Book Week – Bettye Kronstad: Perfect Day; An Intimate Portrait Of Life With Lou Reed

I don’t plan on buying very many books these days. A far cry from my childhood when my mom used to complain that I spent any money she gave me on books instead of other, lesser things! Once, she gave me money and made me attend a movie with neighbors, when I would have much rather bought some books with the scratch!

What The Cracker Barrel is desperately trying to be!

But drop me in the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia on the top of Big Walker Mountain in a general store that was obviously the cultural hub for a 25 mile radius, and show me a Lou Reed book in the “local authors” section of the book racks, surrounded by rooms of kitsch folk art… that’s signed by the author? Bucko, I’m on that like white on rice! The universe was obviously trying to tell me something and I would have been a fool to ignore it!

Jawbone Press | 2016. | 280 pp

Bettye Kronstad: Perfect Day; An Intimate portrait Of Life With Lou Reed

I had read a Lou Reed biography years ago. Was it the Victor Bockris “Transformer” book [1st edition]? Maybe, but that was years back and this book was written by Bettye Kronstad; Reed’s first wife. She met him as a young college student in NYC in the fading embers of 1968. She memorably recounts meeting him in an elevator where Reed tried to impress her by acting like an imperious jerk and slapping her rear. As if he were doing her a favor. From meager beginnings, she eventually found herself falling for the moody artist. Ms. Kronstad writes about Reed inviting her to his last performance with The Velvet Underground in August of 1970, and this was the point at which their relationship began.

Ms. Kronstad writes of that fateful concert at Max’s Kansas City:

“The band played notoriously loud, and Cale’s droning climbed over, around, and through us, yet you could also hear Lou singing – screaming, really, over the instruments. Lewis sang his heart out – sometimes, I could have sworn, right at me. It was a bit intimidating.” – Bettye Kronstad

This would all be fine except for the salient fact that by August of 1970, John Cale had been gone from The VU for nearly two years. He had been fired from the band after a show at The Boston Tea Party in September of 1968. Okay, so this was that kind of book. One where facts were not checked in this editor-free hell which we now inhabit. There are no writers any more; only bloggers. Hell, bloggers are an endangered species! We just have tweets now.

So the book goes on to recount in reconstructed conversations the nearly four years in which Ms. Kronstad and Reed were in a erratic orbit of each other as Reed left The Velvet Underground, worked for his father’s business, and ultimately made his name as a solo performer [eventually]. The dialogues contained within the book depict the mercurial Reed as a tortured, emotionally insecure artist who bluffed his way through life to protect his damaged core to the best of his ability, which often saw people as collateral damage.In the mean time, while attempting to work in theater, Ms. Kronstad got sucked up into the Lou Reed machine to the extent that she an Lou lived together for several years as Reed came to depend on her for emotional stability while she was barely out of her teens at the time.

Given that I can’t begin to remember anything that I say to someone the next day, never mind 48 years later, the conceit of the book to recount exchanges [complete with her inner thoughts in parenthesis, of course] is entirely suspect to my eyes in the veracity department. Where I grant the book license to do this in in its very title. It was, after all, an intimate portrait of Lou Reed; not a biography. While the exchanges here may or may not have happened, the emotional truth of the on-again, off-again bouts of emotional and chemical dependency between she and Reed do have the whiff of truth to them. Reed is depicted as a potentially monstrous, destructive force who ultimately has allegiance only to his art.

David Bowie came into Reed’s orbit near the middle point in their relationship, to help him make “Transformer,” the album that made hm a star with the unlikeliest early 70s hit possible. Ms. Kronstad’s impressions of Bowie are fascinating as being one of “the women” she found herself on the margins along with Angie Bowie while “the men” plotted their moves. She paints him as an intellectual and remote creative, who related to Reed as if he was another of Bowies art projects, instead of an actual influence.

Lou and Bettye

Along the way the lines of cocaine that Ms. Kronstad was fine with gave way to the demon in the bottle, Johnny Walker Red, who ultimately kept pushing her away from Reed even as she became his lighting director and emotional crutch by the end of their time together.  Like many drug users, she “drew the line” at needles, only to see Reed succumb many times over their relationship. Ironically, they finally married near the end of their tumultuous relationship, around the time of Reed’s “Berlin” album. Ms. Kronstadt was comfortable with a song like “Perfect Day” recounting the details of their life together, but when Reed used her painful family history as the grist for “Berlin’s” harrowing narrative, then she finally came to the point where she had to leave Reed, who had also become physically abusive by that point.

That wasn’t the end of the tale, though. Reed’s manager talked her into accompanying Reed on his crashing and burning “Berlin” tour where the star found his “Transformer” currency all spent up in a haze of ill will on all sides. She was expected to “mind” the erratic Reed and direct his concert lighting until she walked out on him, finally, in Paris in 1973. The doomed relationship depicted here seemed to set the tone for the self-destructive Reed throughout much of the seventies.

Bettye lives today in Wytheville, VA

While I doubt things played out exactly as depicted here, Reed was depicted with both light and shadow with all of his personal strengths [noted] vying for attention with his very worst tendencies [impossible to ignore]. In that, I suspect that this is the book to read if one wanted to know not exactly the ironclad facts of Reed’s life in that tumultuous ’70-’73 period, but instead wanted to know how it actually felt to be around Lou Reed at that point in his life.

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Book Week – Matteo Torcinovich: Outside The Lines; Lost Photographs Of Punk & New Wave’s Most Iconic Albums

Today’s book was something I found remaindered last year that was an immediate hands-down “buy this book!” moment. Exceedingly rare are the volumes that I have bought instead of sold off in the last 20 years,but this one was strongly bipolar Monk-bait that stoked my twin ardor’s for New Wave and graphic design. Too band only one of them puts money in my wallet.

Matteo Torcinovich: Outside The Lines – Lost Photographs of Punk & New Wave’s Most Iconic Albums

I have a few several books on the art of album design, but this one took a unique angle on the often staid notion. Dispensing with the typical “let’s round up some great album covers, loosely connected by artist and genre” to look behind the final public image that the record in the store represented. Instead, Torcinovich opted for pulling away the green curtain to reveal the body of work, usually unseen, that went into that iconic album cover. This is the book to have if you ever wanted to see the contact sheets behind your favorite albums. The curation here was very strong with the book organized into American and British strains of Punk and New Wave dating from Bob Gruen’s 1976 “Max’s Kansas City” cover through to Eugene Merinov’s 1982 “Press The Eject + Give Me The Tape” by Bauhaus.

Elvis Costello: “This Year’s Model” contact sheet © 1978 Chris Cabrin

The curation takes in familiar icons as well as those known best to the underground. Roberta Bayley’s iconic Ramones work rubs shoulders with Seth Tillett’s “Press Color” photos for Lizzy Mercier Descloux. In fact the Ze Records contingent gets a more than fair shake here, and yet many of the biggest guns of British photography were also well-represented here.

David Bowie: Lodger outtake ®1979 Brian Duffy

Brian Duffy’s still harrowing shots for Bowie’s “Lodger” were always the most harsh and extreme wrapper to sell a much less overtly threatening album. Only the disturbing “Repetition” fit the tone of the cover that closely. It probably contributed to the overall soft sales for that particular Bowie opus. If ever an album cover said “don’t touch me!”it was that one.

Joe Jackson: “Look Sharp” contact sheet ©1979 Brian Griffin

The book is split fairly evenly between monochrome and color photography, but the black+white here just looks more lovely. One of the best b+w photos ever was Brian Griffin’s truly iconic shoot for the Joe Jackson debut album, “Look Sharp.” Those Denson’s he’s rocking more than fit the title and seeing Griffin’s contact sheet throws his methodologies out into the open. Seeing the train of thought until the “eureka” moment he ultimately captured is one of the joys of this book.

The Tourists: “Reality Effect” outtake ©1979 Gered Mankowitz

Even some of my favorite color images, hew closely to the monochrome spectrum of tone. I loved Gered Mankowitz’s Pollock-inspired cover for the second Tourists album, “Reality Effect” since it was released in 1979. It’s fascinating to see the composition in white above with the band members before the paint began flying. According to Mankowitz, the intent was to have the musicians paint objects in the room brightly, but after a few doses of LSD, that idea went out of the window[pane] as they splattered each other instead.

Lene Lovich: “Flex” b+w outtake ©1979 Brian Griffin

I especially loved the full coverage of Lene Lovich’s first two album covers here. Has there ever been a more photogenic woman artist? her emoting for the lens as seen here, would put her at the forefront of the modeling world, if she didn’t have so much more to offer. It was lovely seeing the black and white film shot in the stainless steel fermentation tanks of the Guinness brewery in London. I’m more familiar with the gel-toned ultimate color shot, but the black and white shots go further at capturing the metallic sheen of the setting. How I’d love to see an actual print of these shots in a museum one day.

JAPAN: “The Tin Drum” contact sheet ©1981 Fin Costello

I like seeing the grease pencil markup on the JAPAN “Tin Drum” cover. The differences were so slight between the takes that the final choice almost seemed arbitrary in that each one was equally stagey and poised. Among all of the visual paths not taken, the text here also contains essays by a few famed photographers, giving their own spin on the work. People like George DuBose, famed for his early B-52’s cover photography. His quote about Lydia Lunch vs The B-52’s was priceless. Elsewhere, Torcinovich reveals that he discovered who took the iconic photo [not credited] for Iggy Pop’s “The Idiot.” If  you share my penchant for this music and the wrapper it came in, then “Outside The Lines” is a superb addition to your music design library.

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Book Week – Nicholas Pegg: The Complete David Bowie [2016 Ed.]

Surprise! Just when you thought it was more OMD postings in store for your eyeballs, I felt the spirit move me to finally have a theme week here based on all of the book reviews that I have been planning to write for the last half of a year! I thought it would be better if I finally covered these tomes before they began to drift out of my skull. If you ever peek at “The Book I Read” tab on the menubar, then you will have a very correct idea of what will be covered this week. I must have gone over two years without reading any books [ostensibly to have more time to make CDs – hah!], then all of a sudden, in 2016 I got back into reading again. First up: Mr. Bowie.

Nicholas Pegg: The Complete David Bowie [2016 ed.]

I have a few books on Bowie on the lone bookshelf in the Record Cell. I used to have a much larger library, but progressively smaller domiciles over time, coupled with a preference to focus on music [your best entertainment value] has seen me selling off large chunks of my library. My all time favorite Bowie book is still Charles Shaar-Murray/Roy Carr’s “David Bowie: The Illustrated Record,” which I first read upon its publication when I borrowed a copy from good friend chasinvictoria. It took years, but by 1990, I finally bought a copy of my own, which currently sits as a series of loose 12″x12″ pages in a clear record sleeve. I had chasinvictoria to thank again when at an unknown point in late 2016, this hefty tome arrived in the mail, unannounced from him as a gift. It was some time in early 2017 when I began to read it.

<flash forward ten months>

It took me almost a year to read it because it is the single most detailed artistic examination of the utterly complete career of David Bowie possible. The 800 page opus was the latest of a series that superfan Nicholas Pegg had been publishing in 2000 after beginning in 1997, just before the David Bowie Reappraisal® began following his Glastonbury performance. The book is strictly based on Bowie’s artistic output. If you want details of his personal life, please look elsewhere. It’s all about the art here! Every song he wrote is covered in detail. Every song he may have ever sung, even only live… once…at summer camp in 1958 [age 11], is covered in detail. Songs he wrote, but never released, are covered in detail. Songs apocryphally attributed to him [but ultimately not actually created by him] are covered in detail. Yes, it’s that kind of book!

The factual data is voluminous here, but adding interest is the critical appraisal of each discrete work by Pegg. The organization of the book is in coherent sections that would form normal length book in and of themselves. It began with “The Songs From A-Z.” Every song ever released by David Bowie discussed at length in alphabetical order. That’s the bulk of the 800 pages right there. Next came coverage of every album. Of course, the songs had already been discussed, so here he delved deeply into the whys and wherefores to each album, stuffing the coverage with background information and writing that gave each chapter in the Bowie discography a contextual placement in the overall arc of his career. It might be 8-20 pages per album here. And there were a lot of albums if you don’t miss anything. Official albums, soundtrack albums, guest appearances on other artist’s albums, Bowie compilation albums, and various artist’s compilation albums.

His live career is covered in detail that would make a whole other book. Nothing is left out since as I implied up front, it began with an 11 year old David playing a skiffle song at his Summer camp in 1958 and concludes with the heart issues that scuttled his live career. While many might have the wondrous “BBC Sessions” album that was release in 2000, that cherry picked the Bowie BBC material. Learn about what yo haven’t heard yet by reading this section of the book.

Bowie’s acting multimedia career is covered with every video he’s ever appeared in discussed at length, as well as his various forays into acting. All of his non-musical writing and art endeavors are examined. There’s a chapter on CD-ROMS and websites! And even more that we’ll gloss over for now. The coverage here was a blend of assiduous reporting and research but enough of a critical eye from writer Pegg to make the material an artistic evaluation in addition to a peerless reference book bar none. The only Achilles heel I could possibly point to here was the tendency of Pegg to put on an apologist’s hat for the indisputably weak work that he seemed to have found artistic justification for nearly every time. Every now and then, yes, it’s fine to see merit in something that a large number of people find fault with. Even admirable, if one could legitimately argue one’s case, but to paint all of Bowie’s gaffes [and he had his fair share of them] with that same brush is unrepentant fanism.

That factor remains the sole weakness of the otherwise impressive and remarkably thorough work. The timing of it was peerless, with Pegg writing feverishly to include the events and releases up to and following Bowie’s 2016 demise. The latest release covered at length in the book was the “Who Can I Be Now? [1974-1976]” boxed set released in late 2016. So by now it’s already in need of a new edition to cover all of the many posthumous releases just out in the last 18 months. Pegg writes touchingly about how a box of each earlier edition of the book was sent to Bowie for his review and the artist would always send one back with an inscription, lending a bittersweet tang to this edition, but if you hunger for a relentlessly thorough examination of the career of David Bowie, then look no further than this book, which sports a Tony Visconti quote out on the cover. Apparently TV  used earlier editions for his own reference! That says it all.

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Graham Parker Finally Ventures South Again

It’s been 17 years since our last visit with Mr. Parker – time flies when you’re having fun

More crazy tour threads were woven today when I was checking up on Midge Ure and saw that he was playing solo acoustic at the Atlanta City Winery on June 1st.  I was not going to travel for that, but it’s an indication of how my attitudes have changed on Mr. Ure that I’d certainly make the time of he were to play in that fashion in my city. That got me wondering… who else was playing that establishment? And I saw that Graham Parker was there on May 13th. Basically, the same weekend as our anniversary. I floated the notion to my wife and she was ready to go.

Yow! It’s been 17 years since my wife and I have enjoyed a Graham Parker concert, but often were the times that we had been pining for one. Every time we play a Parker CD we can’t help but want that. I have 19 Parker discs in the Record Cell and I’m happy with the notion of owning all of them. His songwriting point of view is so distinct and accomplished, how could we not? I’d check his website for tour dates, which, more often than not, saw him sticking close to his native upstate New York climes. His shows of the last 20 years had been largely solo acoustic events, like the first time we saw him in Orlando in the late 90s, but the 2001 tour for the excellent “Deepcut To Nowhere” album was with the band The Figgs, backing onstage. We chatted with the not-at-all-truculent Parker afterward and discussed which Jacksonville, Florida club had been the impetus for “I’ll Never Play Jacksonville Again.”

In 2012, he gathered up The Rumour and produced two albums with them for the first time in over 30 years, “Three Chords Good” and “Mystery Glue.” I thought for certain that the added commercial oomph of the full Graham Parker + The Rumour machine might see him touring more widely and in our regions… but I was wrong. Most of the modern GP + The Rumour tour dates seemed to be in England, actually. So we have been waiting patiently until now for a chance at the man playing live. This is a solo set, and it’ll probably be acoustic, but I’m fine with that. After all, it’s the songs themselves, not their production style, that hold all the power in Parker’s oeuvre.

Graham Parker | Alone In America [Again] US Tour | 2018

April 26 | Bordentown, NJ | Randy Now’s Man Cave (SOLD OUT)
April 27 | Piermont, NY | The Turning Point
April 28 | Bay Shore, NY | YMCA Boulton Center for the Performing Arts
May 3 | Bordentown, NJ | Randy Now’s Man Cave (NEW SHOW ADDED)
May 4 | Pawling, NY | Daryl’s House
May 5 | Boston, MA | City Winery
May 7 | New York City, NY | City Winery (SOLD OUT – NEW SHOW ADDED)
May 8 | Washington, DC | City Winery
May 10 | Chicago, IL | City Winery
May 12 | Nashville, TN | City Winery
May 13 | Atlanta, GA | City Winery
May 17 | Tuckerton, NJ | Lizzie Rose Music Room
May 21 | New York City, NY | City Winery
June 2 | Norfolk, CT | Infinity Hall Music Hall and Bistro
July 22 | Nicollet Mall, MN | Brit’s Pub

As we can see, a couple of the dates have already sold out, and the Atlanta tickets were almost gone when my wife made a bee-line for the website, so if you’re up for some potent songwriting and the considerable presence of Parker, act accordingly. Most of the dates were a tour of the City Winery chain, founded by Michael Dorf. Dorf came to fame with his first club, The Knitting Factory. Having seen Ure there at the Nashville location last year, I can vouch that these venues were certainly built for comfort. Join us later for the inevitable review.

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Professor Dolby Gets Some Summer Vacation

Dolby will present a one-man show this Summer in The States

It’s funny how threads start. Last week it transpired that the long mooted Ron Kane memorial; get-together by his friends is finally set to come off this summer. If you’ve not seen the posts, I was set to visit my friend Ron before his death last November for one last time, but the reaper acted a day before my flight. Ron had specified no funeral so I cancelled my flight and had a lot of airline credit to use this year. Ron’s West Coast buddies had talked about a meeting of his friends to indulge in Ron pastimes like a lot of record shopping and hopefully to share their stories of the guy. I only saw Ron on four occasions in 32 years of friendship [and that only in the last decade] since we lived 3000+ miles apart, so I was interested in finding out more about this offbeat guy who set me up with hundreds of fine records, CDs, and videos like some sort of  benevolent fairy godfather of music.

Then, last week, Ron’s pal Mark announced that near what would have been Ron’s 60th birthday, Ron-Kon II* would be happening in L.A. from the 27th-29th of July of this year. So I booked my flight, which used up all but $32 of the original flight credit.  Obviously, I started to look around at what concert action I might avail me and my pals chasinvictoria and Mr. Ware [commenters here as well as nearly lifelong friends], who would also be attending to event. When what to my won’dring eyes should appear but the 800 lb gorilla of “80s Nostalgia” shows! Usually, I’m pretty resistant to this sort of thing. Usually they feature some bogus [but popular] bands of the period like Tom Bailey, Culture Club or the like. Stuff I’d taped and erased long ago, watering down the vibe.

Blondie anchor an impressive “80s Night” with Dolby, Ant, Berlin, and Almond

80s Weekend #6 – July 27, 2018 @ Microsoft Theater | L.A.

  • Blondie
  • Adam Ant
  • Thomas Dolby
  • Marc Almond
  • Berlin

I have several albums by each of these acts. Tickets are going for a wide variety of prices: $67-$505 and can be found here. Now I’ve seen Berlin, Deborah Harry, Adam Ant, and Thomas Dolby. Harry and Dolby twice, even, but this was a pretty good lineup. At first blush, I seriously wanted to go, but then the endorphins ebbed, and the realization that Blondie would play a full set with micro-sets by the openers, possibly sharing a house band to speed the plow, made me think that the effort to attend a big show in L.A. [hell, parking alone was $25!] quickly made me re-think my ardor. This would also take me and my friends out of the “opening night festivities” for Ron-Kon II; ostensibly why we were going. So I put the idea back on the shelf of “what if…” Marc Almond was the one act I’d not seen before and would such a tease be worth it? I thought not even though this is Almond’s only US date on his current dance card. Still, that got me thinking about what Dolby had been up to, besides teaching at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Dolby’s infamous headmount camera

When I got to Dolby’s website, he had announced a small Summer Tour of The States, of which the Blondie show was but a footnote. Dolby plans to dust off his excellent one-man show and travel with a simple setup where he talks about each of the songs he’s performing and breaks down the origins and creation of each while his headmount camera shows exactly what he’s doing with array of tech to build up the construction of each song. Frankly, I’d much rather see Dolby in this environment than in being whisked on and off the huge Microsoft Theater stage for four of his hits; two of which I bet I would not want to hear in any case. Alas, my timing is such that I will still be missing this much more interesting tour! I will be arriving in L.A. on the 26th and Dolby also has a club date in the area… the night before.

Thomas Dolby | Summer Shows | USA 2018

July 25th | Largo at the Coronet | Hollywood, CA
July 27th | Microsoft Theater | Los Angeles, CA
July 30th | The Birchmere | Alexandria, VA
July 31st | Ram’s Head | Annapolis, MD
Aug 1st | Sellersville Theater | Sellersville, PA
Aug 3rd | The Cutting Room | New York, NY
Aug 4th | Natick TCAN Center for the Arts | Natick, MA
Aug 6th | Dante Theater | Atlantic City, NJ
Aug 8th | Center Stage | Baltimore, MD

As you can see, except for the big ticket L.A. show and its satellite, all of his dates are a quick jaunt from his Baltimore home base. A sensible tour and good for all of his fans in the US Northeast. Maybe next time for me.

In the meantime, on the night of July 28th, the schedule in Ron-Kon II is open for a possible concert. If anyone in the L.A. basin knows of a gig that would be “just the thing” for someone with my tastes to attend, leave a comment or drop me an email on the contact form.

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* Ron-Kon was Ron’s infamous 50th birthday party a decade ago in Portland, Oregon, where friends from around the world congregated to eat, drink, view beautiful gardens, and of course, shop for records.

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Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 58]

OMD – History Of Modern | 2010 – 3

[continued from last post]

“Side Two” [as even the CD calls it] began with “The Future, The Past, And Forever After.” OMD fandom and critics in general largely consider this track one of the worst on the album. I was seduced by its beatbox programming, but even so, after eight years top live with it, I can see the cracks in its armor. I dislike the gospel-lite female backing vocals that were call-and-reposnse with McCluskey’s leads, and the lyrical quote from the primordial rock number “Shake, Rattle + Roll” had no absolutely no place on an album called “History of Modern.” I did like the Kraftwerk inspired middle eight that involved phasing the train engine sample for an effect not unlike parts of the middle of “Autobahn” mashed up with “Trans Europe Express.”

I found it interesting that the “Sister Marie Says” melody was deemed too close to that of “Enola Gay” back in 1981, but now it was fine. The conceit of the song was where I didn’t follow since I had never heard of the nun-wannabe who the song references. Apparently, “Sister Mary Gabriel” [née Sofia Richmond a.k.a. Sofia Paprocski, Zofia Sagatis, Sofia Marie Angel…] was a crackpot who published full page ads in major UK newspapers in the early 90s warning of an apocalyptic event that clearly didn’t happen. We in The States had no idea who she was. I thought this song was about a nun who taught young McCluskey in school! At any rate it was a bit of lightweight OMD pop with a slightly interesting story behind it. There were better songs that could have been singles from the album [this was #2] but… there was also worse.

The origin of “Pulse” …what was Andy thinking here?

There was nothing lightweight about the criminally wrong “Pulse;” a song that was apparently released as a Danish single in 2005 from the dancepop duo Brother + Sister [L]. It was a profoundly wrong action for this band, striving to re-establish themselves after a long layoff. Using Eurotrash dancepop as a template for growth was a huge mistake. McCluskey may have written a new song over their melody and the sample netted the writers of that opus a cut from OMD’s completely wrong-headed descent into sleazy electro/hip hop. The backing track owed a lot to “I Feel Love,” which usually is a way to get on my good side, but not here. Hearing McCluskey drop the f-bomb amidst the heavy breathing and slurred innuendo was most troubling. The vibe was so far off the OMD gameboard, that only a dalliance at death metal could have been more egregious. As bad as two other songs on this album were, they didn’t have a patch on this one for sheer dismaying debacle.

The album whipped itself into shape with the last three songs. “Green” was an old mid-tempo ballad that Andy and Stuart Kershaw had written in the 90s and fortunately, Mr. Humphreys heard it, and wrote a new melody for it that imbued it with much more OMD DNA that it may have had at the onset. I especially liked the dark, dubbed out outro that reminded me of Roxy Music’s “For Your Pleasure.”

Even better was “Bondage Of Fate” a waltz-time track that used a sample of Hannah Peel’s apparently unreleased “Organ Song” to build a weirdly fragile song around. Subtle and sibilant insect noises figured in the complex and unique soundbed. It was all very delicate and demure until the middle eight when it erupted into a full-bodied waltz-march until the energy evaporated and it returned to its unique, weird placidity. This one was definitely OMD mapping out new territories that sounded like little else, other than themselves.

Finally, the album ended with its best song. “The Right Side” was OMD trying to rewrite their favorite Kraftwerk song, “Europe Endless.” Coincidentally, it’s my favorite Kraftwerk song as well, so I give OMD a full pass on this since they have returned subsequently to this notion on later albums. While “Europe Endless” is a beauty of a Kraftwerk song, of course OMD had to put their own melancholic stamp on things, with lyrics that set up guaranteed misery then examine the difficulty in finding anything but that. The trance repetition of the music soon moved the listener beyond transitory pain or pleasure and into the infinite. The first time I listened to this and it faded out at the six minute park, I was pleasantly surprised when it came back to life for an additional 2:25 “dub movement” that the band, thinking that they should not moderate such pleasure, added to the original song for a longer, more luxurious vibe.

I loved this album on release, even through its faults. Just because it actually tried to reconnect with whatever possibly atrophied mojo they still had access to. There was clearly material here that would have been huge improvements to much of the material on their 1985-1998 albums had it been there instead. I still love it, because it was the best album they had released since the time of “Junk Culture,” by my reckoning.

It could have sounded better; Paul was a firm believer in soft synths just because he fancied things staying in tune over time…the wimp! There were some horrible songs attempted that were clearly written with others in mind [who were absolutely not OMD] to perform them; yet they happened anyway [“If You Want It,” “Pulse.”]. A third song was more of an OMD song [“Sometimes”] yet one that I would think few fans were clamoring for. Through it all Paul Humphreys didn’t manage to snag the mic. For OMD’s longest album, after a decade plus [two decades plus for three quarters of the band] in mothballs, I would have thought that this would not have happened, but I was wrong.

One interesting detail could be found in the credits of the album. All of the tracks were credited as written by OMD or OMD/other in the case of a few songs with outside writing credits. When Paul Humphreys, followed by Malcolm Holmes and Martin Cooper, left the band in 1988/1989, Andy was granted the OMD name for his own purposes. When bands initially form, the founding members sign contracts and they each usually have shares in the band. If a member leaves, then rejoins at a later date, it is much more likely for that member who left to be regarded at that point as an employee of the band, not a full member. Songwriting credits will usually bear this out with songs possibly attributed to BAND NAME/strayaway member and not just BAND NAME.

On this album, I know for a fact that Paul co-wrote at least “Green” since the DVD that came with the boxed version of this album said as much point blank. Yet, on the disc, “Green” was credited to OMD, not OMD/Kershaw/Humphreys, implying that McCluskey ceded band membership to the others again, which is not usually the norm, though it may have been a negotiated condition of reformation. In any case, it was the right thing to do and it may be the reason why the band’s reformation is still going on strong 12 years later.

I was happy that OMD had come back from the dead for a second time, ad this time, the results were much, much better than what we had gotten in 1991 under the OMD name. This actually seemed like and OMD album, barring two or three  horrendous missteps that should have been caught during the pre-production stage. Better still, I was able to look forward to OMD touring The States under their own power again. Maybe this time, I could manage to catch a show that was not an opening act for some lesser band?

Next: …Headliners Again

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Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 57]

OMD – History Of Modern | 2010 – 3

[continued from this post]

It was September of 2010 that the long-awaited new OMD album finally got released. This was the first album with the OMD imprint in 15 years, but this one had all four original members as part of the band, for the first time since 1988 and the “Dreaming” single. It began with the bang that was “New Babies, New Toys;” a piece of clatter and hum sardonically referring to the dirty business of pop music. A subject that had been a double edged sword for OMD. Particularly during Andy McCluskey’s adventures in assembling a manufactured group of women a decade earlier. The tune burst with hooky flavor crystals and [did you notice that?] more than a dollop of the Joy Division/New Order “lead bass” sound. It was a vibrant, new sound for this band and set me up for the album in a big way on its first listen.

Too bad that the next song, the all-important pre-release lead off single, was the turgid slab of schlagerpop known as “If You Want It.” Not 13 seconds into it and the big, fat lighter-waving chorus hit like 50 pounds of stupid! I cannot imagine why this song, obviously written years earlier for the likes of Atomic Kitten or The Genie Queen, was deemed to not only be included, but lead single material. The band claim that “industry feedback” selected the song and if so, it shows how even 27 years later, they were still smarting from the “Dazzle Ships” sales plummet. One would think that after reforming on their own terms with no label telling them what to do, that this sort of bet-hedging [the worst kind, really] would have been jettisoned.

Fortunately, the album righted itself quickly with the best of the three singles released from it. The title track, “History Of Modern [part 1],” by all rights should have been the lead off single from it [not the third] as it was a perfect blend of typically esoteric OMD subject matter [the entropic death of the universe] with an ironically upbeat technopop arrangement that was their stock-in-trade during their glory years. Sounding just as appealing thirty years later. Twelve years later and hearing this can still get my spine tingling.

Even, better, the superb deep cut that followed, “History Of Modern [part II],” had every right to be another single in its own right. The heartbreaking melody had the quintessential OMD edge with an almost Celtic melody couched in a pastoral synth and sound effects arrangement that very strongly recalled “Sentimental” from La Düsseldorf’s “Individuellos.” Then the chorus arrived  in a burst of high energy and ignited the tune with a backbeat that wouldn’t quit. As good as “HOM1” was, I loved part II even more. This was superb OMD.

Unlike what followed. “Sometimes” was a bad decision of a track that dared to incorporate the spiritual “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child.” Andy had been diabolically interested in incorporating gospel elements into OMD ever since “The Gospel Of St. Jude” on “Universal.” Why, I cannot say since the band have absolutely zero to do with that genre. Female backing vocalists sang the song quote as McCluskey simply got lost in the mess of this song. The sound design was just as bad with oscillating synth loops [my least favorite soft synth cliché] sounding indisputably cheap and nasty in the hackwork arrangement.

The band’s spiritual debt to Kraftwerk could not have been made more explicit than in “RFWK,” the next song taken from the first letters in Ralf, Florian, Wolfgang, and Karl’s first names. McCluskey describes how he felt like a son to them as Paul delivered a synth solo full of the classic Kraftwerk sound. The arresting “New Holy Ground” saw them harkening back to not only the melancholy melody of their classic B-side, “The Avenue,” but also Holger Czukay’s rhythmic walking on the obscure Eurythmics B-side “Le Sinistre.” It said something for the health of the band that this song could be deemed album material instead of being relegated to a B-side.

Next… …Side Two Cometh


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