A collection of posts from my original weblog...or the inscrutable rantings of a madman...could be both...

Monday, July 28, 2003

Back again, kids!! I won't have the new Super Furries record for a couple of weeks yet, so..onto other stuff..

In the Hope I Die Before I Get Old category...Sir Michael Jagger has officially observed his 60th birthday..talk about a "sleepy London Town"...I can't even imagine him sitting there amongst the turmoil in 1968, picturing himself a multi-millionaire and *knighted*, fer feck's sake!! Well, he's survived the near-break-up of the band he helped found, Altamont, the death of brilliant (and troubled) original guitarist Brian Jones, disco, the punk explosion and a couple of marriages. He hasn't managed to side-step irrelevance quite so gracefully--resurrecting his war-horse of a band every so often for a lucrative tour, mainly for the ageing baby-boom generation to try and rock out the way they did in '72, and for the young'ins to try and get a taste of "the bad boys of rock-n-roll" in their natural environs. Unfortunately, they've become enshrined in the various press reports and rumours flying around their camp...Keith Richards' heroin addiction, the "naked lady in a rug" episode (actually Marianne Faithfull) from their 1967 run-in with Sgt. Pilcher and the English drug squad, the debauchery aboard their private jet for the '72 American tour, Jagger and David Bowie allegedly caught in bed by Bowie's ex-wife Angela, and on and on. So much so, that it nearly overshadows the Stones' music sometimes. In light of this, I'm going to attempt to list my five favourite Stones' tunes (with a Schizoid Man tip-o-the hat to M.A.D. and Cheek):

1) Jumpin' Jack Flash (1968) ~ The first fruits of the '68 sessions with uber-producer Jimmy Miller (Traffic, Family) was a "back-to-the-blues/rock" track, after the disappointing response that greeted their full-length flirtation with psychedelia, "Their Satanic Majesties Request", in late 1967. They convened in Olympic Studios and conjured up this near-perfect, riff-oriented rocker that put them once again at the fore-front of the radical sect of the counter-culture, managing to capture and distill '68s turmoil with a combination of Charlie Watts' signature solid beat, Keef's and Jones' chugging guitar riffs and Jagger's urgent/laid-back vocals. The lyrics alternate between the frightening, furious imagery of the verses and the positive laid-back chorus ("But it's all night now/in fact it's a gas..") It marked the moment when the psychedelic counter-culture was starting to implode from it's own excesses and make The Stones it's Dark Princes of 1969, a role which they would relish, then regret--and also featured Jones' last full performance as an original member of the group.

2) 2,000 Light Years From Home (1967) ~ A stand-out track on what many consider to be the worst of their 60s oeuvre, "Their Satanic Majesties Request", it takes the space theme of Pink Floyd's Interstellar Overdrive and fleshes it out to become an aural sci-fi novel. Radio static, plucked piano strings and eerie mellotrons provide the setting, and Jagger's lyrics fill in the rest ("Bell Flight 14 you now can land/See you on Aldebaran...")..the clincher is the chorus, though: It's so very lonely/You're 2,000 light years from home..."--and they somehow make you *feel* far from Earth and the distance and the loneliness. I believe they made a promo film for "2,000 Light Years.." with black-lights and The Stones in their psychedelic finery--a flower-power moment that wouldn't last.

3) Rocks Off (1972) ~ There's too many great snippets on Exile On Main Street, their double-album blues-n-stuff opus from 1972--I could never list them all. "Rocks Off" is, very possibly, my favorite song on all of "Exile.." and one of the best album-openers ever. The opening riff (courtesy Richards) and Jagger's slowed-down "Oh yeeeeah!" are burned into my memory from listening to it so much. Watts' drum fills are ass-kickin' and the mix is deliberately muddy, like an old blues record--but that's the sound they were going for..they felt old, even in the early 70s, especially after their friends (and only rivals) The Beatles had split two years previously. They had relocated to France, as tax exiles from Britain--and indulged in whatever vices they could. The result of those sessions was "Exile..", a druggy, disturbed look at their lives at that point, focused through a dirty, grimy lens. They even return to psychedelia for a break in the middle of "Rocks Off" (the "..hypnotised" bit) before the raunch-rock knocks it back out again. "..Kick me like you did before/I can't even feel the pain no more...". Amen brothers and sisters.

4) When The Whip Comes Down (1978) ~ A sort-of obscure track from their 1978 "come-back" record (and the second with rookie Stone Ron Wood), Some Girls. The lyrics are Jagger's depraved story of a small-town gay guy who moves to N.Y.C. and gets what he's looking for--it's like a gender-reversed "Venus In Furs" for the squares. This tune could have been a lame joke on Jagger's part..but it's the buzz-saw guitars and Watts to the rescue again...clearly they were attempting to "out-punk" the punks, and they nearly succeed, but for Jagger's prancing. I think they were trying to release a somewhat cleaned-up version of their infamous "Cocksucker Blues" single from 1970--the one they delivered to Decca when they were told they needed one more 'A'-side to fulfill their contract. Needless to say, it never took up space in the shops.

5) Love In Vain (1969) ~ The centerpiece of their 1969 album, Let It Bleed, it's a cover of a tune by mysterious Delta bluesman, Robert Johnson. Mick & Co. don't handle it with any of the panache of Johnson--but their mutant version brings out the heartache and longing in the lyrics, especially Mick Taylor's slide riffs. "Love In Vain" would become a staple of their live shows throughout the early 70s--but I feel the definitive version was captured by Jimmy Miller in Olympic Studios in 1969.

...and as a bonus for Sir Jagger..I asked Flaming Pixie what her all-time favourite Stones track is..and she replied with:
Paint It, Black (1966) ~ This is one of my favourite ones, too. Brian Jones reportedly spent days learning the sitar, just so he could lay down the riff for this tune--then barely touched it again. It was worth the effort. The sitar, along with Watts' pounding beat and Jagger's sneering vocal, seemed like a warning in the midst of the heady spring/summer of 1966. "I see the girls walk by/dressed in their summer clothes/I have to turn my head/until my darkness goes..." screams Jagger, as if he's going mad, then reels himself back in...until the finale..."I wanted to see it painted, painted, painted..painted black..I want to see the sun, blotted out from the sky..". The Stones started to take their roles as the "anti-Beatles" very seriously--and at this point, their karma was still relatively good, but a few years down the road........

..and just a small correction from my last post...I stated that At The Drive-In were based in California--they were actually based in El Paso, Texas (Cheers to ...Trail Of Dead from the Flaming Lips BBS for notifying me of that) Alright, musos--I'm outta here!!

Thursday, July 17, 2003

Arrrrrrrgh! Half of my post was erased yesterday..so I'll try and continue where I left off. Where was I? Oh yes, The Mars Volta. They combine a progressive element (odd time signatures, extended jams) with punk hallmarks (buzzsaw guitars, faster tempos)--and they pull it off fairly well--several of the tracks are over six minutes, but still retain a sense of urgency and straight-ahead riffing. The vocals have a proggy quality about them and even at times, remind me of (hipsters, cover your eyes) Freddie Mercury's mid-70s operatics with Queen. The tunes feature strange lyrics, which make you scratch your head and wonder what they're on about..much like Jon Anderson's or Peter Gabriel's sprawling themes. It's a bit difficult what to make of this "pronk" stuff--but I credit them with trying something novel amongst all the copycat bands around. Over-three-minute punk tracks haven't been attempted, in my knowledge, since Television's Marquee Moon record in 1977.

I was checking out the latest issue of Under The Radar magazine, and they had a feature on the "shoegazer" genre--you know, bands from England..usually one-word band names with a vowel (as my man C-Dog used to say)...Ride, Lush...and others, like Chapterhouse and Slowdive--and of course, the kings (and queens) of 'em all, My Bloody Valentine. At the end of the feature was a section which (a bit dubiously) pointed out some "shoegazer revival bands" (their words). One group caught my attention, Longwave, from New York City--though I mistook them for an English band. On a whim, I decided to pick up their full-length debut, The Strangest Things. The record is decent, but not the psychedelic, dizzying, swirly trip that I expected. They do offer a shoegaze-type atmosphere on some tracks, like the album opener, Wake Me When It's Over and The Ghosts Around You, but others sound like The Strokes coming down off of a mescaline and whiskey binge, a little more trippy, a little less sleazy--but The Strokes nonetheless. This isn't surprising, considering Longwave are from New York--and they even thank The Strokes in their liner notes--still, it gives "The Strangest Things" a bit of a schizoid feel, like they couldn't decide if they were a neo-sleaze band or disciples of Kevin Shields. The production is crisp, thanks to Dave Fridmann (Mogwai, The Flaming Lips, The Delgados), so it's a good-sounding record, but hopefully they'll resolve the Jekyll & Hyde direction of the group by the next one. They've got potential to beat the sophomore slump and hone their sound at the same time. For now, though, while not exactly spearheading a shoegazer revival, Longwave have a pretty credible debut on their hands.

Speaking of the mighty M.B.V., Pitchfork Media is reporting that leader Kevin Shields, drummer Colm O'Coisoig (fresh from his stint working with Hope Sandoval) and guitarist/singer Bilinda Butcher have got back together to finish tracks from their magnum opus, 1991's Loveless. Bassist Debbie Goodge has declined to join the three. Supposedly, they shelved five tracks because of the mammoth recording schedule and never returned to finish them when the band all but disintegrated after the tour to support the album. According to the story, there is an M.B.V. boxed set due at the end of the year, where an expanded Glider EP will include the five unreleased tracks. Kevin Shields has also scored an upcoming Bill Murray film--and an M.B.V. track is included on the soundtrack also. Is this the long-awaited reunion? Could be...I still wouldn't hold my breath...

I have a copy of the expanded Electric Warrior, the seminal glam/psych/folk 1971 album by T. Rex, released a few months ago by Rhino Records and Reprise Records (T. Rex's original U.S. distributor). This edition includes several bonus tracks, including a radio interview that leader Marc Bolan did to promote "Electric Warrior" and most of the singles from that era ("Hot Love", "Woodland Rock"). The packaging is excellent--and they've even included a miniature replica of the poster of Bolan that was issued with the first pressing of the L.P. in '71..and the psychedelic graphics of Bolan and bandmate Mickey Finn, by famed design group Hipgnosis. The re-master job is great, and easily surpasses the original CD issue by Warner Brothers from the early 90s. And the music? "Electric Warrior" was the sixth full-length effort from Bolan & Co. and the third with Finn on board (Steve 'Peregrin' Took had left after 1969's "Unicorn"). It was the first in which Bolan plugged in with his Strats and Les Pauls and really "went electric" with the group. It had an impact with fans in England, and within a couple of months of the record's release, they were one of the top bands in their native country. In fact, the English music press had got to calling them "the first superstars of the 70s". "Electric Warrior" contains Bolan's best tunes ever...and they influenced a lot of bands even twenty years later...the rollicking Jeepster, the gentle Girl, the funky and vaguely psychedelic Planet Queen..and of course, the perennial favorites Bang A Gong (Get It On) and Cosmic Dancer. Unfortunately, Bolan would never equal "Electric Warrior" in both scope and quality--he got close with 1972's The Slider...but after, he dissolved the band and moved to the U.S., and his records failed to capture the charm and beauty of "Warrior"--Bolan merely wrote his odd lyrics and turned the volume up more on albums like "Bolan's Zip Gun" and "Dandy In The Underworld", and tragically died in 1977, while being energized out of his doldrums by the punk bands making an impact at that time. Still, this re-issue shows T. Rex at their high-water mark, when they could do no wrong.

...and finally, next week is the release of the brand-new Super Furry Animals record, Phantom Power (also the name of a Tragically Hip album from a few years ago)--I should be getting a copy courtesy of My Dearest Flaming Pixie, so I can review that when it arrives---"Thanks" to Pixie for that!! O.K., musos--I'll be back soon, got tons of more stuff to get to--keep 'em spinnin!!