Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Celtic Frost - "Tragic Serenades" (LP Review)

"Lend me your steel-bearing hand
So I may reign the Jewel Throne
My soul feels the gods' demand
As the lost kings uphold my side

Blood and sand
Mark their way
The usurper's tears
Guide my sword"

As I've discussed before, I'm surprised at how well Celtic Frost early material has held up some 30+ years later.  The music was always ferocious (even if, or perhaps because, the production is so raw), the Tolkienesque lyrics (e.g., the opening stanzas from "The Usurper" above) are still engaging, and the result is that CF is one of the few metals bands that I now appreciate even more than I did back in the day.  Furthermore, I recently discovered CF's 2006 reunion LP, "Monotheist", as well as the material from the post-CF band Triptykon, and I find they exhibit a peerless progression of complexity, depth, and execution of their vision, which first surfaced in 1984's "Apocalyptic Raids". 

So I was sad to discover a month ago that bassist Martin Eric Ain died.  Ain was a long-time collaborator with Thomas Gabriel Fischer (aka Tom G. Warrior), participating in the last half of Hellhammer and most of Celtic Frost, and in the process they substantially influenced many sub-genres within metal.  Their up-and-down relationship mirrors that of Bob Mould and Grant Hart: compare Bob's note about Grant and Thomas's note about Martin.

To mark Martin's passing, I'm choosing Celtic Frost's 1986 EP "Tragic Serenades" for several reasons.  First, it's the only CF release I have on vinyl (the rest of their early material I taped from Scott Kinkade).  Second, the existence of this EP is due to Martin leaving Celtic Frost prior to 1985's "To Mega Therion", then returning in 1986.  This EP re-records two songs from TMT, "The Usurper" and "Jewel Throne", but with Martin on bass.  It closes with a "party mix" (?!) of  "Return to the Eve", first seen on "Morbid Tales".

So it's a three song EP, all of which are re-recordings of existing songs -- certainly this is only necessary for completists and its release didn't really advance their musical journey past the source material.  On the other hand, this EP exists because of Martin and his difficult relationship with Thomas, and as such is a fitting tribute to his passing.

Standout songs: "The Usurper" and "Jewel Throne"  (full EP).

Final score: 7/10  Ultimately, this is just an interesting footnote in the CF canon. 

Bonus link: Martin sings lead on 2006's "A Dying God Coming Into Human Flesh".

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Grant Hart - "2541" (the song remains the same)

About two months ago Grant Hart diedGrant was a founding member of the seminal punk band Husker Du, a band I've nearly completely covered in F-Measure.   It wasn't until recently that I settled on how to acknowledge his passing: his solo debut EP, post-Husker Du, released in 1988.  The title track, "2541", a poignant song about Husker Du's first shared house/rehearsal space, is a parable about the rise and fall of the band itself ("Now everything is over / Now everything is done / Everything's in boxes / At twenty-five forty-one"). 

After Husker Du broke up, I unconsciously ended up on team Bob.  I have several LPs from solo Bob Mould and Sugar, but never got any solo work from Grant or Nova Mob.  I need to fix that.

Bob and Grant had a fiery, sometimes-on but mostly-off working relationship both during Husker Du and after.  The tension made for some great material in Husker Du, and while they made good material after Husker Du... well... few bands could top their 1985, which saw the release of both "New Day Rising" and "Flip Your Wig". 

I remember hearing this summer about their release of "Savage Young Du", their reissue/retrospective of Husker Du's early days, and thinking that Bob and Grant were back on speaking terms.  Bob posted a note on Grant's passing that stated it was not unexpected, so I'm grateful they patched things up at the end.

Grant Hart - "2541" (acoustic version from the self-titled EP, this is my preferred version)
Grant Hart - "2541" (from the 1989 LP "Intolerance")
Marshall Crenshaw - "2541" (from "Velvel")*

Bonus link: "The Brilliance of Hüsker Dü’s Grant Hart in 10 Songs" from Pitchfork.

* If you saw this and thought "oh cool, I didn't know Marshall Crenshaw covered a Grant Hart song!" then you're definitely a child of the 80s.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Fats Domino - "Ain't That A Shame" (the song remains the same)

Fats Domino (aka Antoine Dominique Domino Jr.), one of the architects of the original "rock-n-roll sound", died this week.  Fats has many well-known songs, but without a doubt my favorite is "Ain't That A Shame", from his 1955 debut LP "Rock and Rollin' with Fats Domino".

And while the Fats version is great and has inspired many covers (some of which I provide below), it's the Cheap Trick version (from 1979's landmark "Cheap Trick at Budokan") that is my absolute favorite version.  Cheap Trick's sound was always centered in a celebration of the origins of rock, so it makes perfect sense that they would turn in such a great cover.

Fats Domino - "Ain't That A Shame" (from a movie?)
John Lennon - "Ain't That A Shame"
Pat Boone - "Ain't That A Shame"
Hank Williams Jr. "Ain't That A Shame"
Cheap Trick -  "Ain't That A Shame" (live in Budokan, 1978), (live, 1980)

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - "A Woman in Love (It's Not Me)" (forgotten song)

After a confusing period of statements and retractions, late last night it was confirmed that Tom Petty, songwriter par excellence, had died.  A staple on AOR and then classic rock stations, Petty's extensive discography provides many songs that I could feature; just this weekend while driving to Blacksburg and back Danette and I heard many Tom Petty songs on the radio.  Unfortunately, they were mostly my least favorite of his songs, which seem to get the most airplay (many of which appear on 1989's "Full Moon Fever").  They're not necessarily bad songs, it's just that when compared to the many great songs he has, well... I just don't see the point of playing a song like "I Won't Back Down".

While searching for once popular but now obscure songs of his, I thought about "Change of Heart" or "Even the Losers", but finally decided on "A Woman in Love (It's Not Me)", the second single from 1981's "Hard Promises".  Structurally similar to "Breakdown", it's a great song that received airplay back in the day but is unfortunately eclipsed today.  The final deciding point is the video which, while simple, is rather high quality compared to most videos ca. 1981. 

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers -  "A Woman in Love (It's Not Me)"

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Alvvays - "Archie, Marry Me" (the song remains the same)

So guess what we did this year?  Not being the conventional type, after 19 years together we decided to get married.   We rented a beach house in Sandbridge and had a small (< 30) collection of friends and family for a sunset ceremony on April 19th, the 19th anniversary of first date.  Everything happened in a blur with just a few months between deciding to do it and the actual event, but it came together nicely and was an amazing time. 

To commemorate this event, Danette's 2017 birthday song is Alvvays's "Archie, Marry Me", their "hit" single (from their 2014 self-titled debut) about an unconventional marriage.  Warning: this song is an alt-pop earworm -- the strong hooks, Molly Rankin's small but precious voice, Alec O'Hanley's TJ&MC Psychocandy-era jangle-fuzz guitar, the hazy, fake-nostalgia of the video -- it all adds up to an unforgettable experience, just like Danette...

The lyrics are not a literal description of our scenario (and in fact, there is no real Archie), but they abstractly capture the essence of our relationship:
You've expressed explicitly your contempt for matrimony
You've student loans to pay and will not risk the alimony
We spend our days locked in a room content inside a bubble
And in the night time we go out and scour the streets for trouble

During the summer take me sailing out on the Atlantic
I won't set my sights on other seas, there is no need to panic
So honey take me by the hand and we can sign some papers
Forget the invitations, floral arrangements and bread makers

Too late to go out, too young to stay in
They're talking about us living in sin
We actually had printed invitations, and I'm pretty sure there were some flowers somewhere, but no bread makers were involved.

Even though you almost surely haven't heard this on the radio, the number of covers in three years clearly shows that others have fallen in love with this song as well.  I provide two good examples below:

Alvvays - "Archie, Marry Me" (live on KEXP) (live on 89.3)
Ben Gibbard - "Archie, Marry Me"
Choir!, Choir!, Choir! - "Archie, Marry Me"

Previous birthday songs:

2016: Molly Hatchet - "Flirtin' With Disaster"
2015: Avett Brothers - "Kick Drum Heart"
2014: Ani DiFranco - "32 Flavors"
2013: The Green Pajamas - "Kim the Waitress"
2012: The Cure - "High"
2011: Blink 182 - "Josie"
2010:  Dead Milkmen - "Punk Rock Girl"

Monday, September 11, 2017

Poe - "Angry Johnny" (forgotten song)

Driving back to VA from NC two weeks ago I heard a song on the radio that I had completely forgotten about: Poe's "Angry Johnny".  A single from her 1995 LP "Hello", I remember it receiving a lot of airplay at the time.  Wikipedia says she had moderate success with other singles, but I don't remember them.  Wikipedia also says that character of "Johnny" is from the book "House of Leaves", which wasn't published until 2000.  I wondered how this was possible, but further exploration revealed that the book's author, Mark Z. Danielewski is the brother of Poe (aka Anne Danielewski). 

I haven't listened to the entire LP, but this single is an enjoyable mid-90s time capsule.

Poe - "Angry Johnny".

Friday, August 25, 2017

Judas Priest - "British Steel" (LP Review)

I was speaking with Drew last week and he was reflecting on how many songs from the 1980s dealt with the threat of nuclear war.  One of the examples he mentioned was Judas Priest's "Some Heads Are Gonna Roll" ("One last day burning hell fire / You're blown away / If the man with the power / Can't keep it under control"), from their 1984 LP "Defenders of the Faith".  He offered other examples, of course, but the mention of Judas Priest unleashed from me a torrent of commentary, probably far more than he cared for, in which I pontificated that "Defenders" was really the beginning of the end for Priest, and their best LP is 1980's "British Steel", a landmark in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM).  I probably went on for about 10 minutes about "British Steel" (and honorable mentions "Sad Wings of Destiny", "Sin After Sin", and "Screaming for Vengeance") while he laid the telephone down and did something else. 

In HS, the cost of purchasing LPs was distributed among a network of friends, and Robert Gordick bought most of the Iron Maiden and Judas Priest (with the rest of us tape trading to complete our collection).  I do have British Steel on vinyl (and eventually I filled out my collection with their early catalog), one of the first LPs I bought myself (first 10 maybe?).  I won't pretend this doesn't have a significant nostalgia component for me, but I listened to it again after my discussion with Drew and was surprised at how well it held up.  LPs like "Killing Machine" (1978) and "Point of Entry" (1981) had good songs, but they weren't necessarily good albums.  "British Steel" is where they hit the sweet spot of commercial accessibility (the singles "Breaking the Law" and "Living After Midnight") without compromising their heavy sound (which began to erode on "Defenders"), with just a hint of their 1970s progressive rock origins (e.g., "The Rage").

The lyrics have certainly helped the LP age well.  I'm not going to tell you they're great metal lyrics (cf. "Morbid Tales"), but they are missing the puerile, misogynistic lyrics common to many metal bands of the era and that in itself is a big step*.   For example, the lyrics to "Metal Gods" are basically the synopsis to "The Terminator" some four years before it was released ("Hiding underground / Knowing we'd be found / Fearing for our lives / Reaped by robot's scythes").

There are no bad tracks, and at a trim 36 minutes the LP doesn't bog down and meander.  "Screaming for Vengeance" was their real breakthrough, and that's still a fine LP, but "British Steel" is truly their best.  Whether it was a permanent fixture on your turntable in the early 80s like it was for Robert and me, or if you're new to it like Drew, you owe it to yourself to give this LP a (re-)listen.   

Standout songs: "Rapid Fire",  "Metal Gods", "Breaking the Law", "United", "Living After Midnight", "The Rage", (entire LP). 

Skip 'em songs: none

Final score: 10/10.  Don't just take my word for it, read this retrospective and look at its #3 position on Rolling Stone's "100 Greatest Metal LPs of All Time".

* Of course, I didn't realize at the time that Rob Halford wasn't really interested in singing about women.  I remember Danette laughing heartily at me when I told her about the "Blue Oyster" scenes in "Police Academy" and me thinking "I don't get it, they're just dressed like Judas Priest".  Of course it seems obvious in retrospect, but my sheltered HS self didn't know about that