Category: Grade: B

Depeche Mode – Some Great Reward

ARTIST: Depeche Mode 220px-Depeche_Mode_-_Some_Great_Reward

TITLE: Some Great Reward

YEAR RELEASED: 1984

CHART ACTION:  #51 US, #5 UL

SINGLES: People Are People (#13 US, #44 Dance, #4 UK), Master and Servant (#87 US, #49 Dance, #9 UK), Blasphemous Rumours (#16 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Sometbody was the B-Side to Blasphemous Rumours and charted in a few countries.

LINEUP: David Gahan, Martin Gore, Alan Wilder, Andrew Fletcher

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A darker and moodier, yet inconsistent album that had an out-of-left-field US hit as well as a cringy song that seemed out of place.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Starting out with the energy of “Something to Do”, the classic Depeche Mode sound of “Lie to Me”, and the hit “People are People”, Some Great Rewards sounds like its going to be the consistent album Depeche Mode had in them all along.

Nah.

In the middle of the album, the band gets slower and moodier, yet the cuts are rather uninteresting and more of a slog than anything. Then you get to “Master and Servant”, which is seemingly for teenage boys to wonder about than a true exploration of a sub-culture. However, the band pulls out of it for “Blasphemous Rumours”, which shows that they can be dark, moody, slow, and interesting.

Ending it on a powerful song such as that boded well for Depeche Mode, and while they’d not have another US pop hit for a while, their cult status was cemented by that one track.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Alan Wilder wrote on track on the album.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, the usual live cuts, B-sides and remixes.

GRADE B: It could have been a lot better.

Richard Thompson – Hand of Kindness

ARTIST: Richard Thompson Hand_of_Kindness_(Richard_Thompson_album_-_cover_art)

TITLE: Hand of Kindness

YEAR RELEASED: 1983

CHART ACTION:  #186

SINGLES: The Wrong Heartbeat, Tear Stained Letter

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: I doubt it, really

LINEUP: Richard Thompson, Dave Pegg, Dave Mattacks, Simon Nicol, John Kirkpatrick, Aly Nichol, Pete Thomas, Pete Zorn.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: After the breakup of his marriage and partnership with Linda Thompson, Richard Thompson releases his second official solo album and erases some of the gloom that inhabited the work with his ex-wife.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: No longer part of a duo (professionally and personally), Richard Thompson resumes his solo career in an unexpectedly bright sounding album. Reunited with his old bandmates (Pegg, Mattacks, and Nicol), and adding sax, accordion and violin, Thompson’s sound is somewhat jaunty. That masks some of the lyrical content about bad relationships and marital issues.

Yet, Thompson himself sounds sunny and energized. The opening “Tear Stained Letter” would have surprised anyone who had been following his duos with Linda Thompson, as here Thompson has a fire and wink in his voices. His guitar playing is stellar, of course, but he also allows his band chances to be out front as well.

The playing is fun for the most part, and while some songs are a bit down and depressing (can’t always be happy), the mood is upbeat. The songs aren’t his best for the most part, but the music world was glad he emerged relatively unscathed from his marital hell.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The guitar he’s holding on the cover was made by Danny Ferrington

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

GRADE B: Not the best song-wise, but it will please any Thompson fan.

Surfer Blood – 1000 Palms

ARTIST: Surfer Blood 220px-1000_Palms

TITLE: 1000 Palms

YEAR RELEASED: 2015

CHART ACTION:  #160, #11 Indie, #16 Rock

SINGLES: Grand Inquisitor, I Can’t Explain

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: No

LINEUP: John Paul Pitts, Thomas Fekete, Kevin Williams, Tyler Schwartz, Michael McCleary.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Returning to the indie labels, Surfer Blood makes a looser record, but not a better record.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: It seems that Surfer Blood, as time has gone on, has cut down on the elements that made them unique – their unpredictability. Even a return to the indie label circuits didn’t make them more adventurous. Instead, it codified their safety in their formula where they would have melodies somewhat buried in dense but sonically safe production.

“Grand Inquisitor” starts things out fine and hopeful, with tempo and sonic changes in a short period of time, but from there, the record becomes less and less memorable, with songs almost interchangeable for the most part. Only the final track, “NW Passage” changes it up a bit, moving into indie pop / folk land. That’s nice but not what they’re known for and it’s not their best work.

While decent, this is kind of disappointing and it really lost the band some momentum that they’d never recover.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Guitarist Thomas Fekete was diagnosed with sarcoma., and had to leave the band shortly after recording. He passed away in 2016.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

 GRADE B-: Decent enough, but it’s disappointing that they didn’t take more chances.

Shellac – Terraform

ARTIST: Shellac 220px-Shellac-Terraform

TITLE: Terraform

YEAR RELEASED: 1998

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: None

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: No

LINEUP: Steve Albini, Bob Weston, Todd Trainer.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: More of the same Shellac like the first album, and it does seem like a retread.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Out of the gate, Shellac graces it’s second official full length release with a 12-minute exercise in repetition. That doesn’t seem like a great way to start, and anxious listeners may itch for the fast forward button (or go and pick up the needle on the record).

After that, the tracks are shorter, and punchier. The star of the proceedings is the bass work of Bob Weston, who keeps things interesting even during the long opener. Todd Trainer’s drums are also solid, alternating between primitive driving beats and precise rolls and fills.

Believe it or not, the weakness here is Steve Albini. His guitar tone here isn’t interesting or groundbreaking, and the lyrics to the songs don’t bite. They’re also mixed low, which is kind of normal, but here it’s a detriment.

Shellac’s career is stop and start due to production and engineering duties, but there was ample time to get this right and it doesn’t seem right.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: “Disgrace” has a long silence in the middle, which may have caused some vinyl buyers to see if the record was still playing or if there was a problem with their unit.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

GRADE B-: I’m not 100% down on this record, it has some interesting parts. But it could have been better than this.

Green Day – 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours

ARTIST: Green Day 220px-Green_Day_-_1,039-Smoothed_Out_Slappy_Hours_cover

TITLE: 1039 / Smoothed Out Slappy Hours

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: Two releases here are EPs

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Only if you were into that scene, or are a Green Day completist.

LINEUP: Billy Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, John Kiffmeyer. 220px-Green_Day_-_1,000_Hours_cover

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Compilation of the first album and two Eps from Green Day, released before their breakthrough (so it isn’t a cash in, really). 

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: From the start of their recording career, Green Day had their vision in mind. A power-pop punk sound that combined some of the speed (but not a breakneck speed) and simple structures of punk, but with melodies that allow for singing instead of shouting. The structures also were deceptively simple with some interesting changes in some tracks. The difference is the execution, as these records are from the time when the band was finding its footing.

This release combines their first two EPs (1,000 Hours and Slappy) and their full length released in 1990 (39/Smooth). At first, they sounded tentative, but as things rolled along their sound fleshed out (Dirnt’s bass becomes a bit louder in the mix, and Kiffmeyer’s drums are more expressive). The songs, as usual penned lyrically by Billy Joe Armstrong, are a bit more intelligent than some of their punk brethren at the time. Green_Day_-_Slappy_cover

This collection shows the growth of the band, but they weren’t quite at their peak yet. It would take the next release to coalesce and set the stage for their dominance of the punk matketplace in the 90’s. It’s worthy to see where they were before the big stage of a major label, and why some fans glommed onto them early on.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Drummer John Kiffmeyer was billed as Al Sobrante at times. He started to study at Humboldt State, and the band picked up drummer Tre Cool to take his place. The rest is history (though the split was seeming amicable).

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: The last release omits a track that was used on a soundtrack.220px-Green_Day_-_39-Smooth_cover

 GRADE B: I have a soft spot for power punk pop, and while they would get better and more expansive there’s something charming about these tracks.

The Long Ryders – Two Fisted Tales

ARTIST: The Long Ryders  220px-Two-FistedTales1987

TITLE: Two Fisted Tales

YEAR RELEASED: 1987

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: Gunslinger Man, I Want You Bad

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Not really.

LINEUP: Sid Griffin, Steven McCarthy, Tom Stevens, Greg Sowders. David Hidalgo, Debbie Peterson, and Vicki Peterson helped out a bit.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Second major label album find them trying for a more rock-oriented sound on many tracks, and the record stalled because of record-label issues.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: After praise and momentum following their last release, the Long Ryders prepared Two Fisted Tales, with an eye on radio play for the rock cuts, while maintaining a country and folk tinge on others. Ed Stasium was brought on board to produce, and his production really enhances and plays up their rock sound.  220px-Two-FistedTales1996

There are some fine cuts here, such as their cover of NRBQ’s “I Want You Bad”, and Sid Griffin’s “Baby’s in Toyland” and “Spectacular Fall”. “Gunslinger Man” was really aiming for the fences, with a driving riff and a bigger drum sound than they used to have.

Some of the tracks seem a little bit rote, as in they had a formula for tracks they needed to follow, and thus some of the surprise and intrigue weren’t there as they were in earlier releases. It’s unfortunate that Island changed over A&R folks and left them high and drive, because this record, despite its flaws, could have been one that broke them on AOR radio. Alas.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The record company really messed up their touring. They had a chance to tour with U2 but the album was delayed, and then a European tour left the band broke thanks to waning support. They broke up by the end of 1987. 220px-TwoFistedTales18

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes. Demos, unreleased cuts, and a 1987 California show are there on the latest re-issue.

 GRADE B+: It’s a fine record, but has a few lesser cuts. It shouldn’t have been the end of the band; they had more in them.

Supertramp – Retrospectacle: An Anthology

ARTIST: Supertramp 220px-Supertramp_-_Retrospectacle

TITLE: Retrospectacle – The Supertramp Anthology

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION:  #9 UK

SINGLES: Charting: Dreamer (#13 UK), Bloody Well Right (#35 US), Give a Little Bit (#15 US, #29 UK), The Logical Song (#6 US, #7 UK), Breakfast in America (#62 US, #9 UK), Goodbye Stranger (#15 US, #57 UK), Take the Long Way Home (#10 US), It’s Raining Again (#11 US, #26 UK), My Kind of Lady (#31 US), Cannonball (#28 US), Free As a Bird (#95 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Crime of the Century, Gone Hollywood

LINEUP: Rick Davies, Roger Hodgson, John Anthony Helliwell, Dougie Thompson, Bob Siebenberg were the main quintet. Early band members were Richard Palmer, Robert Millar, Kevin Currie, Davie Winthrop, and Frank Farrell. When Hodgson left, they added session players until their 1997 album. Thompson had left by then. Mark Hart, Cliff Hugo, Tom Walsh, Jessie Siebenberg, and Lee Thornburg were official members then.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Good size retrospective of long time prog rock band that became quite popular in the late 70s and early 80s.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Before 1974, Supertramp were a footnote, noted only because a Dutch tycoon backed them. After 1979, they were prime examples of the merging of prog and mainstream rock. This compilation focuses a lot from 1974 through 1997, though it does give you a taste of their early days.

Supertramp were of two minds it seems, proggy songs that rambled on, and hooky rock songs that had prog elements. They also had two songwriters and singers who brought different perspectives and ideas to the band, which helped round out the band, but also led to its ultimate demise.

I reviewed their two best albums, and plenty of cuts here are on those. The other cuts are from their lesser works, where they were struggling to repeat success (or gain success), and post-blockbuster where the band was (and did) splinter apart. Later on, they released two albums before calling their recording career quits, though the fire was out by then.

Some tracks here are better off here without lesser tracks clogging them, but tracks from Crime of the Century and Breakfast in America are best served there. And some tracks will appeal only to true fans here anyway, and the live cuts don’t add much to the program. It’s their best comp, though, so if you’re curious, spin it.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: They’re still an ongoing concern, but Davies had health problems that forced them to cancel a 2015 tour.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

GRADE B: When they were great, they were great. When they weren’t, you can definitely tell the difference here.

Supertramp – Crime of the Century

ARTIST: Supertramp  220px-Supertramp_-_Crime_of_the_Century

TITLE: Crime of the Century

YEAR RELEASED: 1974

CHART ACTION:  #38 US, #4 UK

SINGLES: Dreamer (#13 UK), Bloody Well Right (#35 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Crime of the Century

LINEUP: Rick Davies, Roger Hodgson, John Anthony Helliwell, Dougie Thompson, Bob Siebenberg

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Struggling prog band finds some pop chops, and a little humor, and gets a hit record that sustains a long career.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Listening to the dribs and drabs of their first two albums (on comps), Supertramp had talent. Leaders Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson had their musical ideas (always different) but in reality the band wasn’t that much different than in their hit making phase.

This one, coming out in 1974, was basically their last chance. It was their last chance for good, as their original financial backer pulled out and A&M were going to lose patience if this one stiffed. Davies and Hodgson replaced the rest of the band, improved their songwriting, and threw in some humor and hooks along with their progressive and arty pieces. There wasn’t a lot of noodling – at least not as much as before.

Some songs do linger a bit too long, but a better and more sympathetic band helped out the songwriters. This record really introduced Supertramp to the world, and over the next decade (give or take) they were one of the bastions of popular progressive rock.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The first two records aren’t streaming, and really are for uber-completists only.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, with a live set.

GRADE B: The deep cuts kind of ramble along, but the well-known songs are the ones that helped their career take a leap.

Blink 182 – Greatest Hits

ARTIST: Blink-182 220px-Blink-182_-_Greatest_Hits_cover

TITLE: Greatest Hits

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION:  #6 US, #6 UK

SINGLES: Top 20: Dammit (#11 Alternative), What’s My Age Again (#58 US, #2 Alternative, #17 UK), All the Small Things (#6 US, #1 Alternative, #2 UK), Adam’s Song (#101 US, #2 Alternative), Man Overboard (#117 US, #2 Alternative), The Rock Show (#71 US, #2 Alternative, #14 UK), First Date (#106 US, #6 Alternative, #31 UK), Feeling This (#102 US, #2 Alternative, #15 UK), Stay Together for the Kids (#116 US, #7 Alternative, #117 UK), I Miss You (#42 US, #1 Alternative, #8 UK), Down (#10 Alternative, #24 UK), Not Now (#18 Alternative, #30 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: If you knew more, you wouldn’t need a comp

LINEUP: Mark Hoppus, Tom DeLonge, Travis Barker. Scott Raynor drummed on their first two albums and you can tell why they 86’d him.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Power pop punk was a hit making machine for a few years in the early 2000’s, but in retrospect were just a bit derivative and vapid.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: One notable thing about this collection is that it doesn’t ignore their two pre-hit albums. You hear right away the germination of their sound, and why they had to get rid of their original drummer.

But that sound, a power-pop crossed with punk hybrid with lyrics about early 20’s angst, was only good when they had hooky choruses that almost made you forget that some of the lyrics were hackneyed. As they grew more ambitious, and branched for a few chords and a hook, they got less interesting. When they stayed in their lane, it seemed like they were constrained and just repeated themselves. Their limitations boxed them in.

Yet it’s not without its charms. Blink-182 had a lot of charisma and fun in them and on occasion they satisfy. But over a long collection, their flaws become more apparent.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: This was released after their first breakup. Since rock never dies, they’ve been reunited a couple of times.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: This is one of two collections. The later stuff isn’t compiled, yet, and it doesn’t seem it would enhance anything. There are bonus UK and Japanese tracks for this, though.

 GRADE B: A collection like this is probably your safest bet for the Blink-182 experience overall. Still, it feels like you’re hearing either the same song over and over, or a different band that doesn’t know how to vary from a sound.

Sly & the Family Stone – Dance to the Music

ARTIST: Sly & the Family Stone  220px-Slyfamstone-dance

TITLE: Dance to the Music

YEAR RELEASED: 1968

CHART ACTION:  #142

SINGLES: Dance to the Music (#8 US, #9 R&B, #7 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Higher (the original version, not the hit)

LINEUP: Sly Stone, Freddie Stone, Larry Graham, Rose Stone, Cynthia Robinson, Jerry Martini, Gregg Errico. The group Little Sister did some backing vocals as well.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: “Hits, we need hits!” While they weren’t a fan of it at first, they found a formula that combined their egalitarian vocal arrangements, the upbeat politics, and their funky grooves and it struck gold. 

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: First, you keep the peace and love lyrics, but then add each member getting a solo turn on vocals and / or their instrument, and keep the funky beat while making the record swing and radio ready. “Dance to the Music” was the result of their first experiment with that, and it was a smash success.

While there were some kinks to work out (the material wasn’t consistent and the medley at the end of side one kind of is a filler riffing on the single for the most part), the joyous nature of the songs and arrangement shine through.

It’s still not the place to start with this important band, but you can’t get the entire experience by compilations. Their albums from here until the mid-70’s were important culturally, as they reflected the optimism and the reality of the times.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Sister Rose Stone joined the band, and everyone joined in on ‘vocal improvisations’.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, some B-sides and stuff left on the cutting room floor.

GRADE B+: Yeah, there’s some filler here, but there’s some funky joy here and it points them toward their creative peaks.