Record Review: Arlene Philips’ Hot Gossip – I Don’t Depend On You

Dindisc ‎| UK | 12″ | 1982 | DIN 39-12

Arlene Phillips’ Hot Gossip: I Don’t Depend On You UK 12″ [1982]

  1. I Don’t Depend On You [12″ remix]
  2. Depend On Us

I always thought highly of the one-off single by The Human League under the name ‘The Men.’ While I only heard it in the late 80s when the “Travelogue” CD was issued with delightful bonus tracks, it immediately won a place in my heart. In some ways, it prefigured where Martyn Ware would sail the good ship Heaven 17 once he and Ian Craig Marsh left The Human League. When I finally got the CD of the sole Hot Gossip album, “Geisha Boys And Temple Girls,” a few years back, I took an even bigger delight in the remake of “I Don’t Depend On You” that Ware had cut with his terpsichorean crew on that disc. It sounded even more like a great Heaven 17 number with B.E.F. and their secret weapon, John Wilson on bass and guitar. It became intensely funky in its newer form.

Now, I finally have sourced a copy of the 12″ single of “I Don’t Depend On You” and once I placed the platter on the record player and fired up Sound Studio to digitize this shortly after buying it this year, I was immediately floored by the dramatic enhancements that the 12″ version sported. To wit, how about the horns of Beggar + Co. added to the mix? In 1981, the horn section of Light Of The World went freelance and immediately caused a stir with the intense “Chant No. 1 [I Don’t Need This Pressure On]” for Spandau Ballet.

Their horn arrangement added to this track took dynamite and ratcheted it up to insane funky brilliance! It was like taking the basic track and squaring [maybe cubing] its grooviness. The syncopation in the middle eight was whole realms more funky and complex than just hearing John Wilson syncopate his bass and guitar off of the Linn Drum. The mix plateaued out at roughly the same length as the album cut, but the 12″ version had definitely become an event with Beggar + Co. invited to the party. Ware wisely let the horns ride the fadeout to the end so that the guest stars had the last word on the 12″ mix.

The B-side was a dub mix that lost the vocals of Roy Gale [but kept the femme b-vox] and  also removed the horns, reminding us of just how much impact they had made with their addition. Upon hearing this mix, and the Linn Drum pattern that the song was built upon, I realized that it was the same pattern that H17 had used on “Penthouse + Pavement.” Waste not, want not, I suppose. This dub mix, in spite of not having the killa horns, earned its wings by giving Wilson’s bass and guitar the spotlight, which they richly deserved! Hearing the solos in the middle eight gave me even more respect for the man’s talents. Especially since he had to lay down those performances separately, against an existing drum track. Can we all just just agree to seek out John Wilson, wherever he is, and conspire to aim the spotlight on him once again, for he was surely the X-factor that made early H17 so over-the-top with groove appeal.

When I ordered this record, I had no idea what I would be getting for my purchase. The entry in the database is sketchy on details like track length, which are helpful in determining whether to buy something or not. Now I know that Mr. Ware made double damn sure that buyers of the 12″ of this single got a feast for their senses! So the obvious thing to do now is to buy the other 12″ single for “Soul Warfare!” Watch this space!

– 30 –

Posted in Record Review | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Record Review: Killing Joke

EG Records | US | CD | 1986 | EGCD 57

Killing Joke: Killing Joke US CD [1986]

  1. Requiem
  2. Wardance
  3. Tomorrow’s World
  4. Bloodsport
  5. The Wait
  6. Complications
  7. Change
  8. S.O. 36
  9. Primitive

I joined the Killing Joke party already in progress. Oh, I’d heard of them fairly early on. The December 1981 issue of Trouser Press had a short article on the then new-ish band, describing them a “punk funk” band. That didn’t push any buttons with me, and it remained until seeing the video for “Eighties” until I actually heard their particular sound, which I’d typify as “industrial Kraut-dub” if I had to. I started buying their albums with “Brighter Than A Thousand Suns” and it was on the occasion of a concert by Killing Joke in Orlando, Florida in 1989 that I took it upon myself to buy a few Joke albums that were pre-1984 to “bone up” as it were for the upcoming show. I already had “Night Time,” so I got their 1980 debut and “Fire Dances.”

“Requiem” immediately roped me in with its pulsating synthesizer intro. I learned immediately, that their debut album was all about the rhythm. The methodical and relentless pacing of the song immediately hooked itself into my cranium and the intro has been known to echo in my brain for hours at a time with little to no provocation.

In case the opening track didn’t make it expressly clear, the next song, “Wardance” absolutely did. This was a band that was bending the rigid metal framework of Krautrock in some new and darker directions. Those pounding, martial, yet motorik drums of Paul Ferguson were straight from the Klaus Dinger playbook. You may be aware that we melt before the urgency of Krautrock rhythms here at PPM. But Jaz Coleman’s vocals on the biting “Wardance” were run through a ring modulator, making it sound like a Dalek-led version of Neu! It took a strong vision to imagine this abrasive song as a single, yet it ultimately was.

“Tomorrow’s World” was a bitterly ironic play on the upbeat futurist BBC science program of the late 70s as it was mated to a slow tempo water-torture beat that was more apt for a death march. There might be upbeat energy levels with this band, but their worldview was certainly nothing but downbeat. Things got as upbeat as they dared venture on “Bloodsport.” It’s the closest that KJ come to a night at the disco on this album, as the factory-whistle synth hook of the intro yields to a cod-Moroder synthpulse vibe over the bass and drums. The instrumental then ventured into Glitter-stomp territory by it’s middle eight as a sustained, yet modulated two-chord industrial grinding brought the song to its terminus.

“The Wait” was an immediately urgent flashpoint on side two of the album. The motorik rhythms were right there with those on Ultravox’s “All Stood Still” as it matched the fast tempo of that other band’s apocalyptic song. The Krautrock rush of energy was largely down to the bass and drums here, with Geirdie’s guitar merely supplying more guitar of the grinding wheel variety when it wasn’t doubling on the rhythm.

For many of these songs, Jaz Coleman’s vocals were just another part of the mix. Often treated in dub, but like on “Requiem,” his turn on “Complications” was able to take the center stage for a time again, even as it was treated with touches of dub on the rare medium tempo song here.

The US CD that I have mirrored the US LP of this album in that it included the “Requiem” B-side “Change,” on it. Why a song that strong was relegated to B-side status is one for greater minds than ours to ponder. The track was an exciting dub/rock hybrid that really did sound like another track had been dubbed in the studio to achieve this result. The powerful trance rhythms and the still powerful vocals of Coleman [even though he was usually in dubspace here] really mark this number as being single-worth material. It fell to the rave era when Youth/Spiral Tribe remixes of this song eventually became A-sides.

The ponderous, leaden paced “S.O. 36” was the longest track here. It built up an impenetrable edifice over its nearly seven minute running time, but by the same token, it would have felt right at home on a copy of “Empires + Dance.” It had the same methodical trance DNA.

Killing Joke’s first album was a keeper. It’s a tight 39 minutes, even with “Change” added and there’s no filler as it explores a damaged, apocalyptic worldview of the sort that Ultravox! had been investigating three years earlier on “Ha! Ha! Ha!” In fact, in my mind’s eye, I can see the teenaged Coleman hunkering down with a copy of “Fear In The Western World” playing on his headphones and some magic mushrooms and a few Crowley tomes as he began building his dark worldview in earnest. But what was an outlier for John Foxx became the central thesis for Killing Joke. Has there ever been a band that has consistently accentuated the negative aspects of this fallen world? It says volumes that they got it all sewed up effectively on their very first album in 1980. It’s the kind of album that can play on repeat very effectively when listened to even 37 years later. It’s got nothing to be embarrassed about.

– 30 –

Posted in Record Review | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

REDUX: Record Review – Hot Gossip – Geisha Boys + Temple Girls

June 21, 2013

Repressed | UK | CD | 2007 | repeat4

Repressed | UK | CD | 2007 | repeat4

Arlene Phillips Hot Gossip: Geisha Boys + Temple Girls UK CD [2007]

  1. Circus of Death
  2. Morale
  3. Word Before Last
  4. Geisha Boys + Temple Girls
  5. I Don’t Depend on You
  6. Houses In Motion
  7. Burn For You
  8. Soul Warfare

When you least expected it, it’s time to dive into the B.E.F. bucket again! Back when Martyn Ware was separated from The Human League, his crafty manager, who engineered the split [twice the fees] fed his ego in the maneuvering by saying that he should cut a deal with Virgin as a production company instead of an artist [even more fees for Bob Last!] and Ware took the bait. The upshot of this contract was that Ware could deliver as many as six albums under his B.E.F. production umbrella per year to Virgin. Having been freed from the crashing and burning politics of The Human League, he and Ian Marsh hit the ground, laying rubber. When did they find time to sleep?

hot-gossip-A-zoetropeIn 1981-2, there was the “Music For Stowaways” tape, “Penthouse + Pavement” by Heaven 17, “Music of Quality + Distinction Vol. 1” and this curio, ostensibly by the TV dance troupe Arlene Phillips Hot Gossip. For those not familiar, it’s as if DEVO had produced an album for The Solid Gold Dancers! [note: this almost, sort of, did happen – see “Word Of Mouth” by Toni Basil!] Ware, no chump himself on the royalty front, top loaded the disc with material he had a hand in writing; old Human League songs from the pre-“Travelogue” era. The only holdouts were a pair of songs from Sting and Talking Heads that the group had already recorded in pre-production. Even the odd single by The Men was revisited.

The old Human League material benefits the most from the re-recording here if one is looking for new kinds of kicks in these interpretations. Three songs from “Reproduction” get a new coat of paint right up front. “Circus Of Death” get’s a new whipcrack beat and environmental sound effects added into the mix. The vocals are handled by the dancers gamely, but the material is so weirdly contrived, the cognitive dissonance the whole thing generates is considerable. The lyrics are so deeply enmeshed with the strange mind of Phil Oakey, the notion of a cover version seems ridiculous.

“Morale” appears here shorn of its partner, “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling.” The arrangement differs the least of all of these songs. It just has a new vocalist, Kim Leeson. Other than that, it’s pretty much the same track you know and love. “Word Before Last” is transformed by the addition of Synclavier and Linn Drum to the trusty Roland System 100 and Jupiter 4 that Ware and Marsh used on the original cut. Once again, the sound of anyone but Phil Oakey singing this deeply weird music is jarring.

The title track was ripped screaming from the then current Heaven 17 album and the Wendy Carlos styled intro is intact, but for this track only, live drummer to the stars, Simon Phillips is added to the mix. Vocalist Richard Lloyd King does better at standing in for Glenn Gregory, but the killer revision here is the revisit of the odd one-off single by The Men [Human League operating incognito out of embarrassment]. I always liked “I Don’t Depend On You” and here it gets a big makeover that only serves to make it sparkle more brightly. The vocalists are much better suited for this song since it’s reasonably conventional in terms of its lyrics. Roy Gale actually sounds pretty good here! He’s definitely an improvement over Phil Oakey on the original. The addition of Linn Drum makes the syncopation pretty funky but the funk-o-meter seriously pegs with the addition of bass and guitar from Heaven 17’s secret weapon, John Wilson. He adds tremendously to this cut and it manages to outshine the already great original version handily.

“Houses In Motion” also works well since Richard Lloyd-King stays within the parameters set by David Byrne. Geoff Westley produced this track instead of B.E.F. because it was recorded before Ware became attached to the project. It’s out of sorts to the rest of the album in sound, but it’s all so weirdly eclectic, it doesn’t matter much. The brief version actually ends before you expect it to. A cover of Sting’s “Burn For You,” from the “Brimstone + Treacle” soundtrack goes on for what seems forever! It actually manages to become even more pretentious here. Finally, Heaven 17’s “Soul Warfare” ends the album in a version not very dissimilar from the Heaven 17 version, save for the vocals.

This album is an odd curio that I can recommend to Human League/B.E.F. fans with an open mind. I know I saw this album but once in my life, in a record store used bin some time in 1981-1983. After taking a look at the cover, I demurred. It just didn’t look like a record that would give me any pleasure. It wasn’t until Cherry Red’s Repressed sub label rose to the occasion, that I decided to put it on my want list. Having finally purchased it, I can state that it’s worth having for the curiosity factor alone. About half of it is a fascinating take on an alternate universe version of H17/Human League. Even the worst of it is better than several Human League albums that followed.

– 30 –

Posted in Record Review | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Record Review: The Explorers [part 2]

[…continued from last post]

The playful “Venus De Milo” was superficially a stab at the same vibe of an early Roxy Music classic like “Virginia Plain,” but where the Roxy debut single was by turns playful and witty, it also had a seriously post-modern undercurrent that made it startling and new. It was clearly the work of serious minds [with all of their advanced theories] at play. “Venus De Milo”, by comparison, is at best a pastiche of that approach, but at least it proved that Manzanera and MacKay weren’t dour sticks in the mud. How could they be with lyrics [presumably by vocalist James Wraith] featuring howlers like:

“When I saw you standing in the Louv-ré
I coundn’t say I just wanna talk to-ya” – “Venus De Milo”

Well, you try to rhyme “Louvre.” Nevertheless, they did go there.

“Soul Fantasy” was driven by MOR sax maneuvers overlaid on a retro 50s bobbysox pastiche replete with “shoop dooby do-wahs.” If it does not recall any specific Roxy number, then at the very least it comes within striking distance of Ferry’s cover of “It’s My Party” minus his earth shattering sense of irony. More than anything, it was probably an outgrowth of MacKay’s covering “Wild Weekend” on his “In Search Of Eddie Riff” solo album.

Not everything here was informed by their own past. A few Roxy contemporaries got the treatment as well. “Crack The Whip” was the B-side of the non-LP single “Falling For Nightlife” and was included  [with its 12″ A-side] as a bonus track on the CD of this album. The glamrock DNA of T-Rex was given a try with Manzanera’s boogie riffs not miles away from those on “Get It On [Band A Gong].” The phasing on Wraith’s vocals in the intro gave it a little something more exotic. Maybe Bowie-esque with hints of the boogie woogie swagger of “TVC15” or even the intro to “Changes” informing the vibe here.

Roxy fans pining for the sequel to “A Song For Europe” need have looked no further than the dignified and ornate “Prussian Blue.” This one held up to some scrutiny. Along with “Ship Of Fools” and “Breath Of Life” it was one of the clear and uncompromised successes that this album had to offer. Roxy alumnus Alan Spenner’s smoky fretless bass meant that this time out the band could go toe to toe with their bastard scions like Japan and not get egg on their faces. The poise and restraint of this number as it marched along to its preordained doom was clearly the work of adults at the top of their field.

Sadly, the single “Two Worlds Apart,” in spite of its garish, post New Romantic cover art [see right – courtesy of Visage mainstays Robin Beeche and Phyllis Cohen] completely failed to live up to the promise of its florid visuals. It was definitely the most leaden, MOR song on the album. Only the coda, with Guy Fletcher’s plaintive synths juxtaposed by a tasteful Manzanera solo managed to recall some of the class inherent in an album like “Flesh + Blood.”

“You Go Up In Smoke” was another dip into the Ferry themebook of fatalistic, doomed romance. With Wraith pulling every possible nuance of an actual Ferry performance out of his bag of tricks, it could have been a B-side from a “Boys + Girls” single. At the end of the day, MacKay’s pained oboe managed to take center stage to bring the LP edition of the album to a sombre climax.

Finally, the non-LP 12″ mix of “Falling For Nightlife” closed out the CD version of this album on a wildly upbeat note. Listen to the spectacle of members of Roxy Music beating Duran Duran at their own game! Or: members of Roxy Music imitating younger musicians imitating Roxy Music!! Did the top of your head just pop off? At the end of the day, my biggest concern is that while the makers of this single were clearly aware of “The Reflex,” the end results were actually better [such as they were] so I’m fine with it. The mix by John [“Sensoria”] Potoker used the same Fairlight®-centric mixing techniques that Nile Rodgers and Duran explored on “The Reflex.” They even had the cheek to use a sample of a man saying “here is the sound of a tiger” with tiger’s roar. I’ll bet when Duran Duran heard this [and you know they did], they were kicking themselves that they were not this obvious back in 1983, a year of blatancy.

I won’t mince words. When I bought this in 1985, I was clearly smitten with this album. It’s unerring sense of self-pastiche was musical catnip to my much younger ears and the fact that critics of the era snubbed it as mere sub-Ferry also-rans probably contributed to my overarching sense of standing up for this record. Besides, I have never shied away from faux Ferry action of any kind! Even in now, it still has some currency with me, but heard critically today, it was clearly the work of Roxy second bananas slumming in the wake of yet another Roxy Music rupture. I would not be surprised if much of the proceedings had actually been comprised of rejected Roxy Music demos.  As we can see, Ferry was very protective of Roxy publishing space with Manzanera and MacKay allowed scant opportunities to write. This album may have represented six years worth of pent up Roxy Music demos from the pens of Manzanera + MacKay. Maybe even more.

I’ve painted Wraith as a Ferry-clone without peer, and when he puts his mind to it, none come closer to the mark than Wraith on this album, but the fact is that he has a higher top end than Mr. Ferry, who can’t quite belt in the higher register as Wraith does in places here. Alternatively, his playful insouciance, as evidenced on his frisky emphasis on the word “horizons” in the final chorus of “Robert Louis Stevenson” was a move that Ferry would not have made in a million years. Ultimately, The Explorers one shot fell on deaf ears, leaving the group’s second album unreleased as they were dropped from Virgin after the non-event status of “Falling For Nightlife.” Of course, all of the sophomore album material eventually surfaced a few years later, but that’s another story for another day.

– 30 –

Posted in Core Collection | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Record Review: The Explorers [part 1]

Virgin | UK | CD | 1985 | CDV 2341

The Explorers: The Explorers UK CD [1985]

  1. Ship Of Fools
  2. Lorelei
  3. Breath Of Life
  4. Venus De Milo
  5. Soul Fantasy
  6. Crack The Whip
  7. Prussian Blue
  8. Two Worlds Apart
  9. Robert Louis Stevenson
  10. You Go Up In Smoke
  11. Falling For Nightlife [Midnight Mix]

I recall first encountering The Explorers; the Phil Manzanera/Andy MacKay post-Roxy Music project on an episode of MTV’s “London Calling.” They interviewed the band and showed their debut video, “Lorelei,” albeit split in half with an interview segment. The singer was some guy called James Wraith, but wow, did he ever sound like Bryan Ferry! I was intrigued, as I was certainly a Roxy Music fan, though not to the extent I would probably be in a couple of years. As I recall, the reviews all kneecapped the album; particularly in light of the Ferry-by-the-numbers vocals. It was some time in 1985, after entering the CD era, that I ran across a cheap import copy of the Explorer’s album at the then-radical CD-only store in Altamonte Springs, Florida called Digital Sounds. It was around twelve dollars, so being curious to hear it for myself, I took the bait.

I played it when I got home and was immediately floored by the opening track. Following a slow, Manzanera-led buildup in the long intro, “Ship of Fools” began the album with a stormy intensity that had been missing from Roxy Music for at least a decade. The appearance of Tony Levin on Chapman Stick and Jerry Marotta on drums [the classic Peter Gabriel rhythm section] added even more to the lurching, feverish opener. Manzanera’s serpentine guitar licks were a beat behind the darkly roiling rhythm section and seemed only a hair’s breadth away from the vibe on Bowie’s “Beauty + The Beast.” Yeah. His best song. In fact, the song felt like a perfect mix of that “Heroes” number and the attack found on “peter gabriel [1980].” Which is to say that it was devastatingly powerful! Had this been an actual Roxy Music song, pundits in the press would have wilted from the praise, but hearing Manazanera & MacKay turn themselves into a tribute act with a Ferry clone meant that most listeners just shook their heads and moved on [except for myself]. I say they were mad. Listen!

The next song was segued directly out of the fading embers of “Ship Of Fools.” It was the debut single, “Lorelei.” The effervescent number featured a unique sampled hook that featured broken glass sounds used quite memorably as a percussive accent. It’s almost as if Roxy Music had forgotten that there was no title track for “Siren” so this was made instead, a decade later. Except for its mermaid-referenced title, it has less in common with that ’75 Roxy album but played like some transmission from an alternate universe where “Flesh + Blood” had a larger dose of insouciance than what “Oh Yeah” or “Over You” had originally proffered. On the face of it, the light, airy number was probably a good choice for a debut single though it didn’t win on the charts.

Next came a number that seriously upped the drama quotient. While not quite as fervid as the opening track, “Breath Of Life” still managed to best Ferry at his own Post-“Avalon” game. The taut, minimal excursion was held in place largely by MacKay’s dignified oboe with James Wraith’s perfectly mannered vocal getting only occasional support from a surgical lick here and there by Manzanera. The synth bass by keyboardist Guy [Dire Straits] Fletcher contributed to the inexorable pacing of it all, and the overriding, desperate melancholy was profound. It certainly bested Ferry while at anything but the very top of his game. Well played, gents. Well played indeed.

Next: …And Now For Something Completely Different


Posted in Core Collection, Record Review | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Record Review: Ramones – It’s Alive

Sire ‎| US | CD | 1995 | 9 46045-2

Ramones: It’s Alive US CD [1995]

  1. Rockaway Beach
  2. Teenage Lobotomy
  3. Blitzkrieg Bop
  4. I Wanna Be Well
  5. Glad To See You Go
  6. Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment
  7. You’re Gonna Kill That Girl
  8. I Don’t Care
  9. Sheena Is A Punk Rocker
  10. Havana Affair
  11. Commando
  12. Here Today, Gone Tomorrow
  13. Surfin’ Bird
  14. Cretin Hop
  15. Listen To My Heart
  16. California Sun
  17. I Don’t Wanna Walk Around With You
  18. Pinhead
  19. Do You Wanna Dance?
  20. Chainsaw
  21. Today Your Love, Tomorrow The World
  22. Now I Wanna Be A Good Boy
  23. Judy Is A Punk
  24. Suzy Is A Headbanger
  25. Let’s Dance
  26. Oh Oh I Love Her So
  27. Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue
  28. We’re A Happy Family

I remember when I first heard Ramones’ “It’s Alive.” I was aware that the album was available only as an import; I had seen it in the import bins at the time. An import double album of Ramones was not on my radar in 1979 since I had only just begun buying import albums and a live set by Ramones was not a draw for me. Besides, I only had one Ramones studio album at the time; I still needed more of those! It was a few months later, in early 1980, when I was listening to WUSF-FM on their Friday late night New Wave programming, which I could barely receive a signal on 90 miles away, but if I held my antenna just right for those three hours…

“1-2-3-4!” – Dee Dee Ramone

The DJ played a suite of songs from side one of “It’s Alive” and the tunes were so short and fast, that it would have been impossible to play just one without screwing up the cueing somehow. The pacing was so breakneck that the DJ ended up playing the first three songs all in a 6:24 clump of Ramones… but no clump ever moved that swiftly!

“1-2-3-4!” – Dee Dee Ramone

I still didn’t buy “It’s Alive” for years, even after I had most of the Ramones’ albums in the Record Cell. The album was one of Sire’s double live New Wave albums [like “The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads”] that seemed to have gotten lost in the digital shuffle. It finally surfaced on CD in 1990, and I may have seen a copy in the bins at Wax ’N Facts in the early 90s as part of that first Japanese wave of Ramones on CD which predated the silvery discs on our own shores, but I was too smitten with the copies there that day of “Rocket To Russia” and “End Of The Century” to pay any attention! I still didn’t buy “It’s Alive!”

“1-2-3-4!” – Dee Dee Ramone

Eventually, the CD got a release in 1995 as part of the Warner Archives series, correcting a cosmic wrong. That the most American of bands could not have their first live album released in their home country for 16 years was a head scratcher. But I, as ever, lagged behind. After all, I was still building a Ramones album collection, having come to the conclusion in the mid-90s that ignoring large swaths of their canon was somewhat short sighted of me. The live album, however iconic, would have to wait until later. There were studio albums to get first. Fact: I still need “Animal Boy!”

“1-2-3-4!” – Dee Dee Ramone

<insert nine year gap – here> Finally, when I was a member of the late, lamented LaLa CD trading community, I put “It’s Alive” on my want list and got myself a copy in…2006. Better late than never, but you can’t beat a $1.00 price! There have been almost too many live Ramones albums over the years. Some I even bought years before this one, like “We’re Outta Here” in a CD/VHS combo pack in 1997, but that was just for the amazing two and a half hour video tape of Ramones history and performance included. The actual live album was nothing special… apart from being the final Ramones performance. At the end of the day, when it comes down to just the music, “It’s Alive” is the one that your home needs.

“1-2-3-4!” – Dee Dee Ramone

That first trilogy of tunes that opened the album was so conceptually perfect, it served as a succinct précis on everything that made Ramones a great band. Bubblegum pop leanings cheek by jowl with self-deprecating black humor and more hooks than a tackle box. All washed down with the thrills that only sheer, manic velocity could impart! It still makes me weep to consider that a song as perfect a “Blitzkreig Bop” somehow failed to be a massive top 40 hit in this fallen world.

“1-2-3-4!” – Dee Dee Ramone

This album was the only, real Ramones live album because it’s the one with the original lineup playing on it. While I honor all members of Ramones [with the exception of the ill-considered Elvis Ramone – who only lasted for a couple of gigs], there’s a lot to be said for all of the guidance that Tommy Ramone brought to the project. Not only did he manage the fledgling band, but after showing auditioning drummers what they needed to do to make it in the group enough times, they bowed to inevitable and made him the drummer.

“1-2-3-4!” – Dee Dee Ramone

This is also a perfect Ramones album. The last one, actually. Why? Because it sports seven songs per side! Think about it. All of the best Ramones albums have 14 songs per disc! The other ones can be good, but they just don’t stand as seminal Ramones albums in the way “Ramones,” “Leave Home,” Rocket To Russia,” and yes…“It’s Alive” manage to do. This album is great because it captured, for the first time for those of us with ears outside of the punk bars of NYC, just what it was like to stand under the shower of sparks that were Ramones in concert. 28 song in 58 minutes; spread across four sides. It’s not even groove crammed!

“1-2-3-4!” – Dee Dee Ramone

And if that weren’t reason enough to love this album, let’s not forget that Ramones were trash culture mavens of a rare stripe back in the day. Not only did Ramones have an earlier song based on Tobe Hooper’s “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” that got played here [see: “Chainsaw”], but the band were trash culturally wise enough to have cribbed the very title of this album from the tasteless Larry Cohen B-movie of five years earlier. That the band themselves constitute a whole wing of the Museum of Trash Culture® goes without saying. Even 20 years after their final tour [and we were there], it’s hard to believe that the junk culture* machine that was Ramones is still not touring the world to thunderous acclaim, if not record sales. Play this album and relive the thrills and promise of punk rock providing a group of misfits with a way out of their predicament.

literally, in the case of Dee Dee

– 30 –

Posted in Core Collection | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Record Review: Rose McDowall – Cut With The Cake Knife

Sacred Bones Records ‎| US | CD | 2015 | SBR3017CD

Rose McDowall: Cut With The Cake Knife DLX RM US CD [2015]

  1. Tibet
  2. Sunboy
  3. Wings Of Heaven
  4. Sixty Cowboys
  5. On The Sun
  6. Cut With The Cake Knife
  7. Crystal Nights
  8. Soldier
  9. So Vicious
  10. Don’t Fear The Reaper
  11. Crystal Days

I got sucked into the Strawberry Switchblade vortex when I just couldn’t say no to the 12″ of “Since Yesterday,” which had appeared unbidden in Murmur Records one day. I bought every 12″ single as well as the band’s LP [there wasn’t a CD until several years later, and in Japan only], and I even bought the Ornamental 12″ of “No Pain.” I was aware of singer Rose McDowall’s dalliances with art-goth bands like Current 93 or Death In June; not really my cup of tea. What I was not aware of, was the 2004 self-released CD of this album of nine demos intended for the [missing in action] second Strawberry Switchblade album. It was some years later that I ran across this on Discogs and by then it was leaping toward the three figure price point; never a good thing.

I saw on The Quietus that someone was re-releasing the album about two years ago. I moved on as I do and actually forgot about that event… until last December and a trip to Harvest Records conspired to put a copy right in front of my face for the first time ever. I thought it over for a good 8 seconds before plunging my hand in the bins to extricate it. It went straight into the CD player on the trip home. I had loved Strawberry Switchblade’s expert mix of treacly synthpop and dark, melancholic sentiments. Not since the glory days of fellow Scot band Altered Images had I heard such a potent pairing of the two very dissimilar tastes, that still tasted great together.

“Tibet” was built on drumbox over surprisingly adroit fretless bass [!] and ultimately buckets of McDowall’s winsome harmonies. McDowall’s penchant for the melodic underpinnings of folk music was a consistent thread through her songs of this early period, though this is the most contemporary music of her’s that I’ve yet to hear. The prepossessing “Sunboy” matched a radiant chorus with equally lovely guitar playing. I wish the CD credits were more forthcoming with who the musicians were on these recordings.

The tunes here were light with deceptive frivolity; all cotton candy melodies made on happy machines and guitars that belied the lyrics and subject matter. It’s difficult to believe that anyone writing a song about Genesis P. Orridge would end up with a confection like “On The Sun” but Ms. McDowall says as much in the CD’s free-wheeling liner notes. To the point, it’s the reason why we might care. The title track wonderfully juxtaposed airy melodies and an upbeat vibe that none the less exclaimed that she would “…cut you with the cake knife… right between the eyes.”

This remaster also featured both sides of a 1988 single, released without her consent at the time, featuring a cover version of the Blue Oyster Cult chestnut “Don’t Fear The Reaper!” It’s hard to believe that a mid-70s hard rock staple like that would be fodder for McDowall, but she managed to seriously re-write the rules on this one. After opening with a lush and fruity harp glissando, cricket-like drum machine castanets set the rhythmic pace for what amounts to a trim [under three minutes] flamenco take on the formerly histrionic rock flameout. Finally, the similarly titled “Crystal Days” is a different recording of the earlier “Crystal Nights.”

Since the first CD was a signed and numbered edition of 500, I was more than happy to have this affordable, and bonus track bedecked version available at popular prices. Its charms are manifold even though the low-budget nature of the recordings belie their provenance as demos for an album that never was. As fans of Strawberry Switchblade may know, the band lurched between hyper-kinetic synthpop A-sides and pastoral, acoustic B-sides, with the exception of their pastoral [and brilliant] debut single, “Trees + Flowers.” These songs almost take the middle ground between those approaches with synths and drum machines along with guitars to achieve the effects that Ms. McDowall wanted to achieve in her songs this time out.

– 30 –


Posted in Record Review | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments