The Screaming Jets: All For One

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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

Matthew Sweet: Time Capsule: The Best Of Matthew Sweet 90/00

timecapsuleMatthew Sweet actually had two albums before 1991’s breakthrough, Girlfriend. The second of those two came out in 1989, so when he set out to create a greatest hits collection it made sense for him to do it in 2000 and celebrate his great decade. Time Capsule covers the five albums and one EP Sweet released in the 90’s and includes a couple of new tracks. And, even though he’s apparently still releasing new records, this collection has all the songs of his you know.

And what songs those are. The man wrote a perfect pop song in “Girlfriend” and came close to perfection with “Divine Intervention” and “Sick Of Myself.” I think writing a perfect pop song is the kind of thing society should reward by giving you a Caribbean island and supporting you in whatever you want to do for the rest of your life, and to have almost hit the jackpot twice more, well, Sweet’s a pretty gifted songwriter. And that still leaves 15 tracks left to consider in this collection.

And heck, let’s tackle those tracks, going from best-rated to worst…or let’s at least start that way and see how far we get. I mean, there’s no reason to try to pin some narrative on a greatest hits collection, amirite? For the last Really Like, we’ve got “Behind The Smile.” To be honest, I couldn’t hum the song for you right now. [Later: It’s the “I haven’t been a good friend while you’ve been mine” song -Ed.] And then, of the remaining 14 tracks, we have nine Likes, and, well, here’s where we get into the crux of this review. And Ima be honest with you, I’m working this out in real time here. If there was ever an album that screamed 3.5 clowns, it’s this one. Because, due to a great bulk of the record being Like and below it’s not four clowns. And the fact that I can say that definitively means, given my resistance to half-clown ratings, which I try to save only for times when I can’t decide between two full-clown choices, that it should be three clowns. But dammit it seems better than that, and yeah, as an album that represents the peak of Sweet’s career, I’m probably weighing it more heavily toward the great songs collected here.

But there are too many other songs. And Sweet has included too many slow songs and songs that veer away from his power pop perfection sweet spot. He maybe did this to shine light on the fact that he can do country-tinged and ballads in addition to power pop, which I kinda get, but when you’re the best in the game at the best genre ever, then why would you want to point out you can do lesser genres not as well?

So if I’m looking at my rating on this album as a reflection of Sweet’s best songs in his best decade, then, yeah, it’s really hard to leave it at three clowns. But if I look at what it is, a Greatest Hits album, with the inherent lack of cohesion that comes with that, and a collection that, I have to guess, does not actually pull out the 16 best songs available on the six releases represented herein, then I have to say, yeah, this is a solid three clowns.

Rating:
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Mix: “Girlfriend”
Really Like: “Divine Intervention,” “Sick Of Myself,” “Behind The Smile”
Like: “I’ve Been Waiting,” “The Ugly Truth,” “Devil With The Green Eyes,” “Someone To Pull The Trigger,” “We’re The Same,” “Where You Get Love,” “What Matters,” “Ready,” “So Far”
Meh: “You Don’t Love Me,” “Time Capsule,” “Until You Break,” “If Time Permits,” “Hide”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Throwing Muses: The Real Ramona

therealramonaWhen you do an image search on this album’s title, you get the above first, or at least I do, maybe because Bing is used to me searching for CD art now, but after that it’s all a bunch of Real Housewives stuff. Which maybe would have been a better lead for this review than that awful, awful cover art, which unbelievably came out in 1991, when folks should have been designing for the CD format, but clearly here were still thinking vinyl was a thing.

Anyway, turns out I like this album a lot more than I thought I did and a lot more than I did on initial re-listens a few weeks ago. It’s been in my collection for probably about 20 years, me having received it as a gift, but I’m going back to do the review now that Dig Me Out is doing (did) a review of it.

So the thing about Throwing Muses is they’re like Tanya Donelly’s third band, not chronologically, but impactfully. She was also in The Breeders (I’m just learning this now) and Belly, both of which were bigger. Maybe Belly wasn’t but yeah they had like one mega hit and a monster album so okay they were bigger but I can’t stand them. The Breeders, though, they were mega critically and commercially, though moreso critically.

So anyway, mostly you’re like yeah that’s Donelly’s third most important band but then there’s Kristen Hersh who, well, there’s a Kristen Hersh camp out there and this is her most importantest band at least until she did solo stuff later on. And so all the maje Throwing Muses fans are probably like ugh this Donelly chick keeps messing things up for our reputation. I don’t know, I’m just making stuff up.

So, this is kind of typically 90’s, with its combination of catchy melodies and weirdo drawn-out experimental songwriting and song construction. On the other hand, this came out in February of 1991, which holy god is like six to seven months before Nevermind and Ten. If this had come out two years later it probably would have seen hella rotation on alternative radio, but as it was, it was basically Throwing Muses’ last hurrah in an era where hair metal still ruled supreme. This is an album out of time.

It’s a bit of a schizophrenic album. While I can make sense of the sequencing, the weakest stuff is at the top, which leads to me generally being bored and feeling like I’m being jerked around over the course of it. “Hook In Her Head,” which navigates imperceptibly smoothly through several sections and ends up as a completely different song than the one it started as, bviously seems like the centerpiece now, but that’s after I’ve listened to it 30 times…and it’s placed eighth out of 12 tracks and is kind of overshadowed by “Ellen West,” the album’s best track, two tracks earlier.

If you took the album’s best tracks as one-offs, I really like it. And if you take its weaker tracks (note that nothing is worse than Meh) as one-offs, I’m even kind of digging them. But the album just stands there confused about what it wants to be as a whole. I like this, but the whole is less than the sum of its parts.

Rating:
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Really Like: “Ellen West”
Like: “Hook In Her Head,” “Not Too Soon,” “Say Goodbye,” “Two Step”
Meh: “Counting Backwards,” “Him Dancing,” “Red Shoes,” “Graffiti,” “Golden Thing,” “Dylan,” “Honeychain”
Filed Between: [I have no idea, I haven’t unpacked my CDs from the move yet]
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Regime: Demo 1991 + 3

demo1991+3This is a bizarre little release. I learned everything I know about this band from the bio in the album’s liner notes. They were from Texas and in 1991 recorded a four song demo before ever playing live. They never got signed. In the second half of 1991 they played some shows then broke up before the year was out. So far, no bizarre, except for the fact that I own their demo on CD. But then, at least according to the bio, the band became popular worldwide purely by word of mouth on this demo pressing of 1000. And here Stormspell Records has re-packaged that demo along with three bonus tracks, which were recorded live at a band rehearsal.

We’ll address the bonus tracks first, because, unfortunately, that’s the most prominent part of the collection, and not in a good way. They should not have been included, and you get the feeling that they were only so Stormspell could justify charging the price of a full CD for it. They sound absolutely awful, the songs aren’t complete (in particular, the vocal melodies reek of a work in progress), and the band can be overheard razzing each other and dissing their own performance throughout “Whatever Will Be Will Be” (whose title is two words too long), culminating in one member calling the other a gay slur (it’s the other f-word). The band admits in the liner notes the tracks aren’t fully-cooked, and maybe there are like a dozen hardcore Regime fans around the world who are, like, super psyched they have some more Regime in their lives, but couldn’t they have just released them for free on the Internet?

Anyhoo, the other four songs are all pretty good (though they still don’t sound fantastic, what with it being a demo and all). It’s like a faster Dokken or Queensrÿche with a guitarist in the style of Marty Friedman (Megadeth) or John Petrucci (Dream Theater) but not as good as either of those guys because, well, because they’re those guys. The emphasis is on technical skills, especially in the lead guitar, and soaring vocals, and the songwriting is complex but not at the level of what I would call “progressive”…it’s more of a NWOBHM feel, in fact I’m just now realizing the vocalist owes a lot to Rob Halford of Judas Priest.

I don’t know…did we need more NWOBHM? If you read my Reign Of Fury reviews, the answer is hells yeah. But there’s something that’s so fun and free about that band that makes it worthwhile. These guys, right down to the scowls on the back cover, seem to take themselves a bit too seriously, and that, along with the production values, keep it from being something I ever really want to go back to.

Rating:
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Really Like: “Sorrow’s Victim”
Like: “Illusions Of You,” “Amnesty Plan,” “Greeted By Confusion”
Meh: “Brave New World”
Dislike: “Angels Born Free”
Hate: “Whatever Will Be Will Be”
Filed Between: Lou Reed (Transformer) and Steve Reich (You Are (Variations))
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Kyuss: Wretch

wretchI have only one hesitation about giving Kyuss’ debut album five clowns, and that’s that, with respect to the rest of their catalog, where do they go from here? If I give five clowns to the album the fanbase generally regards as their third- or fourth-best effort, am I then locked into just riding out the catalog at five clowns, without being able to improve the relative rating?

I don’t know, but I find myself looking for reasons to knock it a half-clown. The sound/production comes up a lot, but, while it could definitely be better, it mostly fits the rough, dirty vibe of the album. Later the band would move on to a different production team and they would smooth things out and massively compress the sound, an effective approach for Kyuss’ generator rock (so named because this Palm Desert band would give their concerts at parties out in the middle of the desert), but here they’re still grimy and singing about wanting “pussy from a bad b***h on a big bike yeah” (“Big Bikes”), and so it fits.

Another reason for knocking it down is that no band has any business releasing an album that’s both this innovative (nobody was anywhere close to this in 1991) and this freaking good. And so they must have been on the rock band equivalent of performance enhancing drugs. But, really, you don’t want to start faulting rock bands for writing great songs on performance enhancing drugs, because you’re going to eliminate a lot of great rock music then.

And then maybe there’s that three-song stretch of Really Likes from “Black Widow” to “Deadly Kiss” you could knock them for, but there are a few problems with that suggestion. First is that for just about any album, three straight Really Likes is awesome. Second is that a part of what makes them fall short of Love or Mix is that they’re sharing a disc with songs that are almost inconceivably superior.. At least one of those would be at least Love on a normal CD. Finally, the fact that they’re put there is perfect and just shows how well-sequenced the album is, with a brilliant start and a perfect second half. [And then I listened again in headphones and decided “Black Widow” and “Katzenjammer” were Love anyway. And if “Deadly Kiss” is the worst song on your album, yeah, that’s basically five clowns right there.]

So, screw it, I’ve always said that my favorite Kyuss album is the one I’m listening to at the moment, and that trend continues. Load up the truck on Friday night, light a cigarette, crank this up, and tear out of town to a place you can go wild without breaking shit, cuz we’re gonna get wild.

Rating:
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Filed Between: Kronos Quartet (Howl, U.S.A.) and KyussBlues For The Red Sun
Mix: “Love Has Passed Me By,” “Isolation,” “I’m Not”
Love: “(Beginning Of What’s About To Happen) Hwy. 74,” “Son Of A Bitch,” “Black Widow,” “Katzenjammer,” “The Law,” “Big Bikes,” “Stage III”
Really Like: “Deadly Kiss”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Guns N’ Roses: Use Your Illusion I & II

useyourillusioni useyourillusioniiMan, this is an intimidating review. Conceptually supposed to be two albums, but come on, I don’t think anybody really treats them as anything other than one monolith, this is two packed CDs, each almost seventy-six(!) minutes, with a total of 30 tracks. This felt ridiculous at the time, but now, good God, nobody would get away with this kind of indulgence. I mean, this isn’t like one CD and then a deluxe CD with alternate mixes, this is, with the exception of the two versions of “Don’t Cry” (there’s an indulgence that should have been left behind), all entirely new material.

This is where Axl really starts to get weird, like in the super famous can’t handle it Michael Jackson kinda way, but swap out the pedophilia for misogyny. Before the Chinese Democracy craziness and delays, which put these to shame, there was the Use Your Illusion era of delays and craziness. The album was delayed several times with Axl reportedly scrapping entire albums’ worth of finished work at least once. Then he jumped into the crowd in St. Louis to fight somebody taking a picture (just re-read that sentence in 2015, good God) and the place rioted when the band quit because, again, somebody was taking. his. picture. I can’t even. And then, and this could only have happened in the CD-crazy 90’s, the band announced they’re going to release two albums, both with the same name, on the same day.

The anticipation was nuts. I remember this being one of those CDs I bought at midnight (remember that tradition?). And my initial reaction was that I hated them. Looking back, I hated them, for the most part, because, while the overall proportion of filler isn’t all that bad, when you have this much content a small proportion adds up to a decent amount. They were getting away from their guitar/drums hard-and-fast recipe, and when they did it wasn’t always all that good, and so I rejected it. And the better songs took a little longer to sink in.

But here’s the thing. These albums are really fucking good. I mean, no, they’re not as good as Appetite For Destruction, but in the annals of bands trying to follow up impossibly good albums, this is a damned fine entry. (Off the top of my head, Nirvana’s In Utero leads the class and I can’t think of any others I’d place as high as this one.) And, yeah, 30 tracks is way too many, but if you took, say, the best 15 tracks here and made an album with just those, well, for one it would be more than 80 minutes, but it’d be right up there with Appetite for quality, and I think you’d still be leaving quite a bit of good stuff on the cutting room floor.

And these discs are just steeped in legend. For example, it’s often said that Nirvana’s Nevermind came out on the same day. It was actually a week later, but Nirvana also gets associated with Michael Jackson’s Dangerous which came out a couple of months later, but that’s the holiday season during which Nevermind was blowing up.

Good God, I’m this far in and I still haven’t started the review proper. Okay, let’s firebomb our way through this thing. And, hell, I’m just making this up as I go, let’s just do this like White Album style and do it in like four sides.

We’ll call side one from “Right Next Door To Hell” (obvs) through “Back Off Bitch.” Okay, so right there, the misogyny. And I’ll be honest, it didn’t really strike me when I was 16. But it bothers me now. Anyway, Axl has some issues with women, and they are not represented well here. There’s no excuse for it, and I don’t mean to sidestep it, but I’m going to be here forever if I spend more time on it, so let’s just agree it’s a big black mark on his musical legacy and move on. Now, the thing about side 1 is that it’s the most bluesy, roots-rocky of all of them, which was something I was really rejecting at this point in my life, being more into alternate tunings and the like. But here you’ve got a very bright sound, and kind of a punky aggression to things that also didn’t fit with my broody metal mood. But I like almost all of these songs. I never need to hear “You Ain’t The First” (I could go on a tangent about how they cycle through lead singers on this album–it’s Izzy here–but I won’t) again and I’d like to change the lyrics to “Back Off,” but I want seven of these modified eight tracks in my collection. They’re great. And that still makes it like only the third-best side of the four.

Then side two is the rest of Use Your Illusion I. In these eight tracks, we have six really likes, one mix CD candidate, and the best song ever, “Coma,” which is 10:08 and, amazingly, justifies every second of that length, an excellent marathon of rhapsodic bliss, except the parts where all the women are stereotypically nagging him non-stop (see Rose, Axl – misogyny) and the doctors have some office politics tension in their voices. This is my favorite side. Take away “Garden Of Eden,” which has its place (but not here), and it’s just non-stop awesomeness for seven straight tracks. The last four are an amazing journey that should never have been buried so deep behind so much roots rock.

That brings us to side three, or the first side of the “night album” of the two. We’ll say this runs from “Civil War” to “Shotgun Blues.” This is the worst of the four sides. Their version of Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” is great, and the first three tracks are very good, except the lyrics to “Civil War” are so naive and linguistically confused that it’s tough to listen to. After those four, though, we have two of the worst songs in the bunch. “Get In The Ring” is actually a pretty good song, but the lyrics are so petulantly juvenile with the band swearing so often in so much manufactured rage it feels like one big testosterone-filled stupid fest. “Shotgun Blues” keeps up the hating on other people (Axl really had some issues), but is another fine-but-not-great entry into Guns N’ Roses efforts to occasionally be a punk band (their next release The Spaghetti Incident, comprised a set of punk covers).

Now, the next two songs, “Breakdown” and “Pretty Tied Up,” respectively, lead off my side four. And, if they’d been reversed, I would have had the a-little-bit-silly, a-little-bit-misogynstic “Pretty Tied Up” close out side three. But I can’t have “Breakdown,” which is either the second,  third, or fourth best song on the album (“Coma” of course, “Dead Horse”, and “You Could Be Mine”) not be on side four, the second best side in the bunch. Totally epic with a great piano line, this one’s buried in the middle of the second album right behind a song where the band thinks we want to hear them yell at the editors of Circus and Spin magazines by name while pretending to care about the “kids spending their hard earned money.” “Breakdown” is almost certainly the best GnR song nobody’s ever heard, though that might also be “Locomotive,” which so wonderfully nearly falls apart at the “run off the tracks” lyric. Take a breather for “So Fine,” the Duff-sung song that would be a lot better if it weren’t for those orgasm-like sighs, which are just super uncomfortable to listen to with their close-mic’d moaning, in the beginning. “Estranged” is wonderful, if a bit too long, and completes the trilogy begun with “November Rain” (see, I didn’t even have time to talk about “November Rain” back on side two, that’s how much there is here) and “Don’t Cry.” Then there’s “You Could Be Mine.” A bit about that song: it was the first single off the albums and featured in Terminator 2. It came out before the albums did and, to take you back to the level of anticipation…imagine that all you’ve ever heard from Guns N’ Roses was Appetite, Lies, and then this song. This song is amazing and totally in the vein of Appetite but just a bit older and wiser. I mean, I think people forget how amazing this song was and what we thought it meant that we were going to get two albums’ worth of material this good in just a few months. And it’s basically buried as the last song in the collection because then you have the alternate version of “Don’t Cry,” which, I mean, why bother, and then Axl’s “My World” rap, which is mostly unfortunate though Axl’s ridiculous levels of talent keep it from being a total disaster in spite of his efforts. Reportedly the rest of the band didn’t know the song existed until the albums came out.

Anyway, there’s no way to appreciate this from a review. I don’t even think you can appreciate it all in 20 listens. I’ve been listening for over 20 years and I’m still not sure I’ve got it all.

Rating (applies to each album separately and both together):
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Filed Between: Guns N’ Roses’ Lies and Chinese Democracy
Best Song Ever: “Coma”
Mix: “Dead Horse,” “Breakdown,” “You Could Be Mine”
Love: “Locomotive”
Really Like: “Right Next Door To Hell,” “Live And Let Die,” “Don’t Cry (Original Version),” “Double Talkin’ Jive,” “November Rain,” “The Garden,” “Don’t Damn Me,” “Bad Apples,” “Civil War,” “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” “Estranged”
Like: “Dust N’ Bones,” “Perfect Crime,” “Bad Obsession,” “Garden Of Eden,” “14 Years,” “Yesterdays,” “Shotgun Blues,” “Pretty Tied Up,” “Don’t Cry (Alternate Version)”
Meh: “You Ain’t The First,” “Back Off Bitch,” “So Fine,” “My World”
Dislike: “Get In The Ring”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Melvins: 26 Songs

26songsMelvins launched their recording career in 1986 with the aptly-titled Six Songs on C/Z records. Five years later, they re-recorded (or re-mastered or something) those six songs, added one song to the end of each side and re-released it on vinyl as Eight Songs. At the same time they also added two more songs to the end and released that collection as 10 Songs on CD. These were all small releases that would barely see the light of day after that (I do have a cassette version of their next album, Gluey Porch Treatments, with Six Songs tacked on to the end), until 2003 when Ipecac would release the aforementioned 16 tracks, along with ten other odds-and-ends as this 70-minute beast entitled 26 songs.

What’s most amazing about this release is how fully-formed Melvins emerged from nothing into the sludgemasters they would still be five years later on Bullhead. They’ve evolved, of course, over the nearly 30 years since this seminal release, but their early sound is fully intact and delivered with the confidence of adolescent males who are assured of the force of what they have to say.

What really impresses me about the young ‘uns here is their ability to stay so firmly grounded in their abilities. They’re already quite proficient players and understand song structure, but they kind of invent their own sludgy genre by, often, forcing this deliberate rhythm on you with a harmonic progression that doesn’t seem to follow a pattern and, therefore, lights up what might otherwise be something plodding into a delightfully interesting jackhammer of an experience.

The Six Songs songs suffer from some sonic problems, but for the most part the album sounds better than a lot of what’s put out today, which is especially poignant given how Melvins traffic in distortion and muddy lower frequencies. I could also do without the last 14 minutes or so, dialogue of the boys recorded with a character (who thinks he’s some kind of superhero?) named Hugh, but hell, I’m also not going to let that spoil the wonder of this document. Thank God for Melvins.

Rating:
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Love: “Grinding Process,” “Show Off Your Red Hands,” “At A Crawl (Six Songs version),” “Set Me Straight”
Like: “Easy As It Was,” “Now A Limo,” “#2 Pencil,” “At A Crawl,” “Disinvite,” “Snake Appeal,” “Over From Underground,” “Cray Fish,” “Easy As It Was (Six Songs version)”, “Now A Limo” (Six Songs version),” “Grinding Process (Six Songs version),” “Disinvite (Six Songs version),” “Snake Appeal (Six Songs version),” “Show Off Your Red Hands (v2),” “#2 Pencil (v2),” “Grinding Process (v3),” “At A Crawl (v3),” “Breakfast On The Sly”
Meh: “Snake Appeal (v2),” “Operation Blessing”
Hate: Ever Since My Accident/’Hugh'”
Filed Between: Melvins’ Hostile Ambient Takeover and Trick And Riddle Book from Neither Here Nor There
Song Notes: After the jump

Continue reading