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

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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

Mother Love Bone: Shine

shineMother Love Bone is essentially required listening. They had a massive impact while only putting out an EP and an LP. Lead singer Andrew Wood died right before the Seattle scene really het up, and guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament would join forces with Eddie Vedder to form Pearl Jam. When Green River (of whom I’ve written extensively) broke up, it was to form Mudhoney and these guys. So, given the legacy and the ease with which you can listen to the entirety of their recorded output, why haven’t you done so? It must be something inferior about your innate being.

Anway, another nice feature of their small catalog is this EP is really a nice warm up to their album, Apple. It’s five (or four or six or seven depending on how you count them) tracks much in that style, but with a little bit of a rawer, less polished feel. Wood’s lyrical abilities and vocal charms are in full effect, as are the songwriting chops of Gossard, Ament, Bruce Fairweather, and Greg Gilmore. There’s a strong blues and glam influence and the band does a wonderful job of running with legs in both the world of catchy pop metal and that of alternative radio of the time. Which, given that this was 1989, sets them up just about perfectly for the coming merging of those styles in the early 90’s, grunge and otherwise.

You know “Chloe Dancer/Crown Of Thorns” from the Singles soundtrack, but the rest of this material rocks considerably harder. My favorite is probably the “CD Bonus Track,” “Capricorn Sister,” which might have even gotten a Mix rating if it hadn’t been for the bonus track tacked on to the end of it which also features some silly dialogue and laughter at its end.

In my mind, I can hardly separate this from Apple. I came to them at the same time, and the music of the two is barely indistinguishable. The biggest difference is the bigger production of Apple, when the band managed to get to work with Terry Date. Which is maybe why it didn’t bother me too much when, post grunge blowup, the record label stuck both of them together onto one CD and named it Stardog Champion. SO JUST GO LISTEN TO THAT ALREADY!

But this is about Shine. If I had to pick which of the band’s releases was worse, fine, I’d probably pick this one. But it’s five tracks long and all of them would have worked on Apple, so your Mother Love Bone journey, which, again, is required, isn’t complete until you’ve taken this in.

Rating:
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Really Like: “Thru Face Away,” “Mindshaker Meltdown,” “Chloe Dancer/Crown Of Thorns,” “Capricorn Sister”
Like: “Half Ass Monkey Boy”
Filed Between: [I don’t know I Haven’t unpacked my CDs yet] and Mother Love Bone’s Apple
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Murray Attaway: In Thrall

inthrallOn “Living In Another Time,” Murray Attaway alludes to being born five centuries too late. That may be a stretch, but based on the pictures in the liner notes and the songs, he is a man a bit out of time looking for a genre. It’s a shame that the music industry can’t figure out how to deal with talented songwriters who don’t fit neatly into any category, but Attaway seems to be a victim of that shortcoming.

This is Attaway’s only solo album, and I have it only because its third song, “Allegory,” was featured on the awesome compilation DGC Rarities, Vol. 1. Like a cross between Rick Springfield and R.E.M., Attaway writes smart, sharp lyrics that lead you through his complex, lush arrangements that branch out from guit/bass/drums into keys and strings. The songs feature catchy melodies but also enough depth that, even after having listened to this dozens of times, I keep hearing more and deepening my appreciation for it.

I can hardly find fault with anything. There are moments in “Under Jets” and “Fall So Far,” among others, where the timbres he’s chosen or the melody he lays on top of a harmony doesn’t work quite right in the way it’s introduced, but even in those cases it works to create a very nice variety of sounds and structures that make an already lovely album a real treat to get through from beginning to end.

It’s probably good enough for a 4.5-clown rating, but there’s something about my love for this that is more academically pleasurable than viscerally exciting, and I tend to reserve anything higher than four full clowns for that kind of heart-grabbing lust. Still, I keep coming back to this semi-frequently over the past two decades and enjoy it each time.

Rating:
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Mix: “No Tears Tonight”
Love: “Home”
Really Like: “Allegory,” “Living In Another Time,” “The Evensong,” “My Book”
Like:
“Under Jets,” “Angels In The Trees,” “Fall So Far,” “August Rain,” “Walpurgis Night”
Filed Between: [I don’t know, my CDs are all packed up for our move]
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Kyuss: Blues For The Red Sun

bluesfortheredsunWell the good news is I dodged a bullet. I was worried that by giving Kyuss’ debut album five clowns, I’d have nowhere to go but up as I worked into the peak of their catalog and be forced to give every album an indistinguishable five clowns. And let that be confirmation to me that I need to give every album the rating I think it deserves and not worry about gaming things too much. Because the bad news is that this album isn’t nearly as good as I remember it being.

The biggest problem with it is the sound. This is the album where they got away from the big, raw open sound they had on Wretch and really compressed everything and fuzzed it up big time. So why then, if it’s so super compressed, is it so quiet? Furthermore, everything’s muddled together when it should be dominated by fuzzy guitar tones.

The other big problem, and I actually do remember this being an issue when I listened to it back when it came out, is that it’s inconsistent, a feature exacerbated by the awful sequencing. After two great songs, “Thumb” and “Green Machine,” both of which would be mix CD candidates if the sound were halfway decent, they move into the meandering, downtempo instrumental “Molten Universe.” That type of song has no business being third. The album needs to start off with either “Thong Song” or “Green Machine” (probably the former) because they both start off with sparse instrumentation, as a way to bring listeners into the album and as a way to set off a song that doesn’t really fit super well with the album (another reason to put “Thong Song’ there).

In the end, there are just too many instrumentals, too many songs that sound too similar to each other, and too much time spent getting going rather than just going full speed ahead. I still really like this album, I like listening to it start to finish, but I think I’d given it too much credit for “Green Machine” and “Writhe” and I probably remember “Thumb” sounding a hell of a lot better, too.

As an aside, this disc has some of my all time favorite lyrics. You’ve got “You don’t seem to understand the deal/I don’t give two s**ts on how you feel” and “You tried to turn me on/But you couldn’t even turn me down” from “Thumb,” and then there’s “Allen’s Wrench,” which is like the best song to put together Ikea furniture to because it goes “Allen’s Wrench/That’s all you get.” I mean, I can’t see how it’s not about putting together Ikea furniture.

Rating:
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Filed Between: Kyuss’ Wretch and Kyuss
Mix: “Green Machine,” “Thong Song,” “Writhe”
Really Like: “Thumb,” “50 Million Year Trip (Downside Up),” “Apothecaries’ Weight,” “Freedom Run,” “Capsized,” “Allen’s Wrench”
Like: “Molten Universe,” “Caterpillar March,” “800,” “Mondo Generator”
Meh: “Yeah”
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

Tori Amos: God

god“God” might be Amos’ best-known single from Under The Pink, a statement to this angry, vengeful beast that maybe, you know, maybe he’d be able to chill out a bit if he let women have a bit more rei(g)n.

She keeps after the Judeo-Christian patriarchy with her version of “Home On The Range,” which quickly morphs from a faithful rendition to one that traces the genocidal history of the United States from Plymouth Rock through the Trail Of Tears. The lyrics are powerful (my favorite line is “America, who discovered your ass?”), and the reverb-induced ringing of the piano’s rich harmonies is a mesmerizing listen.

The CD single closes with two instrumental tracks that are listed under the heading Piano Suite and really might as well have been one track. The last three tracks are much quieter than “God,” and if you dutifully turned up your volume for “Home On The Range,” you should enjoy these last two tracks quite a bit. They feel a bit incomplete, but they showcase a nice range of moods as well as a wonderful interplay between what might be two different characters of the right-hand and left-hand.

Rating:
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Mix: “God”
Really Like: “Home On The Range”
Like: “All The Girls Hate Her,” “Over It”
Filed Between: Amos’ Cornflake Girl and the Little Covers bootleg from the Covering ‘Em bootleg series