it were!

Jethro Tull – Thick as a Brick

ARTIST: Jethro Tull                                                 220px-DirkvdM_thick_as_a_brick

TITLE: Thick as a Brick

YEAR RELEASED: 1972

CHART ACTION: #1 US, #5 UK

SINGLES: None (for a good reason)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: The opening part of the opening part (“Really Don’t Mind”) has been on comps, and last part of part three (“From the Upper Class”) has been on the radio.

LINEUP: Ian Anderson, Martin Barre, John Evan, Jeffery Hammond-Hammond, Barriemore Barlow

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The record where Jethro Tull says, “You want a concept album? HERE!”

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: After denying that Aqualung was a concept album, Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull gave the wankers who claimed that it was what they wanted, a freakin’ concept album with two tracks – and only two tracks (though split into four distinct sections each with interludes).

The story is long (of course, it’s a nearly 44 minute album) and really, the story isn’t what it’s all about in my ears. The lyrics fall into normal Tull-dom with pronouncements and platitudes. What’s impressive, especially on the first side, is the playing. Tull really pulls out the stops on the first part, transitioning to each part seamlessly (also good work from the engineer), and Martin Barre and John Evan shine on guitar and keyboard.

The second side kind of falls flat with some spoken fragments intermixed and the last parts don’t have the same verve and pep that keeps a listener engaged. But it’s a damn audacious record and it works for the most part, and holds up.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The original cover opened up as a 12-page newspaper.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes. Versions with a live track (only 11 minutes!), remixes, and one version that splits the saga into eight parts.

 GRADE A-: An A+ side, and a B side….really. The B-side is a B!

Ex Hex – Rips

ARTIST: Ex Hex                          Ex_Hex_Rips_artwork

TITLE: Rips

YEAR RELEASED: 2014

CHART ACTION: #170, #24 Alternative, #46 Rock

SINGLES: Hot and Cold

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Not on radio

LINEUP: Mary Timony, Laura Harris, Betsy Wright

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Mary Timony’s new project is a straight-ahead (relatively) rock-and-roll trio. It’s impressive.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: If you’ve been a fan of the underground, true-alternative music scene since the 90’s, you know Mary Timony as the leader of Helium and of her solo work. (One of her albums was called Ex Hex, BTW). She also was a ringleader in Wild Flag, a super-group of female alt-rockers that got fairly popular.

That last experience may have spurred her to abandon the minor key, weird tuning, and oddly structured music she was doing for almost two decades, and move towards the mainstream, albiet the alternative mainstream. The trio she formed kicks up a racket without ‘selling out’ – whatever that means now.

Tweleve tight songs, (10 by Timony and two by Besty Wright), a straight forward sound, and guitars to the fore make this debut a logical add to any alt-rock playlist. The simple pleasures are sometimes the best.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Famous producer Mitch Easter engineered this record.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE A-: Good songs, tight arrangements, and rockin’ guitars. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

 

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – The Firstborn Is Dead

ARTIST: Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds       220px-The_Firstborn_Is_Dead

TITLE: The Firstborn Is Dead

YEAR RELEASED: 1985

CHART ACTION: #53 UK

SINGLES: Tupelo

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: They cover Wanted Man

LINEUP: Nick Cave, Blixa Bargeld, Barry Adamson, Mick Harvey

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: For their second album, Nick Cave leads his Bad Seeds into a blues exploration. A scary, dark, demon-laced blues exploration.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: “Tupelo”, based on a John Lee Hooker song, with some parts lifted from Lead Belly, and lyrics about Elvis Presley and Christ, is a perfect opener to this record. It’s a classic Nick Cave performance, with his voice evoking all kinds of emotions, and his band playing the menacing licks while singing the backing vocals as they were a cowboy band.

But the rest of the record doesn’t let up, either, with the blues and early rock-and-roll getting the Bad Seeds treatment. The band contributes greatly as well and it all concludes “Blind Lemon Jefferson”, a tribute to the old bluesman.

There’s not a lot wrong with this album, though their cover of “Wanted Man” isn’t as effective and “Black Crow King” overstays its welcome. Still, for “Tupelo” alone, it’s worthwhile.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The title refers to Elvis Presley’s stillborn twin Jesse.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: A CD vesion has a B-side

 GRADE A-: Creepy blues record thrills and chills.

The Mekons – Fear and Whiskey

ARTIST: The Mekons             R-1048893-1423850467-5698.jpeg

TITLE: Fear and Whiskey

YEAR RELEASED: 1985

CHART ACTION: None (sniff…)

SINGLES: None

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Sadly, no

LINEUP: Jon Langford, Tom Greenhalgh, Sally Timms, Susie Honeyman, Lu Edmonds, Rico Bell, Steve Goulding, Mark White

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The Mekons, mark 2, trade anarcho-punk for anarcho-alt-country-before-its-time.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: After a couple of albums and a classic single or two, the original band of the Mekons petered out in 1982. But during the Coal Strike of 1984, the core of the group decided the time was nigh for a reboot, and The Mekons rode again.

But, there was a new sound. Instead of clattering punk rock, there was fiddle, slide guitar, and a country tilt to the entire sound. Now, there was still some anarcho-wierdness (“Trouble Down South”), and some experimental tracks (the spoken word “Psycho Cupid”) but traditional sounding songs like “Flitcraft” exist in this universe too, along with the fantastic lead cut “Chivalry”.

They’re still loose, they’re still political, but God love ‘em, they came back with a strong record that defied expectations.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: I’ll cover the early version of the band when I review their compilation, which will cover the entire gamut of the band. The classic mid-80’s and early-90’s albums will be reviewed in whole, though.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE A: The Mekons definitely started some of the alt-Country movement, and they didn’t even know it.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Take Them On, On Your Own

ARTIST: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club          220px-TTOOYO

TITLE: Take Them On, On Your Own

YEAR RELEASED: 2003

CHART ACTION: #47 US, #3 UK

SINGLES: Stop (#19 UK), We’re All in Love (#45 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Not here, maybe over there.

LINEUP: Robert Turner, Nick Jago, Peter Hayes

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: BRMC avoids the sophomore slump with a solid album that shows more diversity in sound and motifs.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: There’s a fire and a snarl to this, the second album by the US born and UK loved (at the time) Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. The sound is by parts more hard rock, yet more sonically adventurous, and also more in your face about subjects and riffs.

The trio coalesces as a true unit here, with everyone contributing to the overall shape of the song and the dynamic tension involved. It’s really a good step for the band to not just repeat the formula than won them UK fans and accolades.

Others in the critic-sphere didn’t appreciate this record as much, but to my ears, this is a worthy followup.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The title track was a B-side, not on the album.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Japan, of course.

 GRADE A-: They showed some growth and consistency here

Sleater-Kinney – Call the Doctor

ARTIST: Sleater-Kinney               220px-Callsoctorskinney

TITLE: Call the Doctor

YEAR RELEASED: 1996

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: None really

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Call the Doctor, I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone

LINEUP: Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein, Lora Macfarlane

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Second album from Olympia feminist punks establishes their cred as one of the best bands of the scene in the 90’s.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Starting out with the blast of “Call the Doctor”, a punk anthem for sure, but then moving to a complicated track like “Hubcap”, then a complete screamer like “Little Mouth”, Sleater-Kinney showed versatility in their attack and sound. They could change it up and still scream loudly if need be.

As the record goes on, you can feel Sleater-Kinney reveling in their songs and feminist power, strategically placing rage so you don’t get worn out. The structures of the songs are also varied and tricky, with the two-guitar attack varying and the riffs flowing (but not always the way regular rock riffs are constructed). When Corin Tucker says, “I’m the Queen of rock-and-roll”, there’s so much conviction that you believe her and will follow her.

You needed this record in 1996, and you need this record in 2019 to combat the crap going on in the world, right now.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Now, when they play “Joey Ramone” live, they change the reference in a lyric from Thurston Moore to Kim Gordon.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE A+: Every song either grabs you immediately, or sneaks up on you later. Play it loud, and scare the patriarchy.