Sunday, January 28, 2007

Hot Rats (1969)

"The Gumbo Variations" In which Frank Zappa notably steps forward as owner and operator of an electric guitar (with wah-wah pedal). Or at least, that's the impression with which the longest tracks here would leave you, and that's fine. "The Gumbo Variations" choogles and chatters along in suitably funky fashion. Ditto "Willie the Pimp" and, in its quieter way, "Son of Mr. Green Genes." But don't miss the three lovely short tracks here: the small brilliant glories of "Peaches en Regalia"; the kinder, gentler choogle of "Little Umbrellas"; and the fluid deliberations of "It Must Be a Camel." Everything here is interesting and good to hear. Let's call it a classic.

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Burnt Weeny Sandwich (1970)

"The Little House I Used to Live In" Frank Zappa took his whole enterprise to another level with the sprawling Uncle Meat, but this follow-up, confined to the space of a single vinyl LP, produces a focus that seems to make practically everything glitter: the loopy, charming chamber suites as much as the rockin' proto-prog instrumental workouts. Ian Underwood's playing is fine, and so is violinist Sugarcane Harris's, and so is Zappa's -- and he's not afraid to cut unexpectedly between the live jams and his signature meld, perhaps here reaching its peak, of the sound of Raymond Scott and Igor Stravinsky tap-dancing on xylophones between the horse races. One of his best.

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Friday, January 26, 2007

The Marshall Mathers LP (2000)

"Kim" Well, here's one to get the people shouting, usual suspects and strange bedfellows alike lining up with or opposed to one another in vociferous praise or condemnation. Nobody's gonna budge an inch when it comes to this guy. At least for the duration of this marvelous rollercoaster ride, put me in the Big Thumbs Up column. A lusty, raw, unfiltered, and utterly focused adolescence directs the action on several levels at once, working them like a panoply of jugglers in a street parade with bowling pins. Now this adenoidal force of nature chants. Now it hits the hook of an irresistible blast of melody. Now it's addressing a wry aside to you. Now it's talking in character. Now another character. It rhymes. It puns. It's funny. Which is fine and good -- entertaining, like. But then, in a flash, high points hurtle out somewhere beyond the rings of Saturn. "Stan": a morality tale told with relish. "Kim": a riveting hellish homicidal fantasy. Note the use of the nouns "tale" and "fantasy." Nobody was harmed in the recording of any of these tracks, but a lot of times you're pretty sure a crime has been committed. And perhaps it has -- after all, a sticker on the cover gives fair warning.

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Saturday, January 20, 2007

B.R.M.C. (2001)

"Salvation" Kids these days. Take this California trio, routinely accused of knocking off Jesus and Mary Chain (themselves knocking off the Beach Boys, of course) as "Brit-pop wannabe's." How's that again? Who has the identity problem? While following releases and hindsight have made the case on other grounds for an identity crisis on the part of BRMC (or Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, or whatever they're called) as broad as the Grand Canyon, there's not anything here to undermine anyone's appreciation of the songs and performance ... though, admittedly, it must now overcome the band's troublesome prowess as mimics -- of goth, of, yes, Jesus and Mary Chain and its shoegaze progeny, of old-time bluesmen, of Rock Stars. But I believe final judgment will hold that the point here is not just the considerable power mustered, nor its deft deployment, but how matched it is by the unexpected, wry wisdom on matters of redemption, eternity, and mercy. Whether deliberate or by accident, the black and white beauty of it is remarkable.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Rated R (2000)

"Feel Good Hit of the Summer" The last time I saw a truly great show was Queens of the Stone Age on the last Saturday night of an October, touring on this. I met my friends late, or we all dribbled in. People were wearing masks and costumes. The opening band was OK. Waiting for the headliner, the floor steadily filling as people moved forward and jockeyed for position, I got into an argument with a friend who told me he was going to vote for George W. Bush. I couldn't even begin to imagine. After ten or fifteen minutes of it a mutual friend stepped in and judiciously endorsed Dubya's social security privatization scheme. Back then, Republicans still talked about "privatization" because it still tested well. First guy: Furthermore, Al Gore too socialist. My whole world turned upside down. The millennium -- it was here. Then the Queens came on and opened with "Nicotine, valium, vicodin, marijuana, ecstasy and alcohol"; the aroma of baking opened up around us on all sides with hippie-style sharing of wares. The roar emanating stageward pounded as seductive as it was bruising. All you had to do was feel it. Dancing desperately to the beguiling, insistent throb immediately became the order of the night. The joy felt visceral and deep-red, as if one had just survived a disaster, something in the desert. Something that came from the desert.

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Sunday, January 14, 2007

Marquee Moon (1977)

"See No Evil" Anyone familiar with England's Dreaming by Jon Savage understands the case for the punk-rock bands of mid-'70s New York City actually being the horse that pulls the cart of London's Sex Pistols/Clash punk-rock. Don't get the cart in front of the horse. The Ramones came out in 1976, the obvious black leather monolith for much of what followed in the hallowed year of 1977, and that was known as punk-rock from the first gleam. Not to mention the Dolls or Patti Smith. But the question no one has yet answered well remains: What's freakin' in common about the rest of them? You tell me: Blondie, the aforementioned Dolls and Patti Smith, Richard Hell, Talking Heads. Perhaps most mysterious of all, Television -- hippies who took on the guise of a '60s garage-rock band, even as they made a point of punting away any and all sign of the 1-2-3-4 attack, with or without three-minute pop sensibilities, favored by their many peers. This stuff is way, way closer to the Dead's "Dark Star" or Pharoah Sanders's Karma than "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue." (Another question that has occurred to me: Does the band's name derive from Tom Verlaine's initials?)

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Saturday, January 13, 2007

Love Wars (1983)

"Love Wars" A very sweet and often stirring dialogue between a twenty-something married couple. The 1-2-3-4 vinyl first side attack of title song, "Express Yourself," "Baby I'm Scared of You," and "T.K.O." performs a kind of psychological onomatopoeia and the love knockout has happened to you in tandem with the performers. Then they rhyme that title on the side 2 kickoff "A.P.B." It's playful that way, often charming. After the lovely overture "Love Wars," come increasingly open, sometimes sexualized, always brave vulnerabilities-powered statements of views between two sensitive adults who care a lot for one another. The kinds of discussions and feelings and views found in any serious, mature relationship. So if you ever hear someone call this "for adults only," don't be confused. This one is solid all the way through.

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Chic-ism (1992)

"Chic Mystique" I am likely branding myself a hopelessly myopic Chic fan, but I found this return from the group's long hiatus on a par with practically any of their releases save the very best (Risque, Real People). (I'd have to rank the solo Rodgers I've heard up there as well, and never did get a chance to hear the Edwards solo). Maybe that was just anticipation? I don't think so. Nile Rodgers, Bernard Edwards, and the rest of the crew prove themselves greater than the sum of their parts. Pure chemistry reigns here. Building on the starched buppie foundation they laid even before the term was common, it's uniformly as dancefloor-ready as it is coiffed and groomed ... except, perhaps, for those who are not myopic fans?

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Sunday, January 07, 2007

The Best of Chic, Vol. 2 (1978-1983)

"26" If you like the first collection, you'll probably like this one more. It nods to a few hidden gems on the better known albums, such as the gorgeous and affecting "At Last I Am Free" from C'est Chic. But it devotes most of its attention to the four albums of the early '80s: Real People, Take It Off, Tongue in Chic, and Believer, none of which produced a hit. While admittedly patchy, each had more high points than low, and it remains fair to call them criminally overlooked. This is incomplete, but it's a fine sampling of music fresh as a shirt from the dry cleaners, crisp and creased and ready to be worn and used well. A night on the town, funny, sophisticated, witty, wry, and dopey by turns. Endless fine moments, bootylicious, danceriffic, hip-shaking, calibah wack in, boodley daken. Nobody sweats outside of gym or bedroom, everyone dances, and they all look very, very good.

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Saturday, January 06, 2007

Dance, Dance, Dance: The Best of Chic (1977-1979)

"Good Times" Personally, I have always had more problem with the louts who shrieked "Disco Sucks" while putting the torch to albums -- which presumably they had purchased? -- than with "disco" itself. Besides, I think of Chic as existing well above and beyond any of that. Giorgio Moroder's four-on-the-floor throbbers seem to me the better example of the disco that was said to suck (but doesn't). Chic came with a lot of rock band trappings, based on superb guitarist Nile Rodgers and supple bassist Bernard Edwards and music played in real time. I know artists like Bob Seger, Tom Petty, Pink Floyd, or Meatloaf are possessed of infinitely more rock gravitas than Chic. But this is the stuff I turn to when I need a lift, and it rarely fails.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Anthology 2 (1965-1968)

"I'm Only Sleeping (Rehearsal)" If the mid-'90s flood of Beatles demos, alternate tracks, live tracks, and other such bootleg-level fare was long overdue and much appreciated, this particular volume likely ranks as the one most were waiting for. Certainly me. Though I had heard some bits and pieces of it over the years, I had never been fan enough to seek it out specifically and spend the money. But I did jump on this fast, and eventually found all my expectations met, even exceeded. High expectations. Eventually. Very, very high expectations. Exceeded.

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