Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Lou Reed and Metallica, "Lulu"

First off, let me acknowledge in advance that this is barely a review.  Everything I said in this post about advance single "The View" applies to the album as a whole.  It sounds like exactly what it is: a sixty-nine year old Lou Reed shouting his decadent-poetry shtick over latter day Metallica sludge-riffing.  Mostly, this post is here because I want my name added to the roll call of those who are known to have sat through the damned thing in its entirety.  Five and a half minutes of "The View" was one thing; just under ninety of the entire album is quite another, and I want my due credit.

Certainly Lulu is uncompromising.  That's not exactly a compliment, mind you: in the annals of rock geekdom, "uncompromising" is mostly used as a euphemism for "unlistenable" where artists that are generally to be respected are concerned.  For example: "Gosh, that Sonic Youth album where they do nothing but mumble over discordant guitar feedback sure is uncompromising."  See how that works?  You get to kind of call it shit and have an out should the cognoscenti eventually declare the stupid thing a work of genius at a later date.

Right, then: Lulu is uncompromising.  It's also shit.  Unlike most of the bellyaching that's permeating so many of the blogs down in blogville, I can scientifically prove it.  Just after I finished my first and last listen to the thing, I opened two different media players on my computer.  On one, I queued up Metallica's Master of Puppets; on the other, Lou Reed's New York, the albums I consider to be each respective artist's high water mark.  I then balanced the volumes of each so both were equally audible.  The resulting cacophony was uncompromising, not to mention unlistenable and pretty much shit.  It was also about a thousand times more entertaining than Lulu.  There's your review, and there's your proof.

EDIT: Want something a bit more specific?  Head on over to Chuck Klosterman's review, which I read after writing my own post, so any similarities in thought are coincidental, blah blah blah.  I've got a bit of a love-hate thing with him, mostly stemming from the fact that I'd like to be as well-paid as he is to do exactly what he does for a living, but he's 100% on target with this one.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Trick Tuesday: Compilations Round-Up

As with many long-running artists, Cheap Trick's catalog is littered with compilations of, oh, let's be polite and call it widely varying quality.  You name it, they've got it: Greatest Hits albums that are missing some if not all of their actual Billboard hits, Best Of albums with multiple selections from Busted, and just plain head-scratchers.  Happily, there are also a couple of good ones along the way; those will be duly saluted even as I shoot their underachieving cousins like skeet.  I'd say that there isn't really one that I'd recommend completely without reservations, and I'd also warn you that it is the province of an obsessed fan to feel exactly that way.

In terms of scope, I'll be discussing all of the band's major US compilations, as well as a good sampling of some prominent '90s imports; by the turn of the century, Sony Music had begun to standardize their archival releases between markets.  As a result, most of what's come out since 1999 or so is more or less the same in every market, give or take a bonus track or two.

Things purposely omitted, by way of saving me a migraine, are as follows:

* Promo Only discs.  There's billions of 'em, going all the way back to the 1978 From Tokyo to You sampler, and I just don't have enough hours in my day to go inter-trolling for track listings for them all.  If you're looking for what rarities might be buried on some of them, leave a comment or email me and I'll do my best to help you out.

* "Truck-Stop" compilations, by which I mean the sort of el cheapo cassettes, and later CDs, more likely to be found in an highway rest area's gift shop than from a traditional music retailer.  Like promos, there have been many of these issued over the years.  Generally speaking, they'll feature one or two hits alongside eight or nine other titles seemingly pulled from a hat, all topped off with a generic album title and a fuzzy, poorly reproduced band photograph on the cover.  Thanks but no thanks, Sony.

* More obscure import-only compilations.  Look, I grant you that it's somewhat possible that, say, Sony Music in Honduras once managed to offer up the perfect Cheap Trick compilation.  Some things, dear readers, were just meant to remain mysteries...unless you feel so strongly about something that's missing from this list that you just need to use the comments box to let me know about it.

* One-off appearances on soundtracks or various artists compilations.  I love Cheap Trick.  They're my favorite band on the planet.  Because I love them so, I don't really want to have to discuss the likes of "Spring Break" or "Up the Creek".  You can call me a hopeless fan-boy for this if you must.

Lastly before we proceed, a word about "hits".  According to Billboard magazine, Cheap Trick placed the following singles on the US Hot 100: "I Want You to Want Me" (#7), "Ain't That a Shame" (#35), "Dream Police" (#26), "Voices" (#32), "Everything Works if You Let It" (#44), "Stop This Game" (#48), "If You Want My Love" (#45), "She's Tight" (#65), "Tonight It's You" (#44), "The Flame" (#1), "Don't Be Cruel" (#4), "Ghost Town" (#33), "Never Had a Lot to Lose" (#75), "Can't Stop Fallin' Into Love" (#12), and "Wherever Would I Be" (#50).  It would stand to reason that the above would form the core of anything billing itself as a Greatest Hits compilation.  Spoiler alert: not a single one of 'em has  them all.

Unless otherwise mentioned, "I Want You to Want Me" is the live version from  At Budokan on all of these compilations, regardless of whether or not I've noted it as such in the track lists.  That's about it for the fine print.  Drum roll, please...

The Greatest Hits (Epic, 1991)
Magical Mystery Tour / Dream Police / Don't Be Cruel / Tonight It's You / She's Tight / I Want You to Want Me / If You Want My Love / Ain't That a Shame / Surrender /  The Flame / I Can't Take It / Can't Stop Fallin' Into Love / Voices

Japan added a second disc: Hello There / On Top of the World / ELO Kiddies / Hot Love / Big Eyes / Clock Strikes Ten / California Man / Stop This Game / I Know What I Want / Just Got Back / The Doctor / High Roller / Gonna Raise Hell / Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace / Day Tripper

2003 Remaster added a bonus track: Clock Strikes Ten

Largely reviled by serious fans for its pop-centric lack of scope, this moldy oldie is mostly a victim of the passage of time.  Thirteen songs clocking in at just under 55 minutes was par for the course in 1991 terms; of course, now it seems hopelessly skimpy.  Still, there's something to be said in this one's favor: when it comes to including the band's actual chart hits, in the exact versions that were hits, The Greatest Hits still has just about the highest concentration of them in one place.  Obviously, the Japanese two-disc'er presents a much more rounded view of the band's career, but good luck finding one for less than triple digits on the used market.  Personally I never have, but I can console my wounded collector's ego with the fact that I do own the uber-rare vinyl pressing, issued once in Holland and nowhere else.

The Collection (Castle Music UK, 1991)
Daddy Should Have Stayed in High School / I Want You to Want Me (*studio version*) / Clock Strikes Ten / Hello There / Surrender / Ain't That a Shame / Dream Police / The House is Rockin' (With Domestic Problems) / I Know What I Want / Stop This Game / Day Tripper / If You Want My Love / Next Position Please / Standing on the Edge / Good Girls Go to Heaven (Bad Girls Go Everywhere) / The Flame / Don't Be Cruel / California Man

Around the time The Greatest Hits served to terminate the band's contract, Sony Music licensed Cheap Trick's catalog to Castle Records (later to essentially become Sanctuary Music) in the UK.  Hence, the Brits got this delightfully quirky little curiosity instead of the standard Greatest Hits album.  I've always had a soft spot for this one; while it may be a bit lighter on actual hits than its more famous brother, it does a pretty good job at being a Cheap Trick for Dummies to that point.  Sure, it seems a bit wonky at first blush that "Hello There" shows up at track four rather than in the pole position, but "Daddy Should Have Stayed in High School" there's a way to open a compilation, folks.

The Hits of Cheap Trick (Pop Shop/Epic Holland, 1991)
I Want You to Want Me / Don't Be Cruel / The Flame / Ain't That a Shame / Cover Girl / Dancing the Night Away / Don't Make Our Love a Crime / Come On, Come On / Heaven Tonight / Dream Police / Need Your Love / Hot Love / Surrender / Tonight It's You / She's Tight / If You Want My Love

Well, maybe Holland needed two Cheap Trick compilations within the same calendar year, who knows?  Speaking of "who knows", I don't know why this exists, who compiled it, or why I even own it.  If the band photo featuring Jon Brant on the cover isn't a tip-off that zero effort went into this thing, then the track list certainly is.  "Dancing the Night Away"?  "Cover Girl"?  "Don't Make Our Love a Crime"?  Seriously, how did they manage to miss "Up the Creek" while they were at it?  Moving on.

Sex, America, Cheap Trick (Epic/Legacy, 1996)
4-CD boxed set: Hello There / ELO Kiddies (single version) / Hot Love / Oh, Candy (single version) / Mandocello / Lovin' Money / I Want You to Want Me (alternate version) / Southern Girls (single version) / So Good to See You / Down on the Bay (live) / Mrs. Henry (live) / Violins (live) / The Ballad of TV Violence (live) / You're All Talk (live) / Fan Club (demo) / First Album Radio Commercial (hidden) / Surrender / High Roller (alternate version) / On Top of the World / Auf Wiedersehen / I Want You to Want Me / Clock Strikes Ten (live) / Dream Police / Way of the World / Gonna Raise Hell / Voices / Stop This Game / Just Got Back / Baby Loves to Rock / Everything Works if You Let It (alternate version) / World's Greatest Lover (demo, Rick vocal) / Waitin' for the Man/Heroin (live, Tom vocal) / Studio Banter (hidden) / Daytripper (live, unedited) / World's Greatest Lover / I Need Love (demo) / I'm the Man / Born to Raise Hell / Ohm Sweet Ohm / She's Tight / Love's Got a Hold On Me / If You Want My Love (alternate bridge version) / Lookin' Out for Number One / Don't Make Our Love a Crime (demo) / All I Really Want / I Can't Take It / Twisted Heart / Invaders of the Heart / YOYOY / Radio Station IDs (hidden) / Tonight It's You / Cover Girl / This Time Around / A Place in France / Funk #9 ("The Doctor" demo) / Take Me to the Top / Money is the Route of All Fun / Fortune Cookie (demo) / You Want It / The Flame / Through the Night / Stop That Thief / I Know What I Want (live) / Had to Make You Mine / I Can't Understand It / Can't Stop Fallin' into Love / "Stop This Game" drone (hidden)

Utterly essential to anyone with more than a passing interest in the band, especially at the dirt-cheap, end-of-the-music-industry-special prices it can now be had for.  The songs lifted verbatim from the band's previous albums are intelligently selected (and, back in 1996, the sound quality absolutely smoked anything previously available on CD).  More importantly, the rare and previously unreleased material compiled here is absolutely dazzling, the polar opposite of the barrel-scrapings trotted out as fan-bait on so many boxed sets.  In particular, much of the previously unheard mid-80s material is revelatory: whoever made the decisions as to what made their 80s LPs as opposed to what was left off of them has some serious 'splainin' to do.  Simply put, if you need more Cheap Trick than just a best-of disc and/or Budokan, then you need this.  You also need it as a physical package rather than just a download: do not deprive yourself of the fantastic booklet featuring Ira Robbins' excellent liner notes, as well as the band's track-by-track commentary.

Authorized Greatest Hits (Epic/Legacy, 2000)
I Want You to Want Me / Ain't That a Shame / Southern Girls (single version) / Surrender / Stop This Game / Dream Police / If You Want My Love (alternate bridge version) / Tonight It's You / Everything Works if You Let It (full-length version) / Mandocello / I Can't Take It (live) / She's Tight / That '70s Song (based on "In the Street") / Walk Away (featuring Chrissie Hynde) / Can't Stop Fallin' Into Love / The Flame (live)

One step up, two steps back: obviously, the track list is far more comprehensive than its assumedly not-authorized 1991 predecessor.  The problem lies in the details: there are far too many live and alternate versions on here, given that this was issued by the label that owns the actual hit versions.  "The Flame" is hardly my favorite Cheap Trick moment, but for a purported Greatest Hits disc to contain only a live version of the band's sole #1 single when the hit version was readily available for inclusion is simply ridiculous.  I fully understand the aesthetic reasons behind such a decision: yes, the live version heard here is far more artistically sound than the over-slick studio version, but it's not at all what someone buying a Greatest Hits disc is after.  They're after what they're familiar with from the radio, and this just ain't it.  Also, the brief liner notes are so badly written that they're actually embarrassing: "Authorized Greatest Hits is the ultimate Cheap Trick compilation.  Buy at least four copies..."  Sorry there, slick, but I got a free promo and called it even.  Coulda been, shoulda been, wasn't.

The Essential Cheap Trick (Epic/Legacy, 2004)
ELO Kiddies (single version) / Hot Love / He's a Whore / Mandocello (live) / Clock Strikes Ten / Southern Girls (single version) / Downed / Hello There / Surrender / California Man / High Roller / Auf Wiedersehen / I Want You to Want Me / Ain't That a Shame / Takin' Me Back / Dream Police / Voices / Gonna Raise Hell / Way of the World / Stop This Game / World's Greatest Lover / Everything Works if You Let It (full version) / She's Tight / If You Want My Love (alternate bridge version) / I Can't Take It / Tonight It's You / This Time Around / The Flame / Had to Make You Mine / I Can't Understand It / Walk Away (featuring Chrissie Hynde) / Woke Up With a Monster / Hard to Tell (live) / Say Goodbye / Scent of a Woman

2010 "3.0" reissue adds a brief bonus disc: The Ballad of TV Violence (I'm Not the Only Boy) / Big Eyes (live) / On Top of the World / Heaven Tonight / One on One / Cover Girl / Standing on the Edge

It's about as close to perfect as something I didn't compile myself can come, really.  Sure, I could quibble about a couple of omissions: "Oh, Candy", "Never Had a Lot to Lose", "Time is Runnin'" and "Next Position Please" come immediately to mind - and honestly, three from Busted and not a single mention that The Doctor ever existed?  Really, "It's Only Love" is a pretty great song, guys.  All of that is the nitpicking of a true believer, though: if the point of a good compilation is to present the listener with an accurate portrayal of who an artist is and what they do and leave that listener thirsty for more at the end, then The Essential Cheap Trick is a resounding success.  If you're looking to start with a compilation, look no further.  (As for the "3.0" reissue, so long as it remains available for around the same price as the basic two-disc'er, why not?  They're mostly good songs, although the presence of "Cover Girl" on more than one of these compilations confuses me.)

Super Hits (Sony/BMG Custom Marketing, 2007)
Surrender / I Want You to Want Me / The Flame / Can't Stop Falling into Love / Busted / Oh, Candy / It's Only Love / Way of the World / Heaven Tonight / If You Need Me

Although this cheapie stands on the edge (see what I did there? ) of being truck-stop fodder, I've seen it and the series from which it hails available from enough traditional music retailers to mention it here.  Surprisingly - and almost certainly by accident - all ten of these are good-to-great songs.  But really, live a little, wouldya?  There are far better compilations available for not all that much more money, and cheapskates don't generally have nearly enough fun in this life.

Playlist: The Very Best of Cheap Trick (Epic/Legacy, 2009)
Surrender / I Want You to Want Me / He's a Whore / On Top of the World / Dream Police / Downed / Oh, Candy / Way of the World / Southern Girls (single version) / If You Want My Love / Voices / She's Tight / World's Greatest Lover / Can't Stop Falling into Love

Super Hits on steroids; a compilation so banal that I've never bothered nor been tempted to own it, even as it sits for less than a buck used on Amazon.  When faced with declining sales, this type of schlocky, creativity-free product (it's one of a series) is the sort of thing that huge labels like Sony have attempted to meet their fate with; is it any wonder that they're losing the battle?

The Music of Cheap Trick (Epic/Legacy, 2010)
ELO Kiddies / Hot Love / He's a Whore / Mandocello / The Ballad of TV Violence (I'm Not the Only Boy) / You're All Talk (live) / Clock Strikes Ten / Southern Girls / Downed / Big Eyes (live) / Surrender / High Roller (alternate version) / Auf Wiedersehen / Heaven Tonight / I Want You to Want Me / Ain't That a Shame / Takin' Me Back / Dream Police / Voices / Way of the World / Need Your Love (live) / Stop This Game / Just Got Back / World's Greatest Lover / Everything Works if You Let It (full version) / She's Tight / If You Want My Love (alternate bridge version) / Next Position Please / I Can't Take It / Tonight It's You / Cover Girl / This Time Around / The Flame / Don't Be Cruel / Never Had a Lot to Lose / Had to Make You Mine / I Can't Understand It / Can't Stop Falling into Love / Busted / Walk Away (with Chrissie Hynde) / Day Tripper (live, unedited version)

Playlist on steroids this time, a not-exactly-generously filled three-disc hybrid of The Essential and Sex, America.  Sure, the songs are nearly all great (again with "Cover Girl"?!), and the price from third-party sellers is right, but both of those facts are also true of the two aforementioned releases.  Unlike this, both of those are high-quality products, created with obvious care.  Vote with your wallet.

Setlist: The Very Best of Cheap Trick Live (Epic/Legacy, 2010)
Mrs. Henry / The Ballad of TV Violence / Can't Hold On / I Want You to Want Me / Need Your Love / Surrender / You're All Talk / Downed / I Know What I Want / The Flame / The House is Rockin' (With Domestic Problems)

All-live-tracks compilation, unimaginatively drawn from the various Budokan iterations, the Sex America boxed set and bonus tracks from the remasters.  A cool idea, actually, but horribly botched in execution.  Sony Music's endless-repackaging machine rumbles on undaunted, I guess; this is another one I've never bothered to acquire.  Dear corporate lackeys: please, enough already.

Next week: goodnight now ladies and gentlemen, that's the end of the show.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Trick Tuesday: Solo Albums & Side Projects

For a band who's been kicking around as long as Cheap Trick have, they have an absolute minimum of solo albums and side projects.  I've seen speculation in other writing that this may have something to do with the band's longevity.  Who knows, really: in all honesty, it's a question that only the four band members themselves could really answer.  On the other hand, it does make the job of a reviewer like me a bit easier: by way of comparison, could you imagine slogging your way through all those Beatles or Rolling Stones solos and offshoots?  The mind reels.

Here, then, are the six Cheap Trick solos and side projects.  Feel free to leave a comment if you feel like I'm missing something, but I think this about covers it.  If who's involved isn't immediately obvious from the record's artist credit, I've indicated it in brackets after the album title, [like this].

Fuse, Fuse [Rick Nielsen, Tom Petersson] (Epic, 1969)
Famous mainly for having a back cover that features a photo of Rick Nielsen without a baseball cap, this garagey tribute to early Deep Purple doesn't really do much to encourage repeat listens.  Maybe the problem is the fact that Capless Rick mostly plays keyboards not guitar, or maybe it's the fact that Petersson hasn't yet added the second "s" to his surname, or maybe it's the awful singer.  Whatever the cause, there is simply no way this would be remembered at all, even by the parents of those involved, had two of the band members not later become famous.  Sez Rick: "The guys we were with were all rinky dinks; they’re probably pumping gas now."  That about sums it up.   Issued on CD in 2001 with two extra tracks from a pre-LP single; I'll let you judge whether or not that constitutes a bonus.
So few people care about this one that I had to take this photo myself, rather than steal one from the web.  The price sticker belonged to the record's original owner, by the way: I paid exactly $6.99 less than that for it.
Tom Petersson, Tom Peterson and Another Language (Enigma, 1984)
Anybody reasonably familiar with the Dream Police album would probably have the same reaction upon learning that Peterson (apparently, he saves the extra "s" for Cheap Trick alone) released a solo EP during his time away from the band: "His slight, nasal voice is charming enough  on 'I Know What I Want' but really, an entire half-album of it?"  Joke's on you, Chief: two songs of hearing his then-wife Dagmar sing and you'll be swearing that Tom's slight, nasal voice is right up there with Zander himself.  The songs themselves are alright new-wave pop: nothing special, but hardly abysmal.  But  Ever wondered why there was no German Blondie?  Here's an excruciating, twenty-five minute answer to that quandary for you.

Robin Zander, Robin Zander (Interscope, 1993)
It could use more of a unified songwriting presence, but Zander's solo debut offers proof positive to anyone who might need it as to the versatility of his voice.  Leaving the harder-rocking sides of his musical personality to his day gig is a smart idea: the assembled session players here, many of them big names, wouldn't make nearly as great a loud rock band as Cheap Trick, but they do make a fine pop ensemble.  When the material is top-shelf, this does what a good solo album should do: give us a glimpse at a different set of a musician's talents and tastes.

Swag, Catch-All [Tom Petersson] (Pug/Yep Roc, 2001)
Winning, only slightly twangy power-pop featuring Petersson on bass (maybe it's that he only uses the two "s"'s in his name when involved in something that doesn't suck) and various members of the Mavericks, amongst others.  Sounds exactly like the pedigree would lead you to imagine.  High-quality, enjoyable stuff; especially recommended to power-pop heads, even if it does get a bit same-y by disc's end.

Tinted Windows, Tinted Windows [Bun E. Carlos] (S-Curve, 2009)
Talk about your pleasant surprises: this is hands-down my favorite Cheap Trick offshoot.  If, before its release, you'd told me that I'd think so highly of an album featuring that kid from Hanson on vocals, I'd have gladly informed you of your mental deficiency, but hearing is believing.  This half-retro, half-modern hard rock record, also featuring ex-Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha and Fountains of Wayne's Adam Schlesinger on bass, is a through-and-through delight: windows-down on the highway loud rock of the finest caliber.  Much of that has to do with Taylor Hanson, actually: all growed up now, the kid's got an absolutely fantastic voice for this sort of thing.  Fantastic enough, in fact, that I always tell myself that I'm going to download one of Hanson's big-boy albums and give it a spin when I'm listening to Tinted Windows...and always chicken out just before pulling the trigger on downloading a Hanson album, if you know what I mean.  This is not fair, of course, but neither is life.  Tinted Windows on the other hand is more than fair: it's a guaranteed smile in thirty-five minutes' time.  What more could you want from your entertainment dollar?

Robin Zander, Countryside Blvd. (Big3, 2011, sorta)
The magical disappearing solo album.  Discussed at length here and here (although the "purchase" link in the latter one is long dead); six months later, I feel the same way about  it.

Next week: Compilations - why, dear god, must they all suck in some way?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Greetings from Memphis!

I'm writing this on some ancient version of Internet Explorer at the hotel, so if it looks strange I apologize and I'll fix it once I'm home.  We've been here for about 24 hours now, and it's been a blast thus far: lunch yesterday at Gus's Fried Chicken, dinner and drinks on Beale Street last night (I highly reccomend the "Attitude Improvement" at Wet Willie's, by the way - like a alcohol-soaked orange slice 'tis).  Breakfast at Arcade Restaurant this morning, off to see Sun Studios in a few minutes.  Haven't seen Elvis yet, but I'm not totally convinced that I didn't pass the ghost of Johnny Cash in the shampoo aisle at Walgreen's an hour or so ago.

I've thrown a few horrible, blurry cell phone photos up on my Facebook page.  No idea how to port them over here, especially on this 2003 Special computer, but I'll take of that once we're back in the Empire State.

Time to go - there's more fried deliciousness to be eaten...

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Meta-Moment: Memphis, Mekons, Mott

So, yeah: for those of you who don't read the Cheap Trick segments, Rhea and I are flying to Memphis for five days for a wedding tomorrow.  I've never been there before, so it should be a good time: got the Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash loaded on my iPod, got my pre-flight nerves at a steady, cool minimum, and the laundry's nearly done.

I'd like to try to post at least once from Memphis, but I'm not entirely sure what time or access will be like.  Don't be too disappointed if there's nothing new here until next Monday, but do take a quick peek in once or twice later in the week - you never know...

The Mekons were brilliant as ever on Saturday night.  It's a crying shame that so little of the world understands what an absolute treasure those folks are.  For those of you with a account, there's a nice sounding recording of the show seeding over there right now.  Highly recommended.

As always, thank you for reading.

Fun fact: the turntable shown in this video is the exact same model I own and use.  It's true!

Trick Tuesday: (Pause)

Sorry, folks: no Trick Tuesday this week.  Think of it like the small pause between an album and its bonus tracks on a reissued/remastered CD.  The way I see it, we've got three more weeks of Trick Tuesdays to go, now that we're through all of the studio and official live albums: a week for solo albums and offshoots, a week for compilations and boxed sets, and a big wrap-up/send-off for the project.  Looking back, I see that the intro to the series was posted on May 30th.  If all goes according to plan, the final entry will post on November 1st.  That's about as close to five months on the dot as you can get.  I like it.

We're skipping this week due to a time crunch in my life: I'm flying out to Memphis for five days for a wedding tomorrow.  I'd been hoping to get this week's Trick Tuesday done before I left, but there's just been too much last minute packing and planning, and I'd rather push a lengthy post like "solos & side projects" off until next week, when I can do it some justice time-wise.  Either that, or I'm looking for any excuse to delay actually having to listen to the Tom Petersson and Another Language EP again.  You be the judge.

In the meantime, I'll leave you with this picture, posted sometime last week to Cheap Trick's official Facebook page.  Robin Zander with Joey Ramone in Rockford, sometime in 1977.  Amazing to think that neither of the gents in this photo - two of my favorite rock singers of all time - were even remotely famous yet.

See you next week!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Mekons, "Memphis, Egypt"

Because I thought we should have something good from the '80s here to counterbalance the last post.  Because Rhea and I are going to see them tomorrow night at City Winery.  Because The Mekons Rock 'n' Roll is one of the truly great rock albums released in my lifetime.  Because we're actually going to Memphis on Wednesday (more on that later this weekend.)  Because brilliant art - even if it comes in the form of cheaply made, badly pixelated videos on YouTube - needs no excuse.

Destroy your safe and happy lives before it is too late!

Call Us Irresponsible, Write Us Off the Page: Rolling Stone's Worst of the '80s

In their ever more desperate-seeming grasp for any sort of editorial content, Rolling Stone magazine has come up with a list of the "Worst of the '80s".  Rhea had heard the top three announced on the radio during her commute this morning; over lunch, we tried to guess what the remainder of the top ten might be.  We came pretty close: apart from the three she remembered, we guessed another four of 'em correctly.  Since the top ten is making the internet rounds, I thought I'd list them with my commentary here, followed by absolute, irrefutable proof that Rolling Stone screwed the pooch on this one, like totally.

10. RICK ASTLEY, "Never Gonna Give You Up"
Hipster pandering on Rolling Stone's part, pure and simple.  It's no work of art, granted, but it's about as average and as typical as late '80s pop gets.  Maybe even a bit better than average, really: unlike so many of his peers, Astley could sing well enough.  Had RickRolling not briefly a thing earlier in the decade, this bit of innocuous pop wouldn't have come anywhere near the top ten.

9. TACO, "Puttin' On the Ritz"
Proof positive, in case such proof was actually needed, that it was a good thing that Irving Berlin - with whom the song itself originated in 1929 - did not have access to synthesizers and drum machines.  Retro smarm at its ugliest.

8. TONI BASIL, "Mickey"
The Katy Perry of her generation: probably a bit older than her bio claimed her to be, and absolutely too old to be slinging such juvenile/suggestive nonsense.  I suppose the video has passed into some sort of kitsch notoriety by now, but trying to listen to the song without the visuals is a task only suited for the brave, not to mention one I wouldn't wish on anyone I love.

7. BOBBY McFERRIN, "Don't Worry, Be Happy"
Fans suggest that it was some sort of ironic mocking of the "me-first" mentality of the Reagan '80s, while detractors decry it as a coarse celebration of same.  People who care about their ears don't care: they just hold them at the first strains of this diabetes-inducing junk.  Music like this is the reason Slayer needed to exist simultaneously, folks.

6. FALCO, "Rock Me Amadeus"
Now that's some goofy shit.  Really nothing more to say about it.  A novelty that could only have been a hit at the exact cultural moment in which it was.

5. MEN WITHOUT HATS, "The Safety Dance"
I briefly thought about this one at lunch, but dismissed it as seeming a bit too much like something that had largely fallen off the pop-culture radar.  The song is pretty typical synth-pop of the time; not exactly good, mind you, but hardly the worst of the batch.  It's gotta be the video (Dancing Midget!  Renaissance Faire!) that bumped it up a notch or three.  Having just watched it again on YouTube, I can absolutely see why.

4. WHAM!, "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go"
Rhea's a big George Michael fan.  I respect the guy, actually: he is extraordinarily talented.  The only problem with him for me is that he is extraordinarily talented at creating dance pop and ballads, two types of music I generally try to steer clear of.  C'est la vie, I suppose - speaking of which, why isn't Robbie Nevil on this list?  Anyway, this song is Michael's one piece of true, unmitigated shite.  Much like "The Safety Dance", I'm sure the video didn't help matters much - but neither did saying "jitterbug" 10,232 times in the course of four fucking minutes, either.  Aaagh, my ears, they bleed even contemplating it.

3. CHRIS DeBURGH, "Lady in Red"
Embarrassing admission: I had to look this one up.  Look, I was the kind of shy/different sort of kid who didn't exactly go to his prom or anything.  You'll have to forgive me if my knowledge of the slow dance really doesn't pick up until the '90s, when I was finally confident enough in my own weird boots to find my way to the floor.  Pathos aside, why on Earth is this number three?  It's a typical slow, romantic number of its time.  It's a bit better than, but not completely unlike, Peter Cetera and/or post-Jazz Chicago.  And, yes, I did vaguely know it once the chorus hit, truth be told.  Still, I'm a bit mystified here: why is this appreciably worse than other, similar sorts of things that were also popular at the time?

2. EUROPE, "The Final Countdown".
A pioneering effort, in its way: pop metal so soft it managed to forget to be metal at all.  Somewhere right now, at a pay-to-play night at Mel's Booze Barn in Sheboygan, the Brothers Nelson toil in shame, knowing they owe it all to you, Europe.  The hair!  The off-kilter harmonies!  The annoying synthesizer line!  This is the music that Jon Bon Jovi works out to, staring himself in the mirror and repeating his mantra: "I am not a wuss!"  The one entry on this list that I think is absolutely correctly placed.

1. STARSHIP, "We Built This City"
Nope, sorry, you lose, Rolling Stone, and shame on you for following trends so desperately.  A few years back, in a list co-created with those geniuses over at VH-1, Blender magazine declared "We Built This City" the Most Awesomely Bad Song Ever.  (The link appears to have disappeared with Blender itself, but it's referenced in the song's Wikipedia entry, for whatever that's worth to ya.)  Ever since, it's been open season for lazy hipsters.  Look, I'm not here to defend "We Built This City", a work that's probably embarrassing at this point to any of the members of Starship's fully-named forebears.  Clearly, it's not the classic Woodstock-era rock of Jefferson Airplane's "Volunteers", nor is it even the guilty-pleasure, sub-Foreigner '80s mullet-rawk of Jefferson Starship's "Find Your Way Back".  And yes, it is funny to hear Grace Slick - the only member of this Starship who graced the recordings of both of the Jeffersons - emote that line about "changing corporation names" with a straight face.  But, really, the worst?  With the likes of "Addicted to Love" and "Love Touch", to name but two, nowhere in sight in this top ten?  Go mambo with Marconi, losers - and get an original thought through your head for a change while you're at it.

And, finally, why this list is full of EPIC FAIL, as the kids say:
Because by any reasonable standard, this is number one with a bullet.  Drum machines without a hint of sex or swing?  Check!  Synth horns that sound more like car horns?  Check!  English-as-a-Second-Language lyrics that shoot for double entendre and miss by miles?  Check!  Intentional yodeling?  Check!  Unintentional yodeling?  Check! 

Dear readers, I give you "Tarzan Boy" by Baltimora.  With a caveat: if you watch this video, the Westboro Baptist Church will protest you.  In fact, I think they're on my lawn with their dopey little signs as I write this.  Still, you should go for it anyway: both experiences are likely well worth having.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Steve Jobs II: Shuffle Play!

First and foremost: Steve Jobs has had the ultimate mantle of coolness-in-death bestowed upon him: the Westboro Baptist Church, everybody's favorite god-lovin', "fag"-hatin', wacky inbred fun bunch, will be protesting his funeral.  But wait: that's not all!  It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words.  I don't really know how one would vet that particular bit of math, but I do know that the following picture made my entire week:
You noticed the bottom line of that, right?  "3 hours ago via Twitter for iPhone".  Fucking tremendous.  Swear to god, if I had any disposable income right now, I'd be on my way to the Apple Store for an iSomething right this very minute.

Unfortunately, the Westboro Baptist Bozos don't quite have an exclusive on dipshit-ness where the late Apple head is concerned.  Elsewhere on the web, in a forum populated by the lamest of record-collector shut-ins, I came across this gem: some dude would like to make it known that he will not mourn Mr. Jobs because he was responsible for the death of the music industry.  You know, damn kids and their iPods and all of that.  (I'm deliberately neglecting to provide a link; behavior this idiotic and callous really shouldn't be rewarded with a traffic bump.)

Not only is this CD-spinnin' cousin of the Simpsons' Comic Book Guy a reprehensible human being ("you took my record stores, you deserve to die!"), he's also factually 100% incorrect.  Jobs - via the iPod and iTunes - didn't kill the record industry at all.  The record industry committed hari-kari, the end result of decades worth of price gouging on substandard products.  Quite the contrary: Jobs and Apple were the business end of the music industry's only success story of the past decade.  Apple was the only company to meet the future head-on: first, they developed a portable new-media player that was both better constructed and far more user-friendly than any of its competition, and then they built an online sales portal that seamlessly integrated with their new devices.  Casual music buyers - always the backbone of the industry, no matter what the collector types would like to believe - flocked in droves, and why not?  iTunes offered a nearly unlimited selection at reasonable prices, all completely hassle-free.  Look, I miss the visceral, human experience of old-school music shopping as much as the next nerd, but let's look logically at the facts for a moment: with iTunes, Apple created an alternative to that experience that meshed well with the lifestyle of the average, occasional music buyer.  The fact that iTunes remains essentially without serious competition, no matter how hard Amazon tries, a decade later should really tell you all you need to know.  It was a brilliant, visionary idea executed with flawless precision, which is no mean feat in any industry.

Third and last point: I seriously understated something in last night's post.  I don't just love my iPod; I have no idea how I ever lived without it. Given even the slightest bit of thought, the Walkmen and Discmen of yore just seem so much more archaic than things that really only checked out of common usage within the last decade.  Literally thousands of albums live in my pocket at any given time, all in a device no bigger than an old cassette case.  Seriously: what more could a music geek want?

Mr. Jobs, you have my sincerest gratitude.  Rest in peace.

EDIT: And then, there's this.  Funny because it's true?  You be the judge.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Steve Jobs: 1955-2011

Steve Jobs died earlier today.  I'm not going to link to a news story here, because the whole thing is kind of omnipresent right now.  There are people on Facebook absolutely losing their marbles over this, as though a friend or family member passed away.  This is where the whole thing turns a bit weird for me, because as you might guess from the general tenor of this blog, I'm not prone to be friends - virtual or otherwise - with flock followers.  So what gives?

I'm not much of an Apple-phile.   I've only owned one Apple product in my entire life: a 30GB iPod Classic, given to me by Rhea for Christmas back in 2005.  It's a great piece of equipment, I grant you.  I use it to this day, and it behaves just as it did fresh out of the box.  That's something in this day and age of shoddily manufactured electronics, seemingly engineered to implode three days after the warranty expires.  Should it ever begin to give up the ghost, I'd absolutely look to replace it with another iPod, or one of its descendants.

This durability gets to the heart of why I've never really climbed on the Apple bus, in a way.  Their marketing is something to behold: NEW MODEL!  BETTER THAN EVER!  UPGRADE NOW OR BE LAUGHED AT BY ALL YOUR LITTLE FRIENDS!  And why not: if you make electronic products that don't fall apart in three months, I guess you've got to come up with some way to encourage conspicuous consumption.  I begrudge them nothing: they've clearly developed a culture that works economically, which is no mean feat in the current market.  Still, there's something a bit vapid about it all that kind of turns me off.  "Yeah, I bought this thing that I don't actually need.  The other thing I already had that does the exact same thing still works, but oh my god - it's two years old."  Ever listen to someone talk about their new iPhone for hours on end?  It's been scientifically vetted as one of the ten most boring conversation topics under the sun.*

But here's where I go and interrupt myself: you know, Jobs may have been a genius after all.  In typing that last paragraph, it occurred to me that he figured out how to get your money either way.  Sure, he'll get more out of the NEWER IS BETTER crowd, but he'll also get curmudgeons like me at least once every decade or so: "Yeah, Apple sheep are kind of annoying - but damn, my iPod went through hell and back and worked like a charm."  Simultaneously catering to the Joneses and the I-want-quality-products crowd: what a concept.

Well, Steve, I'm sorry that you're dead.  I do really love my iPod.  You know what?  He did actually do more that affected my life than most of the dead celebrities folks shed crocodile tears over: he invented an item that actually does make my life better on a near-daily basis. I get it now.  Not in a way where I'm about to join the Facebook choir of tears or anything, but I understand much better than I did when I sat down to write this piece why people feel so strongly about Jobs' passing.

Sometimes, these blog posts just don't end the way you expect them to when you begin writing them.

* and, yes,  I am fully aware that by having typed these words, I will eventually buy an iPhone and become one of those people who can't shut the hell up about the stupid thing.  At least I'm upfront about my likely impending hypocrisy.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Trick Tuesday: "Sgt. Pepper Live" (2009)

The ugly truth: I've probably listened to this less than a dozen times since it was released.  It's not bad, mind you, not by a long shot.  It's just that I like Cheap Trick a lot better when they're doing songs that they've written.  Don't get me wrong: if they must perform outside material, I heartily prefer Lennon/McCartney to Diane Warren or whoever those two hacks that came up with "The Flame" were.  Still, our tastes are what they are, and for better or worse I'd much rather hear "He's a Whore" than "She's Leaving Home."

In a way, though, this album makes perfect sense for me, because the only reason I ever really went back and delved into the Beatles' catalog is Cheap Trick.  Prior to becoming obsessed with Rockford's most famous sons, I'd always considered the Beatles to be - gosh, there's no way to say this without sounding like a jerk, so here goes - old fart music.  I dunno - as a teenager, the music of the Beatles always just seemed quaint to me, something that my parents liked that was just too old-fashioned for my tragically modern pubescent self.  I know that these are considered "bad thoughts", especially coming from someone writing a half-music blog, but 'tis how I felt at the time.  I eventually began to listen to the Beatles in a decoder-ring sense; I knew that Rick Nielsen and his cohorts were huge fans, and I knew that Cheap Trick's music was probably laced with no shortage of Beatles references.  I went back and found out (yeah, I found out) that there were, and gained a better appreciation of the importance of the Beatles' catalog in the process.  Even now, I've never really come to think of the Beatles' songs as "my music"; I still appreciate them in a museum-esque sort of way rather than actively and passionately.  Still, I remain glad that the Cheap Trick catalog sent me backwards and allowed me to discover for myself the sheer importance of the Fab Four.  If nothing else, I consigned the designation "old fart music" to the dustbin of ignorance permanently, and stopped sounding like a teen-dork dope (in one way, anyway) in the process.

Back to the present: Sgt. Pepper Live exists largely as a souvenir, as far as I can figure.  Cheap Trick performed Sgt. Pepper in a few locations around the United States before settling in for a successful residency performing it in Las Vegas.  You've gotta have something other than just t-shirts for all those tourists to pick up at the merch table on the way out, right?  Right, and I'm grateful to the band for having the good sense to make the CD a general release, easily accessible to obsessives like me who'd be more likely to fly to Vegas to hear them do their own material than to hear them cover someone else's.   It's pretty much what you'd expect: a bit heavier with a few tempos pushed up a notch or so, but more or less true to the original piece.  Honestly, I can't imagine anyone really listening to this as much as or in place of the original, but as a neat change of pace or a cool souvenir of the performance, it does what it says on the cover.  Also available on DVD: same title, same artwork, same track list.

If nothing else, it is pretty cool that Cheap Trick managed what the Beatles themselves thought couldn't be done and were able to pull off the Sgt. Pepper material live.  Pretty good bragging rights for boosters like me, anyway.

Next week: Solo albums, offshoots, side projects...and a Hanson mention?  Really?

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Nils: "The Title is the Secret Song"

How'd I miss this for the better part of a year?  God, I really do need to remind myself to troll iTunes more in this day and age of declining physical releases for relatively obscure music.  I've posted elsewhere on this blog about my admiration for the Nils, a Canadian band firmly in the Replacements/later Hüsker Dü mold.  Their leader, guitarist/singer Alex Soria, was both their passport and their undoing, yet another brilliantly talented guy who couldn't escape his personal demons.  Ultimately, he threw himself in front of a train a few years back, sadly putting paid once and for all to a career in music that really could have amounted to something.

The Nils didn't leave too much behind, either: a handful of EPs and compilation appearances compiled, along with some live stuff, on 1996's Green Fields in Daylight, along with a self-titled full-length LP that remains one of my absolute favorites of its era.  The Nils is every bit the equivalent of Flip Your Wig or Pleased to Meet Me, and anyone who wants to tell you differently is lying.  For years, since I first stumbled on it back in 1998 or so, it has left me wondering what a follow up would have sounded like.  It's rare that rock 'n' roll ever answers questions like this, but earlier today when I stumbled upon this release, it did just that.

Sanctioned by Alex's brother Carlos, the band's other guitarist, The Title is the Secret Song collects the Nils' studio leftovers.  Information on exactly when any of this was recorded is nonexistent, but my ears tell me that this is compiled from different sessions, and that all of it probably post-dates the 1987 self-titled album.  One song is familiar: "When You're Not Around" was an easy highlight of Mala Leche, the excellent lone EP by Alex's short-lived post-Nils band Chino, as it is here as well, albeit in a somewhat different arrangement.  By necessity, The Title is the Secret Song isn't as unified as The Nils, but song for song it's nearly as strong.  It's predictable in a good way: while about half of the material would sound at home as-is on the 1987 LP, the other half finds Alex, Carlos and their band mates becoming more comfortable with slower tempos and more complex material.  It sounds exactly like what I always imagined Nils II to be in my mind, and I can't imagine a higher compliment for a posthumous compilation than that.  Except this: I'd recommend this even to folks who've never heard the band before.  How many after-the-fact stitch-togethers of unreleased material can that truly be said of?

Of course, I'd have preferred it if Alex Soria's second act had come while he was still drawing air.  Still, The Title is the Secret Song is a long-shot wish fulfilled for a fan like me, who only found The Nils well after they had left the building.  I now know what that second full-length would have sounded like - and, best of all, I can go listen to it again and again, as I'm about to do right now.

Available from iTunes here: The Title Is the Secret Song - The Nils

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Lou Reed & Metallica: Your Point Is...?

Ooh, me too!  I don't want to be the only music-related stop on the internerd that's not yammering on about this one!

Honestly, what in the hell were people expecting?  This sounds precisely like what I imagined when the collaboration was first announced.  It sounds like Lou Reed doing what he does into a microphone, while Metallica do what they do with their instruments.  It seemed like a bad idea when I first heard about it.  Judging by this advance single, it is a bad idea.

Both Lou Reed and Metallica have made albums I've really enjoyed at various points in my life.  Neither has, in my opinion, made a great record since the end of the '80s.  In fact, both made their last front-to-back A-list record within a year of each other: Metallica's And Justice for All (released in August, 1988) and Lou's New York (released in January, 1989). I've no doubt that all involved took on this project simply because they wanted to work together: both artists are already established legends, and neither particularly needs to increase their profile.  Good on 'em for trying something a bit outside the box, but good intentions don't guarantee great art.  "The View" is proof positive of that.

But really, why all the consternation?  It sounds like Lou Reed shouting his lyrics over Metallica riffing.  The result is predictably unpleasant.  The surprising part of that is..what, exactly?

What, No Vodka and Orange Jooth?

You really, really can't make this stuff up.  The following is swiped without permission from this news story:

Kiss have announced that they have partnered with wine distributor Rewine to release their own brand of wines and beers. 

The alcoholic beverages will be sold in customized KISS packaging, which you can view above, and will be available across Europe this autumn. 

The Zin Fire Wine is said to be a “bold and fruity 2010 California Zinfandel” with a blend of blackberry and pepper, while the Destroyer Beer is “an easy-to-drink beer in the best German tradition.” You can read more about the products at

According to a statement posted on the band’s Facebook page, band member Paul Stanley said: "
This isn’t just something we put a label on. We wanted wine and beer unique to KISS and we got it. This stuff will set your taste buds on fire."  Gene Simmons added: “If you love beer and wine, this one is for you!”.

The Kiss-brand wine is available now in Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, The Netherlands and the UK, while the beer is expected to be released in mid-October.

Gene, Paul?  Hi, yeah, one question for you guys: you both pride yourself on being tea-totalers, right?  So how in the fuck would you know if this stuff will set my taste buds on fire or not?

Oh, and Paul?  Don't think I didn't pick up on the part about the wine being "bold and fruity." I'm simply being a gentleman and letting the obvious joke just kinda lie there.*

In all seriousness, I'm not about to rant about Kiss' ridiculous merchandising.  Honestly, all this dumb crap exists because somebody - actually, an entire army of somebodies, if you will - is willing to buy it.  Not me, for the record: before meeting Rhea, a fan since her teens, I always dismissed Kiss as children's music, one step if that above Sesame Street records.  I'm still not exactly what you'd call a big fan, but my fairer half has convinced me that sometimes dumb, fun schlock that doesn't pretend to be anything more than what it is has a place in this world.

But buy this stuff?  Moi?  Non!  True story: I bought Rhea a - get this - REMASTERED REISSUE of Music from "The Elder" as a gag gift a few years back.  Spent real, hard-earned money on it, too.  As far as I'm concerned, me and good ol' Gene are square, financially speaking, from here on out.  In fact, if anything, he owes me a beer for that, be it a Kiss brand (tm) one or otherwise.

I don't think I'll exactly hold my breath waiting, though.

* For those of you who might be new to these parts, both this quip and the title of this post are intended to lampoon the contrast between Paul Stanley's flamboyant, lisping stage announcements (typified by his infamous "vodka and orange juice" monologue before "Cold Gin" on Kiss Alive) and his otherwise stereotypical rock-star stage persona.  They are in no way meant as any sort of gay-bashing.  Still a bit concerned?  Head over here.