Rick Springfield: Working Class Dog


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.

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


CHVRCHES: Every Open Eye


I feel like I’ve said this recently, but this is the way to do ’80’s redux. If you’re going to crib so liberally from the pop music of a decade, and update it only by using smarter beats, then your songs have to be ridiculously strong to stand up to it. In ’80’s terms, you need to be “Take On Me” and “Don’t Forget Me (When I’m Gone),” not Toto (just pick a song). You need to be REO Speedwagon, not Foreigner.

I don’t have a ton to say here that I can put into a narrative, so I’m just gonna hit the main points.

Mainly, this is 80’s synth pop done expertly well. The orchestration is lush, dense, super accessible, but complexity is revealed in repeated listens.

Most of the songs feature a female lead vocal, but my fave, “High Enough To Carry You Over” features a male, and, yeah, there’s probably a connection (I just like dudes singing).

Most of the songs are upbeat, but there are a few ballads that, again, are done in the grand ’80’s tradition. (“High Enough To Carry You Over” starts just like Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away.”)

The beats are super smart. Modernity strikes in those beats as well as some hip-hop rhythms (“Playing Dead”) and record scratches (“Clearest Blue”).

The production is basically perfect. Lauren Mayberry’s voice is placed right up front but nothing is buried. The modern flourishes and gorgeous synths are there to add to the wondrous songs…nothing gets in the way of everything…everything finds its perfect place to come together to service what are fantastic songs. Or maybe they’re not. Honestly the production is so amazing it may be overcoming mediocre songs, but I doubt it.

So, do you like beautiful sounds? Do you like awesome songs? Do you like perfect production? Then you should listen to this album.

Mix: “High Enough To Carry You Over”
Really Like:
“Leave A Trace,” “Keep You On My Side,” “Clearest Blue”
“Never Ending Circles,” “Make Them Gold,” “Empty Threat,” “Down Side Of Me,” “Playing Dead,” “Bury It,” “Afterglow”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Fantômas: The Director’s Cut Live, A New Year’s Revolution


Let’s start with a brief overview of Fantômas’s history. In 1999, the band would, composed of members of Mr. Bungle, Melvins, and Slayer, lead off Ipecac Recordings’ catalog with IPC-001, their self-titled album. Two years later they’d come along with their masterpiece, The Director’s Cut, IPC-017, 15 tracks that are covers of movie themes (plus a four second untitled track), some that you’ve heard (The GodfatherRosemary’s Baby) and more that you haven’t. In 2004 and 2005 they’d release a forgettable pair of albums (the latter of which I reviewed at an old joint) before going into a cold war of hibernation. (I read one interview with guitarist Buzz Osborne, the Melvins representative, where he said, “Ask [lead singer] Mike [Patton],” when asked why we hadn’t seen any Fantômas releases for a while.) Amid that somewhat bizarre somewhat public airing of grievances, Osborne and Patton managed to get together to perform this New Year’s show, replacing drummer Dave Lombardo (also of Slayer) with Melvins’ Dale Crover. (The only member you have not yet been introduced to in this review is Mr. Bungle’s bassist Trevor Dunn.)

It’s not clear when this was recorded, though it was on a New Year’s Day. Given that it was released in September(!) 2011, it’s safe to say this was recorded starting at midnight on January 1, 2011 in San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall. I have some difficult history with Fantômas live. On New Year’s Eve 1999 I disappointedly showed up at their show just at the end of their set (they were second in a lineup of five). And on something like September 14th or 15th 2001 I had tickets to their show in Minneapolis, but because some assholes flew planes into the World Trade Center a few days prior, I couldn’t get out of Portland in order to see it. And then I feel like I did see them on the Suspended Animation tour in Boston with The Locust opening, but I don’t see a review of that show.

So, anyway, it’s weird that the band would perform the entirety of this album ten years after its release and six years after they’d released anything at all, but I was happy to get it even then since it really is an amazing album. They do the entire thing live, but in a different order, and they pull it off, too, which is impressive since there are an awful lot of studio tricks and the virtuosity required is nothing to sneeze at either.

But more than the excellent source material, the exquisite performances, and the fantastic sound, this DVD is special because of the visual production. The first few tracks start off pretty standard, and then over the next 40 minutes or so things start getting trippier and trippier. It starts with some intentionally grainy footage and a few different screens, and moves onto ghost images, a rotating stage, and special effects that include distorting the band’s faces into demons from a terrible acid trip. It’s appropriate for a soundtrack consisting of horror movie themes.

The encore has them doing a fart-heavy (no, really) version of Al Green’s “Simply Beautiful” over visuals of bears and gorillas taking shits (no, really) and closing with “Chariot Choogle,” a T-Rex cover and probably my favorite song of theirs. I might have been tempted to give this five clowns had they stopped there, but for some reason they end with some weird guy who seems like he might be homeless and has recently been discharged from the hospital viewing the footage in a trailer and making “commentary” on it. It’s very difficult to watch.

Fortunately, there is a more real commentary on the concert done by comedian Neil Hamburger. This won’t be for everybody, but fans of alternative comedy and Fantômas should enjoy it. It’s a single, still camera recording Hamburger watch the DVD on his bed in the Destiny Inn in Commerce, California, which he tells us is directly between a freeway (that we can see out his window) and train tracks. He proceeds at a very deliberate pace to describe his terrible stand-up show that night in Industry, instruct us on how to check for bedbugs (he finds none this night), complain about the band’s sloppy dress, and hide a room key from a prior hotel so that whoever finds it can win an Ipecac Recordings “prize pack,” among other things. There’s very little describing the actual concert, but it doesn’t matter since it’s hilarious.

Coming into this I thought this would just be a standard concert DVD, and based on the history of the band, it felt like it had a real chance to just be a money grab. But I was very pleasantly surprised and thoroughly enjoyed watching it this week. Here’s a tip, though: This performance has such giant dynamic range that you don’t want to listen to it in the evenings on your TV while you want your kids to be sleeping and not overhearing a rock band singing horror songs and cussing. It’s better to pop this into a PC with an optical drive and put on some awesome headphones. Let yourself fall into the mesmerizing sounds and visuals Fantômas has for you.

Filed Between: I haven’t unpacked my DVDs yet, either, but based on my review of The Fantômas Melvins Big Band DVD, it’s probably between that and High Fidelity.
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Dovetail Joint: 001


I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it as long it keeps getting reinforced, but this is why I keep listening to previously unheard music as voraciously as I do. It happens less and less frequently, but a great discovery is just so damned uplifting and reaffirms beauty in music for me.

001 goes down like a fresh drink of ice water on a hot day. It’s so clean and pure, you can guzzle away greedily, and it only leaves you feeling refreshed. It’s like a cool rock n’ roll shower after a sweaty, productive day. It’s straight-forward guitar-driven rock with clean vocals and a tight verse-chorus-verse structure. What grabs you are the melodies and the use of well-placed pedal distortion to move the song along with selective emphasis. It’s easy to get into but doesn’t get tiresome.

You know who this reminds me of…Jump, Little Children, and in particular their Magazine album. That album was a little more adventurous, but the vocal qualities are similar and you have well-written soft-loud songs that reward first and subsequent listens. There’s also the matter that they both came along as discoveries several years after they’d been out in the wild, but I think the main similarities are musical.

And there’s just not a clunker in the group. It’s only ten songs, probably less than 40 minutes, and you just want to listen to the whole damned thing all the way through. In 1999 many bands would have tacked on six mediocre to crappy songs just because they could, or wanted to show some range, but the closest you get to that here is the fine but too long album closer “Lullaby.”

So, yeah, when something comes along that’s this well written, produced, engineered, and packaged, I don’t want to spend a lot of time analyzing it. I just freaking love it. Treat yo’self and give it a listen or two.

Mix: “Boy,” “Oh My God”
Really Like: 
“Beautiful,” “Level On The Inside”
Like: “So Graciously Said,” “Except When You’re Late,” “Here We Are,” “Afraid,” “This Is My Home,” “Lullaby”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Khemmis: Absolution


When I last left you, I mentioned that Trials’ final album had too little bass for my taste. That’s par for the course for thrash, and solving that problem is the genre of doom/stoner metal and, more specifically, Khemmis’ album, Absolution. These guys have given us just the perfect amount of fuzzed out low-end guitar and bass. I feel like this is what Brothers Of The Sonic Cloth wanted to sound like.

Another difference between this and Trials is that the ratio of sung to growled vocals is pretty much inverted, with us getting more like 70-80% sung lines here. Which is appropriate because this guy’s (I can’t find his name) voice is much fuller than Mark Sugar’s.

Anyway, enough of Trials for now. Today is Khemmis’ day. They’re bringing it here with six tracks that range in length from five-and-a-half to nine minutes.The drums rumble down the mountains and bowl you over without any slowing down on their way from Valhalla to the underworld. The horseman of the apocalypse occasionally raise up an anthemic war cry on vocals and guitar, urging the pounding hooves of their bass horses forward, forward. Powerful, unrelenting, full. And yet all in a very appealing, beautiful way. This isn’t punishing at all. Instead, empowerment is what’s brought by the timbre, pace, and line of the riffs.

On what seems to be their debut album(!), Khemmis can plod a little bit, which is basically the stoner/doom genre’s analogous problem to thrash’s lack of bottom end. And in fact, for a doom band the band is remarkably restrained, cutting almost all of the fat and staying focused on a propellant forward thrust.

Listen on headphones. Listen loud. Close your eyes and imagine you’re listening to Kyuss…it’s not hard. I can’t wait to hear more from these guys.

Mix: “Burden Of Sin”
Really Like: “Torn Asunder,” “Ash, Cinder, Smoke,” “The Bereaved”
Like: “Serpentine,” “Antediluvian”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Trials: This Ruined World


For the second album review in a row, I’m reviewing an album of a band who’s recently become defunct. Thankfully, at least as far as I know, nobody from Trials has died. However, their Facebook page has a recent announcement that they’re no longer active. I’m worried that me planning to review a great album is now becoming some kind of kiss of death for bands.

This is a damned shame, since this is an awesome thrash metal album. Thrash is kind of an underserved genre in this decade. I’ve raved about Reign Of Fury on this website, but Trials differs from them in a couple of ways. While Reign Of Fury is unapologetically throwback, Trials is definitely of the present. The most obvious difference between this and 80’s thrash is that Trials has eschewed the Joey Belladonna soaring vocals style and brought in more of a death metal growl to the mix. When vocalist Mark Sugar does go into a singing style, which I’d say is about 15-20% of the vocals on the album, it’s more in line with a tough baritone more similar to Metallica’s James Hetfield than the more operatic bent of some of most famous thrash bands.

Speaking of Metallica, This Ruined World, can kind of be seen as an alternative sequel to Master Of Puppets, if Metallica had gone a slightly different route than they did on …And Justice For All. And speaking of …And Justice For All, one aspect of this album that is unfortunately not updated from 80’s thrash is the lack of bass. I even had to look it up to make sure the band did employ a bassist. They report that they do, but she’s buried awfully deep in the mix, giving the sound a feel that is, at times, too thin and mid-range. But that’s like my only complaint. Everything else is a wonderful mix of what worked 25 years ago and what’s awesome now.

And one thing I really appreciate about metal, and thrash in particular, is that it’s been the only genre of music that’s reliably deigned to take on messaging around current events over the past few decades is metal. On this album you’ve got rants against politics and TV news (“Truth Defiled”), religion (“Don’t Believe The Word”), probably the Catholic church sex abuse scandal (“They Hide Behind The Law”), and the environment (the title track).

With This Ruined World, Trials have made an almost perfect thrash metal album. I’m pissed that they’ve broken up. Will my next review break the Fat Clown curse? Stay tuned.

Mix: “Disgraced And Erased”
Love: “Blink Of An Eye”
Really Like: “Truth Defiled,” “Beat The System To Death,” “They Hide Behind The Law,” “This Ruined World”
Like: “Don’t Believe The Word,” “Digging My Own Grave,” “Inheritance”
Song Notes: None

Muse: Drones

dronesMuse’s first album came out in 1999, but I didn’t find out about them until two years ago when One Week//One Band covered them. Which is way too long to go without knowing of a band who is totally in my sweet spot. They’re like Queen meets Rick Springfield meets Queensrÿche in a melding of power pop, sci-fi fantasy conspiracy lyrics, and howling falsetto juxtaposed against choral arrangements.

Drones is the band’s seventh album, and I almost didn’t listen to it, given that I figured the band had probably started to suck by now anyway. Well, I’m glad I picked it up, because if this is a band that’s gone on to suck I can’t wait to hear them at their peak.

The titular drones in this concept album are, from what I can tell, people who have been mentally programmed to be killers for the military, which is explained in the three tracks that lead off the album, the middle one if which is the album’s low point. “[Drill Sergeant]” is the aural portion of the brainwashing, with the sergeant yelling at the drone, and it’s just so sophomoric and dumb it’s basically unlistenable. Neither actor can carry out their part and the track is only like 30 seconds long. It shouldn’t have been that hard.

Anyway, there’s some kind of conflict and by the time we get to the second half of the album, our hero is defecting and revolting, and it all lacks too many specifics, but I haven’t looked at the lyrics sheet and really who cares? There’s an emotional journey here that follows the arc of a basic story and you don’t need anything more than that. Everything you need to understand what’s happening to this character is there: exposition, development, conflict, victory. These are two-dimensional characters in a story you’ve heard a dozen times but it doesn’t matter because good god it’s catchy and dancey and fist-raisey and close-your-eyes-dramatically-while-you-sing-along-at-the-climax-y.

And then we’re not quite 75% of the way through the album and we hit the denouement. It’s a good denouement, but at like one-third of the disc’s length it messes with what could have been a more concise finish.

Muse is bold and ambitious. And because of that, they seem to come in for a lot of derision in today’s age of cynicism. And I kinda get that. Matthew Bellamy plays the part of ridiculous adolescent very well, the lyrics are naive and cover material that’s even too worn out for the science fiction genre, and they overreach, so when they miss their target it’s cringeworthy. But without overreaching they wouldn’t be as good as they are, and I’m very willing to accept a few cringes when they hit their mark as often as they do, ‘cuz it’s a damned fine mark.

Mix: “Mercy,” “Reapers,” “The Handler,” “Revolt”
Really Like: “Defector,” “Aftermath”
Like: “Dead Inside,” “Psycho,” “The Globalist,” “Drones”
Meh: “[JFK]”
Hate: “[Drill Sergeant]”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading