Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Sorry Ma, No Mats Reunion

Some music fans may gripe about band reunions. I have neither qualm nor quibble with any artists who want to bring their music back to the live stage. Nor do I frown upon those who choose to record new songs (though I can't bring myself to listen to The Weirdness), or bands that re-record older songs (e.g., Gang of Four or Rocket from the Tombs).

Say what you will about reunions, or the motives of those involved. I have nothing but good memories of the shows I've seen in the past two years from the Slits, Pylon, Radio Birdman, and Swervedriver. Most recently, Wire put on a great concert in Atlanta in support of their excellent new album, Object 47. My Bloody Valentine played again this year, and so did the Feelies, Throbbing Gristle and Rival Schools!

One long-rumored reunion that hasn't happened yet is that of the Replacements, or at least Paul and Tommy (since Bob Stinson and Steve Foley are dead, and neither Chris Mars nor Slim Dunlap are interested.) Now that Chinese Democracy is out, and the Mats' albums have been decently reissued, maybe Tommy will be freed from Axl's spell.

So who should play lead guitar and drums for the 21st Century Mats? I would nominate Pete Hayes of the Figgs for the drum spot. Hayes is a monster drummer, and the Figgs supported Tommy on his solo tour. The lead guitarist should be someone who can channel the anarchic brilliance of Bob Stinson. Captain Sensible would be ideal; but I would suggest Richard Lloyd. He's not playing with Television anymore. He made some great records with Matthew Sweet, and he plays brilliantly off other guitarists (like Cheetah Chrome, Robert Quine, and Tom Verlaine).

Speaking of reunions, and fabulous guitar interplay, here's a great song from the Soft Boys' 2002 album Nextdoorland. It's got a wonderful Robyn Hitchcock chorus, and spiraling leads from Robyn and Kimberly Rew. I wish I'd seen the Soft Boys reunion on stage (and Television's 1992 and 2001 reunions). Maybe they'll do it again someday soon. Here's to more reunions in 2009!

Soft Boys: Mr. Kennedy

Friday, December 26, 2008

Do Ya Think I'm Retrospective?

How was your Christmas? Everything was jolly down my way. My sons are engrossed in Guitar Hero. My sweet sister-in-law gave me the latest Cassandra Wilson CD and Oliver Sacks' book Musicophilia. I haven't had a chance to absorb either one yet. Mrs. der Neathica gave me a One Way Ticket. In addition to the Nerves compilation CD, she gave me the LTM label's reissue of the Factory Recordings by Blurt; and the Wipers box set of their first three LP's on CD (with bonus tracks and an X-cellent X-large T-shirt!)

The Blurt CD includes the band's side of the Factory Quartet album, plus the live LP In Berlin (which I once had on vinyl, but I gave it to a puppeteer). The Nerves comp includes their classic EP plus an unreleased follow-up single. There are also seven live tracks from a 1977 show in Illinois, three demos, and several tracks recorded by the individual members (who were Peter Case, Paul Collins, and Jack Lee) after the Nerves broke up. Eleven of the songs were written by Jack Lee, including his classic "Hanging on the Telephone".

Wipers: Can This Be?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Power to the Populace

I think the self-titled debut of the power pop band Army Navy is one of the best new records of 2008. But I was even happier to hear that Australian power pop quartet Grand Atlantic has returned with a new single, "Trip Wires" (mp3). A new album will hopefully follow in 2009.

Grand Atlantic (not to be confused with Grand Archives or Grand National) made one of my favorite albums of 2007, This Is Grand Atlantic. It was the CD that spent the most time in my car stereo. It was the one I listened to from start to finish. It was the record that cheered me up most when I needed to hear something really great. Grand Atlantic will appeal to anyone who loves power pop with crunchy chords, muscular rhythms and soaring vocal harmonies (e.g., the Posies, Teenage Fanclub, and Redd Kross).

Fans of power pop should also check out the two free holiday songs from the Pointed Sticks, "Power Pop Santa" and "Xmas Time Again" (available free from the band's website).

I was also exceedingly happy to learn that another of my very favorite bands, the Marked Men, will return in 2009 with a new album on Dirtnap called Ghosts. Their three previous albums are all highly recommended. Three new songs are streaming on the Marked Men's myspace, including "Ditch" (mp3). I hope I finally get to see this band in 2009.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Giving Up and Getting Fat

Tim Rogers, the lead singer and songwriter of the Australian band You Am I, has always worn his influences on his sleeve: from the band's grungy beginnings to its powerpop phase, and myriad covers (Kiss, Dolls, Kinks, Stones, Mats, Big Star, and the Who). Lately, Mr. Rogers has been listening to Wilco (ha, Roger Wilco!). He also harbors a grudge against those who don't recognize his intelligence, and he seems at pains to prove himself witty and well-read. This doesn't bode well for a rock & roll record.

On the new album's single "Erasmus", Rogers pledges,"I'm going to be more than I was, just because." The best tracks on Dilettantes are the most upbeat, where the band sounds most like itself. "Frightfully Moderne" has a terrible title but a great chorus: "You ain't seen the best of us yet." The singer considers taking a "sweet slice" of success and complacency on Givin Up and Getting Fat, but he's too curmudgeonly to do so. The song starts out as a complaint set to a backbeat, but it ends like a 747 taking off.

I thought a dilettante was a person with pretensions to cultivated tastes, but Tim Rogers says that it can refer either to "folks who dabble in appreciation of arts or culture, or those who have a deep love for works or performers... More often than not the people who have left the deepest impressions on me have been those who have delicately bashed my ears with their love of music, art, literature, and with no airs and graces, more peanuts and beer." This statement reminds me of the You Am I song "Vandalism", in which Tim Rogers describes a friend who "talks about Art Blakey, and I pretend to know what he means".

You Am I has been around since 1991. Rogers and his bandmates are superstars in their native Australia, headlining festivals and opening only for the Who and the Stones. You Am I was championed in North America by Soundgarden and Sonic Youth, but the records never got much attention from college radio, and Dilettantes is the second YAI album without a US release. Yep Roc issued 2006's Convicts domestically, but the label has no plans to do so with Dilettantes. Try here if you're interested in getting a copy.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Big Black Cadillac Records

The movie Cadillac Records comes out tomorrow. It's a not entirely accurate portrayal of Leonard Chess' professional and personal relationships with blues artists Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Little Walter, Chuck Berry, and Etta James. I listened the soundtrack album today.

Beyonce Knowles plays Etta James onscreen, and attempts four Etta classics on the soundtrack: "At Last", "All I Could Do Was Cry", "I'd Rather Go Blind", and "Trust in Me". Of these four, "At Last" is the most successful, but it could never surpass Etta's performance of this perennial wedding favorite. The string arrangements are faithful to the originals, but Beyonce can't match the wild edge of anger and despair that Etta James brought to her classic ballads of love and loss.

While the path from blues to rock was being forged by Chess artists like Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley (who is unforgiveably excluded from the film), Etta James was pursuing an opposite course. Barely out of her teens, she was already well-known as a sensual R&B shouter when she arrived at Chess. Etta wanted to sing the torch songs and jazz standards of the 30's and 40's, and the Chess brothers wanted to be known for more than the blues. Both artist and label sought crossover success in the pop charts. Etta James' debut for Chess, At Last (and the stellar Second Time Around) placed her unbridled passion in the unfamiliar (but sympathetic) surroundings of Riley Hampton's mannered orchestration. Like sweet and sour, or yin and yang, it's an addictive blend of apparent opposites.

Will Cadillac Records inspire its audience to seek out the original Chess Records classics? Can it inspire, if its star Beyonce doesn't muster the firepower of Etta James on screen or in song? The actor Eamon Walker turns in a convincing soundtrack performance of Howling Wolf's "Smokestack Lightning", and Jeffrey Wright does a satisfactory Muddy Waters impression on "I'm a Man", "Hoochie Coochie Man", and "I Can't Be Satisfied". Mos Def can't quite catch the vocal playfulness of Chuck Berry (but is reportedly quite funny in the film). Beyonce and Adrien Brody (as Leonard Chess) get mixed notices for their acting; Jeffrey Wright seems to be the standout performer, according to film reviewers.