The Screaming Jets: All For One

allforone

The Screaming Jets are an Australian band that, whatever their current line up, was a quintet in 1991. Despite thoroughly enjoying this album, I haven’t followed the band closely since then, though it seems they’re still at least somewhat active. In 1991 the music industry knew something was going crazy with guitar-driven bands, so they threw everything at the wall. As a result it’s become kind of a golden age of everything that was even halfway good at the time.

This is much better than halfway good, but it also wasn’t what was about to be everything. It’s very straightforward, melodic hard rock. The closest approximation from that time that springs to mind is The Black Crowes, but this isn’t as bluesy. So even though they seem to have had a continued presence in Australia, it’s no surprise that their stateside representation lost interest pretty quickly after this didn’t blow up right away. I’ve heard that Australian bands are more insulated from the fickle whims and trends that devour entire genres overnight in the US and UK, so it wouldn’t surprise me at all if they’re still very much the same band.

The most notable deficiency of the album is that it ends with what are pretty much its two weakest songs. No matter, the rest of the album more than makes up for it. The best track, by far, is “Blue Sashes,” which, with its first-person tale of the Vietnam war (“lay Charlie clean/…/we’re gonna get those commies and mow ’em all down”) brings out all the ugly jingoism I never knew I had in an incredible burst of exuberance. It’s hard for me to believe that was the intended effect…maybe it’s like a “Born In The U.S.A.” thing where I’m completely misreading it. Regardless, the song rocks, as does pretty much all of this album.

Rating:
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Mix: “Blue Sashes”
Really Like:
“Better,” “No Point,” “Sister Tease”
Like: 
“C’mon,” “Needle,” “Shine On,” “Starting Out,” “Stop The World,” “The Only One”
Meh: “Got It”
Filed Between: Probably The Screaming Jets’ “F.R.C.” cassette single and Screaming Trees’ Invisible Lantern
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Rick Springfield: Working Class Dog

workingclassdog

Laugh if you will, but my love for Rick Springfield is not one iota ironic. I’ll defend his early material, fall passionately in love with his most recent releases, and I’ll definitively pronounce that the four albums that run from Wait For Night through Living In Oz are masterpieces. This is the second album in that run; you know it as “the one with ‘Jessie’s Girl.'”

This is the first tape I ever got. Yeah, we got tapes back then. I also got a Walkman, like an honest to got brand name Sony Walkman. Tapes are called cassettes now, but then they were definitely called tapes. And I’m willing to admit that a big part of my Rickers love comes from that birthday gift…with this serving as the foundation of my slowly building collection (tied for number two were Def Leppard’s Pyromania and Michael Jackson’s Thriller) I listened to it an awful lot and internalized Springfield’s songwriting tendencies. When he puts in a great bridge or key change in a new song, it feels right. But goddammit, I also think guitar-driven pop music is one of the crowning achievements of humankind, and Rick Springfield is one of its finest practitioners.

So the fact that I know this album inside and out is probably a part of the reason that I think that “Jessie’s Girl” is maybe the eighth best of the ten songs on here. But another big part of that is that, come on, if you’re a huge Rick Springfield fan you’re kind of sick of “Jessie’s Girl,” right? It’s like being a huge Faith No More fan and having them continually associated with just “Epic.” I can’t count the weddings at which “Jessie’s Girl” starts getting played and everybody looks at me for me to put on my performance, which is really hard when you get to the last third and the chorus keeps repeating without any more climaxes. I mean, at this point, I can’t even tell if I like it or not. Springfield himself has a much better attitude about the song, I think he calls it That Song or something like that, but he loves it as one of its own and recognizes all the fame and fortune afforded to him via that one song.

I don’t get flummoxed by an artist’s oeuvre being overshadowed by one song, but considering how much this album sold and how good it was it is pretty surprising that it’s not at least recognized as more than its biggest hit. When I was a kid “Daddy’s Pearl” was my favorite and I always wondered why it was buried in the middle of side two. The song, and especially its gang vocal chorus, seems a little less sophisticated than the rest of the album to me now, as do the next two tracks (see below). However, I have an even greater appreciation for the really awesome craft in “Love Is Alright Tonite,” “The Light Of Love” (which lead off their respective sides), “Hole In My Heart,” and “Carry Me Away.” The reggae-tinged “Everybody’s Girl” also holds up really well.

Now, let’s go back to those last two songs. “Red Hot & Blue Love” is fine. It’s a step away from the rest of the album to more of a doo wop boogie kind of feel. It doesn’t fit (in particular the husky female backing vocals don’t mix well with Springfield’s tenor), but it’s quite good and features a blistering guitar solo and a barn burner of an ending. And then the album closes with “Inside Silvia.” I have this really strong memory of unwrapping this tape, looking at the song listing, and feeling the need to say, “Oh it has [this track], too.” And since I didn’t recognize anything except “Jessie’s Girl,” I just went with the last one even though I had never heard of it. It’s a ballad. I appreciated it at the time. But I know I didn’t get the literal meaning of the title until I was much, much older, and now I think it’s just gross, though I recognize that kind of weird literal sincerity was prevalent in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Again, it’s fine, but it’s not great, and now I can’t listen to it without visualizing a vagina wrapped around Springfield’s member. And that just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

So for the first seven tracks, this is definitely on a five-clown trajectory. And even through the first nine I’m kind of tempted to keep it up there. But “Inside Silvia” is just a misstep too blatant to ignore.

And now I feel bad that I spent two paragraphs on “Inside Silvia,” which is not even bad. This album is awesome and is so much more than “Jessie’s Girl.” If you write off Rick Springfield, you owe it to yourself to spend a few days with this power pop that has yet to be equaled.

Rating:
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Mix: “Carry Me Away,” “The Light Of Love”
Really Like: 
“Love Is Alright Tonite,” “Hole In My Heart”
Like: “Jessie’s Girl,” “I’ve Done Everything For You,” “Everybody’s Girl,” “Daddy’s Pearl,” “Red Hot & Blue Love”
Meh: “Inside Silvia”
Filed Between: Rick Springfield’s Wait For Night and Success Hasn’t Spoiled Me Yet
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Mike Patton: The Solitude Of Prime Numbers

thesolitudeofprimenumbers

This sounds like the score of a movie done by Mike Patton. That’s because it is. You’ve seen movies. You’ve listened to Mike Patton. This is the combination of the two.

Not enough? Okay, fine, what if I told you the movie was Italian and about an awkward teenage friendship. Yeah? Now you’re starting to get it?

Yeah, it’s like that. It’s subdued, unlike a lot of Patton because, you know, he has to stay true to the film. And it’s a score, so it’s background-y in a lot of places. But it’s also quite avant-garde because it’s, you know, Mike Patton.

Most of the work here is done with the sound crafting. Reverb is heavy and mostly a result of the room. The instrumentation is mostly a (heavily-reverbed) piano, but there are plenty of electronics, too, especially in the big “Radius Of Convergence” or in more low drone tracks like “Method Of Infinite Descent.” The only vocals are some la la la’s in the first track.

The best stuff is in the first half. Up until, let’s say, track 19, it’s on a four-clown path, but then the back half of the album doesn’t offer anything besides Mehs and it gets a little too background-y for enjoyable listening.

What’s that? Back half after track 19? Oh yeah, that sounds like a lot, but track 19 is really only the eighth track. Because 19 is the eighth prime number. Yeah, check out that track listing, that’s one of the coolest things about this CD: all of the track numbers are prime numbers, from 2 to 53. And the names of the tracks are all mathematical concepts (I just read that, I don’t know any of them, nor did I look them all up).

Yay for weirdo musical scores.

Rating:
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Like: “Twin Primes,” “Identity Matrix,” “Contrapositive,” “Abscissa,” “Isolated Primes”
Meh: “Method Of Infinite Descent,” “Cicatrix,” “Radius Of Convergence,” “Separatrix,” “The Snow Angel,” “Apnoea,” “Supersingular Primes,” “Quadratix,” “Calculus Of Finite Differences,” “Zeroth,” “Weight Of Consequences (Quod Erat Demonstrandum)”
Filed Between:
 Mike Patton’s Mondo Cane and something else but I don’t know because I haven’t unpacked my CDs
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Rick Springfield: Comic Book Heroes

comicbookheroes

At other joints I’ve reviewed the other three Rick Springfield pre-Working Class Dog (i.e., the “Jessie’s Girl” album) records. This isn’t the five-[clown] masterpiece that was its successor, 1976’s Wait For Night, nor does it contain anything as ball-droppingly amazing as “Theme From Mission Magic” from its predecessor, Mission Magic! However, it’s much closer in quality to those entries than his debut album, Beginnings.

First, I can listen to this from start to finish and, except for a few lyrical clunks (and they’re big clunks), I never feel self-conscious or embarrassed; this is a legitimate pleasure, no guilt involved. Second, there’s plenty here that’s legitimately good, with the top two highlights being the motivational rocker “Why Are You Waiting” and the angry breakup song “The Liar.”

It may be just something that’s accessible to long-time Springfield fans who cut their teeth on his songwriting like me, but it’s a treat to go back to these albums from his pre-star days and hear the same sensibilities for song construction…it’s like going back and finding a toy that was very similar to one of your favorite childhood toys just different in a really cool way.

I foreshadowed this a bit, but the element that keeps this from being a higher review is the lyrics. Like on Beginnings he oddly juxtaposes his youthful pretty-boy look and energy with breathily-delivered cheesy lyrics of people at very different places in life. “The Photograph” tells the tale of an old woman who never married because her beau passed when they were young. In “Misty Water Woman” we get a poor remaking of the old tale of the dude who picks up a ghostly woman and drives her home where she disappears and her now elderly parents tell of how she drowned decades ago. So there’s the lyrics and then there’s just the genuinely weak portion of the album near the end where, from “The Photograph” to “Born Out Of Time” it’s hard to get too excited about anything, especially the very nearly bad “Bad Boy.”

Still, this is quite good. I enjoy it with no irony, and sing along with it all the day long, unable to get its melodies out of my head. As a fan, I want to give it four clowns. As a critic, I lean more towards three. I split the difference.

Rating:
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Mix: “The Liar”
Really Like:
 “Weep No More,” “Why Are You Waiting”
Like:
“Comic Book Heroes,” “I’m Your Superman,” “Do You Love Your Children”
Meh: “Believe In Me,” “Misty Water Woman,” “The Photograph,” “Bad Boy,” “Born Out Of Time”
Filed Between: Springfield’s Mission Magic! and Wait For Night
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Helmet: Strap It On

strapiton

Helmet’s debut album has always confounded me. It still does. I never want to listen to it. I only listen to it because I think I should, because it’s Helmet and because some weirdos think it’s their best album. And then I listen to it and I’m like, “Yeah, this is rough and not that good.” But if I keep listening to it I have moments of, “Wow, this is really inspired and well performed.”

This is Helmet’s most punky, least metal effort, which I think goes a long way towards explaining why some weirdos think it’s their best…when some people hear any metal elements they automatically turn off…some people do the same for country. Anyway, this is also, I think, a really clear look into Page Hamilton’s aesthetic before he cleaned things up sonically. The songs have a bit of a same-key, same-tempo thing going on, and, despite being quite good, almost feel like containers for their unconventional but wonderfully noisy, squawky guitar solos.

One aspect that makes it really tough to get into is the sound quality. Unless you’re listening to it extremely loudly, it’s hard to appreciate what’s going on, especially in Hamilton’s guitar playing. Some songs sound better (“Blacktop”) than others (“Repetition,” which they inexplicably chose as the album’s first track), so much so that I expected to see two different producers, engineers, and/or studios listed in the credits. That’s not the case, so I can only assume that the differences are from being recorded on different days during a period where engineer Wharton Tiers was working his way through the Arts Institute.

So the muffled sound obscures what is otherwise a very good album. And even after I’ve listened to it a bunch of times and have a positive sentiment going towards it, firing up that first track still requires some effort and bracing myself. So the album has that prominent flaw, but otherwise is fantastic. Helmet wouldn’t make another album like this, which is a good thing in that we got their follow-up output, but also makes this one a little special hardcore/punk/metal treasure for those who like odd time signatures and massive distortion in their guitar solos.

Rating:
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Mix: “FBLA,” “Blacktop,” “Make Room”
Really Like: “Rude,” “Sinatra,” “Distracted,” “Murder”
Like: 
“Repetition,” “Bad Mood”
Filed Between: I still haven’t unpacked my CDs and Helmet’s Meantime
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Spastic Ink: Ink Compatible

inkcompatible

So I’m sitting down to write this review, and I’m kind of unsure where to start, so I bust out the liner notes and note that Jason McMaster is the lead singer. And I’m like, Hmmm, Jason McMaster, that name rings a bell. So a Bing search later and I realize Oh, he’s the lead singer of Dangerous Toys (whose debut album is phenomenal). Also I notice that Marty Friedman, guitar legend from Megadeth’s best years, is involved in the project, though not, it seems, a permanent member of the band.

And the combination of that level of talent plus just WTF am I listening to is a great summary of this album. I mean, there’s all that, and then the copyright is just attributed to guitarist Ron Jarzombek, not a record label or even a publishing company. Spastic Ink is an appropriate moniker, and the cover art, which to me looks like an ink cartridge jizzing all over a circuit board, also seems appropriate. This is an explosion of talent put down on tape in a completely unrestrained way. It’s like these virtuosi were just given free rein to be as technical as they wanted to be, but then, along the lines of, like Steve Vai, they forgot to make their songs accessible at all.

Although, whereas Steve Vai is mostly overwrought ego, these guys are overdone silliness. This came out in 2004, but it feels like 1994 in its technological references (the first sound you hear on the record is a modem dialing in on an analog line). There are weird, anachronistic spoken word parts of people reading technical specifications as if the acronyms were words, getting angry at technology, and shopping for a word processor. The vocals in “A Chaotic Realization Of Nothing Yet Misunderstood” (it’s ACRONYM) are a woman whispering the full versions of popular Internet abbreviations (e.g., FYI, OTOH, IIRC). “Multi-Masking,” when it’s not highlighting Les Claypool-esque bass, features backwards vocals that, well, I don’t even want to know what they’re saying.

This album is an impressive technical feat. Not even just as a display of virtuosity, but compositionally, too. But only if you’re totally in the right mood, which I think is totally hopped up on cocaine. I’ve never done cocaine, but when I’m in the mood where I think it might be like that, I can really concentrate on all the hyperactivity, stop/start-ness, and tempo changes, and geek out to it. And I kinda like my music extreme, but this is just a bit too much. It’s like over earnest in its delivery and then, like in a self-conscious way, it dollops on a whole ton of silliness. It’s just a lot to take in.

Rating:
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Like: “Aquanet,” “Just A Little Bit,” “Read Me”
Meh: “Multi-Masking,” “In Memory Of…,” “The Cereal Mouse,” “A Quick Affix”
Dislike: “Words For Nerds,” “Melissa’s Friend,” “A Chaotic Realization Of Nothing Yet Misunderstood”
Filed Between: I don’t know, I still haven’t unpacked my CDs. It might be right before Rick Springfield and right after like Soul Coughing.
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Link

anthology1In 1995 and 1996 The Beatles released a trio of double-CD sets called Anthology. I remember it being an opening of the vaults to grab a bunch of unreleased stuff to package around two songs that had been recorded, forgotten about, and recently discovered. The first of those songs was “Free As A Bird” and starts this collection, while the second, “Real Love,” leads off Anthology 2. That’s not quite right, though. While there are songs here that fit the pattern of being contemporaneously discovered and released here for the first time, the two “new” songs are tracks that John Lennon had been working on at the time of his death and, in 1995, were finished by the three surviving band members into what’s presented here.

Anyway, I’ve had the second and third installments of their Anthology trilogy since their release, in large part because if you bought them right away at Best Buy you got a free disc of interviews, too, and I mean, free CDs! I was never as intrigued by the band’s early stuff as their later stuff, and combined with just not being on the ball for that first free interview disc, this first installment went missing from my collection until now.

All three albums are peppered with speeches and outtakes, making them more historical records than albums, per se. Still, this is by far the most ragged, the one with the most rough edges. That’s to be expected, of course, given that this pulls out recordings going way back to the band’s beginning. There’s the 78 they recorded as The Quarrymen, as well as selections from their recording tests at Decca and Parlophone. On its own, it’s a pretty tough listen. The liner notes, though, combine with the speeches peppered throughout to tell the story of the band’s early beginnings through Beatlemania (a real treat is that first song they played on The Ed Sullivan Show, “All My Loving”) and wrapping up at about the end of their second album, With The Beatles.

There’s some real crap in here, even after you get past some of the awful sound on the early home recordings. It’s no surprise to me that they didn’t get a deal at Decca given that their audition included the execrable “Searching” and “Three Cool Cats.”

However, there are also some gems that I’ve never heard of. The Decca audtion bit closes out with the wonderfully energetic and fun “The Sheik Of Araby” and from the E&M (Parlophone?) audition we get the sultry “Besame Mucho.” Right around the same time come “Like Dreamers Do,” which I can’t stop singing, and “Hello Little Girl.” Later we have “I’ll Get You” and “You Know What To Do.” How many of those did you know? I maybe knew a couple, but now I can’t tell. It reminds me of something a friend used to say that, if you don’t like The Beatles, you just haven’t heard enough of their music. And I think that’s basically true because the band does cover a really wide range of musical styles. But this goes even further to my point that there are styles in the above songs that they just don’t exhibit anywhere else in their catalog, and so, as long as you keep digging, you’ll still find new, good stuff that the band never saw fit to release. And I do think that some of the stuff they released, including some of their biggest hits, are pretty bad. (Among those, ready your pitchforks, are “Love Me Do” (included here in a much slower, worse version that the one you know), “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” and “All You Need Is Love.”)

In the end, I think Anthology 1, in its 60(!) tracks, does a great job of creating a historical document of The Beatles’ early years, told mostly through studio and live recordings, though the liner notes are pretty essential to getting the story down. I’d love to reward it for that outcome with four full clowns, but it’s just such a hard listen, especially without the liner notes context, that I can’t quite go that high.

Rating:
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Mix: “Besame Mucho,” “You Know What To Do”
Love: “Like Dreamers Do”
Really Like: “The Sheik Of Araby,” “Hello Little Girl,” “I’ll Get You,” “All My Loving,” “Kansas City/Hey Hey Hey”
Like: “Free As A Bird,” “My Bonnie,” “Ain’t She Sweet,” “Cry For A Shadow,” “Speech: Brian Epstein (‘Well the recording test came and went…’),” “How Do You Do It,” “Lend Me Your Comb,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” “From Me To You,” “Money (That’s What I Want),” “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Till There Was You,” “Twist And Shout,” “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “A Hard Day’s Night,” “I Wanna Be Your Man,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Boys,” “I’ll Be Back (Take 3),” “Mr. Moonlight,” “Leave My Kitten Alone”
Meh: “That’ll Be The Day,” “Speech: Paul McCartney (‘Sometimes I’d borrow a tape recorder…’),” “Cayenne,” “Speech: Paul (‘First of all we made a record…’),” “Speech: John (‘Brian was a beautiful guy…’),” “Speech: Brian Epstein: (‘I secured them an audition…’),” “Please Please Me,” “One After 909 (Sequence),” “One After 909,” “You Really Got A Hold On Me,” “She Loves You,” “This Boy,” “Speech: Eric Morecambe And Ernie Wise (‘Boys, what I was thinking…’),” “Moonlight Bay,” “And I Love Her,” “Shout,” “I’ll Be Back (Take 2),” “No Reply,” “Eight Days A Week (Complete)”
Dislike: “In Spite Of All The Danger,” “Hallelujah, I Love Her So,” “Three Cool Cats,” “Speech: John (‘We were performers…’),” “You Can’t Do That,” “No Reply (Demo),” “Eight Days A Week (Sequence)”
Hate: “Speech: John Lennon (‘We were four guys…’),” “You’ll Be Mine,” “Searching,” “Love Me Do”
Filed Between: The Beatles’ 1967-1970 and that first interview disc that Best Buy gave away with this which I ended up getting on the secondary market many years ago
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading