Saturday, August 28, 2010

Bob Marley and the Wailers - "Redemption Song" (the song remains the same)

In the mid- to late-80s it was de riguer for every high school bedroom or college dorm room to have a Bob Marley and The Wailers poster (the image used on the LP "Legend"); you couldn't be alternative without it. So I'll consider the background on Marley as read since there's nothing I can add to it.

"Redemption Song" is the last song on 1980's "Uprising", the final studio LP from Bob Marley and The Wailers. With the possible exception of "No Woman No Cry", "Redemption Song" is probably my favorite BMATW song. The 7" version of "Redemption Song" had both the acoustic version (from "Uprising") as well as "band version" with The Wailers.

There are dozens of covers of "Redemption Song"; I won't even try to list them all. When Joe Strummer covered it on his 2003 LP "Streetcore", there was only one way to improve on it: a duet with Joe Strummer and Johnny Cash, from the 2003 posthumously released box set "Unearthed". Once again, you have to hand it to Rick Rubin for putting this together (see also: my review of "God's Gonna Cut You Down"). Honestly, does it get any better than Joe Stummer & Johnny Cash covering a Bob Marley song?

Bob Marley (acoustic solo): YouTube. This is closest to the version you're used to.

Bob Marley and The Wailers: YouTube.

Joe Strummer: YouTube.

Johnny Cash & Joe Strummer: YouTube.

(This is an obvious companion to my review for "Streetcore", but I felt it deserved its own entry.)

Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros - "Streetcore" (LP Review)

I have to confess that I knew little about Joe Strummer's career after The Clash until I saw the documentary "Let's Rock Again!". Despite the somewhat silly title, it is a quite good description of the modest circumstance of Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros on tour promoting their second LP, 2001's "Global A Go-Go". Sometime after seeing LRA, I also saw the documentary "Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten". Apparently I'm not the only one that wasn't clear what he had been up to: even refers to the period between The Clash and The Mescaleros as "The Wilderness Years".

I liked what I heard in those documentaries, so I bought "Streetcore", which was posthumously released in 2003. I'm trying to review this LP without both the nostalgia regarding Strummer's untimely death in 2002, and my own continuing appreciation for The Clash, whom (much like Joy Division) I understand and appreciate far more now than "back in the day".

So with every attempt to be objective, I can honestly say this is an excellent LP. Not just a collection of excellent songs, what I appreciate most is this LP sounds exactly like what an LP by a 50 year-old Joe Strummer should sound like. I'll try to describe what that means, and we'll see if Lee agrees with me...

Strummer was in his mid-20s when the seminal double LP "London Calling" was recorded, and its sound captures the righteous indignation of a young punk. On "Streetcore", Strummer doesn't try to sound like the angry, street preacher of his youth and The Mescaleros don't try to be "the only band that matters". On the other hand, the fire is still there: he's still angry and he hasn't given up the fight, but he's tempered with age, experience, wisdom, and perspective. He doesn't deny his origins either; for example, the song "Burnin' Streets" slyly incorporates the lyrics "London is burning", but without the urgency of The Clash song "London's Burning". In summary, "Streetcore" gives us a version of Joe Strummer that is like aged leather.

This LP was assembled after Strummer's death, so there is a mixture of producers (e.g., Rick Rubin is the producer of the cover of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song"), and the song "Midnight Jam" was unfinished when Strummer died so instead of vocals it features samples of Strummer's BBC radio show. As a result, "Midnight Jam" sounds a bit like "Death is a Star" from "Combat Rock". And as the name The Mescaleros suggests, there is a definite Tex-Mex sound on some songs, esp. "Coma Girl", "Get Down Moses" and "Long Shadow". They're mostly known for their world music influences, but it sounds more like punk-influenced rockabilly to me. The only song that doesn't work for me is "Arms Aloft".

It is tempting to rate this more highly than it deserves because it is Strummer's last LP. However, even if he was alive and still recording, this would still be an important LP that serves as a blueprint for aging rockers yearning to remain relevant. It reminds me of the scenes in "Let's Rock Again!" where Strummer is promoting his upcoming concert, talking to people on the boardwalk and then later to a DJ at a local radio station. He seems to take it all in stride, but the viewer is left to think "dude, you're talking to Joe F'n Strummer, and you don't even realize it..." It is unfortunate that this LP is not more well-known.

Standout songs: "Coma Girl", "Get Down Moses", "Long Shadow", "Ramshackle Day Parade", "Redemption Song", "All in a Day", "Midnight Jam", "Silver and Gold".

Skip 'em songs: "Arms Aloft".

Final score: 9/10.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Cribs - "I'm A Realist" (LP Review)

This is an odd sort of EP from The Cribs: I think it only exists for the public in digital form, although I've found some evidence on ebay that it also exists (under a different cover) as a promo-only 4 track EP (the entry seems to support this theory as well).

In my quest to acquire the back catalog of The Cribs (see my other reviews), I tried to find a CD version of this EP. Failing in that, I broke down and bought it on iTunes, which I have to confess is very unsatisfying. Yes, I understand that I'm something of a fossil by continuing to buy hard-copy formats of music, but 1) the collector in me isn't satisfied if there isn't a physical manifestation, and 2) my professional interests in digital preservation make me more optimistic about the long-term viability of CDs over my iTunes library.

Should you buy this EP online? Or hunt up a promo version on ebay? The short answer is "yes". It is mostly a collection of songs that have appeared in other releases, but some of them have been difficult to get and/or have only been in 7" vinyl. And if you're a hard-core collector, then promo-only releases are gems in your collection (for example, I'm proud to have a copy of DJ Shadow's "One to Grow On" promo-only LP).

The title track is the final single from 2007's "Men's Needs, Women's Needs, Whatever" LP. It's not a bad song, but it certainly wasn't a standout track from the LP. This EP also contains a remix of "I'm A Realist" from The Postal Service, which I believe is the only track on this EP you can't find elsewhere. I'm a big fan of Jimmy Taborello (1/2 of TPS; see also my review of "Dumb Luck"), and while I really like the idea of a TPS remix of a song by The Cribs, I can't say it works that well. It is "interesting", and it sounds exactly like what a TPS remix should sound like, and while I'm happy to have it as a collector I don't really play it all that often.

However, the other two tracks on the EP I play all the time. "Don't You Wanna Be Relevant" and "Kind Words From the Broken Hearted" first appeared as a 7" non-LP single in 2007 after the release of MNWNW. "Don't You Wanna Be Relevant" is a blistering continuation of their previous songs like "Hey Scenesters" and "Mirror Kissers"; conventional wisdom says The Pigeon Detectives are the target of the band's wrath in this song. No one can do sneer and snarky like The Cribs.

"Kind Words From the Broken Hearted" would sound at home on either of their first LPs. This is in part because it was produced by Edwyn Collins (who also produced "The New Fellas") after his recovery from illness. There should be a law that requires Collins to produce every LP by The Cribs -- they simply don't miss when they get together.

The digital-only version closes with a video for "Our Bovine Public" from MNWMW. Not new material, but an excellent song and the video draws heavily from the DVD set "Live At The Brudenell Social Club".

Standout songs: "Don't You Wanna Be Relevant" (live version), "Kind Words From the Broken Hearted" (live version), "Our Bovine Public" (live version, Jools Holland).

Skip 'em songs: none.

Final score: 8/10, on the strength of "DYWBR" and "KWFTBH" and being the last release of the pre-Johnny Marr era.

Bonus Links: "I'm A Realist" (live version on Jools Holland; live version w/ Johnny Marr), "I'm A Realist (The Postal Service Remix)" -- these aren't good enough to be "standout", but they're not really "skip 'em" either.

Bonus Links #2: The B-side of the original 7" of "I'm A Realist" featured a cover of "Bastards of Young" by The Replacements: cover by The Cribs, original by The Replacements.

Bonus Links #3: Wichita Recordings has the official video for "Don't You Wanna Be Relevant", but the audio volume is very low. It's a great video, but you'll need to really crank your volume.