Record Review: Jan Linton – I Actually Come Back DLX ED

Jansongs/Entropy Records | Hong Kong | CD + CD-3 | 011/EM 007 | 2017

Jan Linton With Leo Abrahams: I Actually Come Back/Buddha Machine Music – Hong Kong – CD + CD-3 [2017]

Disc 1: I Actually Come Back [Jansongs 011]

  1. Kindness [overture]
  2. I actually Come Back [remix]
  3. Joy [radio version]
  4. The Kindness of Strangers
  5. Emancipate Your Heart [Leo guitar]
  6. Anemone
  7. Kindness [reprise]
  8. I Actually Come Back [Matthew’s edit]
  9. Cocteau Sublime
  10. Birds In The Dream Forest/Route 2
  11. Anemone [macau reprise]
  12. I Actually Come Back [piano reprise]

Disc 2 | Buddha Machine Music [Entropy Music EM007]

  1. Mao Zhongruan
  2. Maoduihuan Bla
  3. B2 Dance [Wu Song]
  4. Shengxiaozhong
  5. Zhongruan Ceng Yu
  6. Yang [infinite delay]

Sometimes an album catches your eye with the pedigree it brings to the party. I’d not heard of Jan Linton, who is the primary artist here, but I certainly knew guest guitarist Leo Abrahms from this album and anyone reading this should know all about Matthew Seligman. His CV is legendary. These three players form the foundation of “I Actually Come Back,” which serves as an art rock [with side trips into pop] coming out party for Linton, who has existed under my radar but travels in very interesting circles. This was probably due to his move to Japan where his guitar prowess has languished under the radar of most people in the Western Hemisphere. But that should change.

“I Actually Come Back” is an album of deep technique layers taking a deliberately light approach to the music. While it’s true that the earlier version of this album was sold on Burning Shed, don’t assume that it’s just bloodless prog technique on parade here. If anything, the vocal material here predominates and showcases a subtle, elegant pop sensibility on the part of Mr. Linton. That said, it’s also an album with plenty of EBow action and if you’re as much of a fan of that luxurious and otherworldly  sustain as I am, you will also find plenty to love here. Oh, and it’s also only the second album out of thousands in my Record Cell that features fretless guitar, so know that Linton means business!

The album opens up with “Kindness [overture]” which sets the tone for the album with a brief instrumental of healing grace with Leo Abrahams supplying guitars while Linton mans the synths. The vibe is not unlike that of the Cocteau Twins with Abrahams’ shimmering guitar textures striking close to the Robin Guthrie target. Way before it ceases to amaze the concise number steps aside for the first of the three versions of the title song on the album. The vocals of Linton appear here and he sounds similar in voice to Thomas Leer, but his phrasing owes more to that of David Sylvian. The gentle, pastoral sound proffered would be less jazz-derived than Sylvian’s solo career, but the EBow of Abrahams and the fretless bass of Matthew Seligman, still give an art rock undercurrent to what is a delicate love song. If anything, it recalls first album China Crisis, who managed to straddle a similar line.

My favorite song here was definitely “Joy” which never comes close to feeling like as much as half of its six plus minute running time. It began with a heartbeat rhythm before the beatbox kicked in after the introduction. I could listen to this track all night as Linton comes closer to Sylvian territory and then takes it deep in the art rock zone with his use of fretless guitar. If you’ve not heard it, there’s little else quite like it. The distant, dreamlike guitar tone typifies this album; as if the guitars were being played in a large building several rooms away from where you were listening. This makes for perfect listening in the wee, small hours but could also serve in the morning in a pinch.

Abrahams and Linton trade off memorably on “The Kindness of Strangers” over a “Five Years” martial beat with Abrahams offering Guthrie-like peals of sky guitar with Linton playing a harmonica melody to complement him. “Anemone” was an earlier Abrahams’ solo track from the “Scene Memory” album that Linton wrote lyrics for and it became an ethereal song here, though it sported a surprisingly motorik hi-hat rhythm. The album also offered a gorgeous instrumental in “Cocteau Sublime” with a deeply still ambience featuring phased rhythms and nearly subliminal vocals from Linton.

Also offered in this package is a CD-3 of the earlier [2011] “Buddha Machine Music” of more abstract ambient work. It provides a contemplative coda to the Occidental near-pop of the first disc in this set. This set, even more than the main disc, hews closely to the ambient post-rock tributaries that one can find in the Burning Shed stable of artists, though this one was initially released by Entropy Records. What is fascinating is that all of the music here has its genesis in the Buddha Machine; a small piece of generative music hardware developed by  Christiaan Virant and Zhang Jian but manipulated and composed by Linton.

Mr. Linton shows himself to be a potential peer to Monastic favorites like Bill Nelson, Brian Eno, and David Sylvian with this work as be blended guitar, synths, and drum machine, while hitting closer to the pop mark on the vocal material here as typified by early China Crisis. Locally, Continuum Fingerboard synthesist Sally Sparks, hosts world class musicians in her Streamside Studios for intimate home concerts I’ve attended in the past. I daresay that Jan Linton would fit the bill at such a show like a fine kidskin glove. Now, if I could only get him the 8,000 or so miles from Hong Kong to Asheville, it would be just perfect. Until then, “I Actually Come Back” can be purchased here.

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Record Review: John Foxx – Metamatic DLX RM [part 9]

John Foxx in 1980 – the year of Metamatic

[continued from last post]

All of the brief instrumentals were done and disc three concluded with a bevy of demos and alternate takes of familiar material. The demo of “No-One Driving” featured a very Moroderesque synthpulse kicking it into high gear coupled with a dryer, simpler rhythm track. Before the middle eight, everything but the beat drops out for a couple of measures. The four track demo was a little more breakneck than the final album version. If you’ve been listening to this song for 38 years, it’s interesting to hear the differences after hundreds of plays of the LP/7″ remix version.

The early version [read: demo] of “Burning Car previously appeared only on the 2010 “Metatronic” collection but anyone who has not heard it will revel in its heartless, vicious qualities where Foxx seethes with vehement contempt for possibly the only time ever. The shockingly groovy bass synth is the only thing less than harsh here, and when Foxx spits out the word “burn!” instead of the more dispassionate “all right” that the released version sports, you can really believe that he wants to see it burn. I find that I prefer this far less Numan-like version to the one we’ve known for decades.

While having the 1979 alternative version of “Like A Miracle” was shocking enough on disc two, the demo for that one was also here, and the BPM seemed to be much faster for this version. The vibe was still warm and sunny, as opposed to the dour “Metamatic” sound on the album proper, but the arrangement and instrumentation moved along like a peppy example of sterling technopop. What we wouldn’t have given for something that sounded like a less conventional Buggles track without any conventional instrumentation mucking things up.

Then the disc concluded with yet another finished, alternative mix of “No-One Driving.” the biggest difference here seemed to be that the piano was pushed way up in the mix. If one listens carefully, the released version has scant piano hiding in the mix, but it’s subtle. Not so here, for a lusher take on the familiar song. The melody also drops out as in the demo version right before the middle eight, so I’m guessing that this was an interim mix done prior to the final one.

This package is delightful as a Foxx-head who can’t get enough of this material. The album is the 2014 mastering by Joe Caithness. It’s not brickwalled, but it’s moving in that direction. I have screen caps of the waveform of “Underpass” in all of its digital masterings for illustrative purposes so we can discuss the four separate digital masterings of this album. I’ve listened to each of these versions of the song with my AKG headphones on, so you know I’m serious.

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1993 – No mastering engineer credited – 3:56:84
This was the only digital master made by Virgin as they were just about to lose the rights to “Metamatic” after a 15 year period. How Foxx got that reversion clause into his contract was probably due to good management at the time and a desire to have the prestige [and hopefully sales] that he would bring Virgin in his signing negotiation. The 1993 mastering has very dull sound compared to the 2001 mastering. This leads me to suspect that Virgin may have sourced a multi-generational safety copy…or else the mastering engineer was far too liberal with the noise reduction software of the day.

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2001 Chris Thorpe 3:53:76
The Chris Thorpe Edsel remaster was louder than the 1993 version by + 3 db yet it still shies away from any clipping. All the waves stay within the safety zone of 1-2 dB of that  happening. The tape used sounded like an actual multitrack master as there was neormous amounts of detail that was simply missing from the dull 1993 version. The rhythm track bleed on R channel was much more apparent at 0:06 in than 93 master, which almost completely lacks that detail.

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2007 Dallas Simpson 3:57:08
Dallas Simpson has quite a recent history with Foxx, who must like his touch quite a bit. He’s partners with Chris Thorpe and has mastered 41 CDs by John Foxx! The levels on the 2007 Edsel master were -0.5 db from 2001. The sound was still far from brickwalled, but there was nonetheless slightly less detail than 2001 master.

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2014 Joe Caithness 3:56:06
The 2014 master was made for the white vinyl gatefold “Metamatic” LP pressing done for UK RSD that year [which I still need a copy of!] Since that was an LP, I’m guessing that tweaks had to have been made for this CD but in the sonic [and probably actual] end times which we inhabit, perhaps that’s not the case. The sound here was louder than 1993 by +6 db with what looks like some sustained clipping.

The sonics of this album are important, because one of the main reasons why Foxx picked Pathway instead of larger studios he could have used was not only were they close to his home at the time [and cheaper] but that he deliberately wanted to use an eight track studio to get the strongest possible signal on the individual tracks. In analog recording the greater the number of tracks, the lower the signal bandwidth available on the tape. By using eight or less [many tracks don’t use all eight] and not bouncing any tracks, he wanted the most powerful conduit for this analog electronic sound that he could get at the time.

“Metamatic” was a bold statement of intent from an artist who was convinced that not only could he make an album with almost all sound electronically generated, but that he should do so as well. At the time, let it be said that this was a bold sonic statement of an album. It defined a world of “Cold Wave” like nothing else that came before it. Foxx worried that he might have been going too far. But cold and icy is probably a better description of the emotional tenor of the album. Sonically, it’s pretty warm with a rich, round mix that eschews brittleness save for the contrasting “metal beat” of the CR-78 on many of these tracks.

I have purchased “Metamatic” five out of the six times it has been released [like I said, I still need the 2014 white vinyl LP of this] and there’s another LP copy in there since I wore out my 1st LP copy! As long as the releases are as affordable as they have been, I’m fine with that for such an album that’s a standard of electronic pop music like this one is. Foxx moved quickly onward for the rest of his Virgin period lasting until 1985, with nothing sounding remotely similar to any other of his solo albums. But the benchmark of “Metamatic” has stood as the foundational stylistic bedrock of most of the music that Foxx has created since his return to releasing music in 1997. It looms over his modern work like a monolithic tower of intent. It’s right and proper that every few years, it gets the attention of a new mastering with a different complement of subordinate material to delight our ear and eye.

I say eye, because Jonathan Barnbrook’s design work also insures that this is the best looking edition of “Metamatic” yet. Old fans like myself can buy this if they are as compelled as I am, but what I really envy are those ears that might be buying “Metamatic” for the first time in this fulsome form. If you’ve not yet had the pleasure, then by all means… click here.

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Record Review: John Foxx – Metamatic DLX RM [part 8]

Metamatic | UK | CD3/3 | META63BX | 2018

John Foxx: Metamatic DLX RM – bonus material disc 3 [2018]

  1. A Frozen Moment
  2. He’s A Liquid [instrumental dub]
  3. Mr. No [alternative version]
  4. The Uranium Committee
  5. A Man Alone
  6. Over Tokyo
  7. Terminal Zone
  8. Urban Code
  9. A Version Of You
  10. Glimmer [alternative version]
  11. Fragmentary City
  12. Metamorphosis
  13. Approaching The Monument
  14. Critical Mass
  15. Almagordo Logic
  16. Touch + Go [early version]
  17. Miss Machinery
  18. No-One Driving [early version]
  19. Burning Car [early version]
  20. Like A Miracle [early version]
  21. No-One Driving [alternative version]

Now we get to the Monk-bait. Having had virtually all of the contents of discs one and two on other CDs, the tunes on disc three were largely relegated to multi-gen dupes passed among the Foxx fan community – which I had not even bothered with. My thought was that if Foxx thought it was material worth selling at this point, then I’ll go for it. Especially at the modest price [£ 14.99] this reissue was going for [though my wife bought it as a gift for me in any case].

It began with “A Frozen Moment,” a brief, tingling sample of the random wave patch that kicked off ” He’s A Liquid,” but extended for slightly longer than a minute. Then that gave way to a brief, two minute dub mix of that same song, which actually came closer to an instrumental mix. It whetted my appetite for more. Much more. I would have liked to have heard a real dub workout on this material by an actual pioneer like Adrian Sherwood. As much as Foxx was inspired by Lee Perry for this album, he does not live in that zone. This was mild stuff. [Memo to self – propose this to Foxx HQ for a genuine “Metamatic In Dub” disc. One that might likely anchor the 4xCD DLX-RM of this album which drops in 2022.]

The alternative versions of familiar B-sides “Mr. No” and “Glimmer” feature alternative mixes that accentuate different elements of the song. In the case of the former, the Elka synth strings are used with block chords that change the complexion of the song, and the fadeout is much more vague than the cold ending we all know and love. In the case of the latter, the two melodic threads have their emphasis switched in the mix. I can understand why both were kept out of sunlight until now.

The cover of this disc shows the tape reels that simply have “Music For Film #1-2-3” and “A Man Alone” was definitely one of these tracks, probably unnamed until this release. The simple 4-track themes developed here seem surprisingly maudlin and kitschy next to the rest of this material. “Over Tokyo” was another cinematic bit of Elka string synth that clearly formed the basis for the coda used in “Touch + Go.” Waste not, want not!

“A Version Of You” was one of the shocking tributaries to the “Metamatic” sound which was kept in the closet until now. That was one of the gratifying things about this release; the way it put the Foxx established within the period within the larger context of his career that cam, in some cases, as much as a quarter of a century later. The music bed here was simple. It was just piano and synth, and while piano is hardly what we associate with the “Metamatic” era, it was buried deep within “No-One Driving” if you listen hard for it. That makes this excursion into Satie-esque soundscape from [presumably] 1979 Foxx all the more fascinating. Particularly because on the B-side of Numan’s best single [there… I said it…] was a then-surprising cover of Satie’s beguiling “Trois Gymnopedies.” As you may guess, I’m deep within a chicken/egg scenario here. I have to wonder if Foxx was riffing of of Numan’s cover or had Numan seen perhaps a Foxx interview extolling the virtues of Erik Satie? Are there any clues out there?

Similarly, on the track “Fragmentary City,” Foxx tips his hand with a full blown trips into Harold Budd territory with piano only. It would be over twenty years before Foxx’s great interest in Budd’s delicate piano work manifested in the Budd/Foxx “Translucence/Drift Music” project of 2003; where Foxx acted as Lee Perry on the behalf of Budd; radically shifting the pianist’s work in time and space.

“Approaching The Monument” was one of the more “Radiophonic” workouts in this collection. Just a foreboding white noise patch with a sub-bass hum that recalled the scenes in “Alien” when the crew of the “Nostromo” were investigating the planet that was the origin of the infection. At nearly 4:00 minutes, perhaps it overstays its welcome by half. Similarly, “Terminal Zone,” “Urban Code,” “Alamogordo Logic,” and “Critical Mass” are cut from similar cloth. These were further excursions in sinister sci-fi soundscaping which one could easily imagine being used as cues  in Doctor Who, but with a comparatively brief run time that leaves them more interesting.

While Foxx has been long an enthusiast of the early work of The Pink Floyd, he’s not really come close to that particular brand of psychedelia until hearing “Metamorphosis,” which to these ears sounds as if Foxx was performing his more sinister take of “Several Small Species Of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together In A Cave And Grooving With A Pict!” The track began with a melange of synthetic insect trills and bird calls that were almost corny until the dread hum that threatened to obliterate the initial mood entirely did so; thus inspiring the tracks name, undoubtedly.

The previously unknown vocal composition, “Miss Machinery,” was one of the more fully realized tracks here in that it actually sorted a Foxx vocal, but looks can be deceptive. The music bed was similar to that which eventually became “20th Century,” but the differences were profound. The vibe here was less severe, with a much warmer, cinematic sound on offer. A far cry from the ping-ponged computer game soundtrack sound of that B-side. The music certainly was well developed; which can’t be said for the vocal, which was probably just layed down by Foxx as a placeholder, since the lyrics seem half-baked [“let me introduce my army…”] for Foxx and seem to have zero in common with the “Quiet Man” scenario which generated almost all of his lyrical content by that time.

The demo tracks on offer here only serve to confirm how tight Foxx’s vision of his art was at the time. The early version [read: demo] of “Touch + Go” was remarkably congruent with the finished eight track final version. Foxx didn’t need much more than the four tracks he had here to achieve his end results. The only thing that this version lacked was high end fidelity. It even had the distinctive synth glissando at the end of the middle eight.

Next: …Familiar Faces

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Further Apologies

I was taking a transcontinental plane ride a week ago and was writing the capper to my “Metamatic” DLX RM review [that’s still hanging in midair as we type] and I was planning on running the first half of it today but it seems that I was not typing in the iCloud account, but the local account; so the words I needed to access were not “out there” so I could post them from my work desk at lunch today. So it’ll happen tomorrow. Honest.

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REDUX: The Great B- Sides – Elvis Costello + The Attractions – Just A Memory

July 16, 2014

A big chunk of what makes me the person that I am is that I seventually learned about the ins and outs of record collecting, though it was an arduous trek on my on in the wilderness with no other hands to guide me. When I discovered import singles, I became aware that [especially in the UK] there were lots of songs that got recorded by artists that I liked that never made their way onto the actual albums. The lure of non-LP B-sides eventually grew to eclipse my fervor for albums as the primary focus of my attention. After all, singles were ephemeral. They got released and then got harder to find over time, unlike their associated albums, which could remain in print indefinitely. It’s past time to give some attention to the songs that were released almost as an afterthought for connoisseurs of fandom to discover like the gifts that they were.

F-Beat | UK | 7

F-Beat | UK | 7″ | 1980 | XX5E

Elvis Costello + The Attractions: New Amsterdam UK 7″ EP [1980]

  1. New Amsterdam
  2. Dr. Luther’s Assistant
  3. Ghost Train
  4. Just A Memory

“New Amsterdam” was the third single to be released from Elvis Costello + The Attractions’ song-packed album “Get Happy!” in 1980. This single was available in two different configurations. A normal two track 7″ [which retained for 50 pence – the price was printed onto the sleeve] and a four track full EP. We won’t mention the four track picture disc all the better to influence the charts with. Savvy consumers should have bought the full EP version. Cheaper fans would have missed out on what is my personal favorite Elvis Costello song ever; the heart-wrenching ballad “Just A Memory.” The spartan track contains just Costello, his vocals double tracked to pad out the arrangement, and the sturdy Steve Nieve on piano [with a smattering of organ]. There are no rhythm instruments or guitar to intrude here.

The song was written for Dusty Springfield to sing, and with the addition of a third verse, she eventually did. I’ve never heard the Springfield cover of this song, but I can’t imagine it being any more potent a song in even her capable hands. The bittersweet, late night intimacy of the song’s delivery packs a wallop far more devastating than its 2:15 length would indicate on the face of it. One listen to this number and the thought “now this is songwriting” comes to mind. There is nothing to hide behind here. The melodramatic piano is downplayed from Nieve’s often busy hands with a severe economy that I don’t usually associate with his often ornate playing. It’s all about Costello here, and the one bet he hedged was in double tracking his vocals on the chorus.

I sometimes think that his decision to do that gave even this fine song a hint of compromise. The later recording of this on the Costello + Nieve boxed set as recorded live on their magnificent Lonely World Tour in 1996 strips it down to its essence, though Costello sang the longer Dusty Springfield arrangement of the tune instead of the brief, but  even more memorable 1980 EP version. This original version is a succinct emotional haiku in comparison. Its power is in inverse proportion to the amount of energy expended in its performance.

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REDUX : Various Artists – ‘Til Things Are Brighter – A Tribute To Johnny Cash

July 7, 2014

Red Rhino | UK | CD | 1988 | REDCD 88

Red Rhino | UK | CD | 1988 | REDCD 88

Various Artists: ‘Til Things Are Brighter – A Tribute To Johnny Cash UK CD [1988]

  1. Michelle Shocked: One Piece At A Time
  2. Stephen Mallinder: I Walk The Line
  3. Steve Mack: Rosanna’s Goin’ Wild
  4. Sally Timms: Cry, Cry, Cry
  5. David McComb: Country Boy
  6. Marc Riley: Wanted Man
  7. Peter Shelley: Straight ‘A’s In Love
  8. Cathal Coughlan: Ring Of Fire
  9. Tracey And Melissa Beehive: Five Feet High And Risin’
  10. Brendan Croker: Home Of The Blues
  11. Mary Mary: Boy Named Sue
  12. Mekons: Folsom Prison Blues
  13. Marc Almond: Man In Black

On an earlier post, we dredged up a review of Wall of Voodoo’s debut EP which came to my ears via their insanely powerful New Wave cover version of Johnny Cash’s iconic “Ring Of Fire” song. Today, we move from the opposite direction with Post-Punk bands covering Johnny cash on his own turf: country/rockabilly. This is one of my favorite tribute albums, ever. It’s a Johnny Cash tribute album that had the class to come out over a decade before he died! All of the performances are great and the whole project is tied together by a consistent backing band for every singer. This lends the project a real unity.

I bought this as soon as it was released largely for the appearances of the Beehive sisters and Stephen Mallinder of Cab Volt. Having Pete Shelley and Marc Almond were also benefits even if I did not collect those artists with the fervor that I had for CV and Voice of the Beehive. I was only familiar with about half of these songs and singers, but it works very well as one of my favorite tribute albums ever, and one that was released far ahead of the deluge that would happen in the 90s, when tribute albums stopped having any meaning. That it was a benefit for the Terrence Higgins Trust was only further in its favor and fully keeping in the inclusive and positive spirit of the album’s subject.

I actually had bought a 7″ of the original “One Piece At A Time” in 1976 as the novelty tune became Johnny Cash’s biggest hit during a long dry period in the 1970s following his greatest period of fame. I was less convinced by the emergence of Michelle Shocked in the late 80s. Anyone who would put a photo of themselves being brutalized by police at a riot certainly had some issues that held me at arms length, but she stuck pretty close to the blueprint of the original song here, so I could at least enjoy it for that. As it turned out, all of these songs sounded not too far from the original Cash sound with only the delivery of the vocalists lending each track its distinction.

No voice is more distinct to me than the deep, insinuating tones of Stephen Mallinder of Cabaret Voltaire. This track was released a year before it all went pear-shaped for Cab Volt on the album “Groovy, Laidback, + Nasty,” so this stands as the last classic Mal track for a long time in my book! I would have never in a thousand years have imagined that I’d one day be hearing him sing a very reverent cover of the ultimate Johnny Cash classic, but it works for me like a fiend. What I would not give for an album of this sort of material from him.

Steve Mack was at this time the new American singer for That Petrol Emotion, whom I had not yet paid too much attention to yet. By the time that “Chemicrazy” was released, that would finally start to change, but his turn on the early Cash cut here is fine and was a good entry to his style.

One artist that I had quite a bit of solo material from was Pete Shelley, who kept the “r” in his first name for this divergence far afield from the worlds of synth pop or pop-punk. Shelley’s vocal delivery never quite made a perfect fit with the genres that he had established himself with. What made those records striking was how out of place he sounded in those settings. Not so here! His tenor is exceptionally well-suited to country music and I have to say that like Mallinder, I’d go for a whole album like this from him.

Other singers who were perhaps just waiting for country music to swallow them up were Tracey + Melissa Beehive from VOB. Their honey-soaked vocals were only a hair’s breadth from marking them as country music queens to start with, so they fell into this early Cash classic with almost no effort being expended at all. Their harmonies were just lovely and this sits as my definitive version of this retelling of the story of the Arkansas flood that made a lasting impression on Cash as a child.

The one poor fit that manifested on this album, was having Mary Mary of Gaye Bikers On Acid tackling the novelty tune “Boy Named Sue.” The song was already fairly campy and Mary Mary shreds the accelerator on the floorboard of restraint, lending the song a heavy-handed delivery that lay there inert. Besides, if they needed more Grebo on this album, they would have done well to have gotten Clint Mansell of PWEI instead, who brought more intriguing subtlety [relatively speaking] to their cover efforts.

If they really wanted to give the song some lateral, left-field delivery, wouldn’t it have been far more intriguing to have had Marc Almond cover this track instead? Having an effeminate man like him singing this would have re-approriated the song’s context dramatically, and I’m sure Marc could have arrived on a delivery that would have had me thinking about the song in a whole new way. Not unlike the lyrical thrust of the song itself which undergoes a similar re-think after Sue battles his dad. As it was, Almond closed out the album well with the song from which the album’s title was taken. No one would complain, but now that I have articulated the thought of Almond covering “Sue” instead, I can’t help but think of a “what if” scenario that lends this album a touch of the bittersweet.

There would be other Johnny Cash tribute albums in the years to come. Primarily at the time when the singer’s fading health coupled with his straightforward albums of material with Rick Rubin had raised his profile considerably at the end of his life. But those tribute albums are just the sort of tony or exploitative tribute albums that give the whole exercise a bad name. Better that efforts like this are out there to redeem the not completely unworthy notion of a tribute album.

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REDUX: Humpe Humpe – The 3 Of Us

July 1, 2014

Warner Bros. Records | US | 12

Warner Bros. Records | US | 12″ | 1985 | 0-20429

Humpe Humpe: 3 of us US 12″ [1985]

  1. 3 Of Us [Fun Girl 3 Mix]
  2. 3 Of Us [4 Your Club Mix]
  3. Yama-Ha
  4. 3 Of Us [Instrumental Dub]

This was a record that blindsided me at the local Peaches back in the day, while perusing [gasp!] domestic 12″ singles. I had never heard of the artist in question, but when I examined the record more closely, I saw two names that held some sway; co-producers Gareth [John Foxx] Jones and Roma [Laurie Anderson] Baran. Sold, American! That was enough data to have me part with my $4.98 easily enough. When I played it, I discovered it to be a perky synth pop ode to the fun of a mènage á trois with two people that the singer both loved.

The minimal synth bed was enhanced with lots of percussive filigree that was pretty far from the mark of what ca. 1985 synth-pop sounded like, thankfully! No gated drum sound here. I liked the B-side, “Yama-Ha,” even more. It was as delightful an homage to the makers of the dreaded DX7 as could be imagined, considering my antipathy for their hardware. The single was an intriguing harbinger of things to come, and it appeared to my eyes that Warner Bros. was pulling a German licensee into the American market just for my ears only. Even though the sisters Humpe [Inga + Anete] sang in English, the clear-eyed qualities they brought to the music, marked this as too European for those dreaded days of the Reaganoid middle eighties.

I eagerly awaited the album that this single trumpeted, but for the subsequent 29 years, I have yet to see a copy of the titular “Humpe Humpe” album. Only now, when hitting can I see that it ever made it out of the pressing plants here. What I did manage to buy was the “Swimming With Sharks” follow up album, which saw the sisters switching WEA arms from Warner Bros. to Atlantic. The CD I have of that title is a domestic pressing [!] but it is simply credited to “Swimming With Sharks” and I managed to grab an import CD3 of the single “Careless Love” in a used bin somewhere. That album was produced by Swiss tönmeister Armand Volker who managed to rope Thomas Fehlmann into the proceedings for this far from avant garde music. But that was years before I even became aware of Palais Schaumburg or even Marathon. My friend Ron Kane extols the Inga Humpe “Planet Oz” solo album as produced by Trevor Horn, but I’ve yet to find a copy. [postscript – Ron Kane found and sent me a copy some years ago!]

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