Friday, July 30, 2010

The Persuaders - "Some Guys Have All The Luck" (the song remains the same)

If there is an award for most cover versions of song that never gets played on the radio, "Some Guys Have All The Luck" would win hands down. My first recollection of this song is from the Rod Stewart video on MTV. Although the video received a fair amount of play for a short while and was a single from his 1984 LP "Camouflage", I don't recall on it on any of the local radio stations. It has the dorky, casio-keyboard sound that I absolutely hated (esp. since I was in my metal phase), but I still kind of liked this song. I was sort of surprised that I liked it, especially considering that Stewart failed to make interesting music after 1981's LP "Tonight I'm Yours" (edit: once again, Danette has accused of being too generous; she says Rod Stewart ceased being interesting ca. 1977). I didn't realize at the time the song was a cover and that was probably the reason why I liked the song despite the modish production.

I can't quite remember when I discovered the Robert Palmer version. At first, I thought it was Palmer covering Stewart, but later I learned that Palmer's version came out in 1982 on "Maybe It's Live". It still has an early 80's sound, and there's actually a video for this version, but it is 1) bizarre and 2) NSFW. I'm not sure why in 1982 you would make a video that you know can't play on MTV. Furthermore, he really only borrows part of the chorus from the original -- it is almost more of a remix than a cover.

After doing a little poking around on the Web, I learned SGHATL is actually a 1969 single from the R&B group The Persuaders. It was a top 40 hit for them then, but I don't recall ever hearing it on an oldies channel. Knowing that Robert Palmer based a lot of his material on R&B covers (and to a lesser extent, Rod Stewart as well), this made sense. And their version is quite good, even if it sounds modish as well.

A little more poking around on the web and I found that Derrick Harriot release a reggae / proto-dance hall version in 1974; this version is quite good too. Maxi Priest released another reggae version in 1987, but this one doesn't do much for me.

Saving the best for last, I uncovered on YouTube a "live in the tour bus" recording by Camera Obscura (whom you may recall from my glowing review of "Let's Get Out of This Country") which is, as far as I know, not available on any of their official releases. No disrespect intended to original writer Jeff Fortgang, or Robert Palmer, but Tracyanne Campbell is always going to trump the others in my book.

The Persuaders: YouTube.

Derrick Harriot: YouTube.

Robert Palmer: Dailymotion, TOTP version.

Rod Stewart: Dailymotion.

Maxi Priest: YouTube.

Camera Obscura: YouTube.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Liz Phair - "Liz Phair" (LP Review)

Danette has accused me of being too generous in my reviews, but I think I'm just reviewing my favorite stuff first. But just to be fair, I'll review something that's really, really bad: Liz Phair's fourth LP, 2003's self-titled "Liz Phair".

OK, so that's cheating a bit -- everyone knows this is a terrible LP. Liz Phair hit the scene in 1993 with "Exile in Guyville" and it was a critical blockbuster. Everybody loved Liz: the sexy, brash, irreverent, pottymouthed girl-next-door. The critics loved her so much, in fact, they could never quite forgive her for not continually re-releasing "Exile in Guyville". The analogy to M. Night Shyamalan is obvious.

But in 2003, she hit rock bottom. Eager to trade in her indie cred for something more tangible (she warned us, see: 1998's "Shitloads of Money"), she enlisted the production team The Matrix and strived to write more commercial songs. Not coincidentally, "Liz Phair" was the first LP to not feature re-recorded songs from her early Girly Sound demo tapes. The result is that she ended up imitating her imitators -- she became a 36 year-old Avril Lavigne. She simultaneously failed to gain significant cross over success and yet still managed to alienate her indie fan base. Where her earlier LPs were clever/funny/shocking, "Liz Phair" is stale/calculating/hollow. As David St. Hubbins tells us: "It's such a fine line between stupid, and clever."

The result was scathing reviews that were more clever than the LP itself: the NY Times called it "Liz Phair's Exile in Avril-ville" and Pitchfork Media gave it a 0.0. Ouch. On a 10 point scale, that's like going to 11 the bad way. I tried to think of my own witticism for this review, but the best I could come up with was a couple of Spinal Tap retreads. If she mailed it in, so will I.

I will say that I actually like the songs "Extraordinary" and "Why Can't I?". And I'm further ashamed to say those are two of the four songs that she co-wrote with The Matrix. Since The Matrix only contributed to four songs, two of which I actually like, I have to conclude that Liz bears most of the blame for this LP, where the other 12 songs vary between "bland" and "awful". I could call them out one by one, but what's the point? The less said about them the better. Finally, the video for "Why Can't I?" is terribly clever -- a must see, slightly anachronistic homage to CD jukeboxes and 1960s-era cover art.

Standout songs: "Extraordinary" (different version, from the movie "Raising Helen"), "Why Can't I?"

Skip 'em songs: all of the others. really.

Final score: 3/10. Tough love.

Weird Bonus Link: A video (from that appears to be an apology for the LP, conflating The Matrix production team and the film The Matrix. Maybe it seemed funny on paper, but it just makes things worse.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Honeymoon Suite - "New Girl Now" (forgotten song)

So when is the last time you heard this one? I recall "New Girl Now" getting a small amount of radio airplay when it came out in 1984, but I can't recall it having a video on MTV. It was the first single from the self-titled LP by the Canadian band Honeymoon Suite.

Even though it came out in 1984, the sound is late 70s / early 80s new wave. Perhaps they were destined to be just a one hit wonder (at least in the US), or perhaps they were simply eclipsed by the emerging college / alternative sound.

YouTube: "New Girl Now".

Friday, July 16, 2010

Joy Division - "Atmosphere" (the song remains the same)

"Atmosphere" might be Joy Division's best song, arguably even better than the popular "Love Will Tear Us Apart". The latter still gets airplay, but I don't recall ever hearing the former on the radio. JD fans know, of course, but the casual listener has probably never heard "Atmosphere".

A non-LP single, it was first released in 1980 as the A-side on a very limited release 7" "Licht Und Blindheit" and then later the same year as a double A-side 12" single: with the UK version having "Atmosphere" as the A-side and the US version having "She's Lost Control" as the A-side. Of course, most of us have it on 1988's compilation LP "Substance".

In many ways, "Atmosphere" sounds unlike any of their other songs. While still sounding desolate, it does not have the typical menacing, frenetic JD sound. As the name suggests, it has a soundtrack quality to it: slow, majestic, sprawling. The video evokes the same feelings, but I have to admit the hooded figures running through desert remind me of Jawas. I don't think that was JD's intent, but they can't claim prior art since the song came out three years after Star Wars.

The slowcore band "Codeine" does an excellent cover of "Atmosphere" which can be found on the tribute LP "A Means To An End - The Music Of Joy Division". Although I'll eventually review the LP, here's a spoiler alert: there are only a few gems on it, but Codeine's version is amazing. First, the slowcore sound allows Codeine to out-desolate JD: true to their name "Codeine", they have the Black Sabbath, slow-doom sound but without the distortion pedals. Second, although "Atmosphere" is best recognized for Stephen Morris's innovative drumming, the percussion is almost entirely removed in the Codeine version. I can only imagine the conversation went like this:

Q: "How do we honor the trademark drum work on this track?"
A: "We don't even try."
Q: "What do we do instead?"
A: "Play it even slower."
Q: "Do you feel sleepy too?"
A: "Yes."

Third, as if the above weren't enough, they slightly changed the lyrics. According to Shadowplay, in JD's version the third verse is:
People like you find it easy
Naked to see - walking on air
Hunting by the rivers
Through the streets, every corner
Abandoned too soon
Set down with due care
Don't walk away - in silence
Don't walk away
Codeine's version is:
People like you have it easy
Face like the sun - walking on air
Haunted by your face, every street, every corner
Abandoned too soon
Don't walk away - in silence
Don't walk away - in silence
Although I hesitate to go against Ian Curtis, I really think the Codeine version is better. I suppose it could have been a lyrical variation from Curtis himself, but the Shadowplay site would presumably mention if that were true. Codeine's changes to the song both expand and honor the original.

Peter Murphy (formerly of Bauhaus) and Trent Reznor (of NiN) also did a cover of "Atmosphere" on the "2006 Radio Sessions". And while I love the idea of a Murhpy & Reznor cover version, it is a pretty straight forward interpretation. More JD covers is a good thing, but their version doesn't push like Codeine's.

Joy Division: "Atmosphere"
Codeine: "Atmosphere"
Peter Murphy & Trent Reznor: "Atmosphere"

Bonus links:
"Dead Souls" (B-side of "Licht Und Blindheit" 7") (live version)
"She's Lost Control" (Alternate A-side of 12")