Nick Lowe Coming To Town… Possibly Yours (con Los Straitjackets)

Yep Roc Records ‎| US | CD | 2017 | YEP-2496

It pays to be proactive in your Internet wanderings. Just this morning, I thought that maybe it was time to take a glimpse at the concert calendar for The Grey Eagle; the local club that seems to get the bulk of my patronage. What should I see in October but an appearance by the iconic Nick Lowe! His appearance there will be part of a quick tour with the endearing title of “Nick Lowe’s Quality Rock And Roll Revue.” Thusly named because he is taking to the road for a series of tour dates linked up with the instro-tastic guitar combo of the gods, Los Straitjackets playing with him.

Apparently, Nick became attuned to the splendor of Los Straitjackets when coming to Chapel Hill five years ago for YR15, 15th Anniversary festival that YepRoc Records  staged to bring its many fine artists together in one spot, and was happy to tour with them last year for his “Quality Holiday Revue” Christmas tour. Of course, this year’s event is another fine package tour courtesy of the YepRoc label in nearby Chapel Hill. Lowe and Los Straitjackets have been happily signed with the label for years now, so it must be a good fit for all concerned. Of course, I had recently seen the album above in record emporiums, and surely, the best brains at YepRoc understand all about synergy? Amigos, it doesn’t often get better than this.

Well then, yes sir! Sign me up! I have mightily enjoyed all of the Los Straitjackets shows I’ve been lucky enough to catch over the years. I remember the heady days of the Great 90s Surf Rock Boom (before the Great Surf Rock Crash of ’97) in which the veterans of The Raybeats, who were among the scant few hip enough to cover Link Wray in the early 80s, linked up with Webb Wilder’s amazing drummer James Lester [since replaced with Jason Smay] for this supergroup of sorts. Naturally, I was there in ’94 with bells on! Their instro mastery is undisputed, and their Lucha Libre presentation [all of their stage patter is en Español] coupled with their fantastic stage choreography, takes their entertainment value way over the top. It’s impossible to se these guys without a huge smile on your face. In fact, the last time I saw them was on another YepRoc package extravaganza that saw The Fleshtones, Los Straitjackets, and Southern Culture On The Skids touring behind their astonishing, conceptual Halloween split LP, “Mondo Zombie Boogaloo,” back in 2013.

As for Mr. Lowe, I’m positively thrilled that I did not have to wait another 30+ years to catch this superlative artist again in concert. My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed his last show at The Grey Eagle and goodness knows that I had spent the better part of 20 years until then pining for another Nick Lowe concert after listening to my shamefully scant Nick Lowe collection and reflecting on the superlative caliber of his work. As Nick has entered his golden years, I have seen his recent work reflect his maturity in a most

For the most part, Lowe is tag teamed with Los Straitjackets for about half of his current tour dates, but Greenvale, New York sees Lowe opening up for Blondie and dates in Sellersville, Pennysyvania and St. Louis, Missourihas Lowe all by himself. If you are lucky enough to live within earshot of these dates, then by all means avail yourselves to the splendor of it all.

Nick Lowe | World Tour/Nick Lowe’s Quality Rock + Roll Revue | 2017

Jul 28 | Southern Fried Festival | Perth, United Kingdom
Jul 29 | Port Eliot Festival | St. Germans, United Kingdom
Aug 05 | Damsrosch Park [w/ Los Straitjackets] | New York, NY
Aug 10 | Kelvingrove Bandstand [w/ Paul Carrack] | Glasgow, United Kingdom
Oct 13 | Tiles Center [w/ Blondie] | Greenvale, NY
Oct 16 | Sellersville Theater 1894 | Sellersville, PA
Oct 18 | Birchmere [w/ Los Straitjackets] | Alexandria, VA
Oct 21  | The Grey Eagle [w/ Los Straitjackets]  | Asheville, NC
Oct 24 | Delmar Hall | St. Louis, MO
Oct 27 | Turf Club [w/ Los Straitjackets] | St Paul, MN
Oct 28 | Turf Club [w/ Los Straitjackets] | St Paul, MN

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Record Review: Escort

Escort Records | US | CD | 2011 | ESCRTLP1

Escort: Escort US CD [2011]

  1. Caméleon Chameleon
  2. Cocaine Blues
  3. Makeover
  4. A Sailboat In The Moonlight
  5. Why Oh Why
  6. Starlight
  7. A Bright New Life
  8. All Through The Night
  9. Love In Indigo
  10. Al That She Is
  11. Karawane

After posting about the Escort show coming to town on August 4th, I suddenly realized that I had never reviewed the first Escort album; finally obtained in late 2016. Well, that’s all about to change. At first I saw this as a DL only release, but perseverance eventually outed the preferred CD format of the debut album by the dazzling NYC disco champions.

Top commenter Echorich once left a comment somewhere here along the lines of “Caméleon Chemeleon” being one of the best August Darnell tracks he never wrote and produced, and I can get behind that sentiment; most definitely! The full breadth of the sixteen musicians on this opener bear serious comparison to the lush, musical splendor that Kid Creole + The Coconuts made their stock-in-trade, back in the late 70s. That was something most apparent when I saw Escort live. They were gunning for that Ze Records vibe most assuredly in their aim! And I’m here to tell you that they’ve nailed it.

The next track was also a single and “Cocaine Blues” was neither a blues number nor the song of the same name made famous by Johnny Cash on his “Folsom Prison” album. It most certainly was a blast of what undoubtedly contributed to 1977 with a bass line that was naggingly familiar. Not the first time I would be wracking my brains trying to discern where I had previously heard the musical quotes this album was littered with. After much deep thought, the bass line to The Rolling Stones “Undercover Of the Night” is as close as I can name it, though I think I am forgetting something even closer to the riff here. Why not hit the player below and if anyone can “name that tune,” then please leave a comment setting me straight.

The first two singles here had Joy Dragland as the vocalist, but by the time the bulk of this album was recorded, the band had shifted vocalists to Adeline Michéle, as depicted on the front cover. “Makeover” was closer to the Post-Punk side of disco, with a maddeningly familiar syncopated synth hook that I cannot for the life of me remember the source of. In any case, the juddering beat was a monster, and proof that there were many ways to create disco without dragging out the obvious tropes.

Though that was exactly what “A Sailboat In The Moonlight” did! Back when disco was ascendant, one of the most potent tropes around was the notion of taking a Tin Pan Alley classic and slapping a new coat of disco paint on it only to watch it race up the charts. Well, everything old was new again. Even in the 70s. This time it was a Duke Ellington number associated with talents as varied as Kate Smith and Billie Holliday. The first half was little but bongos, synthesized finger snaps and the sweetly delivered vocals of Ms. Michéle. Midway the song, a descending glissando of synths heralded a full bodied dance floor explosion with a four-piece brass section giving it loads.

All of the numbers thus far took disco and changed its frame, however slightly. “Starlight” was the big number here that really trafficked in recreating a distinct ’77 vibe as expertly as they could. The lush string section [all real] went far in doing so, but so did Eugene Cho’s expert hi-frequency synth squiggle hooks. It goes without saying, that all of this activity was accompanied by a four-to-the-floor beat that was disco’s calling card.

One of the most arresting tracks here was the insanely syncopated “All Through The Night.” It’s one thing for guitars, horns, or synths to latch onto the beat, but in this case Ms. Michéle’s delivery was the masterstroke that took this one far. The breathless delivery of the chorus may have been achieved on a computer, but I’m betting that this band would not abide that sort of cheating. The number had a sleazy electro feel ripped straight out of Laid Back’s deathless “White Horse,” so naturally it went far in gaining my approval.

The album ended up with a couple of numbers where the female vocalists took five while the band core of Dan Balis [guitar] and Eugene Cho [keys] took the mic for this lovely slice of NYC ELectro straight out of the John Robie/Arthur Baker playbooks. Of course, that meant lots of 16th notes sequenced tightly for our listening pleasure.

Finally, the epic closer “Karawane” adhered to a long, mostly instrumental air with added FGTH chanted vocals sporadically for a touch of emphatic disco/funk grunting over the electric piano leads of Cho and the timbale-led breakdown at the song’s middle point; echoing fully Ralph McDonald’s Calypso Breakdown,” as immortalized on the “Saturday Night fever” OST.

This was an elegant, electric disco album that paid fealty to the classic era of disco while not being afraid to bring it kicking and screaming in to the 21st century. Six of the songs here were issued as 12” singles and needless to say, I’d love to have them all, but the “Cocaine Blues” 12” is definitely out of my price range! That saucy number on wax will set you back the better part of $50 in the current economy. There was also a remix CD as well as copious DLs of these and other tracks, which, given the economy of buying this on vinyl, I may [gulp] opt for DLs. It’s highly relevant to get this material since many of the early singles were released as early as 2007 and feature Zena Kitt as the lead vocalist, meaning that the single mixes are so non-LP and that’s what attracts me like a moth to the flame, don’t you know.

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Record Review: Dalek i Love You [part 2]

[continued from previous post…]

Yesterday we cast an ear towards the original 1983 album. Today, we examine the singles with the bonus tracks that made it onto this DLX RM.

Korova Records | UK | 12″ | 1982 | KOW 25(T)

Dalek i Love You: Holiday In Disneyland UK 12″ [1982]

  1. Holiday In Disneyland
  2. Masks + Licenses
  3. Heaven Was Bought For Me
  4. Holiday In Disneyland [alt. ver.]

The deeply eccentric “Holiday In Disneyland was not perhaps the most commercial pick for a lead single from this album. Especially since Dalek i Love You had moved from obscure UK indie Back Door to Korova; Echo + The Bunnymen’s boutique label as distributed through WEA. The 12” single of said release contained two non-LP B-sides, as well as an alternate version of the A-side as produced in a session with Steven Short. The latter is missing from this disc, but the two B-sides are in place. Thankfully, that insanely brilliant single cover painting is in the booklet to this CD.

“Masks + Licenses” is a boppy slice of clockwork-driven New Wave with organ chords and ringing guitars driving the tune. Alan Gill sang lead to charming effect. It sort of recalls The The’s “This Is The Day” in feel, though less melancholy. “Heaven Was Bought For Me” was a darker, more complex piece that opened with a backwards vocal loop cross faded to forward while crystalline synths and lurching rhythms set the stage for Keith Hartley’s crooning. The coda reversed the vocal loop gambit and fades out from forwards cross faded to backwards. With computers, we could edit the song into an endless loop today.

Korova | UK | 12″ | 1983 | KOW 29T

Dalek i Love You: Ambition UK 12″ [1983]

  1. Ambition [ext. ver.]
  2. I Am Hot Person [ext. ver.]
  3. Would You Still Love Me

The “Ambition” 12″ featured an extended A/B side [!] but only the bonus 12″ only-B-side was accounted for on this CD. I am so up for getting this 12″ since “Ambition” was a very interesting single that, unlike the first single release, sounded like it could make room for itself on the radio. As fascinating as “Holiday In Disneyland” was, it had the whiff of a deep cut, not a single. “I Am Hot Person” also appeared on the 7″ of “Ambition” in a shorter version. “Would You Still Love Me” was a Keith Hartley song with a “sermonette” vibe of long, sustained organ chords over a shuffling, tribal beat that increased in power until at the middle eight it took the song into the jungle.

Korova | UK | 12″ | 1983 | KOW 31T

Dalek i Love You: Horrorscope UK 12″ [1983]

  1. Horrorscope
  2. Heap Big Pow Wow
  3. Horrorscope [inst.]
  4. The Angel + The Clown

The third single was the also infectious “Horrorscope.”There were two non-LP B-sides and an instrumental version, that was also extended from the LP track. “Heap Big Pow Wow” was not included, but the instrumental remix of “Horrorscope” was, and it’s a robust 6:00 long as opposed to the 4:00 album track. Near the halfway mark, the drum track began getting more echoey and complex; almost dubbed. Tasty stuff and I would not have looked askance at a vocal 12″ remix using this backing track, but no one asked me. “The Angel + The Clown” was a fantastic instrumental featuring a very Frippy, sustained modal line on guitar over the gentle technopop backing. It sounded for all the world like a concurrent slice of Bill Nelson solo instrumental very much in the vein of “Conny Buys A Kodak.” Fans of Nelson would absolutely love this track!

Korova | UK | 12″ | 1983 | KOW 31

Dalek i Love You: Horrorscope UK 7″ [1983]

  1. Horrorscope
  2. These Walls We Build

The “Horrorscope” 7″ featured a third non-LP B-side only on that format. “These Walls We Build” was a long, busy, Alan Gill sung number with a cinematic line in synths and booming tribal drums juxtaposed against it all. Finally, the DLX RM contained a dub version of “12 Hours Of Blues” that performed honorable dub magic on the album track. Thankfully, this was rescued from obscurity by Gill on this reissue, but at the cost of B-side material and even the 12″ version of “Ambition.”

I have to admit that after all is said and done, I understand why this CD quickly was selling for three figures in just months after its first release in 2007! This was a superb example of obscure, yet supremely worthy Post-Punk ca 1983. It sounds like the vigorous offspring of Kissing The Pink’s “Naked” and Shriekback during the same era. I especially point to “Kissing The Pink” in that it posits a dynamically eclectic package of material that doesn’t shy from either extreme catchiness nor left-field excursions. In fact, like Kissing The Pink, it frequently lunges at either target at the same time. Fans of “Naked” simply must own this CD. While it lacks a transcendently perfect track as that album’s “Desert Song,” it contains every other trait that brings this album up to the standard of greatness in Post-Punk.

I will admit, that while I had heard of the name Dalek i Love You, back in the day, I had never seen any actual releases by the band until visiting Tower Records in Atlanta in 1990, where I bought the DLX RM CD of “Compass Kum’pas” that I had absolutely no compunction selling off for a healthy three figures in 2007 when in need of extra cash. My only regret was that I lacked further copies to sell, since now it sells for three extremely healthy figures ten years later. But that illuminates the differences in the two very different Dalek i Love You albums for me. The first one, largely Alan Gill and drummer Chris “Merrick” Hughes, played a game that meant little to my ears. Too polite by half, with a twee line in Enoesque whimsey as barely sung by Alan Gill; it deeply failed to convince.

This album roped in the songwriting and production DNA of two other members that contributed exactly the sort of dynamic Post-Punk that I enjoyed the most. Music that resembled “pop” while being largely at odds with pop values. Music where numerous odd ideas were juxtaposed in the service of creating something new and almost startling. I have to say that this album was a powerful experience to finally hear after only becoming aware of it when the first reissue hit the web in 2007. Again, I had never seen this album or its singles in record stores the whole time period from its release until now. But the album in evidence sits comfortably on a rack with other late-in-the-day discoveries like The Associates, who collectively conspire to drive me towards the Monastic Ideal of uncovering the best, and most valuable Post-Punk music that I had missed the first time around. This DLX RM certainly plays that game like the pro that it is. Had I actually paid $100 in 2012 for a copy of this, it would have been worth it.

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Record Review: Dalek i Love You [part 1]

Man In The Moon ‎| UK | CD | 2017 | MITMCD24

Dalek i Love You: Dalek i Love You UK DLX RM CD [2017]

  1. Holiday In Disneyland
  2. Horrorscope
  3. Health And Happiness
  4. The Mouse That Roared
  5. Dad On Fire
  6. Ambition
  7. Lust
  8. 12 Hours of Blues
  9. Sons Of Sahara
  10. Africa Express
  11. Would You Still Love Me
  12. These Walls We Build
  13. Horrorscope [inst. ver.]
  14. Masks = Licenses
  15. The Angel + The Clown
  16. Heaven Was Bought For Me
  17. 12 Hours Of Blues [dub]

Well, that didn’t take long! Last month, I was writing about this much-needed reissue of the second Dalek i Love You album on CD and within hours our good friend Echorich told me it was ordered and with my name on it; don’t make a move. Well, yes sir! Throw me in that briar patch! So a few weeks later it’s in my Record Cell and we aren’t wasting any time in reviewing it. Hint: it’s amazing, quintessential Post-Punk.

From the first few seconds it’s apparent that this second incarnation of Dalek i Love You was a far cry from the band of the first album. Only Alan Gill remained from the initial lineup. This time he was aided and abetted by Gordon Hon and Kenny Peers as well as Keith Hartley. The barely there introverted Enoism of the debut had become a cracking Post-Punk contender. Lead off track “Holiday In Disneyland” was a chattering Post-Punk funk track with a drum machine, a cut-up structure, and femme BVs, with the one stab at chart normality being the incongruous slap bass that proliferated at the time sitting amid everything like a fat, contented cat in a room full of frantic chickens who were freaking out. The final third on the song was in dub, because you can’t take these things too far! Gordon Hon’s vocals sounded not a hop, skip, and a jump away from what Carl Marsh was doing with Shriekback at the same time, so how can we say “no?”

And then for something completely different! “Horrorscope” was another single track with Keith Hartley singing. The number was galloping synthpop with fey lead vocals paired with robust call and response backing vocals. It was as vibrant and peppy as someting that basically left-field could ever hope to be. The batty lyrics seemed to be actual horoscopes set to energetic music.

Then it was time for another dark turn with “Health + Happiness.” Gordon Hon took the mic agin and the female backing chorus provided the declamatory title lyric to the proceedings over a subtle Linn beat that rambled admirably; difficult for a drum machine. The guitars featured nice open electric chords blended with acoustic seasoning.

If “The Mouse That Roared” has any connection to the 50s satirical novel and comedy movie, it’s beyond my ability to decipher the whys and wherefores, but I can’t imagine that title signifying anything else. That said, the track was appropriately batty with the intro being provided by a phalanx of kazoos [possibly processed]. Kenny Peer’s vocals here resembled nothing so much as the sound of Andy Bell yet to come, four years later. The song’s elegant coda gave way to a return of the kazoo army sounding almost elegant before dissolving into an ambient synthbed.

Side one ended with the appropriately incendiary “Dad On Fire,” which significantly upped the “delightfully bonkers” factor the previous song trafficked in. The ladies’ chorus gave this one a sharp hook with girlish “mummy/daddy/mummy/daddy” BVs over rhythmic pizzicato “strings” and Gordon Hon’s stentorian vocals. Elsewhere, this track took the cake for including animalistic snarling… twice! A first in all of the thousands of song’s I’m familiar with.

“Ambition” was the third track from the album pulled as single material, and like “Horroscope” more than “Holiday In Disneyland,” this one came close to sounding “pop” due to the more familiar sounding track elements. The ladies BVs delivered another barbed hook with this tune’s “look good, get smart, smell nice, work hard” chorus. Kenny Peers and Keith Hartley shared the lead vocals here in the only time they combined singers. I loved the random sounding voice over inserts interjected into the song that added to its splintered, enervated vibe.

The album was two thirds complete, and finally Alan Gill made an appearance at the mic. The guy held this whole thing together but selflessly spread the vocals among a small crew of singers, but I have to admit, his generosity is what made this album really “sing” for me. I love bands with multiple vocalists, and this disc stretched that conceit to its limits. The first album was so redolent of “Another Green World” but given nothing but Gill’s slight, airy vocals, the whole thing tended to float off into the ether for my ears. Gill was far more effective here as one voice among many. “Lust” featured heraldic horns in its intro [it makes sense if you think about it for a half-second] and featured a proto-acid-house synth sound in the coda and Gary Barnacle’s dubbed out sax interjections.

Gill also took the forefront on “12 Hours of Blues” which in opposition to the title was the only reggae skank here, albeit with incongruous added smooth sax fills, again courtesy of Barnacle. The Linn was banished here for a live drummer; Drummie Zeb of Aswad. The whole last minute of this one was in dub.

In the copious liner notes in this CD, Paul Lester of Uncut fame interviewed Alan Gill and he revealed that had the band maintained for another album, maybe it would have all been in the vein of the last two numbers here, which he depicted as “Pink Floydian.” As much as I enjoy the radical eclectisicm of this one, I can see value also in pursuing such a tactic of coherence. “Sons Of Sahara” featured mildly psychedlic animal sounds [possibly sampled] over a tribal drum loop with Kenny Peers on lead vocals, but the vibe here was not as jerky or kinetic as most of the preceding numbers were. It was not about creating a striking juxtaposition but an environmental soundscape.

As was “Africa Express;” surely on the same tribal looking shelf as 1982’s XTC track “It’s Nearly Africa.” But where the XTC song was a last gasp of their early, kinetic style, here the mood was dreamlike with a synth intro giving way to clip/clop synth percussion throughout the song strongly redolent of Gershon Kingsley’s seminal synthpop hit “Popcorn.” That perkiness was in sharp contrast to the droning synth chords lazily moving like clouds throughout the long, 7:14 number. By its end, the track had attained a stately melancholy air, not unlike OMD’s stock-in-trade. Appropriate, considering that OMD’s Andy McCluskey was actually drafted [briefly] into an early lineup of Dalek i Love You before plowing his own creative furrow.

Next: …The Bonus Tracks

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Yow! Escort Finally Making Their Way Back To Asheville Next Month

Escort ca. 2017 © Maurcio Castro

Great Googly Moogly! I was shopping at the French Broad Co-Op yesterday when I walked past the signboards outside the entrance to see what bands the posted venue calendars said were coming soon. The clubs were a non-event, but they have been very active lately, so I’m fine with that. What rocked my world was the poster for LEAF Downtown #3 on August 4-5. LEAF is run by the Lake Eden Arts Festival collective, who stage a big outdoor festival heavy on the funk and jam bands twice a hear in Asheville. Typically not my cup of meat, but I couldn’t say I would not enjoy seeing LEAF headliners like Dr. John and Bootsy Collins, but I was able to see them locally at later dates without camping out all weekend, so that worked better for me. Three years ago, they brought Bootsy back for LEAF Downtown #1, which was a free festival held in the Pack Square Park in the heart of Asheville. It was a stupendous show that didn’t cost a dime.

Their latest score was bringing back the band that blew my mind seven times to Sunday back in ’14 at the last Moogfest held in Asheville. That Escort concert was one of the best, most intense “lightning in a bottle” gigs I’ve ever experienced. Maybe it was the confluence of the band, the crowd, and the venue, but it was one of those life-changing gigs that are few and far between. The kind where I just have to tell everyone about them for a month afterward. Rarely has music been that exciting to me since I’m pretty buttoned down. Not that night. I was in the transcendent flow and loving it. Escort’s tough, streetwise take on discofunk was every inch the sort of vibe that Ze Records had aimed for back in ’80-’81 when they were on fire creatively.

It took me years to track down a copy of the first Escort album on scarce CD format, and when their sophomore album, “Animal Nature” got a release in 2015, it sure looked like it was DL only. I looked again this weekend and saw that there was a CD of album #2 though no one on Discogs was selling it. Still, I put it on my want list and will hopefully be able to buy a copy in my preferred format. Maybe, if the gods smile on me, the band might have a merch table where this bad boy will be for sale. One hope that this will be the case. During Escort’s gig at Moogfest, there was no merch table and frankly, I was too shellshocked to even think of anything but babbling praise to synth player Eugene Cho and stumble out of the club. I imagined for certain, given the obvious electricity flowing at the event palpable to all in attendance, that Escort would be back in town sooner than three years later, but better late than never, I say! I will be counting down the days to August 4th and can only say… bring them on!!

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Record Review: Hudson K

Self-Released | US | CD-R | 2017

Hudson K: Hudson K US CD-R [2017]

  1. Wild
  2. Gravity
  3. Origin
  4. Mother Nature
  5. Serial Killer
  6. Fight or Flight
  7. Believer
  8. Biology
  9. Second

I came across Knoxville synth-rock band Hudson K four years ago when their third album “Ouroboros and The Black Dove” brought them across the Smokies to Asheville for a show.  I had read about it in the local freekly and attended to my considerable enjoyment. I bought their CD and can’t imagine why I did not review the show or album at the time. I did not see the band in any other shows, but ran across listings for at least two afterward, to my chagrin. In late May, I received an email from the mailing list I had signed up for touting a Pledge Music campaign for album number four, the eponymous “Hudson K.” There were only two days to go and the totals sat somewhere between 50-60% if memory serves correctly. In the final day, I pledged for a CD since I had liked this band a lot, and wanted to hear their next move. The CD arrived on Tuesday and paints an exciting picture of where the band had moved to in the intervening four year

Hudson K ca. 2017

The band is still singer/synth player Christina Horn with Nate Barrett on drums and backing vocals, but the program of eclectic dance pop with remnants of Ms. Horn’s cabaret roots [piano still had cone currency then] have been superseded by a turn towards a more elaborate and rewarding art rock direction. In keeping with that direction, there are four tracks here with guitar added for a movement closer to rock from the dance pop of the last album. “Wild” was a great calling card for the album that followed. Synth bass and drums gave it a slow buildup before the lead synths eventually joined in with the slow, slinking groove. By the song’s midpoint, the vocoders kicked in and when the tune reached its climax, which consisted on the repeated lyrical phrase “animals defending our pride,” the tempo kicked into high gear, only to plateau and revert to its earlier form for the coda.

Ms. Horn gives the songs a controlled power with her singing. She reminds me of a Johnette Napolitano who forsook booze, booze, [and maybe more booze] for voice and composition lessons instead. She has that earthy tone of Napolitano’s but does much more impressive things with it. “Gravity” was a unique song sung from the perspective of gravity personified. It tied in with the abstract, primal theme of this album, which examines the multiplicity of natural forces which bear on us all. It makes for an intellectually stimulating album that, importantly, focuses this intellectualism through a visceral,  emotional lens, and wraps it all up in provocative art rock that still keeps the brainstem stimulated.

By the third number, “Origin,” I was thinking to myself, this reminds me of prime Peter Gabriel material, ca. ’82. Maybe it was drummer Nate Barrett’s almost subliminal chanted BVs, that sounded not unlike those that Gabriel overdubbed all over his fourth album. Certainly, the percussive complexity that Barrett offered on the number also kept it close to the Gabriel vibe. The fact that the core synth/drum duo of Horn and Barrett were abetted here with some welcome guitar injections on four of these tracks also pushed their boat further out into the seas of rock from the shores of dance pop from whence they last recorded.

Five or six listen in and I’m hooked. This album was a big leap forward from the last album, which I certainly enjoyed, but it’s not ultimately as coherent or accomplished as this self-titled volume was. All of the songs fit together here sonically [and thematically] like fingers in a glove. It’s all the more impressive when this was also the first self-produced album for the band. The zesty arrangements blend a wide variety of synth attacks with the real drums of Mr. Barrett; a huge plus in my book. One of the big drawbacks for me of the 80s were how drums were abused. On one hand there was a drive to make acoustic drums as sterile as possible and on the other hand there were too many digital drum machines with no swing at all. Here the vibe is more honest and direct and it probably helps that the music is reaching beyond pop into more studied territory.

Now that Hudson K have flirted with guitars [successfully], I think the next big step they might consider would be finding their own Tony Levin. When considering what a strongly compelling bassist could bring into this band my mind reels. Oh yeah, it’s definitely closer to rock, but with the fascinating songs and performances on this album, it could really take it up to the next level by bridging the gap between the band’s drum and synth lines. Their campaign store has 18 days left if you’d like to purchase DL/vinyl/CD of this fine album, click the banner above.

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Record Review: Pet Shop Boys – Discography

EMI Records USA ‎| US | CD | 1991 | CDP-7-97097-2

Pet Shop Boys: Discography US CD [1991]

  1. West End Girls
  2. Love Comes Quickly
  3. Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots Of Money)
  4. Suburbia
  5. It’s A Sin
  6. What Have I Done To Deserve This?
  7. Rent
  8. Always On My Mind
  9. Heart
  10. Domino Dancing
  11. Left To My Own Devices
  12. It’s Alright
  13. So Hard
  14. Being Boring
  15. Where The Streets Have No Name (I Can’t Take My Eyes Off You)
  16. Jealousy
  17. DJ Culture
  18. Was It Worth It?

I was in a thrift store last weekend and my wife said “do you need this?” At first, I didn’t think so, but then I thought for three seconds more. I had gotten rid of most of my Pet Shop Boys CD singles I had laboriously collected in their imperial period of 1986-1994. I had listened to them one more time before selling them off, and was especially taken with the quality of the B-sides all over again, so I thought that I should buy a copy of “Alternative.” Which I did, for a dollar, in a thrift store at exactly the time that I had decided that I should finally own it, which previously had little cachet for me with all of those CD singles I used to have. The same thing happened this time. I also bought this CD in a thrift store for a dollar! Very symmetrical! Only this time was where I got a concise chunk of 7″ mixes and edits which I no longer had.

I was interesting hearing this large body of work in a coherent fashion, from start to finish. I have had the laserdisc of this title since day one, but how many times have I watched it? Realistically, I have already listened to this CD more times. It’s kind of hard to imagine that a song like “West End Girls” broke them worldwide in such a dramatic fashion. It’s an interesting number, but it does not sound like a juggernaut. It’s a weird synthpop/rap number. The production telegraphs what synthpop was turning into. Less an oddball endeavor and more of a production line of popular music. Sonically, the records of PSB are not profound. There is nothing too exciting happening, though to their credit, they usually managed to instill at least a few scant inserts of real instruments to add a little life to their tracks. The guitar of J.J. Belle performed much the same functions here that Chico Hablas performed on early Yellow albums; giving the perfection a human element and some slight randomness among the programmed beats.

What gives the music its core identity to my ears, is the relationship between singer/lyricist Neil Tennant and the functional soundscapes that partner Chris Lowe constructed. No matter if the track was a dancefloor monster [“Always On My Mind”] or a delicate ballad [“Rent”], one could be assured that Mr. Tennant was not going to perform with a single hair out of place. His almost unnatural poise and reserve, to me, is the very soul of PSB across these 18 tracks. Where others might have pushed themselves vocally on a hi-NRG number like “Where The Streets Have No Name/Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You,” Neil would never let himself get all in a lather. No, he sits behind the music bed, spinning his wry observances of the characters in his songs in a thoroughly decorous manner. One gets the impression that in the hands of others, the Calder-like balancing points between the arrangement and the singer and lyrics would topple into chaos. Now that I think of it, I’ve not heard and PSB covers. Perhaps that’s the reason why? Apart from my media blackout lifestyle.

I like most of these songs. “Love Comes Quickly” was built on an insistent throbbing bassline that was most compelling. “Suburbia” was remixed for single issue in a more frantic mix than the album. “Its a Sin” always sounded like their “Ultravox” song to my ears… if Ultravox had a penchant for hi-NRG disco. Admit it… can’t you just hear PSB tackling a track like “White China;” the closest that ‘Vox ever came to the style of PSB? Sure you can! One regret among these classic early tracks that I have is that the version of “Opportunities [Lets Make Lots Of Money]” here was the 1986, heavy-handed remix that was the second release. I much preferred the original 1985 version with the vocoders and the that elegant coda that no other version had.

Two of the best transgressive cover versions the band ever committed to tape are among my favorite PSB numbers. When “Always On My Mind” came out, it easily became my single of the year; back when I stayed current. I could not get enough of it and was pleased that I could buy it in a streamlined CD5 single. If reworking an Elvis obscurity into a disco stomper was transgressive, then doing the same with the far more recent, and far more high-profile “Where The Streets Have No Name” was beyond transgressive. Particularly at that point where U2 had been anointed singular rock superstars; almost the last of that rare breed. Then mashing it up with The Four Seasons’ “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” took transgression about as far as it could possibly go, reminding us that at the end of the day, our saviors U2 were still just entertainers.

About halfway through the program, chinks began appearing in PSB’s formerly watertight artistic armor. “Heart” was the first single here that flirted with banality; not surprising given the fact that the liner notes revealed that they had written it with Madonna in mind, but were too chicken to offer it to her, lest she reject it. Then, their next single “Domino Dancing” sounded as if it were still chasing after the Latin Madonna sound found in her “Las Isla Bonita” hit. The Trevor Horn singles [“If Left To My Own Devices,” “It’s Alright”] were among the last really big Trevor Horn singles I can remember hearing as he mostly sat out the last half of the 80s; possibly fatigued by his tireless mixing of FGTH 12”ers from 1984-1987. The final two track were fresh for the album, and “DJ Culture’s” Gulf War inspired lyrics were too oblique to stand scrutiny as an actual protest. Tennant was getting a bit too precious here, and the production/arrangement by Brothers In Rhythm and longtime producer Stephen Hague suggested that they realized that they were getting stretched a bit this, but by that time it was probably too late. “Was It Worth It,” skirted a bit too close to the then-ascendant PWL sound. I would have swore on a stack of bibles that Phil Harding must have mixed it, but then I’d be wrong. It was Paul Wright [who?].

But the rumblings that PSB would not be anything less than a synthpop dynasty were relatively low key. While the music could be straightforward or even banal, the emotional landscape that Tennant created these intriguing snapshots in was assiduously adult in nature. This gave the juxtaposition between the two member’s work many frissions of allure as the songs were often about complex emotional states and dynamics that were neither the domain of simple pop songs nor dancefloor material. That’s why, musically, though I can’t find PSB as compelling as a Simple Minds, Ultravox, or Japan, I can still get wrapped up in their dryly fascinating songs due to wha Mr. Tennant invests in them. They are an adult pop band in a similar way that Roxy Music were an adult rock band. They toiled artistically in a domain of adolescence while driving toward artistic goals that were far more mature and complex in nature.

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