Sunday, 22 November 2009

BIJOU PHILLIPS - I'd Rather Eat Glass

The daughter of John Phillips of the Mamas and Papas (about whom plenty could be said, given some past revelations, but now isn't the time) Bijou Phillips is actress. At other times, she’s a model. When neither of these, she’s been a wild child and your average Google search would suggest she’s someone who’s keen on taking her clothes off. Lesser known facts about Bijou include her abilities as singer-songwriter, which so far have yielded just this one album. ‘I’d Rather Eat Glass’, produced by ex-Talking Heads man Jerry Harrison, is a mixed bag. As the title suggests, it’s quite spiky around the edges, though essentially most of it fits neatly into the rock-pop mould. …And yeah, I’m pretty sure you’re thinking a model/actresses album is some kind of vanity project, but don’t dismiss this, as Bijou has a really strong voice and more than enough talent to make this work.

The opening track ‘Hawaii’ instantly grabs your attention. The guitar riff is a little off centre and in a tuning which seems a step away from the norm. Sadly, I’m not a musician, so I can’t elaborate on that, but it’s a great way to get things started. The alternative pop-rock seems in keeping with a large chunk of the album’s material, but just when you think you know where it’s going, it breaks into an odd calypso-ish break.The guitars are turned up for ‘I Own You’, which is very chorus driven. You’ve heard this all so many times before, but somehow it still retains its charm. Similarly as rocky, but delivered with a quirky vocal, ‘I Never Shot The President’ starts with attitude and then refuses to let go. ‘Little Dipper’ is a stand-out ballad, with a piano led arrangement and probably one of the most heartfelt vocal deliveries this album has to offer, telling a tale of childhood visits to the protagonist’s mother’s house. It stands out, in part, due to a contrast with the spiteful edge present on most of these songs. ‘I Am A Mountain’ seems at first to be in a similar style to ‘I Own You’, but then during the between-verse breaks, the guitars are quite thrashy.

‘When I Hated Him (Don’t Tell Me)’ was the lead single and it’s not difficult to see why. Its radio-friendly angst fit the late 90s model of strong female singers, after Alanis Morissette’s ‘Jagged Little Pill’ took over the world and seemingly opened doors for dozens of people to bare their souls. At first listen, this may feel a little drawn out at over six minutes, but it’s a slow burner and the addition of gospel style backing vocals for the last couple of choruses is a nice touch. ‘Breakfast’ provides good closure, being acoustic based, allows the listener to wind down a little after some of the sharper edged stuff.

I’ve had this in my personal collection for a while now, having bought it purely on the strength of a couple of really positive reviews, without hearing a note. In short, I still can’t recommend it highly enough and most of the people I’ve played it to feel the same way. If you’re out there and those Natalie Imbruglia albums are just that little bit too sugary for you, you know where to look next. This could be a genuinely overlooked gem from the tail end of the last century.

September 2007 (some tweaking in Nov '09)

Friday, 20 November 2009

MARILLION - Somewhere Else

It's only fair, before we begin, that I tell you how much I love this band. It may be unfashionable, but I’m not one of those people who hold them up as some sort of middle-aged-but-still-trying-to-be-cool joke. I genuinely think they’re great. As a rule, their greatness far outweighs their faults. Even when, in the past, they’ve released albums I’ve not been so keen on, there have always been moments which truly stand out.

‘Somewhere Else’ really breaks the mould. The bad bits are bad. The average bits are average and, to be honest, the good bits are, just so…average. For a band who’ve often given it their all and been a band still capable of surprise some twenty-five years into their career, this album represents a band on auto-pilot; a band who, at best, sound somewhat pale when compared to their previous two outings (the epic and dark ‘Marbles’ and the surprisingly contemporary sounding ‘Anoraknophobia’). ‘Somewhere Else’ sounds like songs fashioned from bits of leftovers with some bleak lyrics, mismatched with some poor attempts at chorus writing.

The opening track, ‘The Other Half’ promises so much, with its big sound working from a rather Beatles-y loop. It’s a slow-burning opening track which leads the listener into thinking this will be an atmospheric journey, kind of like a familiar friend but with a new slant. It’s after this that things go awry, when the first single, ‘See It Like A Baby’ emerges from the speakers. The verses are full of unimaginative clich├ęs about trying things for the first time, which become almost unbearable when Steve Hogarth utters the line ‘taste it like you’ve never tasted it before’; a line which no matter how many times I hear it, I expect him to be endorsing Cadbury’s Flake. No thanks. Things aren’t saved from despair when the chorus presents itself as ‘See it like a baby (x4)’. Is this really the work of a man who has been a songwriter for some three decades or maybe more? Is it the work of a man who has written things of a poetic nature in the past? I have trouble believing it myself.

‘Thankyou Whoever You Are’ sounds like something Marillion binned at the demo stage on previous attempts and then dragged out in desperation to pull this album up to ten songs. Musically, it’s more than competent, but sounds very much like a composite of previously released Marillion songs. I kind of hoped that lyrically, something would save this from being mediocre, but again, witness the chorus: ‘Thankyou whoever you are (x4)’. I could point out that thank you is two words but that’d be pedantic.
Before the album was released, the song ‘Most Toys’ was touted as a groundbreaking number in the Marillion cannon. It was supposedly the fastest, heaviest thing the band had ever recorded with [quote] Ian Mosely finally getting to drum like he’s in System Of A Down. In reality, that’s not true. It’s slightly tougher sounding than a lots of the band’s previous outings, but certainly not that much faster – not really any faster than, say, ‘Hooks In You’ or ‘Separated Out’, and as for the System Of A Down drumming comparison…that’s laughable. The chorus again is a one-liner; I wish they’d not tried writing choruses at all, to be honest. The title track, musically, is one of the albums strongest offerings – sprawling and atmospheric, but the lyrics add little to the over all result and the main hook, again, features too much repetition of one line. ‘A Voice From The Past’ and ‘Last Century For Man’ have a similar feel, but are ultimately forgettable and while ‘No Such Thing’, at first, seems to be on the right track atmospherically, it’s ultimately spoilt by a trippy vocal effect (used by Black Sabbath to far greater effect some thirty-seven years previously on ‘Planet Caravan’) and some spiteful lyrics, including ‘no such thing as a faithful wife’. Thanks for that. That’s lovely.

‘The Wound’ is the album’s other upbeat moment (aside from ‘Most Toys’ which should be swept under the carpet) and here, I’m pleased to say, it’s an improvement. Sure, compared to some of Marillion’s previous great moments it’s average, but compared to most of ‘Somewhere Else’, it’s a step forward. Steve Hogarth is in fine voice, the tune has a rock edge which feels natural, rather than forced, as it does on ‘Most Toys’. It’s the closest ‘Somewhere Else’ comes to representing how good a band Marillion can be. The rock bits are balanced by an atmospheric mid-section which reminds me of late-90s ‘dotcom’ era Marillion. By this point though (track 8 on a ten track CD), it’s really not enough to save face, particularly after ‘See It Like A Baby’ and ‘Most Toys’. Closing the album is ‘Faith’. As a song in an almost finished form, this has been kicking around for some time. It’s a gentle acoustic-based affair, somewhat reminiscent of The Beatles’ ‘Blackbird’. Its simple arrangement is one of its strengths. Maybe that’s why I preferred the earlier performances without the brass section. Even though this is one of the rare moments of ‘Somewhere Else’ I enjoyed, it’s hard not to feel just a little let down when a ten song outing, which took years to make, features something most of us were familiar with from what now feels like so long ago.

To be honest, ‘Somewhere Else’ is by far the worst album in the Marillion catalogue to date and even as a huge fan, I can’t bring myself to recommend it to anyone. I’d go as far as to say that although this isn’t the first time Marillion have left me disappointed, it’s the first time they’ve let me down to such a degree that I’m actually embarrassed by at least half of this album. Since even the live shows to support it were really dull, I find myself wondering if this is a temporary creative blip, or whether ‘music’s best kept secret’ has finally burned out.

September 2007

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

GREGG ALEXANDER - Intoxifornication

It’s probably fair to say that if you heard Gregg Alexander or were aware of his work in the early 90s, you almost certainly discovered him by accident. This seems a pity as this, his second solo album, is a decent record. Not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but like Prince (who seems an obvious influence on bits of the album), sometimes it’s the flaws which make it more interesting.

Alongside a handful of tunes featured in different form on ‘Michigan Rain’ (Gregg’s incredibly rare debut), this sophomore album features some new material. Pop-rock drum loops mixed with rock guitars provided the basis for the smut-driven ‘Smokin’ In Bed’ and ‘Electric Girlfriend’, both of which very much set the tone for this album. The title track, as you’d expect, follows suit, but benefits from a punchy guitar riff and a verse with a call and response vocal (it’s amazing what you can do with a ‘hey hey’ if you’re gifted enough), but it’s the pre-chorus which is the real star. Gregg was always meant to be on the radio – and once you hear this, you get the feeling that he presented this track (and indeed the rest of this album) with nothing but arrogant self-belief.

‘I Wanna Seduce You’ is slightly different, in that the slightly alternative leanings present all but vanish; this track is pure 80s chorus-driven goodness. It reminds me of a Def Leppard cast off except it’s better than that. ‘Save Me From Myself’ (one of the songs originally from ‘Michigan Rain’) provides a decent counterpoint to a lot of the more up-beat tunes and has a vocal delivered with anguish. Even though it’s never going to be a classic album, I’d say the only time the album really misses the mark is on the uncredited bonus track (listed on the Japanese pressing as ‘Wear Your Love Beside You’). I’m not sure what happened here, but Gregg’s voice sounds lethargic and the music sounds like it came from a tape which was slightly warped. I suppose it was an uncredited track for good reason.

After the release of the album Gregg co-wrote most of the songs on ‘Arrive All Over You’ the debut album by Danielle Brisebois (who’d provided backing vocals on ‘Intoxifornication’). As you may expect, her album continued where Gregg’s ended with a similar style of power pop, rock and tongue in cheek smut. Unsurprisingly, her album was greeted with similar indifference by the public at large. [At the time of writing, Danielle’s second album remains recorded but unreleased].

I’d owned ‘Intoxifornication’ for a couple of years and was convinced that only a few people in the UK would ever hear Gregg Alexander and then at the tail-end of the 1990s, something unbelievable happened. Out of nowhere, a band named New Radicals appeared. Their single ‘You Get What You Give’ was a monster hit. The vocals felt very familiar, but no, it couldn’t be…could it? Gregg Alexander fronting a hit band? Danielle Brisebois appearing on the album too?! Their time had finally come.

After a fairly short time in the spotlight, Gregg and Danielle retreated once again, but those with a keen eye and ear can spot Gregg writing songs for Ronan Keating, Rod Stewart, Enrique Iglasias and Danielle writing with Natasha Bedingfield, among others.
Good luck with tracking down any of Gregg or Danielle’s albums mentioned here; they’re worth it.

April 2008

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

TANYA DONELLY - Lovesongs For Underdogs

Best known as frontwoman for Belly and sometime member of Throwing Muses, this first solo outing by Tanya Donelly is everything you'd expect. Issued on 4AD recfords in 1997, 'Lovesongs For Underdogs' was generally well recieved. Though not a great deprture from previous work with Belly, it could be said it's a little softer around the edges and possibly Donelly's most accesible work - that said, I can't recall ever hearing any songs from the album on radio in the UK and as often the case with 4AD releases, it would never become a multi-million seller.

Of all the Donelly-related releases, this is probably the one I return to most. While most people love Belly's 'Star', I often found it a little empty in places and just too wistful (always preferring 'King', the ballsier sophomore album). I'd say that this solo debut, sound-wise falls somewhere between the two Belly releases, as it has a decent amount of light and shade. 'Bum' wouldn't sound out of place on that second Belly album; neither would the hard, guitar driven 'Lantern', which despite being one of the rockiest things 'LFU' has to offer, still manages to make Donelly's voice sound fragile.

Over a decade later, 'Pretty Deep' remains a brilliant chorus driven piece of alternative pop-rock, which honestly should have reached a much larger audience. While I can't say I ever heard it on UK radio, it featured prominently in an early episode of 'Dawson's Creek', so there's a chance it was more successful in the US (don't be looking for it on the DVD release, though; for contractual reasons, it's been replaced with something forgettable). 'Swoon', as the title suggests, revisits a dreamier sound explored on Belly's 'Star', and it's here that Donelly is in top, very recognisable vocal form. Something rhythmic in 'Clipped' recalls work with Throwing Muses, though a friendly chorus soon sweeps away any darker feelings. 'Both 'Acrobat' and 'Manna' lean heavily towards acoustic arrangements, providing a decent counterpoint to some of the edgier material here.

'Lovesongs For Underdogs' remains probably Tanya Donelly's masterpiece for me, both in terms of accessibility and variety.Should be fairly easy to find as you read this, even if it's not on catalogue everywhere.

May 2008

MIRAH - Advisory Committee

For the uninitiated, Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn (not to be confused with Mirah, a Danish pop star), is an American singer songwriter. Typically, she uses sparse arrangements and electronic loops. ‘Advisory Committee’ is probably one of her best known releases, though still, at the time of writing this, she’s still very much a cult artist. Most of her work to date has been issued on the K Records label, based in Olympia, WA. Typically of that label, most of Mirah’s work has a lo-fi feel with a DIY ethic.

This album offers fourteen songs in total and feels very much like an album, as opposed to a collection of songs. ‘Cold Cold Water’ was released as a single, though listening might leave you wondering why. There is no obvious hook here, though musically it follows a tried and tested quiet verse, loud chorus formula. Though unlike others who’ve popularised this technique, there aren’t guitars upfront – there are strings, voice and pounding drums. The arrangement seems unstable, almost feeling like its swaying about. A bold move for both opening cut and single and promises a great deal for the album as a whole. ‘Monument’ is gentle folk-pop and it’s here that you’ll probably realise you’ll either love or hate Mirah’s vocal style. There’s an innocence at play, it seems, but thankfully she never adopts that faux little girl squawk that Joanna Newsom seems to think is somehow endearing.

‘After You Left’ is fuzzy. Droning but gentle, there’s something here which makes Mirah sound distant; the track itself sounds like a work in progress that somehow made the finished album. ‘Light The Match’ is largely based around the accordion. Never my favourite instrument, this isn’t so easy to listen to, but balanced against the strings here, this song has very much an Eastern European feel. It doesn’t feel as personal as some stuff here, but maybe that’s the accordion forcing me not to listen quite as closely as I might. ‘Special Death’ features prominent xylophone sounds in the intro, when combined with the light vocal and guitar instrumentation feels quite spooky; it doesn’t quite live up to initial promise, truth told, but the use of strings in the backing arrangement is effective, as it’s so sparse. Not so sure about the Christmassy bells. It’s on stuff like this where Mirah begins to feel like the anti-Feist, offering a sometimes similar gentility, but not always beauty.

‘Recommendation’ is a short track based around a programmed drum loop, very mechanical with a nod towards the early 80s new wave. Lyrically, it seems to concern parting, but the song is over almost as soon as has begun, leaving the listener wanting more. Strangely, for something which doesn’t feel like a focal point, its one of the album’s stand outs. ‘Body Below’, in contrast, is four minutes worth of fuzz guitar and feedback drone, coupled with hushed vocals. Pavement and Sonic Youth may be obvious comparisons (especially the latter), but this experimental approach works well for Mirah here. ‘Mt. St. Helens’ begins with a gentle, almost lullaby vocal. After this, as a listener, it’s expected that the arrangement will pick up a little. It does, in a fashion, as Mirah hammers on her acoustic guitar, which seems to be in a muddy tuning. As always here, I’m left with the feeling that it’s not the music that’s important, but at that point, electronic loops play backwards and are at complete odds with the once hushed voice and acoustic sounds. ‘The Sun’ employs a similar guitar tuning and in this case, it doesn’t seem to work. There might be a nice twee tune in here somewhere, but the off-centre vocal and guitar work obscure the melodies. The end part of the song is electric indie-rock and works better, but it’s not memorable in the way a few of these songs are. ‘The Garden’ employs a similar clunkiness to the end of ‘Recommendation’, but with little else to focus your attention on, this is far to stark for music in the usual enjoyable sense; but yet, it’s not out-there enough to be considered even slightly avant-garde.

‘Advisory Committee’ is not an album I can recommend to everyone, hovering as it does somewhere between twee and discordant. Like some of the works by The Magnetic Fields, though, this could be rewarding to the patient.

November 2007

BAND OF HORSES - Cease To Begin

I’ve just discovered this by accident, after looking on Amazon to see what fans of The Posies had also purchased. I’m a bit of a sucker for power pop and am always on the lookout for something new. First impressions suggest that Band Of Horses mightn’t be the Posies/Jellyfish/Brendan Benson inspired outfit I was looking to stumble upon. Those first impressions leave me feeling a little under-whelmed, as this is, perhaps, just a little too jangle-indie for my requirements.

‘Is There A Ghost’ starts well, mind, since the guitar work has a spaciousness that you might attribute to the likes of Mercury Rev and their penchant for the trippy. Sadly, despite that, once the vocal kicks in, it becomes apparent from early on, the song is lyrically empty and somewhat repetitive. Initial promise soon turns to slight disappointment. ‘The General Specific’ fares better as it comes with bar-room acoustics, piano and handclaps, reminding me somewhat of the more pastel sides of the much under-rated Blind Melon. There’s no obvious hook, but it feels pleasant and given the right setting may well be better than I’ve given it credit for. ‘Marry Song’ has a great, slow-burning arrangement with some retro-sounding keyboards which are the kind favoured by Shawn Smith; there’s an old-fashioned, yet current, feel about this which is clearly the band’s greatest strength – though the vocals are a little country and it takes a while before your ears adjust to the fusion of the styles. If this were on a Wilco album, people would probably hail it as songwriting genius.
‘Cigarettes, Wedding Bands’ showcases a noisier side of Band Of Horses. There are touches of The Posies (but rather more their indie-noise tendencies rather than their Jellyfish one) and the noisier end of Teenage Fanclub. Musically, it’s decent enough with the volume cranked, but those looking for interesting time signatures won’t find them here. ‘Window Blues’ is probably the strongest track, which revisits the slightly country sound and Wilco influence. It’s one of the few occasions where I hear a real heart and passion in the band’s sound and certainly one of the only times the album really hits the spot for me. If I were to recommend a track from the album as a first listen, this would be the one. ‘No One’s Gonna Love You’ is also very strong, but highlights how over the past couple of years, alternative music has become diluted. The tunes and melodies are easily accessible in a Coldplay style and it’s easy to imagine radio play. A few years ago, there’s no way these guys would be part of the Sub Pop stable.

I have a feeling that Band Of Horses might become quite popular if they haven’t already, but aside from occasionally reminding me of a few bands I have a passing liking of, there’s not much to keep me coming back for more. With that, I’m off again to continue my search for some good old fashioned power pop.

November 2007
*Since writing, Band Of Horses have appeared on ‘Later…With Jools Holland’ and could be rather more well known.

TOMMY TUTONE - Tommy Tutone

Originally formed as Tommy and the Tu-tones, but later settling on the shortened Tommy Tutone name, in the US, these guys are probably hailed as one of the great one hit wonders, their anthemic ‘8675309/Jenny’ remaining a popular chorus driven radio favourite.

In the UK, however, it’s likely the name Tommy Tutone will fail to even ignite a faint spark of memory. Power pop connoisseurs among you will probably be familiar with the aforementioned song, (as featured on their sophomore release, ‘Tutone 2’) and maybe even the first couple of albums.

This self-titled debut (originally issued in 1980) on the whole seems to have aged quite well. Unlike some of the bigger power pop bands, like Flamin’ Groovies and Pezband, TT didn’t opt so much for the retro sound and 60s harmonies, appearing at the time to be more in line with their new-wave contemporaries, so that might be why it feels such a surprise to hear something which still has spark.

The lead track and single, ‘Angel Say No’ marries early Cars style rhythm guitar work with a nod to Phil Spector in the drum depot, a catchy enough chorus replete with typical power pop harmonies. At the time it was only a minor hit in the US. You can only wonder why, as it sounds pretty good these days (equal to, or if not better, than a lot of the stuff on the Rhino power pop comps, reviewed elsewhere on this site). Was it a lack of marketing that meant this slipped through the cracks, or was it a saturated market? After all, on the surface, Tutone offer very little that many other bands of a similar ilk were pumping out at the turn of the decade. ‘Cheap Date’ on the other hand, is far less obvious. The time signatures aren’t quite where they seem to be, the finger-clicks and other overdubs add nothing and leaves everything to the chorus, which features vocals which seem a little out. The cod-reggae leanings were very popular with post-punk and new wave bands at this time, but clearly they’re not something which feels natural here.

‘Girl In The Backseat’ is pretty solid. While not living up to the promise of ‘Angel Say No’, still offers a quirkiness reminding me somehow of mid 70s Rick Derringer. While not quite first rate power pop, it has some pleasing guitar work and an unashamed over-egging in the backing vocal department, which proves, while they never had enough courage to go full-on pomp in an Earth Quake style, they were never quite as post-punk as bands like The Real Kids. ‘The Blame’ is a winner. Following on from the slightly poppier feel of ‘Angel Say No’, it’s Tommy Tutone at their best. Here, the balance between catchy song writing, simple musicianship and final arrangement is near perfect.‘Rachel’ is solid also – in the old teen tradition, songs about girls seem to score highly! A similar mix of vocals to the other good stuff here, it’s something these guys should have concentrated on and the handclap overdubs just set things off nicely. ‘Dancing Girl’ is similarly as solid. The guitar sound in the closing part reminds me of Andy Summers on The Police debut, ‘Outlandos D’Amour’ a little.

‘Fat Chance’ dates the album a little, as they attempt the slightly more retro sounding power pop, but the 80s keys and production values make this feel a little fake. Whatever the Flamin’ Groovies special ingredient for making albums sound really 60s was, it’s missing here. Not that they’re musically that similar, but I’m reminded of doo-wop homage ‘In Your Letter’ by REO Speedwagon; it’s probably their ‘well meaning and fun’ ideal which just puts me off.
There’s nothing here as memorable in the long term as ‘8675309/Jenny’ but mostly it’s a solid listen. It’s currently available on CD with ‘Tutone 2’ as a 2-on-1 CD. It might be time to check them out.

October 2007

COYOTE SHIVERS - Coyote Shivers

Canadian-born Francis Coyote Shivers is one of those people whose career never seemed to get off the ground in the traditional sense. In the UK, at least, he’s only really known for playing Berko in the film ‘Empire Records’ and even then, most of his scenes only seem to be in the longer cut of the film. He is, however, of most importance to the final scene, performing the not-quite-anthemic ‘Sugarhigh’ on the record store roof.

What, then, can we say about his self-titled album? Trashy. But is it trashy in a glitzy and cool way like Beat Angels and other post-glam acts, or just plain trash? The hard truth is, well, it’d like to be the former but often ends up falling short. ‘Guilty’ has a rock ‘n’ roll heart which could appeal to fans of Gilby Clarke (ex-Guns n’ Roses) and ‘Happiness Is A Warm Bong’is cool, with a nod toward early Replacements and the previously mentioned ‘Sugarhigh’, so it could be argued the Coyote’s influences are present and correct.

Sadly, the song writing is often lacklustre and the attitude on show doesn’t quite cover up the weaknesses. Of the twelve songs, half of them would have been binned by Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson at the demo stage. ‘If’ kind of reminds me of The Stooges, but Shivers doesn’t quite have the charm of Iggy Pop to make it truly work. Pure adrenalin makes ‘Bisexual Girl’ stand out, provided you can get past the lyrics, which hover somewhere between a joke and vulgar.

Despite a couple of stand out tracks, this is one of those albums which comes with little to recommend it, especially when so many others out there do this kind of thing so much better. Why, then, do I play this some days and almost connect with its disposable non-sentiments?

Worth it for ‘Sugarhigh’, but generally, you’re better off with Coyote’s ‘1/2 A Rock ‘n’ Roll Record’ EP, which boasts the genuinely great ‘Plus One’, and mercifully, the show’s over in less than half the time.

September 2007

Monday, 16 November 2009

VARIOUS ARTISTS - Come Out & Play: American Power Pop I (1975-77)

I kid you not when I tell you this selection of pure gold nuggets and curiosities from the USA’s first wave of post 60s power pop makes for pretty much essential listening. Taking their cues from The Byrds and Big Star, a whole suave of bands paid homage to their heroes and opened new musical avenues in the process.

Kicking off with (now) well known ‘Shake Some Action’ by Flamin’ Groovies, you might know what to expect. There are plenty of 60s influences here and while possibly one of the best known tracks to be included as part of this collection, it’s not the best by any means. That said, it’s still good and very representative of this bands mid-late 70s stuff. ‘Wayside’ by Artful Dodger has a more contemporary 70s feel and much less garage sound. If you don’t know these guys and like Cheap Trick, I have a feeling they’re worthy of investigating. Sadly, to the best of my knowledge (and at the time of writing this) their three albums are out of print and have never been issued on CD, so that’s about all I can say about them. I’d really love to hear more, so if anyone can shed any light, that’d be great.

I was never a great fan of Billy Squier, but have often thought I should check out his old band Piper, purely on the strength of their song here. ‘Can’t Wait’ is great pop, but as you might expect, has rockier guitars than some of the other bands here. It took me quite a while to appreciate how good this track is, as I’ve never been especially fond of Squier’s vocals, but its quirky musical arrangement has a complexity which makes it stand out more than some. That’s all relative though; don’t expect kitchen sink complexity of a Todd Rundgren standard. This CD offers two cuts by The Nerves, fronted by future Plimsouls man Peter Case. The first, ‘Hanging On The Telephone’ will be familiar to all, having been covered by Blondie who made the song a hit, despite not changing its arrangement in the slightest. The almost punky energy still makes this two minute song as vital as it was back in the late 70s. The second Nerves track, ‘When You Find Out’, is pure straight-up 60s R&B. Wearing influences clearly on their sleeves, this honest tribute to The Zombies and The Yarbirds is equally essential listening.

‘The Summer Sun’ by the almost legendary Chris Stamey is also very strong. It’s another sixties inspired song (as with most of this wave of power pop), with a strong chorus and vocal melodies. The over all arrangement doesn’t veer at all from very familiar territory. For a better example of what this man can do, check out ‘(I Thought) You Wanted To Know’ from ‘Shake It Up: American Power Pop Volume II’ [reviewed elsewhere on this site]. Cheap Trick, like the Flamin’ Groovies, will require no introduction. ‘Southern Girls’ is from their ‘In Color’ album; a classic of the power pop genre – maybe even a bona-fide classic in its own right.
I must be missing something here. I’ve read in a few places before that The Scruffs’ album ‘Wanna Meet The Scruffs’ is a classic. Based on the track here, The Scruffs leave me feeling somewhat underwhelmed. Musically, it sounds fine – a little Big Star, a little Pezband, but vocally it grates. The singer’s voice is strong, but has a slightly odd croony tone, like the vocalist from Prix, but not quite that bad. This is one of the few tracks here which I find myself skipping regularly, alongside The Names, who don’t do much for me for pretty much the same reasons.

Upon its single release, ‘Christi Girl’ by The Flashcubes supposedly wasn’t bought by many people. Some sources have claimed that it could be found in bargain bins in many of New York’s record stores. The song itself isn’t that bad. It has more than a nod to Gary Puckett rather than Big Star, which makes me think that had anyone actually heard it at the time, it may have reached a slightly broader audience than some power pop releases. Having missed out on success the first time around, The Flashcubes re-united in 1993 and recorded new material. You can read more about them at their official website.

After a twee intro, ‘All Kindsa Girls’ by The Real Kids is a cult classic. Showing the energy of the Flamin’ Groovies but less of an obvious sixties influence, this song has a proto-punk energy and as with The Nerves, should appeal to those who never quite understood the classic Ramones raw dumbness. As for this compilations title cut, performed by The Paley Brothers, one can assume they were either deathly serious or going for full sugar-overload with a knowing wink. There are handclaps, Phil Spector inspired glockenspiels, and a general infectiousness that’s as annoying as it is entertaining. It’s like hearing ‘Sugar Sugar’ by The Archies given a dusting down by mid seventies pop genius. I love it. I hate it. I love it.

Closing this compilation is the haunting ‘I Am The Cosmos’ by Big Star man Chris Bell. There’s a definite uneasiness to parts of this recording. While not obviously bleak like some of the songs from Big Star’s ‘Third’ (recorded after Bell’s departure, interestingly), and despite ringing guitars and a full band arrangement, there’s something in this song that’s a little unsettling It sounds like a man with the world on his shoulders, not quite beautiful, never ugly, always fragile. Not a fist-in-face cry for help, but it comes as no surprise that after leaving Big Star in Alex Chilton’s hands 1972, Bell attempted suicide a few times. He would eventually die in a car accident in 1978. ‘I Am The Cosmos’ is up there with the best of the Big Star stuff and can be easily found elsewhere on the ‘Big Star Story’ compilation CD.

This CD, issued by Rhino in 1993 is now out of print. You owe it to yourselves to try and track one down.

August 2007

MINUTEMEN - Buzz Or Howl Under The Influence Of Heat

You probably know already that Minutemen are legendary among indie-rock and hardcore circles. You’ll probably also know that both Mike Watt and George Hurley went on to form fIREHOSE after the Minutemen’s premature demise. Funny how, like so many other bands from this time and scene, their influence and legend is far greater than the actual sales of their recorded output might suggest.

The band’s early EPs were low budget, noisy affairs. The first full length LP, 'The Punch Line' showcased fifteen songs in approximately eighteen minutes and while the hooks were not always instant, the tightness between the hard, funky bass parts and sharp drum rhythms showed a band who meant business; a band who's technical ability was almost unmatched by their peers. The second full-length, ‘What Makes A Man Start Fires?’ showed a slightly more song-based band, and while the tracks were still short and edgy, some of the melodies have a more conventional approach.

1983’s ‘Buzz Or Howl Under The Influence Of Heat’ follows a similar path. The band have moved on, yet this time around the differences are slight. Some garage rock roots are retained and obviously, the band's funk edges are ineviatable. ‘The Product’ features aggressive guitar work from D. Boon against aggressive drumming by George Hurley. While the sound levels are much clearer than some of the earlier EP recordings, this is still pretty raw, though songwise, not quite matching the band's earlier no-frills approach (equalled only by Wire, particularly on their 'Pink Flag debut). The vocals are primal and almost undecipherable without a lyric sheet. As to why an out of tune jazz trumpet was chosen to flesh out the mix is probably best only known to the band.

‘I Felt Like A Gringo’ is Minutemen at their tightest. D Boon’s guitar playing has a funk that’s only matched in spirit by the earliest Red Hot Chili Peppers performances, perfectly complimented by a quirky time signature and flawless bass playing from Watt. The only down side: in proper Minutemen tradition, it’s over in about a minute and a half. Still, it shows the power of a very intense three-piece outfit. The more garage aspects of their sound are captured on the live recording ‘Cut’, which is centred round D. Boon’s angry guitar sound.
‘Little Man With A Gun In His Hand’ is again tight, but lacking the full-on funk, preferring to focus on the bands jangly rock side, in a similar vein to their contemporaries Husker Du. The upfront bass sound, though, pushes aside any doubt that this is Minutemen. The band’s really tight funk sound returns on ‘Self-Referenced’, where Hurley proves what a superb drummer he can be, with excellent hi-hat and snare work. Mike Watt’s bass is, once again frighteningly good and it’s this style with which he would become hugely influential. Again, like ‘Gringo’, it’s fantastic but all over far too soon.

‘Dream Told By Moto’ is slower, but showcases the potential in this power-trio format. Hearing stuff like this (alongside ‘Self-Referenced’ and ‘Gringo’) it seems like such a shame Minutemen get lumped with the punk tag. Of course, their roots may have been in hardcore, but even this early on in their career, so many other influences are thrown into their sound, ‘Buzz Or Howl’ is really only punk due to its DIY spirit. Even as an eight track EP, ‘Buzz Or Howl’ still contains filler material: ‘Dream Are Free, Motherfucker!’ is just the sound of a band tuning up, with a nod to free jazz, complete with squonks of feedback and ‘The Toe Jam’ feels like a directionless afterthought, albeit brief.

While ‘Buzz Or Howl’ is an interesting snapshot of a band honing their skills, it’s perhaps not the best place for people who are new to Minutemen. For those people, time spent with the following year’s sprawling ‘Double Nickels On The Dime’ may be more beneficial.

‘Buzz Or Howl Under The Influence Of Heat’ is currently available as part of the Minutemen compilation ‘Post Mersh Vol. 2’ which also contains the ‘Project Mersh’ LP.

August 2007

“Let’s get real gone...”

Hello. This is Real Gone.

I've been writing on and off since the mid-nineties. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that I was the only person who would ever give me the complete freedom to write exactly what I wanted, exactly the way I wanted to write it. ...And so, Real Gone was created.

Well, not quite that simply; the initial idea, back in August '07 was to have a fully working, proper brilliant website. That never quite happened. I've been sitting on some of these reviews since then, wondering whether they'll see the light of day. Someone said to me '...why not just get a blog?'; I decided against that initially, since half the world had their stuff on a blog and I was insistent I wanted a 'proper website' with lots of stuff going on...but since that never happened and a lot of time has passed, the Real Gone blog has been created.

If you like it, drop us a line. If you really like it, send us a quid, a couple of dollars, whatever, it'll buy me a Guinness.