Thursday, February 15, 2018

Prince - "I Would Die 4 U" (spotlight)

Super Bowl LII has come and gone and it was quite a good game, especially since I did not care who won.  Justin Timberlake was the halftime show, and reviews appeared to be mixed (e.g., "This is how Justin Timberlake lost the Super Bowl" vs. "Halftime Review: Justin Timberlake Emerges Fumble-Free After Bad Pre-Game PR").  I'm ambivalent about Justin Timberlake: he's funny on SNL, and he brought sexy back and for that I'm grateful, but otherwise I don't care that much; his performance seemed fine to me but I had set the bar pretty low.

For me, the truly interesting part of the halftime show was JT's tribute to Prince (presumably because the Super Bowl was in Minneapolis?) and the controversy leading up to the event.  Apparently the plan was to "recreate" Prince via a hologram (similar to that used for Maria Callas and Roy Orbison), a technique that Prince had previously called "demonic".  The hologram idea was eventually scrapped courtesy of Sheila E.'s advice, and instead we were treated to Prince singing ""I Would Die 4 U" via old Purple Rain* footage projected on what looked like a giant bed sheet.  Apparently that still upset some Prince fans; I can only assume they destroyed their DVDs (VHSes?) of "Purple Rain" on April 21, 2016.

Prince - "I Would Die 4 U

* Ok, technically it was footage from both "Purple Rain" and "Prince and the Revolution Live!", but while you've likely seen "Purple Rain" a dozen or more times, have you actually seen the latter concert film?

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Iron Maiden - "2 Minutes to Midnight" (forgotten song)

A State of the Union special...

Last week the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists advanced the Doomsday Clock by 30 seconds to 2 minutes to midnight.  The Doomsday Clock is a symbol, created in 1947 by the Science and the Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist at the beginning of the Cold War, of our proximity to human-made apocalyptic disaster, most notably nuclear war. 

In 1984 Iron Maiden released "2 Minutes to Midnight", a single from "Powerslave", about the Doomsday Clock.  Interestingly enough in 1984 when the song was released the clock was set "only" to 3 minutes; the Clock has only been at 2 minutes once before (1953) and never closer than 2 minutes.

Hearkening back to my discussion with Drew about how themes from 80s metal songs are sadly relevant again, choosing "2 Minutes to Midnight" is a little on the nose but it also seems unavoidable.

"As the madmen play on words and make us all dance to their song
To the tune of starving millions to make a better kind of gun"

Iron Maiden - "2 Minutes to Midnight" (lyrics)

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Motorhead - "(We Are) The Road Crew" (forgotten song)

"Fast Eddie" Clarke, the last living "classic lineup" member of Motorhead, died this weekLemmy died just over two years ago, and although I missed it at the time, Phil "Philthy Animal" Taylor died just six weeks before Lemmy.

Motorhead went through many lineups, with only Lemmy as the constant member, but Clarke and Taylor were there for the first five studio LPs, and various live LPs, EPs, and singles.  Clarke would go on to leave Motorhead in 1982, forming the mildly successful but otherwise forgettable band Fastway with some other NWOBHM veterans.  Let's be honest: leaving Motorhead might extend your life expectancy, but musically things aren't going to improve. 

Of all the great songs from the classic lineup my favorite is probably "(We Are) The Road Crew", which I've already referenced in my "No Sleep till Brooklyn" post.  The studio version is great, of course, but the version I'm featuring here is from a 2005 BBC "Classic Albums" documentary where Clarke, Lemmy, and Taylor got back together and ran through songs from the "Ace of Spades" LP after not playing together 20+ years.  This version is instrumental only, so the focus is on Clarke's solos instead of Lemmy singing.  The tempo is also slightly faster than the original, and it just plain kills.

"(We Are) The Road Crew": 2005 BBC version, 1980 studio version

Bonus link for "Fast Eddie": I have a vague memory of a Fastway video from the early days of MTV; I think it was "Say What You Will", but I can't find an actual video for it.  And I might be wrong about which song it was, but it doesn't really matter since they're all deservedly overlooked (admittedly "Say What You Will" has a nice, bluesy riff, but I just can't warm up to Dave King singing metal). 

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Angel Olsen - Live KEXP 2017-02-18 (concert)

More KEXP goodness, this time with Angel Olsen, recorded nearly a year ago in support of her excellent 2016 LP "My Woman". 

This four song set doesn't feature "Shut Up Kiss Me" or "Sister", my two favorite songs from "My Woman", but does feature the next best three songs from the LP ("Intern", "Woman", and "Never Be Mine") as well as a great cover of "Total Control" by The Motels

I've since updated my LP review to reflect this, but this KEXP concert clip is where I realized that the backup singer in the Colbert video that I raved about to all of my friends is actually Heather McEntire, the lead singer for Mount Moriah (on the right-hand side of the image above).  I've already raved about how great I think Heather is in my review of their eponymous LP, so on the one hand, I'm disappointed that I didn't recognize her, even in the whole The Crickets / rockabilly outfit, and on the other hand I'm glad I noticed her sound and thought "wow, she should have her own band!" Fortunately Mount Moriah is still active and this is just another example of their members being involved in different projects (c.f. Jenks Miller and Horseback). 

This is at least the second time Olsen has been on KEXP, but the 2014 appearance was in support of the "Burn Your Fire for No Witness" LP, which although not bad is not the masterpiece that "My Woman" is. 

Bonus link: The Motels - "Total Control"

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Silversun Pickups - "Lazy Eye" (spotlight)

Driving last night I heard "Lazy Eye" on the radio, and that reminded me that I've been meaning to do this: I hereby declare The Smashing Pumpkins redundant, and in the future we need only the Silversun Pickups.

When I first head "Lazy Eye" some 11 (!) years ago I (and everyone else) thought Brian Aubert's voice was similar to Billy Corgan's, and that their overall sound mines the same territory as The Smashing Pumpkins, Sonic Youth, and MBV.  So why are TSPs now redundant?

First, although I was never a huge fan of TSPs, their early work (e.g., from 1993's "Siamese Dream") nicely captures the sound of the early 90s / post-college and all the associated nostalgia.  I enjoyed the singles from each successive LP less and less, but did not let their decreasing relevancy diminish my enjoyment of "Disarm", "Today", etc.

Then when Danette and I got together she made it clear in no uncertain terms that she did not like Billy Corgan.  On the other hand, Danette's a hater and dislikes a lot of good music, so I remained unconvinced and having never seen Corgan in an interview, I had a protective veil of ignorance.  Recently, in the autobiography "Girl in a Band",  I discovered that Kim Gordon's assessment of Billy Corgan matches Danette's.  This is when I started to think maybe Danette was right... 

The final straw is when I recently saw a screen grab of Billy Corgan on Info Wars, talking about chemtrails or something.  That convinced me that 1) he actually was batshit crazy, and 2) Danette was definitely right.

Can you reject creepy Corgan and still enjoy "Today"?  I'm not sure, but in the mean time we can enjoy the Silversun Pickups, who still "sound like college" to me.  They've had a steady stream of moderately successful singles, but the "Lazy Eye" from their 2006 debut LP "Carnavas" is probably still their biggest hit.  And we can probably just retire Billy et al.

Silversun Pickups - "Lazy Eye", live from Sun Liquor (from which their name derives)

Bonus Sonic Youth reference:  From the official video, Nikki Monninger (top) looks like a brunette Kim Gordon (bottom).  

2018-02-15 edit: I came across this today...

Sunday, December 24, 2017

AC/DC - "Jailbreak" (forgotten song)

Malcolm Young, a founding member of the seminal blues/hard-rock/heavy metal band AC/DC, died recently, just over three years after he retired from the band because of his dementia diagnosis.  Although he was "just" a rhythm guitarist, Malcolm co-wrote, with his brother Angus, the music for all AC/DC songs.  Considering all the memorable riffs AC/DC has produced over 40+ years, that's quite an impressive feat.

So which one should I choose to mark Malcom's passing?  It's actually pretty difficult.  I remember "Back in Black", with its many hit singles, when it was a new release in 1980, coinciding with my budding awareness of music.  After that, Bill Glidden got a lot of their early catalog (e.g., "Highway to Hell", "Powerage").  I also have some pretty enjoyable memories of "For Those About to Rock We Salute You" at Robert Gordick's house. 

Instead of the many great songs from those LPs, I will choose "Jailbreak", which first appeared on Australian version of their 1976 LP "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap", but not on the US version of that LP which did not come out until 1981, a full year after the death of Bon Scott and Brian Johnson replacing him for the seminal "Back in Black".  The song "Jailbreak" wasn't released in the US until the 1984 EP "'74 Jailbreak". 

Confused yet?  Well the discography of AC/DC is filled with all kinds of anomalies, mostly arising from different versions of their LPs for Australia, Europe, and the US.  And a 1976 song, not released in the US until 1984, on an EP that suggests 1974, perfectly captures the disorder of their early catalog  -- which includes essentially two different LPs with the same title!   

So why does AC/DC continue to have such appeal?  Danette and I talk about this occasionally.  First, the songs are heavy and feature memorable riffs, but the blues origins are clearly maintained.  The lyrics, especially those of Bon Scott, are funny even when they're sophomoric.  We often wonder if we first heard songs like "Big Balls" today (instead of 35+ years ago) if we'd still find them funny, but I suspect we would.  We recently decided that a deciding factor in their appeal is they are, to the best that we could remember, one of the least misogynistic hard rock bands.  Sure, there are a lot of songs about women and sex, but we can't recall any that are especially mean-spirited or degrading.  Perhaps that's why we have all-female tribute bands, like Hell's Belles

Officially, AC/DC continues, but with death of founding member Malcolm, the voluntary retirement of long-time bassist Cliff Williams,  the involuntary retirement of Brian Johnson, and long-time drummer Phil Rudd landing in jail because of living out the story of "Dirty Deeds...",  I'm not sure it's still really AC/DC. 

There's a 1976 video for "Jailbreak", which features Malcolm in the opening sequence (in a guard's outfit).  A video is pretty rare for 1976, so I suppose we should forgive them for not figuring out how to get all five band members in frame at once. 

AC/DC - "Jailbreak"

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".