Record Review: Robert Palmer – Clues EURO CD

Island Records ‎| UK | CD | 1991 | CID 9595

Robert Palmer: Clues EURO CD [1991]

  1. Looking For Clues
  2. Sulky Girl
  3. Johnny + mary
  4. What Do You Care
  5. I Dream Of Wires
  6. Woke Up Laughing
  7. Not A Second Time
  8. Found You Now

I had a strange approach to Robert Palmer. I remembered his late 70s pop hits from Top 40 radio which I listened to fairly indiscriminately. “Every Kind of People,” a cover of Todd Rundgren’s “Can We Still Be Friends,” and “Bad Case Of Loving You” were the three hits that made a beachhead in America in ’78-’79. In the time period when I was transitioning form Prog to New Wave, so they honestly meant little to me at the time. That all changed with his next album. In 1980 we were riding the Gary Numan wave, but hard. We were three albums in and Numan was an amazing sound to people who hadn’t yet connected the dots backward to Ultravox. When “Telekon” appeared in early 1980, it was played heavily. Whenever I visited my friend David, he played the tape on a loop that auto reversed and played it continually. And that was fine.

So when the 1980 Robert Palmer album appeared with Gary Numan involvement, tongues wagged. Eyes peered. Purchases were made. The album sported Numan playing on a cover version of his own “I Dream Of Wires” with Palmer singing, as well as a new song, “Found You Now,” that they co-wrote. I do think I may have heard the title track on WPRK-FM college radio, so obviously, the album had passed their New Wave sniff test. I bought the LP and got my first heady whiff of the sort of rollercoaster of genres that Palmer loved to call an album.

“Looking For Clues” was as enervated a slice of New Wave dance funk as you could have heard in 1980. As the album was recorded at Nassau’s Compass Point Studios, there was enough crossover with TVLKING HEVDS [also there recording “REMAININLIGHT”] that Palmer played percussion on that album while Chris Franz returned the favor with bass drum on this jittery number. Palmer’s voice was double tracked at split octaves with his falsetto slightly dominant for a different sound. The anxious synth-riff loop that the layers of repetition were built upon was probably giving DEVO fits of jealousy. The xylophone solo was very creative but the one note guitar solo felt ripped straight from “Born Under Punches [the beat goes on]” so I’m guessing Palmer may have had “insider knowledge” in that instance. That possible life notwithstanding, it was still a catchy-as-hell single and more than credible False New Wave from this rock guy. See for yourself.

That pace-setting opener had barely faded when the mischievous Palmer decided to whack our heads with the stylistic 2″x4″ that was “Sulky Girl.” Unlike the au courant New Wave up front, this was an exercise in pure Stones Raunch®, right down to the guitar solo barely re-written from a little number you may know called “Brown Sugar.” If the presence of Chris Frantz and Gary Numan elsewhere looked forward to the 80s, then the bass of Andy Fraser of Free here, screamed 1970s. This was my first indication that whatever his interest, Palmer did things his way. The more eclectic, the better. Oh, little did I know then.

The bigger hit from this album was the delicate and gorgeous “Johnny + Mary.” This one barely missed the UK Top 40, but went Top 10 in W. Germany and all the way to number one in Spain. The motorik tempo was utterly beholden to La Düsseldorf and bore a heavy Krautrock influence while being touched with disco pop heavy on the synths with shimmering synth leads that sounded gorgeously crystalline. The darker emotions of the song were given a contrasting undercut by the lighter, almost euphoric music bed. The song had proven very durable with a few dozen covers over the years. Perhaps as karmic payback for lifting from “Brown Sugar,” the biggest cover of this song isn’t a cover at all, but Rod Stewart’s “Young Turks;” a facile re-write that copped the vibe of this one whole hog.

“I Dream Of Wires” was not one of the highlights of “Telekon” for me. Truth be told, it was a bit plodding next to the likes of “Remind Me To Smile.” How would it play here, in a different context? With Numan manning the synths [and even Numan’s bassist Paul Gardiner reprising his role here!] it had the same sound design for the synths that it originally had, but Palmer’s arrangement was far more muscular.

Some might say that was missing the point, but to his credit, he began the song in the same passive way as Numan, before becoming much more aggressive and full-bodied in the singing and [funky] arrangement before reverting to passivity in the outro. Palmer gave Gardiner the direction to dig into the latent funk the song always had and I really enjoyed it. The complex flourishes of the completely new middle eight were a huge addition here. If the emphatic “hunh!’ that Palmer unloosed afterward was something that Numan would never dare to utter, then it was certainly earned in this new arrangement. I have to say that this was my preferred version. Another score for Robert Palmer.

In 1980, I was playing it cool and aloof to the astonishing charms of “Woke Up Laughing.” Now, its sophisticated Afro-pop towers over the rest of the album. The minimal skanking organ rhythm beguiles and Palmer delivered the coup de grace with his nimble, subtle phrasing in what sounded like Arabic scales. The whole song was a dazzling, interlocking mandala of sound, with rhythm and melody tessellated together in perfect harmony.

The cold ending of “Woke Up Laughing” could not be any colder as it was butt-spliced right into the Beatles cover of “Not A Second Time.” I can’t say I’ve ever heard the original, but from the sound of it, it probably dated from the earlier part of their career. Even so, Palmer was clever enough to crank up the synths and to employ a killer New Wave backbeat on this one, giving it enough vitality to not make me hit the fast forward button. Then the album concluded with the strange collaboration between Palmer and Numan, “Found You Now.” This one did not have Numan on synths, and regular keyboardist Jack Waldman played on the tune that sounded as if Palmer and Numan were investigating how to make “Kashmir” sound genuinely Middle Eastern. The evasive eastern scales of the string synths never seem to coalesce into something tangible. Letting the album end on an unsatisfying, evasive note.

So this was my first exposure to Palmer and in the heat of 1980, it was inconclusive. I didn’t buy another palmer album for some years. The stylistic whiplash that he was certainly fond of may have given me pause in a period where I was eager to dump the old and embrace the new; even as this album did little else. But he still had a penchant for conventional rock that I had a bigger problem with then. So I traded this off in the Great Vinyl Purge and my next Palmer album was on CD format. Either :The Power Station” or “Riptide;” by the time of which I’d heard enough Palmer’s diversity to begin to suspect that the guy was simply an eclectic like few others I could name.

Ultimately, that the the fun of listening to Palmer. Soca next to Metal? Suuuuure! Why not? Fast forward 39 years and I have almost every Robert Palmer album, and more to the point, I really miss the guy. Sure, he had his crass facets, but I’ll overlook them easily. In all of the Palmer albums I’ve owned by now [everything except for “Some People Can Do What They Like, “Double Fun,” and his live albums], he only issued one irredeemable dud and I also treasure the two concerts I managed to catch with him. I’ll bet he would have made some interesting music in the years he’s been gone.

– 30 –

Posted in Record Review | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

Ric Osasek: 1944-2019

Ric Ocasek 1944-2019

Well, the big news this morning was the death of Ric Ocasek that had occurred on Sunday morning. Ocasek was one of the odder rock superstars to have mined platinum. He was an quirky looking gent who was possibly one of the latest blooming rock stars ever. He was all of 34 years old when The Cars debut album was released in 1978. That’s a late-bloomer to put even Bryan Ferry [27 when “Roxy Music” hit], John Foxx [29 when “Ultravox!” dropped] and even Ian Hunter [30 when he got his chance with Mott The Hoople] very much in the shade. I guess Ocasek’s relative maturity for a “rocker” helped his focus. But he did not just appear out of the Head of Zeus all cool and angular. Like Debbie Harry or Marky [Ramone] Bell, he had some hippie roots which he shared with a surprising number of his Cars cohorts.

Paramount Records ‎| US | LP | 1972 | PAS 6046

In the same year that “Roxy Music” happened, Ocasek, along with Greg Hawkes and Benjamin Orr had recorded their first album together as Milkwood [“How’s The Weather”] on Paramount Records. It does not sound very far removed from, let’s say, Poco as a point of reference. But the Ocasek/Orr songwriting split was already there with both writers contributing, and Ocasek dominating. The six years that took us from 1972 to 1978 and The Cars debut can remind us of the vast sea change that rock music underwent in that period as hippie-folk gave way to glam, then punk, and finally New Wave. Keeping in mind that it was all ultimately, “pop music.”

Rhino Records | US | 2xCD | 2002 | R2 75700

We were just listening to the DLX RM of “The Cars” on a road trip to Akron with my wife recently. What an embarrassment of riches that album was. Yet it was economical as well. It sported only nine strong songs. The album got so much in the way of FM Rock airplay that there’s practically no deep cuts on it! Hearing a song like “I’m In Touch With Your World” is always jarring to me because every other song on the album was very familiar through FM Rock airplay in ’78-’79. The bonus CD of demos on that DLX RM of “The Cars” was revelatory. Roy Thomas Baker basically cooked the vocal harmonies a little, but really, they had that sound and album down cold before it was ever recorded. This album sold so well, that Elektra Records was concerned with holding back their sophomore album, “Candy-O,” so they wouldn’t be competing with themselves on the charts!

The Cars were never a favorite band; I had bigger and better fish to fry. But they were certainly admirable for a band that popular. It sure made listening to all of the Led Zeppelin and Ted Nugent during my dalliance with FM-Rock go down a little easier before abject disgust set in. In the ’79-’84 period, I duly owned the first three Cars albums on LP, though they fell victim to the Great Vinyl Purge of 1985. My wife bought the 2xCD DLX RM of “The Cars” a few years ago and I was happy to have this fine edition in the Record Cell. Then, they recently got around to releasing DLX RMs of the next two Cars albums a year or two ago, but I’ve yet to purchase, though the intent is there. Like for about 2500 other titles.

I enjoyed the dual lead vocalists they had in Ocasek and Orr. It was especially cool that they managed to have a plethora of hits with each singer. The Cars were cited by Rolling Stone as America’s answer to Roxy Music and as much as I usually look askance at that magazine’s music coverage, I can’t argue with that conjecture. Like Ferry, Ocasek was a Velvet Underground fan who favored dark irony wrapped in a glam pinup wrapper, though the latter aspect can probably be attributed more to drummer David Robinson, who was the visual guy in The Cars. Ferry skewed to R+B. Ocasek to pop, but he was probably a thorn in the side of Bryan Ferry, who looked at them and only saw the platinum that evaded his reach going instead to his followers. This found Mr. Ferry ironically aiming for The Cars sound with “Over You” from the “Flesh + Blood” album… to no significant US commercial avail. But it would have been a great Cars song!

The second act of The Cars was much easier for me to avoid. I had stopped listening to commercial radio and by ’80-’81 my core collection bands [Ultravox, JAPAN, OMD, Simple Minds] were popping and were moving the target much further out than The Cars were doing. The still astonishing Suicide pastiche “Shoo-Be-Doo” notwithstanding. I actually went to a Cars concert once, on their last tour in 1987, but it was solely to see faves Icehouse as the opening act, and we left at intermission. The remaining years saw Ocasek forging a solo career with a single top 20 song to his credit and when The Cars reunited [minus the deceased Orr] in 2011, I was surprised, given Ocasek’s reticence to reform for decades.

More interesting to me were the productions that showed Ocasek was more than willing to give back to the underground community. It’s to his credit that he was basically the shepherd to Suicide and Alan Vega for almost the entirely of their careers. And I loved his production of Jonathan Richman’s “I’m So Confused” in the 90s, but without a doubt, his most amazing production ever was the still insanely powerful “Never Say Never” by Romeo Void. If that was all he did after 1980, it would still carry a lot of weight.

– 30 –

Posted in obituary | Tagged , , | 16 Comments

Want List: Sparks Push The Right Monk Buttons With Twin Packages

Sparks just dropped word yesterday of their new catalog projects

While I was busy yesterday extolling the merits of the “1999” BSOG edition, my personal device alerted me that Sparks have done further curation of their formidable back catalog once more. This time it’s an album we already know and love that getting the DLX RM treatment as well as a newly compiled career retrospective looking back on a half-century of work. Formidable!

Universal ‎| 5xCD | 2013 | UK |  LBRBOX6

The last time they compiled a career retrospective, it was six years ago with the hefty “New Music For Amnesiacs: The Ultimate Collection” 5xCD boxed set from UMG that included:

• 64 page hardback book containing 4 CDs.
• A4 Certificate of Authenticity
• A2 Poster
• Vellum envelope containing:
-2 replica tickets
-4 A4 black and white prints
-4 A4 colour prints
• Brown paper envelope with replica address sticker containing-3 A4 black and white proof sheets
• Souvenir CD in card wallet
• Laminated AAA pass
• Lanyard with plastic snap lock
• Car window sticker
• Button badge

Very posh…and very co$tly. It sold for three figures as I recall, though it’s trading hands for about double the initial cost now. There were a handful of rarities, but the cost placed it out of my sights. This time, the first Sparks logo [they began their career under the name Haflneslon]  from their sophomore album “A Woofer In Tweeter’s Clothing” has been dusted off and re-used for the new compilation “Past Tense: The Best Of Sparks.”

Go for the 3xCD version!

Sparks: Past Tense – The Best of Sparks US 3xCD [2019]

Disc One

  1. Computer Girl
  2. Wonder Girl
  3. (No More) Mr. Nice Guys
  4. Girl from Germany
  5. Beaver O’Lindy
  6. This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us
  7. Amateur Hour
  8. Here In Heaven
  9. Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth
  10. Something for the Girl With Everything
  11. Achoo
  12. Get in the Swing
  13. In The Future
  14. Looks, Looks, Looks
  15. I Want To Hold Your Hand
  16. Big Boy
  17. I Bought The Mississippi River
  18. Occupation
  19. Those Mysteries
  20. Tryouts for the Human Race
  21. Beat the Clock

Disc Two

  1. The Number One Song in Heaven
  2. When I’m With You
  3. Tips for Teens
  4. Funny Face
  5. Angst in My Pants
  6. I Predict
  7. Sherlock Holmes
  8. Cool Places (with Jane Wiedlin)
  9. Popularity
  10. I Wish I Looked A Little Better
  11. With All My Might
  12. Change
  13. Music That You Can Dance To
  14. So Important
  15. Singing In The Shower (with Les Rita Mitsouko)
  16. National Crime Awareness Week (Psycho Cut)
  17. When Do I Get to Sing ‘My Way’
  18. (When I Kiss You) I Hear Charlie Parker Playing – Radio Edit
  19. Let’s Go Surfing

Disc Three

  1. Pulling Rabbits Out Of A Hat
  2. The Calm Before The Storm
  3. It’s A Knockoff
  4. The Rhythm Thief
  5. My Baby’s Taking Me Home
  6. Suburban Homeboy
  7. Dick Around
  8. Perfume
  9. Islington N1
  10. Good Morning
  11. Lighten Up, Morrissey
  12. Two Hands, One Mouth
  13. Piss Off (Sparks original demo)
  14. Johnny Delusional (FFS)
  15. Missionary Position
  16. Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me)
  17. I Wish You Were Fun
  18. Check Out Time 11AM

This time there were a few more rarities, and the set started off with the earliest known Sparks recording, “Computer Girl,” which had only been released on 2006 as a bonus CD in a Japanese book on the band. Their great single with Les Rita Mitsouko is rightly included, and the set has a reach going all the way to their last opus, “Hippopotamus,” and beyond. Disc three had the rare  track “IslingtonN1” which was only on a 2008 CD5 given to people who bought all 21 tickets for the Complete Sparks Residency in England; 21 concerts in 21 nights when they played all 21 of their albums in order. Suck on that, Kraftwerk!

I am happy to see that even their FFS period was covered on this collection, but it even encompassed the 7″ only A-side released in late 2017; “Check Out Time 11 AM.” Though I was crestfallen to see that the same courtesy was not extended to “Now You’ve Earned The Right To Be A Dick” which was a non-LP A-side on shaped picture disc only from early last year that would have probably benefitted much in fidelity from its leap from pic disc to CD.

It’s released on November 8, 2019 in a trio of formats: 2xCD, 3xCD, and 3xLP. The 2xCD with 39 songs is for wimps but cheap at $12.99. The 3xLP is cheap enough as these things go at $36.99, but it only had a subset of the material with just 27 cuts. The 3xCD is the best value with 58 tunes for the low, low price of just $15.99!! A 16-page booklet accompanies the music. Any neophytes seeking to wet their metaphoric toes in the dazzling world of Sparks should do well to start there.

Those demos on disc 3 have my name on them!

Sparks: Gratuitous Sax + Senseless Violins US 3xCD [2019]

Disc One – Album

  1. Gratuitous Sax
  2. When Do I Get To Sing “My Way”
  3. (When I Kiss You) I Hear Charlie Parker Playing
  4. Frankly, Scarlett, I Don’t Give A Damn
  5. I Thought I Told You To Wait In The Car
  6. Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil
  7. Now That I Own The BBC
  8. Tsui Hark
  9. The Ghost Of Liberace
  10. Let’s Go Surfing
  11. Senseless Violins

Disc Two – Mixes, B-sides, and versions

  1. National Crime Awareness Week (Complete Psycho) produced by Finiflex
  2. When Do I Get To Sing “My Way” (The Grid Radio Edit) Remixed by The Grid
  3. (When I Kiss You) I Hear Charlie Parker Playing [Bernard Butler’s Fashionable World Of Fashion Mix]remixed by Bernard Butler
  4. Now That I Own The BBC (Live BBC Acoustic Version)
  5. When Do I Get To Sing “My Way” (Vince Clarke Remix)
  6. She’s An Anchorman
  7. Little Drummer Boy Unreleased studio version
  8. Beat The Clock (Live in Concert)Live at Shepherds Bush Empire, London. 17 November 1994
  9. National Crime Awareness Week (13 Minutes In Heaven) produced by Finiflex
  10. When Do I Get To Sing “My Way” (Sticks & Stones Remix) remixed by Keith Marantz & DavidLongoria at The Steamroom
  11. (When I Kiss You) I Hear Charlie Parker Playing [The Beatmasters’ Full-Blown Dub] Remixed by The Beatmasters
  12. Now That I Own The BBC (Motiv 8 Extended Vocal Mix) remixed by Motiv 8
  13. When Do I Get To Sing “My Way” (Pro-Gress Mix) Remix & additional production by Pro-Gress for D.E.F.
  14. National Crime Awareness Week (The Janet Leigh Mix) remixed by Steve Bates

Disc Three – Unreleased demos

  1. Where Did I Leave My Halo?
  2. She’s Beautiful (So What)
  3. Mid-Atlantic
  4. The Farmer’s Daugher
  5. This Angry Young Man Ain’t Angry No More
  6. Bob Hope
  7. She’s An Anchorman (Demo)
  8. Love Can Conquer All
  9. That’s What I Call Paradise
  10. This Angry Young Man Ain’t Angry No More (Ron Vocal Version)
  11. Mid-Atlantic (Ron Vocal Version)
  12. That’s Entertainment (feat. Les Bohem)
  13. Katharine Hepburn (vocals by Christi Haydon)
  14. Titanic (vocals by Christi Haydon)
  15. Othello (vocals by Christi Haydon)
  16. Holiday
  17. Boris The Spider

We were just re-visiting the wonders of the “Gratuitous Sax + Senseless Violins” album two months ago and were pleased by its mix of barbed wit, insight, and pathos. The album gave Sparks a European hit in their third decade and provided a leg up for the band to make very impressive late-in-the-game conceptual leaps following it. Now the gaze has been turned on it again 25 years later with a plethora of tantalizing goods added to the program.

Of course, we gravitate to the 3xCD version as it had the most music in the format of our choice. The second CD was a selection of B-sides, versions and remixes. Truth be told, this could have been another two to three discs in itself. It was the 90s. I don’t have any singles from this album, but am open to hearing this material. The B-sides will surely be more to my liking than the excessive dance porn of the era. I’m guessing that the most musical of the remixes probably figured here.

Christi Haydon

But the third CD has me drooling. And I ain’t fooling. It’s all unreleased demos of songs written during this period but ultimately not included on the album. And Ron Mael was the lead voice on some of these. Tracks 13-15 are from the unreleased Christi Haydon EP the Maels produced that never got released. Ms. Haydon was best known as the photographer of the “pesky photog” tabloid shots on the album cover that amused to no end. All of this and an early Who cover to boot! The song that I really have to hear badly is “Bob Hope.” I really am curious to hear what Ron did with the subject matter as I have a “difficult” relationship with the famed comic.

Ron and Russell have written the liner notes in the 20 page booklet and I’m sure this will be something to hear. Given that I paid $1.00 on La La in 2006 for my copy of this album, I am all too willing to re-purchase it in this executive version with all of the cash going to the artistes. As usual, a granular selection of formats are on offer as the album is released on November 15, 2019 in a variety of CD/vinyl formats. The main ones are: black LP $24.99, yellow LP + 2xCD [discs 2-3] for $36.99, and the Monk-tastic 3xCD for $18.99. I may pass on the other collection but the demos on this one are calling my name like sirens. There are a potentially bewildering selection of bundles so I’ll leave it to you to find your own way in the Official Sparks Webstore here.

– 30 –

Posted in Want List | Tagged , , , , , | 14 Comments

Want List: Prince Estate Drops Robust ‘1999’ Boxed Set Of God®

NPG Records | US | 5xCD+DVD | 2019

Prince: 1999 SUPER DLX RM US 5xCD + DVD [2019]

CD1 | Album

  1. 1999
  2. Little Red Corvette
  3. Delirious
  4. Let’s Pretend We’re Married
  5. D.M.S.R.
  6. Automatic
  7. Something In The Water (Does Not Compute)
  8. Free
  9. Lady Cab Driver
  10. All The Critics Love U In New York
  11. International Lover

CD2 | Promo Mixes & B-Sides

  1. 1999 (7″ stereo edit)
  2. 1999 (7″ mono promo-only edit)
  3. Free (promo-only edit)
  4. How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore (“1999″ b-side)
  5. Little Red Corvette (7″ edit)
  6. All The Critics Love U In New York (7” edit)
  7. Lady Cab Driver (7″ edit)
  8. Little Red Corvette (Dance Remix promo-only edit)
  9. Little Red Corvette (Special Dance Mix)
  10. Delirious (7” edit)
  11. Horny Toad (“Delirious” b-side)
  12. Automatic (7″ edit)
  13. Automatic (video version)
  14. Let’s Pretend We’re Married (7″ edit)
  15. Let’s Pretend We’re Married (7″ mono promo-only edit)
  16. Irresistible Bitch (“Let’s Pretend We’re Married” b-side)
  17. Let’s Pretend We’re Married (video version)
  18. D.M.S.R. (edit)

CD3 | Vault, Part 1

  1. Feel U Up
  2. Irresistible Bitch
  3. Money Don’t Grow On Trees
  4. Vagina
  5. Rearrange
  6. Bold Generation
  7. Colleen
  8. International Lover (Take 1, live in studio)
  9. Turn It Up
  10. You’re All I Want
  11. Something In The Water (Does Not Compute) (Original Version)
  12. If It’ll Make U Happy
  13. How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore? (Take 2, live in studio)

CD4 | Vault, Part 2

  1. Possessed (1982 version)
  2. Delirious (full length)
  3. Purple Music
  4. Yah, You Know
  5. Moonbeam Levels
  6. No Call U
  7. Can’t Stop This Feeling I Got
  8. Do Yourself A Favor
  9. Don’t Let Him Fool Ya
  10. Teacher, Teacher
  11. Lady Cab Driver / I Wanna Be Your Lover / Head / Little Red Corvette [tour demo]

CD5 | Live In Detroit – November 30, 1982

  1. Controversy
  2. Let’s Work
  3. Little Red Corvette
  4. Do Me, Baby
  5. Head
  6. Uptown
  7. Interlude
  8. How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?
  9. Automatic
  10. International Lover
  11. 1999
  12. D.M.S.R.

DVD | Live In Houston – December 29, 1982

  1. Controversy
  2. Let’s Work
  3. Do Me, Baby
  4. D.M.S.R.
  5. Interlude
  6. How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?
  7. Lady Cab Driver
  8. Automatic
  9. International Lover
  10. 1999
  11. Head

All eyes R on Prince… and his eyes R on U…

Am I mistaken or has the Prince Estate been issuing editions at an ever increasing rapid clip of late? The “Versace Experience” cassette was for RSD in April, then the “Originals” album in June? Then the trio of “Emancipation,” “Chaos + Disorder,” and [grrrrr.…] “The Versace Experience” came out on vinyl and CD in August.  I would have skipped that “Versace” cassette had this been known earlier! Now one of the big daddy Prince albums is getting the SDLX love and it’s “1999.” The album that finished off his impeccable New Wave arc that had begun with “Dirty Mind” in 1980, continued through 1981’s “Controversy,” and plateaued here in 1982’s “1999.”

It was an audacious double album worth of material due to Prince’s penchant for expanding the material to mostly 12″ single length as was the wont of most funk artists in the late 70s as well as the hippest way to consume the coolest New Wave imports from England. As this was the peak of his Funk/New Wave synthesis period, that made perfect sense to me. Following this period, he would experience a sea change in popularity when the slinking and grinding pop of “Little Red Corvette” finally gave him that second Top 10 single after a gulf of three years as a one-hit wonder. Then Warner Brothers wisely reissued the impeccable title track so that it could ascend into the Top 10 charts on its second try – like it should have as the pre-release single that grabbed my lapels and didn’t let go.

As I had heard music from “Dirty Mind,” Prince had gotten on my radar and by the time I heard tracks from “Controversy,” I was a believer. I was buying promo 12″ singles from that one that I wish I still had! I jumped right in on “1999” and I was fascinated how he had simply made the entire album as a series of extended 12″ mixes. The Linn Drum Machine still had the cachet of New Wave in 1982; before it killed off live drums on records for a generation. Most of the tracks had long buildup intros; just like was common on 12″ singles. “Automatic” skirted with a ten minute running time; boldly expansive for 1982 when most 12″ singles were about six minutes.

I finally bought the CD of this in 2015 and I’ll be happy to supersede that for the large box on offer as of November 29, 2019. The first disc will have the remastered album. Disc two will be the B-sides, which I’ve not heard, and the many remixes and edits that trimmed these long dance floor fillers down to radio size. I was astonished to see even late in the day mono promo mixes included in a very canonical fashion! But it’s the next two CDs that are the goods. They are packed with contemporaneous material from The Vault. I have greatly enjoyed the program of such included with the merely 3xCD+DVD “Purple Rain” DLX RM, and can only imagine that more unreleased Prince from this period would show similar fire and promise. The guy was insanely prolific. And at this time, his taste and vision was unparalleled.

Then a hot live concert from Detroit will go far in compensating for the time in early 1983, when the “1999” tour hit Lakeland, Florida 50 miles away with no one I knew who wanted to go. I just found out this week that the “Little Red Corvette” music video was shot in rehearsals at the Lakeland Civic Center on Zachary Hoskins’ compelling dance/music/sex/romance Prince-centric blog. Then the DVD had a different concert from a multi-cam shoot in Houston, Texas. All very welcome, but the retail price of $69.95 [pre-order at the official Prince webstore here] shows that the cost is getting away from my comfort zone. But $69.95 was way better than the $249.95 10xLP version!

More metallic foil artwork on this six disc binder

That said, the form factor was decidedly different from the “Purple Rain” tri-fold digipak®. This time we get a library periodical binder/box approach. A gatefold sleeve for the discs and a booklet of the liner notes from [among others] David [Rolling Stone] Fricke and… Guns + Roses Duff Kagan…? Well, I still want to buy it. I like the metallic foil motif they have carried over from the “Purple Rain” set. But I still have at least 3 boxed sets I have wanted before this, [Heaven 17, OMD, Wang Chung] and I don’t see the scratch to get any of them, frankly. I seems like I already missed out on the OMD set and they’re one of my absolute favorite bands. Well, I suspect they’ll press up more of this Prince box.

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Record Review: The Cure – The Head On The Door GER CD [part 2]

Don’t you wish you had this super rate Spanish promo? It’ll set you back a very solid three figures.

[…continued from last post]
After the opening pop salvo of “Inbetween Days” it was time for the band to throw down the gauntlet of eclecticism that would  define this album. “Kyoto” song had a lurching, shambolic beat, courtesy of drummer Boris Williams. The song here was co-produced with Howard [Police, Siouxsie + the Banshees] Gray, and his sonic fingerprints were all over this one. The liberal use of rock reverb he favored would mark each of the three songs on this album ha had a hand in. Perhaps it was a bit of a throwback to the band’s gothic roots, but all bets were off when “The Blood” followed it. Here we had double-tracked, acoustic Spanish guitars leaning the way to a foray into flamenco territory. If the trills and yelps of Robert Smith in the none-to-subtle intro weren’t clues enough, the admirable flamenco solo in the songs middle eight underscored the ethnic direction.

Then the music did a volte-face back to the psychedelia of the preceding album, “The Top,” when the uneasy, diffuse intro eventually resolved itself into something more chirpy and Beatlesque.  After all, Smith had just done guitar duties on Siouxsie + The Banshee’s “Dear Prudence” immediately prior to this album period, and the synths on “Six Different Ways” were working overtime here to approximate Mellotrons as the song unfurled its playful sonic detail.

In any sensible universe, the all-guns-blazing deepcut “Push” should have been a triumphant hit single. Gray was behind the boards again, and the boomier drums of Williams and the rockist crunch of the guitars duly noted his involvement. The song developed like the best instrumental The Cure had never made with cascading guitar riffs and perfectly contrapuntal drum fills by Williams that moved this one along effortlessly. We were treated to 2:20 of an intro so long, it almost counted as a separate instrumental until the song’s halfway point where Smith finally began singing. If only a clear thinker could have made a 3:30 edit of this, it could have topped the charts on either side of The Atlantic. It was The Cure at the height of their appeal.

While Williams contributed some fine drumming to this album, he wasn’t scared of mechanical competition, as the clattery beatbox accents of “The Baby Screams” surely underscored. The resulting song was was the band blending their Gothic reserve with newly enervated rhythms and a little bit of everything but the kitchen sink as they took delight in coloring outside of the outlines. Never more so than on their surprising hit “Close To Me” which took the driest, most intimate sound possible as rhythmic breathing of Smith, flutelike monosynth, and playful marimba conspired to create the most winsome Cure song ever. The uncredited sax by Ron Howe of Fools Dance was a surprising concession to the mid-80s sax trend that was apparently unstoppable. Credit here for Howe having a commercial tone that he played against with his jazzy phrasing. The usual brilliant Tim Pope video couldn’t have hurt, either.

The band’s US label, Elektra, smelled a promo single in “A Night Like This,” the last of the Howard Grey productions. As if the full-bodied rock of the song weren’t a dead giveaway. If the album only had two facets to it, it might have been obtrusive to listen to the production seesaw back and forth, but this album couldn’t be so easily defined. No two songs were alike and the sonics were gleefully all over the map, so in the end, its inventive eclecticism became its unifying characteristic. As the completely unique penultimate song, “Screw” decisively proved. This one felt like a Stranglers song that had escaped the cage as Simon Gallup’s obtrusive fuzz-bass riff grabbed the listener by the throat and gave them a head-butt for good measure. Like on “Close To Me,” the sound here was as dry and bereft of reverb as a tomb. This song was the last of five on the album [half] that had an abrupt cold ending instead of a fade.

In a program that careened all over the stylistic map, it was left to the morose and doleful “Sinking” to wrap up album number seven with a statement of intent that almost managed to cross the five minute mark. There was another strong bass line courtesy of Gallup but the string synths held the melancholy of this one aloft as Smith crumbled under the strain of it all like black hairspray swirling down the drain.

This was a fantastic, vital album in the way that none of the Cure albums that followed it would ever be for me as far as I traveled with the band. Until 1992, I bought every Cure single and album released as they had their day in the sun, commercially. I thought “Kiss Me, Kiss Ms, Kiss Me” would have been improved had it been shaved down to a 45 minute run time. The ability of bands to fill the allotted space of a CD was beginning to manifest in the late 80s, to the detriment of what used to be a succinct, 40-45 minute album. In this business called “show,” the first rule in my unwritten book is to “always keep them wanting more.” The surfeit of music the band wanted to dispense going forward was taxing to my attention span.

Then, The Cure followed that with another 75 minute opus; featuring Prog-length songs. Every Cure fan loved it, though I was more reserved in my ardor. A third very long album in “Wish” was where I stopped buying. I felt that the succinct pop pleasures of the band were only in the rear-view mirror by that time as the band had moved on. I’ve not heard a note they have released after 1992 except for the tracks [and decidedly weaker ones, at that] in the supa-fine “Connect The Dots” BSOG. Apart from the 1996 tour where we saw them the last time.

It was obvious to me that a precious balance between art and pop had landed only on this album like a delicate butterfly as it encompassed a wide variety of moods and production styles in the service of excellent, memorable Cure songs. From miserable to poppy. It’s hard for me to even remember the music I have on later albums, and I’ve not had the pleasure of getting any earlier Cure albums, apart from “Seventeen Seconds,” which I managed to buy some years back at the High Holy Harvest Basement dollar sale. That one was good so I should probably work my way backward with The Cure.

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Record Review: The Cure – The Head On The Door GER CD [part 1]

Fiction Records ‎| UK | CD | 1985 | 827 231-2

The Cure: The Head On The Door GER CD [1985]

  1. In Between Days
  2. Kyoto Song
  3. The Blood
  4. Six Different Ways
  5. Push
  6. The Baby Screams
  7. Close To Me
  8. A Night Like This
  9. Screw
  10. Sinking

I cannot believe that in nearly 2000 posts I have never written about The Cure! It’s not that I dislike them. Or even discount them due to their popularity. No, I’m thrilled that they have survived to become a venerable and beloved band that went straight from Post-Punk to the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame®. All without a hint of crassness [as far as I know]. It’s probably down to the band having moved in a direction that was less than thrilling to me about 25 years ago that I tend to not think of them too often these days, but when they dropped their seventh studio album in only six years, I was at the right place at the right time to really appreciate them.

I’d first heard The Cure back in 1980 when they were on the soundtrack to the stillborn, New Wave exploitation film “Times Square.” The 2xLP OST album had enough vital tracks by artists I liked [XTC, Lou Reed] among the filler tracks that the characters performed in the film [which I’ve never seen] that I picked up one of the widely available cutouts as the thing was deleted almost immediately. The Cure had one song on there; “Grinding Halt” from their debut album, “Three Imaginary Boys.” Which I still have yet to hear 40 years later. “Grinding Halt” was pretty good, but I heard nothing between that point and 1982 when “Let’s Go To Bed” made initial inroads on MTV when we got cable TV in 1982. I next saw clips for “The Walk” and “Lovecats” and when the monthly MTV program London Calling showed an interview with video director Tim Pope and played the clip for “Inbetween Days,” I was primed to buy! In the heady days of 1985, that meant waiting for the import CD [at least $15.00 @ Peaches!] to shop up in the bins. I recall waiting several months as was the custom at that time.

“Inbetween Days” was really a lost opportunity. I think of everything that I like as being “pop” even though most of the music I treasured was not “popular.” I guess I find “pop music” to be a qualitative notion rather than a literal one, but this song was clearly written to blast out of radios with its surplus of positive energy in direct defiance to the rather miserable lyrics. Of course, little is so beguiling than bands that juxtapose happy music against somber lyrics! The sound here was made to go top 10 if there was any justice in the world [hint: there isn’t]. The expert drumming by Boris Williams propelled this album capably through its entirety with perfectly executed fills in just the right places.

The acoustic rhythm guitar in this song was the closest thing to a leitmotif for the entire, eclectic album. The song leaned heavily on it for the expansive intro that took up nearly a third of the song’s brief, 3:00 running time. The simple string synths that played the melancholic melody were perfectly balanced between the other elements of the song. The production by Robert Smith and Martin Rushent’s right-hand mad Dave Allen [not the gent in Gang of Four/Shriekback, by the way…] was perfect to capture the complexity of what the band was putting down with clarity and focus.

The whole thing ended up sounding like the best song that New Order had never recorded. I swear that it would have charted better had the intro not been a third the length of the song, but the buildup was so delightful, I completely understand the decision to let it play out to its strengths; the time taken be damned. Thsi was simply a single of the highest order of accomplishment. And buyers of the UK 12″ single were gifted with the two best songs The Cure have ever recorded, for what it’s worth to my ears.

Next: …Building A Classic, Track By Track

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Post-Punk Double Bill North American Bliss From Chameleons Vox + Theatre Of Hate Imminent

Two great bands that taste great together…

I have been remiss in my duties with all of the hoopla of recent weeks. I’ve already sent the info to my friend Echorich to his delight, but there may be some other eyes who read this blog who would be interested in this one. I know, that I’d go if I had half a chance! With several gently probing US tours by Chameleons Vox in recent years, 2019 seems to be the year it gets very real as Mark Burgess and his band are mounting a reasonably large North American tour that is well matched with Theatre Of Hate! If you click through to the TOH website, the home page shows that their current UK tour has Derek Forbes + the Dark (?) opening so you know we need to investigate further!

Chameleons Vox live

I was an immediate convert to the sound of Chameleons as to these ears they proffered a tougher take on the kind of guitar-based New Wave that U2 were selling back at the same time; albeit with none of the many downsides to my ears. When synthpop was having its big day in the sun, this was what we listened to for detox purposes! I bought the very compromised US edition of their debut and later bought the “Strange Times” album on LP. Only to trade them off when imagining the CDs of them I’d one day have. I’m still waiting, there. The irony was that I do own the “What Does Everything Mean, Basically” sophomore album on the shiny silver disc, and it was something that I never saw on LP back when it was released!

Kirk Brandon of Theatre Of Hate

A year earlier than I first heard Chameleons, I had my head turned by the cinematic and stentorian dubrock soundblast that was Theatre Of Hate’s “Do You Believe In the Westworld.” Both the album and the 12″ single of which have resided in the Record Cell for a long time now. The pairing of Kirk Brandon’s band with Chameleons is possibly the best possible Post-Punk tour teamup imaginable. I can see lots of fans rapturously enjoying both bands equally. With the realities of touring in America, this makes more sense than most things happening in these end times.

And most of the dates for this tour have Jay Aston of Gene Loves Jezebel also on the bill. I can’t say I’m a fan of the Welsh band, as I have usually found them to be a little too close tot he Bonosound® in the vocal phrasing department. But I will cop to actually liking the Madonna cover of a song of hers they performed on the “Virgin Voices” album many years back. It dated from the period after my cultural embargo against her was erected – the tune in question being “Frozen” in a razed In Black mix. I mean, I don’t like Gene Loves Jezebel or especially Madonna! So anything’s possible! So what are those dates dotting the North American continent in about a month?

Chameleons Vox + Theatre Of Hate + Jay Aston | N. American Tour 2019

  1. Oct. 8 | The Middle East – Downstairs | Cambridge, MA
    + Theatre of Hate/Roanoke
  2. Oct. 11 | Lee’s Palace | Toronto, ON
    + Theatre of Hate/Jay Aston
  3. Oct. 13 | The Empty Bottle | Chicago, IL
    + Theatre of Hate/Jay Aston
  4. Oct. 16 | Liquid Joe’s | Salt Lake City, UT
    + Theatre of Hate/Jay Aston/Big Face
  5. Oct. 18 | Sunset Tavern | Seattle, WA
    + Theatre of Hate/Jay Aston
  6. Oct. 19 | Rickshaw Theater | Vancouver, BC
    + with Theatre of Hate/Jay Aston/The Gathering
  7. Oct. 20 | Star Theater | Portland, OR
    + Theatre of Hate/Jay Aston
  8. Oct. 27 | Echoplex | Los Angeles, CA, US
    + Theatre of Hate/Jay Aaton/The Part Time Punks
  9. Oct. 28 | The Casbah | San Diego, CA
    + Theatre of Hate/Jay Aston
  10. Oct. 29 | Club Red – West Theater | Mesa, AZ
    + Theatre of Hate/Jay Aston/The Captives
  11. Oct. 31 | Paper Tiger | San Antonio, TX
    + Theatre of Hate/Jay Aston
  12. Nov. 2 | Three Links | Dallas, TX
    + Theatre of Hate/Jay Aston
  13. Nov. 5 | Crowbar | Tampa, FL
    + Theatre of Hate/TBA
  14. Nov. 7 | Capital Ale House Music Hall | Richmond, VA
    + Theatre of Hate/Jay Aston
  15. Nov. 8 | Ottobar | Baltimore, MD
    + Theatre of Hate/Jay Aston
  16. Dec. 14 | O2 Ritz Manchester | Manchester
    + The Icicle Works

Whoops! That UK date in December just squeaked in there, but Icicle Works is another superb pairing with Chameleons Vox that I’d be hard pressed to top.

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