Saturday, February 25, 2012

Rainbow - "Rising" (LP Review)

So here's my dilemma: I'd like to increase my hipster indie cred by writing more about artists like Autechre, The Caretaker, Balam Acab, etc. On the other hand, I also like it when people actually read what I write, and so far my two most popular reviews (in terms of page views) are Black Sabbath - "Vol. 4" and Rainbow - "On Stage". In the interest of more clicks, I'm digging up another high school era LP...

Rainbow's 2nd LP, 1976's "Rising"*, is one of a handful of LPs that I have on both vinyl and CD; that should be some indication of how important I thought this LP was at a particular time. I still remember purchasing the vinyl LP at the music store in the Newmarket North mall, ca. 1985. I can't quite remember when I purchased the CD, but I think it was a few years later while I was in college.

As I said in the "On Stage" review, Rainbow Mk. II was their best lineup: Ronnie James Dio (vocals), Ritchie Blackmore (guitar), Tony Carey (keyboards), Jimmy Bain (bass), and Cozy Powell (drums). Sadly, they only made this one studio LP together (Rainbow's lineup changed for every single studio release), and although 1978's lineup for "Long Live Rock 'n' Roll" is similar, that LP isn't nearly as good. Unlike "On Stage", I've always had mixed feelings about this LP. At six songs and approximately 33 minutes, there is actually a lot to dislike about this LP, but an epic, 16 minute, two-song sequence makes this LP worthwhile.

One song is ok ("Tarot Woman"), three songs are awful ("Run With The Wolf", "Starstruck", "Do You Close Your Eyes"), and two songs are amazing ("Stargazer", "A Light in the Black"). The latter two songs formed side two of the vinyl record, so I pretty much pretended that there was only 1/2 of an LP to play. "Starstruck" and "Do You Close Your Eyes" are especially bad: mid 70s blues rock songs that Dio simply can't pull off. Related bands like Whitesnake and later versions of Deep Purple could do well with those kinds of songs, but Dio is best when he sticks within the epic fantasy genre. "Tarot Woman" moves in that direction, but side two is where the LP shines.

"Stargazer" and "A Light in the Black" form a two-part story of a person who (loosely summarizing) joins a cult and helps build a tower for a wizard who seeks to fly:
In the heat and the rain
With whips and chains
To see him fly
So many die
We build a tower of stone
With our flesh and bone
Just to see him fly
But we don't know why
Now where do we go?
Of course, the wizard falls to the ground instead of flying and his former followers are left to ponder why and find their way back home (from ALITB):
Won't forget his face, what a lonely place
Did he really let us go?
All the time that's lost, what's the final cost
Will I really get away?
All my life it seems, just a crazy dream
Reaching for somebody's star
Can't believe it all, did he really fall?
What to do now I don't know
Somethings calling me back, like a light in the black
Yes I'm ready to go
I'm coming home
Well... I thought it was cool in HS. "Stargazer" successfully integrates an orchestra with the music to give the appropriate epic, soundtrack quality. "A Light in the Black" is stripped down and features Cozy Powell at his best: providing the solid foundation of the newly realized certainty of the character. Tony Carey is excellent in both songs.

These two songs provided the template for Dio's future direction in fantasy metal, both in Black Sabbath and later in Dio. Sadly, this Rainbow line up gave us one great live LP and just one studio LP that was only half-great.

Standout tracks: "Tarot Woman", "Stargazer" (live), "A Light in the Black" (live)

Skip 'em tracks: "Run With The Wolf", "Starstruck", "Do You Close Your Eyes" (live)

Final score: 7/10**. I struggled with this one, but if you like Blackmore & Dio, this LP should be in your collection. If you don't like them, this LP won't convince you otherwise.

Bonus link: the entire LP as a single YouTube track.

* Worthless trivia: The vinyl record was originally entitled "Rainbow Rising", with the artist being "Blackmore's Rainbow". Additionally, their first LP was actually billed as by "Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow". It wasn't until "On Stage" that the band's name was simply "Rainbow", and they retroactively retitled the first two LPs.

** I'm ready for the clicks to come pouring in! Hopefully no nasty grams since this rated "only" a 7/10.

2017-02-01 edit: I just saw that Jimmy Bain died about a year ago -- I'm not sure how I missed that.  Cozy Powell died a long time ago (1998), so only Ritchie Blackmore and Tony Carey are the only surviving members of this lineup. 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Autechre - "Peel Session" (LP Review)

If you don't like repetitive, electronic music you're not going to like Autechre, who are in some ways electronica's answer to Phillip Glass. Herbert turned me on to Autechre (aka Sean Booth & Rob Brown) many years ago, and their 1999 EP "Peel Session" is probably my favorite release of theirs.

At first listen, Autechre's music seems rather simple: loops of different melodies and percussion gradually introduced, combined, retracted, modified, and reintroduced (thus the comparison with Glass). Any single loop is simple enough, but their combination and the summation of their effect is surprisingly complex and hypnotic, and only reveals its full design after repeated listenings.

"Peel Session" was recorded for and broadcast by John Peel in 1995, but the EP itself wasn't released until 1999. At 25 minutes, it contains three songs in increasing length and complexity: "Milk DX", "Inhake 2", and "Drane". They're all good, but "Drane" is a hypnotic masterpiece (with some elements bordering on shoegazing). This EP has a more ambient feel than some of their more IDM-influenced releases, making it that much stronger in my opinion.

Standout songs: "Milk DX", "Inhake 2", "Drane"

Skip 'em songs: none.

Final score: 8/10. Don't play this as background music, because it will suck the air out of the room.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Clash - "Straight to Hell" (forgotten song)

I just realized that while I had a Super Bowl themed post last year, I didn't have one this year. So just a few days late... The Clash?! Admittedly this is one of the last bands you would associate with the Super Bowl.

Here's the tie-in: Madonna did the half-time show this year and although she lip-synced (that's bad), it was still better than last year's oddly bland performance by the Black Eyed Peas (anyone that says the BEPs performance was the worst ever must have forgotten about the 2010 performance by The Who...). One of Madonna's guests was M.I.A., who apparently flipped off somebody -- NBC, NFL, FCC, America, Madonna -- it isn't clear.

Upon reading about that my first reaction was "who?". But then I remembered that M.I.A. did the song "Paper Planes", made famous by being featured in the 2008 movie "Slumdog Millionaire". Of course, what made that song memorable is that it heavily samples from the last (proper) single by The Clash, 1982's "Straight to Hell", from the LP "Combat Rock".

The Clash's last single was fittingly a great song, and although their lyrics deal with examples of immigration issues ca. 1982, it is still a proper summary of the GOP policy on immigration:
There ain't no need for ya
Go straight to hell boys
The Clash: "Straight to Hell" (SNL 1982 live version, stadium live version)
M.I.A. "Paper Planes"

Bonus Links:
Lily Allen & Mick Jones: "Straight to Hell"
The Clash: "Should I Stay or Should I Go" (B-Side to the 1982 single).