Record Review: Midge Ure – The Gift DLX RM [part 1]

Midge Ure at his mid-80s pomp – the poster that came with the 1st UK LP of “The Gift”

I have written extensively about my complex relationship to the art of Midge Ure. I have alluded to how his 1985 solo single, “If I Was” was perhaps the record second only to David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance,” for the greatest level of disappointment that it engendered to the ears of an ardent fan. But we’ve never actually reviewed the album as such, and since I received the 2010 all-things-to-all-people DLX RM of it as a gift from a friend earlier this year, why not subject it to the Monastic critical gaze?

Chrysalis ‎| UK | 2xCD | 2010 | CHRX 1058

Midge Ure: The Gift DLX RM UK 2xCD [2010]

Disc 1

  1. If I Was
  2. When The Winds Blow
  3. Living In The Past
  4. That Certain Smile
  5. The Gift
  6. Antilles
  7. Wastelands
  8. Edo
  9. The Chieftain
  10. She Cried
  11. The Gift (Reprise)

Disc 2

  1. No Regrets
  2. Mood Music
  3. If I Was (Extended Mix)
  4. Piano
  5. The Man Who Sold The World
  6. That Certain Smile (Extended Mix)
  7. The Gift (Instrumental)
  8. Fade To Grey (Recorded Live In Rehearsals, 27 Sep 1985)
  9. Wastelands (Extended Mix)
  10. When The Winds Blow (Recorded Live At Wembley Arena, 23 Dec 1985)
  11. After A Fashion (Recorded Live At Wembley Arena, 23 Dec 1985)
  12. The Chieftain / The Dancer (Recorded Live At Wembley Arena, 23 Dec 1985)
  13. Call Of The Wild (Extended Mix)
  14. That Certain Smile (Recorded Live At Wembley Arena, 23 Dec 1985)
  15. The Gift (Recorded Live At Wembley Arena, 23 Dec 1985)

Let’s get right to the heart of the matter. “If I Was” was a record that, as soon as it dropped, my friends and I made a bee-line to the import section of our local emporium to duly purchase the 12″ single of it.The first play did not inspire. We had no idea of how middle-of-the-road it was going to be, since the video did not grace MTV until many months after the UK single was released,and there left us no way to hear it before buying. When presented with a Midge Ure solo single, complete with Saville/Key cover, our natural response was “yes, please!”

But this record disrupted that natural order. I cautiously bought each single that was issued from this album and only decided to buy the import CD that was sitting in the Peaches bins after hearing the third single and deeming it an adequate Midge Ure solo song. This happened at least six months after the album had been released.  The problems I had with “If I Was” were manifold. The mid-80s sound of the digital synths gave it a lot to overcome. This was not an Ultravox sound, and no one would expect Ure, a guitarist first, to compete with Billy Currie on synths. But he did this far more capably in 1982 on his “No Regrets” single and I’ll put that down to the gear he was using.

The second issue, which I struggled with, was the song’s lyric. As written by Daniel Mitchell ex- Modern Man and then-currently of Messengers, the tune was pure sap. A re-write of the conceit of “If I Had A Hammer;” a folk song whose progressive sentiment was summarily dispatched here for something far more banal. I could not figure out how Mitchell, who Ure had produced a 1980 album by his band Modern Man for, as well as Messengers, who supported Ultravox in tour in 1983, could come up with something so cliche. I have a Messengers single [I’d have more but they’re hard to find] and it’s tremendous next to this cut.

The third issue was the crescendo he used as the instrumental hook leading into the chorus. It sounded like something lifted from a Liberace performance in its shamelessness. It was a synth hook that seemed to be made of fondant icing. Sugary sweet and goopy.

Then, once we saw it months later, there was the video.

Ure had usually self-directed his clips post-1981 [and he had pulled video director duty for artists as disparate as Visage, Bananarama, and Chas + Dave], but aside from the pin screen imagery, his appearance in this clip was pretty eye-rollingly bad. His miming gestures only added to the grandma-friendly vibe of the enterprise. The whole package [the song got to #1 in the UK, unlike any single by Ultravox] reeked of sell out and a willingness to compromise to the lowest common denominator instead of the crisp art-rock aesthetic I’d been used to from Ure until that point.

Next: …Things Improve

Posted in Core Collection, Designed By Peter Saville, Mid-80s Malaise, New Romantic, Record Review, Scots Rock | Tagged , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Steel Cage Match: Go-Gos vs Fun Boy Three

I recently bought a copy of the US 12″ single of the Fun Boy Three version of “Our Lips Are Sealed,” so now I could finally hear something more than memories for the first time in 35 years. I had never owned the song and it had been that song since I had seen the scant few showings of the music video for it on MTV. Of course, it was now time for another entry into the Steel Cage Match thread on this blog!

The first Go-Gos song that most people heard by the band was their first single after being signed to I.R.S. Records in 1981. Older fans may have heard the 1980 Stiff Records single of “We’ve Got The Beat,” but that was a UK import single. When I.R.S. released “Our Lips Are Sealed,” that song came out in June of 1981, taking all summer to creep into the US top 20 by the fall. The Go-Gos were… going places. The light, upbeat pop of the song made it a natural radio hit that actually fulfilled its destiny. How many times did it sound like a hit to me only to languish in obscurity?

The song led with the beat from drummer Gina Schock. Back then, Belinda Carlisle was not squeezing excessive vibrato into her singing, so her performance was breezy with Jane Weidlin’s lead on the middle eight being winsome and girlish. Charlotte Caffey added the synths with thin string washes to balance out her tremoloed guitar leads. It’s 2:45 of fresh-faced pop fun in spite of the song carrying its emotional heft from the very real backstage affair that tourmates Jane Weidlin and Terry Hall of The Specials experienced then they toured the US together in 1980. Thought the lyrics were undoubtedly drawn from their reality, the song was still a light piece of fluff in terms of arrangement and performance. Producer Richard Gottherer was hired to make ear candy that went down smoothly.

That was not necessarily so when Terry Hall returned the volley for the second [and final] Fun Boy Three album in 1983. First of all the song was produced by David Bryne, where it stood as the acme of his external production career, in my opinion. While the song still led with the drums, the arrangement and production was richly textured and warm; featuring layered conga percussion from Blue Rondo Ala Turk’s Geraldo D’Arbilly that formed a wall of sound with the drums that had the deep, chanted backing vocals forming a dense patina on top of them. Then the song’s had Nicky Holland’s arrangement, which had as it’s ace-in-the-hole Caroline Lavelle’s cello having the spotlight in the instrumental bed.

It sounded fantastic. A rich cocktail of dark-hued chamber pop with the cherry on top being the wonderful vocals from Terry Hall and June Miles-Kingston. Their harmonies were less strident than on the Go-Gos version. Hall, in particular sang with a clear, almost androgynous tone that made for a nuanced take on the material. The defiant hurt embodied in the lyric manifested more acutely in his performance. At the end of the day there’s no contest as to which performance I prefer. In comparison, the Go-Gos version was like a neon colored comic book. The mystery was why did I wait 35 years to have this in the Record Cell??!

– 30 –

Posted in Steel Cage Match | Tagged , | 21 Comments

Record Review: Dreamcar Are Gonna Party Like It’s 1983

Columbia | US | CD | 2017 | 88985424732

Dreamcar: Dreamcar US CD [2017]

  1. After I Confessed
  2. Kill For Candy
  3. Born To Lie
  4. On The Charts
  5. All Of The Dead Girls
  6. Ever Lonely
  7. The Assailant
  8. The Preferred
  9. Slip On The Moon
  10. Don’t Let Me Move
  11. Do Nothing
  12. Show Me Mercy

Admit it – it looks even more proper with the right logo on it…

The Dreamcar album first came into my Record Cell a little over a year ago as a birthday present from Mr. Ware. Apparently, his son found this new band and thought that his dad would really dig it. The next thing I knew it was in my mailbox as my birthday gift. I popped that sucker on and the chip off the old block knows his dad! And his dad knows me. Dreamcar were not even on my radar in any way, shape, or form, but I can’t deny the miles of simple pleasures that this album afforded. The mauve and teal artwork let the prospective listener know exactly where they were coming from! This look was a hair’s breadth away from the decade defining Patrick Nagel aesthetic that informed not only Duran Duran, but spread through the culture via even more powerful vectors like Miami Vice.

The members of Dreamcar with what’s known as a subtle clue in the background!

Dreamcar were a throwback band on multiple fronts. First of all, they had the audacity to be a supergroup in the far-flung year of 2017. The band was comprised of the three gents from No Doubt who were left high and dry when Gwen Stafani cashed her chips in and beat feet to her inevitable solo career. Now, she’s releasing christmas albums, for crying out loud! Meanwhile, Adrian Young [drums], Tom Dumont [guitar], and Tony Kanal [bass] teamed up with Davey Havok from L.A. punk band AFI to form Dreamcar. Their second throwback was that those guys were all hitting middle age about now, so when freed up from the expectations that No Doubt came with, what else could they do but release an album absolutely steeped in the ethos of the early 80s KROQ playlists that they grew up with?

Boy howdy! When the album kicked off with “After I Confessed,” one would be excused for thinking that rare, unreleased recordings of Duran Duran captured somewhere between their debut album and “RIO” were pumping out of the speakers! The white hot rock disco rhythm section was a dead giveaway, and the propulsive, energetic mood never flagged. The single, “Kill For Candy” was more taut riffage from Dumont with Havok bursting into major key flight on the soaring chorus; singing with the kind of earnest delivery that a thousand American bands who sought to follow in the Double Duran footsteps way back when had road tested seven times to Sunday by 1988.

But I’ve not really heard anything like this for the last nearly 30 years. During the adolescent years of the band when they had their ears glued to KROQ-FM, they were probably hearing records like Combo Audio’s “Romanticide,” which must be the exact template that Dreamcar were shooting for since they nailed that target to the wall! Trust me. Anyone who dug “Romanticide” will find loads to love here! Fans of Figures On A Beach? To the white courtesy phone, please!

“On The Charts” not only sports clever, cheeky lyrical metaphor, but was based around some wicked Nile Rogers brand® rhythm guitar action that DD themselves dipped into on more than one occasion – often with Rogers himself playing. “All Of The Dead Girls” was built around some prime Glitter-stomp but let’s call a spade a spade here; when this band were in knee breeches, the twin suns around which KROQ orbited were Duran Duran and Adam Ant. I knew that this album had to also have an Antmusic quotient.

The band work this action like the pros they are. Twelve songs. 40 minutes and not a single dead space in the mix. One could be forgiven for thinking that Roy Thomas Baker had produced this outing instead of Tom Pagnotta. It’s all as breezy, shallow, and slick as an oil stain on the blacktop, but you won’t complain if you’re in the mood for that 1983 New Music sound. I can only hope that Duran Duran manage to squeeze out another album and tour just so that cosmic justice will prevail and Dreamcar will get picked to open up the US tour dates. After which, they might as well self-combust since they would have no reason to further exist.

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Want List: ZANTi Unites Derek Forbes with Anni Hogan for “Broken Hearted City”

Derek Forbes and Anni Hogan bring a great big service of talent to the plate

I think I was neck deep in my second ever 30 Albums/30 Days thread when I caught wind of Zanti; the new project by Derek Forbes and Anni Hogan. Forbes will be known by his “god of bass” reputation from his Simple Minds days to anyone who frequents PPM, and Anni Hogan has a cherished place in my Record Cell with her keyboard contributions to the imperial EMI period of Marc Almond’s solo career which I can never quite get past, even though I should. It’s past time to discuss this here, so let’s get to it.

Right up front, I’m of the opinion that Forbes has frittered away his vast talent in a series of dead-end jobs after getting ejected from the Simple Minds airlock in 1985. X-S-M the “Ex-Simple Minds” band with Brian McGee and Mick MacNeil. Playing bass I could not hear on the dull, second Propaganda album. Re-recording a solo album made of Simple Minds tunes. Hosting a talk radio show in Los Angeles. Getting roped back into Simple Minds for a time, yet not being allowed to write material.  Playing bass in Big Country! All of these were beneath him. But this… this sounds promising.

Downwards | UK | CD | 2018 | ZANTI01

ZANTi: Broken Hearted City UK CD [2018]

  1. Scream Machine
  2. Lonesome
  3. Will You Be Mine
  4. Head Sounds
  5. Planet Sweet
  6. Broken Hearted City
  7. Paris Vortex
  8. Universe Of Love

So Hogan and Forbes met at a sci-fi film festival in 2015 and that sparked the notion of collaboration. FOrbes cribbed the name from the legendary “Outer Limits” episode and that was that. The two played everything, and they both sang. In some ways, this is exactly what an album made by the groove architect of Simple Minds imperial period and the player who allowed Marc Almond to indulge in his Scott Walker aspirations would have made but I never would have predicted exactly how this gelled to achieve that effect. Hogan and Forbes shared vocal duties here and come close to achieving some sort of Post-Punk Lee Hazelwood/Nancy Sinatra vibe that just rocks for days on end! Proof below.

This is a track that unites not only the gorgeous siren vocals of Ms. Hogan [she sounds ready for Bond theme duties…] and a honey-drenched melodic sensibility, but also the metronomic krautrock power of the almighty Forbes for an unbeatable musical synthesis.

But Mr. Forbes also takes lead vocals on these songs. His turn at the mic delivers material that veers towards the same sort of manly, yet vulnerable crooning that made Stefan Emmer’s “International Blue” album project such a hit with me a few years back. His nuanced vocals were a surprising delight here.

Sterling music, and I need to get it into the Record Cell in all due haste. More, please, from ZANTi, who have their album out now on Downward Records.

– 30 –

Posted in Core Collection, Scots Rock, Want List | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Molly Nilsson’s World Tour Continues With Second US Leg In 2019

Molly Nilsson has a 20/20 vision to share with us

Yours truly was fortunate enough to have seen Molly Nilsson twice in the sleepy mountain hamlet I call home back in 2012 and 2013. In fact, she had a gig on the night of my birthday in 2013; a delightful present. I thought I was going to see her at the last Big Ears Festival we attended in 2016, but work visa hassles by the increasingly backward USA [a festering problem for years prior to the current regime] scuttled that notion! I’ve been on a Molly Nilsson kick lately and when I went to her website in a presumably vain search for any tour dates nearby, I was pleasantly astonished to see that against all odds, she has not forgotten about Asheville. Or the rest of the Southeast.

Her latest [8th] album arrived three weeks ago and she’s already looking forward to the promise of 2020. I’ve not heard her last two albums, “Zenith” and “Imaginations” since I have always bought her CDs at the merch table, and it’s getting well nigh impossible to buy the shiny silver discs these days. But I’m highly enamored of her juxtaposition of warmly soft focus synthpop with her understated vocals. She has a knack for incisive lyrical phrases and cutting to the emotional heart of the matter with knowing insight.

“The power of love
Versus the love of power” – “Power Ballad”

Her shows are simple and straightforward as she just plugs in her laptop and sings after a 30 second soundcheck. I’m thrilled to see that she’s playing The Mothlight, my current favorite club. She’s still got two dates left on her West Coast tour, and then some dates in Europe before heading back to the East US in March. I’m amazed to see that she will be playing Will’s Pub in Orlando; where I saw many a great show back in the 90s when we still lived there. I would have thought that as her legend has grown that Ms. Nilsson would be playing larger venues but she’s doing things her way and on her terms. Thank goodness. It makes for a better world that way. If she’s in earshot, by all means do partake!

2018 | US West Coast/Europe

27 Nov. | San Francisco, CA | The Chapel
30 Nov. | Los Angeles, CA | Zebulon
04 Dec. | München, Germany | Muffatwerk
06 Dec. | Leipzig, Germany | UT Connewitz
10 Dec. | Hamburg, Germany | Hafenklang

2019 |  Europe/US East Coast

24 Jan. | Madrid, Spain | Sala Caracol
06 Feb. | London | Moth Club
08 Feb. | Brighton | Hope + Ruin
03 Mar. | Orlando, FL | Will’s Pub
05 Mar. | Athens, GA | Caledonia
06 Mar. | Atlanta, GA | 529
07 Mar. | Asheville, NC | The Mothlight
08 Mar. | Raleigh, NC | Wicked Witch
10 Mar. | Washington, DC | Union Stage
12 Mar. | Philadelphia, PA | PhiMoca
13 Mar. | Brooklyn, NY | Elswewhere Hall

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Record Review: Frankie Goes To Hollywood – Rage Hard (✚) (✚✚) ✪

ZTT| UK | CD5 | 1986 | ZCID 22

Frankie Goes To Hollywood: Rage Hard UK CD5 [1986]

  1. Rage Hard [+ edit]
  2. Rage Hard [compacted (✚) (✚✚) ✪]
  3. Suffragette City
  4. (Don’t Lose What’s Left) Of Your Little Mind (Excerpt)/Roadhouse Blues [short]

The wait for 12″ singles to make the leap to the CD format was excruciating! I had a CD player by the summer of 1985, but any import CD singles that I saw in the bins of the stores likely to carry them in the early days of the format were only the most MOR artists. And these were not even packing extended remixes! More like four songs by John Martyn. I was waiting on pins and needles for a release that would be my ticket too a trip out of buying 12″ vinyl with the songs I wanted to collect on the shiny silver disc of preference. It might have been the fall of 1986 when I finally saw the disc that would be my first CD single: Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s “Rage Hard.”

FGTH 1986 – designer Frankie

I had bought all of the 12″ vinyl I could get my hands on from their first album, but I balked at all of that ZTT 12″ being pumped into the market for album number two. I should only ever hear ZTT music on the CD format! What Would Trevor Do? I can’t remember if I had the “Liverpool” album on CD yet, but I seem to recall that it was not released for a little while yet. I jumped at the “Rage Hard” CD5 and it set me back maybe as much as $15.99 at my local Peaches.

The first thing I heard was UK comedian Pamela Stephenson giving a short verbal introduction then a 5 minute remix of “Rage Hard” began playing. I’ve since found out that this was an edit from the “Rage Hard +” a.k.a. “Rage Hard (The Young Person’s Guide Into The 12 Inch Mix)” as seen in the first 12″ single released, at left. The first three minutes sounded like a dub section from a 12″ with the song returning to wrap up near the end.

Next came another 12 minutes of mashed up “Rage Hard” remixes from other sources that was called “Rage Hard [compacted]” here. We can now ascertain that the first 7:27 of the mix came from “Rage Hard +” and featured Ms. Stephenson narrating the various elements of instrumentation that gave a brief solo as they kept “Rage Hard” moving forward in a [rude] parody of “A Young Person’s Guide To The Orchestra.” Next, there was 1:19 taken from the beginning of “Rage Hard ++” [see right] which was also known as the Broad mix. Finally, the last 3:11 of “Rage Hard +” rounded out the unbroken 17:13 track, which was all grouped on the CD single as a single unit.

I would not have the 12″ vinyl from this era until I got antsy about not having it once I became focused on owning vinyl that had not made the leap to CD around 1992. I then bought a lot of these mail order in mostly German pressings, but I should own the UK ZTT pressings of this material! In 2018 I want every UK ZTT 7/12 from point zero up through 1988.

The B-sides on this CD were more of the ZTT penchant for classic rock cover tunes. The take on Bowie’s “Suffragette City” had all of its sex removed by the band in a rendition that gave lie to their overly sexualized image. The rendition here was cold, flat, and machine-like. Next came just 18 seconds of the band’s non-LP B-side, “(Don’t Lose What’s Left) Of Your Little Mind.” The annoying collection of sampled belches, vocal tics, and what not were perhaps best heard in this brutal edit that went straight into a equally awful cover of The Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues.” Singer Holly Johnson was completely out of his depth here; sounding adrift in such a bluesy number. ZTT had absolutely zero affinity for that musical form, and boy, did it show! Nevertheless, the faux barrelhouse piano and harmonicas were duly trotted out to our dismay on this perfunctorily chugging attempt at boogie. About halfway through the song, Steven Lipson couldn’t stand it any longer, and synths began to seep into the mix. They didn’t make it better – only worse!

The first 3/4 of the CD was like a trailer for the vinyl that I didn’t have, and the last quarter were B-sides best left unheard. In any case, I was hooked! They were finally releasing singles that I would buy on CD and I was up for more! For another 15 years I only bought old vintage 12″ singles. Anything new that I would want was on the preferred format. At least before the 21st century happened and the war on CDs was declared. Now, I’m grateful for any singles at all that creep out into the physical market!

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

Record Review: B-52’s – Wild Planet

Warner Bros. Records ‎| US | CD | 3471-2 | 1980

B-52’s: Wild Planet US CD [1989]

  1. Party Out Of Bounds
  2. Dirty Back Road
  3. Runnin’ Around
  4. Give Me Back My Man
  5. Private Idaho
  6. Devil In My Car
  7. Quiche Lorraine
  8. Strobe Light
  9. 53 Miles West of Venus

After the musical neutron bomb that was “The B-52’s” hit in 1979, we didn’t have to wait too long for the all-important sophomore album. By the summer of 1980, “Wild Planet” was released and I can recall buying a copy the week of release. Such was the band’s cachet at the time! When we removed the disc from the green paw print inner sleeve and let the needle drop, we were treated to an album that was less shocking and paradigm shifting from their debut waxing, but made up for its lack of world building by sporting outrageously good songs that were by turns, more sophisticated than much of their debut album.

When the fadeup for “Party Out Of Bounds” peaked we were dropped into a hilarious deconstruction of the point where a party could get too wild for its own good. The drums were beating out a motorik beat and the pulsing synth bass added flair to the band’s musical arsenal. The bongos were perfect and the wigged-out backing vocals by Kate Pierson were bright neon green in color. Ricky Wilson’s spy guitar was like a welcome friend.

Speaking of Krautrock influence, it showed up again [where we least expected it] with the mesmerizing “Dirty Back Road.” This was a riveting song where the same harmonic information simply repeated for three and a half minutes. The steady beat varied not by a single fill and the song was built upon a recurring twangy guitar riff that one could build a life with. The minimal functionality of it was considerable. And yet, I never wanted it to end. I’d like to hear a DJ keep this one going all night.

As a big fan of the tremendous Cindy Wilson, I was grateful to hear her get a spotlight on the powerful “Give Me Back My Man.” It sounded like they were using the same Roland drum tech that DEVhad used on their just a few months recent “Freedom Of Choice” album on the song “Mr. B’s Ballroom.” Ms. Wilson sounded like she meant it when she sang it here! If she ever put her mind to making a real country album it would devastate!

The lead single in America was the amazing “Private Idaho,” a song that focused the B-52’s aesthetic like a laser and still managed to sound as if it actually belonged on the radio in the bargain! Holding off the beat while the guitar riff set the rhythm for half a bar was a genius move of arrangement. That alone created a wave that sucked the listener into the song immediately. Then Kate Pierson’s freaky backing vocals reminded us that here was the band that was unafraid to venture into those Yoko Ono waters. The urgency of the song was unstoppable and the “outer limits” organ riff leading into the chorus was clearly the band at the top of their game. That this triumph managed to get to just #74 in the US Hot 100 was some kind of slap in the face.

The meaty guitar riffs of “Devil In My Car” were matched with a deliciously absurd lyric that only this band could commit so strongly to. Fred Schneider’s declamatory delivery was letter perfect for such a kitsch-laden number. “Quiche Loraine” was a rare downbeat song of abandonment that, once again, opened with a solitary guitar hook luring the listener into the storyline. The screaming Farfisa of Kate Pierson was angular and delicious.

The driving “Strobe Light” further endeared itself to me by the utter deadpan blasé comeback the women sang in unison to Fred Schneider’s too-cool-for-school come ons. The bass here was kinetic and the sexual metaphor of “pineapple” was utterly bonkers. The album closed with a call out to the sci-fi hi-fi of “Planet Claire” from the first album with the chugging instro “53 Miles West of Venus.” A tight 35 minutes with no filler! Yeah!

The co-production by Rhett Davies marked this as an extreme outlier to nowhere in his CV which is shot through with either Roxy Music related productions or things that wished they were Roxy Music. How did he get the job? Maybe his early Eno productions held sway with the band. Speaking of whom, they wisely held back some of the songs they had in their notebooks at the time of the first album for album number two. Why doesn’t every band do this? They were thinking ahead. As a consequence, the first two albums were inextricably linked in the terms of the songwriting quality and freshness of their vision. The band would later fall from my favor with their next move, but that’s another story.

– 30 –

Posted in Record Review | Tagged , , | 11 Comments