Thursday, June 23, 2011

Red House Painters - Red House Painters (LP Review)

What if you combined elements of 1980s goth/punk (e.g., The Cure, The Jesus and Mary Chain), alt-country (e.g., Cowboy Junkies, Mojave 3), and slowcore (e.g., Low, Codeine), and the result was...  boring?

That would be Red House Painters, at least as I listen to their 1993 eponymous LP informally known as "Rollercoaster" (to differentiate it from their other 1993 eponymous LP known as "Bridge"). I generally like to become very familiar with an LP before I review it, but I actually haven't had this LP long. I read an effusive review somewhere online (Allmusic perhaps?) and purchased it without a lot of other research. Having just listened to it again tonight, the best thing I can say is there are no bad songs. Unfortunately, there are no good songs either. Just 14 unremarkable songs that evoke all of the influences listed above, but otherwise do nothing for me... and I really like this genre!

Perhaps I would have felt differently in 1993, or maybe if I gave it a few more listens, but I feel I've listened to it enough to render an opinion: there were many LPs released in 1993 and this is one of them. It reminds of Roosevelt's quote about "those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

Standout songs: n/a

Skip 'em songs: n/a

Songs that appear: "New Jersey", "Strawberry Hill", (find more at Grooveshark)

Final score: 5/10. Suitable for background listening only.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Bruce Springsteen - "Blinded by the Light" (the song remains the same)

How should I observe the passing of Clarence Clemons? An obvious choice would be "Jungleland", which is often cited as having one of Clemons' best solos (it occurs ~ 4:03 in this live 1978 version). Instead, I'm going with a song most people probably don't know was written by Bruce: "Blinded by the Light", the first (and ultimately unsuccessful) single from Bruce's first LP, 1973's "Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.".

"Blinded by the Light" was later made famous by Manfred Mann's Earth Band as a single from their 1976 LP "The Roaring Silence". Whereas Bruce's version was still very much in Dylan's shadow, MMEB trimmed the voluminous lyrics (original lyrics vs. MMEB's lyrics), provided a slick 70s synth sound, and added some clever counterpoint at the end. The Manfred Mann version came in two versions, both of which you still hear regularly on classic rock radio: a 7 minute LP version and a 4 minute single version. And while it very much sounds like a mid-70s song, I never tire of it (see also: "Cruel to be Kind").

The various characters in the song (the drummer, diplomat, mascot, preacher, chaperone, etc.) are partially explained in the VH1 Storytellers DVD, but the interesting explanation is cut short by the video's editors! Danette bought this as a Christmas present a few years ago precisely because she knows I'm fascinated by this song's cast of characters and she thought all would finally be explained. Unless someone has an unedited version of this performance we'll never know who all these people are (though it is clear they are all real, or at least based on real characters). I've seen various explanations on the web, but none that I'd consider canonical. And if you're only familiar with the MMEB's version, you're missing out on the those that MMEB removed: the "hazard from Harvard", the "dude" from Scotland Yard, the shooting star, and the avatar.

While "Blinded by the Light" is probably not the first song you think of when Clarence Clemons is mentioned, I will point out that it is one of only two GFAPNJ songs on which Clemons appears and as such I consider it a fitting tribute.

Bruce Springsteen: studio version, 1974 live version, 2009 live version, VH1 Storytellers version (starts at ~9:00 into the video).

Manfred Mann's Earth Band: LP version, Single version, 1975 live version.