Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Smiths - The Smiths

Here's the album in which I first discovered The Smiths, but not in the way in which you think.

It was from a review in Rolling Stone magazine-back when things like print music magazines mattered, and when reviews could expose a band to a wider audience. As much as I hate to admit it, Rolling Stone magazine prompted me to explore new music unseen, and the results were rather mixed, even though the intentions were good.

I didn't buy The Smiths debut from that review.

And none of the words had any impact on that decision.

In fact, I can't even remember if the review was positive or negative, but I'd venture a guess that the folks at Rolling Stone have re-written their own history enough times to call the Mancunians' debut a "landmark" and to heap plenty of 20/20 praise on its arrival, even if their first glance was indifferent.

What struck me was the artwork-this was during a period when Rolling Stone's reviews all featured the record artwork-and  how it was different that any other album cover at the time. It was clear that this band paid careful consideration to their image, or at least the sleeve in which it came in. It looked edgy, mysterious and somewhat iconic. Even the font looked clean.

It also looked gay. And to a young man growing up in the Midwest, "looking" gay was something that young boys were instructed-either directly  or indirectly-not to  appear. These were the instructions of the same dude who also advised against wearing pink or getting only your left ear pierced, because an earring in the right ear meant you were gay.

Both ears? You were bi.

All of this hopefully sounds ridiculous to anyone now, but ask any Midwestern man over 40 and I'm positive that you will hear similar nonsense.

I would like to think that The Smiths are somehow responsible for the cultural shift that made it possible for young men to not have to worry about such things, because to not purchase a record simply because the cover might suggest that you were somehow a homosexual is entirely the wrong reason for not buying it.

At the same time, had I actually been brave enough to purchase The Smiths, there is a distinct possibility that I would not have re-examined the band until much later than I actually did. That's because The Smiths' debut is not the infectious and Earth shattering record I needed to hear in order to begin to not give a shit what other people thought about the fucking cover.

But having the luxury to look back upon the band's debut after the fact provides its glaring deficiency: the horribly dated mix. The band could be a tightly wound monster, but The Smiths sounds like it was merely pieced together by a few dedicated musicians, a meticulously-inclined producer and an unlimited amount of studio time to make it all stick.

The drums sound thin and Morrissey hasn't quite found his fey swagger, coming across as the bummed out bastard who just happened to land the gig of vocalist because he was the only dude that brought lyrics to rehearsal. Guitarist Johnny Marr and bassist Andy Rourke give spirited performances, but when a pair of tunes feature Paul Carrack, you tend to wonder what other musicians the producer might have been able to call up after a full evening of studio tracking.

The sequencing is a complete downer too, even by Smiths standards. Nearly every song could be the soundtrack to a child abuse nightmare, and even though the band is somewhat famous for being morose, it can be a fairly grim process getting though The Smiths without wanting some sunlight or a mindless cartoon after a complete listen.

The American issue squeezed in the delightful "This Charming Man" single at the end of side one to brighten things up, but its placement on the debut is made redundant with the much-better Hatful Of Hollow compilation, and is apparently becoming phased out of future issues of The Smiths.

True fans are going to (like me) get here eventually and I must acknowledge that some of the themes and arrangements within The Smiths will probably be close to the hearts of the fans that began here. There is no doubting this record's ultimate influence, but for me the debut sounds like a band developing not only its footing, but also their own authority. They surely must have known that they sounded much better than what producer John Porter presented on this record, as every record the band self-produced afterwards reflects some superior musicianship and real prowess compare to the tracks found here.

What works best is the lyrics, a point that Morrissey no doubt realizes and can use as an example whenever he attempts to diminish the roles of his other bandmates. The irony of The Smiths failure is how it doesn't represent the entire band's strengths, and probably would have rendered them an eccentric cult curio if they hadn't pressed on to do much greater things in an unbelieveably short amount of time.

It's not the record that you should start with, but by discovering the band through other albums, you'll soon end up here anyway.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Blue Cheer - Outsideinside

Identified as one of the loudest albums in rock history, but even that has an asterisk. The story goes that during the recording of Outsideinside, Blue Cheer was kicked out of the studio for being too loud. So, the band decided to record the remaining material on Pier 57 in New York, and even then, ships miles away could hear the racket.

Of course, none of this eardrum breaking sonic overdose is that prevalent on Outsideinside. What remains is a thick, viscous sludge.

Fans of garage rock, early heavy metal, psychedelic freakouts and headache-inducing stereo panning will be pleased with the mucky results. It is 36 minutes of lysergic bliss, bashed out by a trio of grubby bikers who asked members of the Hells Angels to coordinate the art direction. The resulting package is an enjoyable time capsule in which Dickie Peterson is perched on a mushroom with drummer Paul Whaley and guitarist Leigh Stephens also sporting wide smiles as 5 bikers bring weed to the power trio.

The novelty of the packaging, the recording sessions and the band’s unhinged personalities all pale when those first moments of fuzz hit. Outsideinside was the second album from Blue Cheer in 1968 and its predecessor Vincebus Eruptum is the release that tends to get higher recognition.

By record number two, Blue Cheer had undoubtedly logged a few highway miles and they sound a bit tighter on the final results. But I’ll be damned if I can hear any real intricate detail in this sludgefeast, and there are still plenty of moments where the band occasionally falls off the rails, giving the entire thing a sense of legitimacy.

Which is just another way of saying “It’s awesome.” With covers of The Stones “Satisfaction” and Albert Kings “The Hunter” put into the line-up as some kind of reference point-but it hardly matters: You can hear the tape catching speed at the beginning of “Satisfaction” while “The Hunter” starts of fairly innocuous before slipping into another acid casualty by the guitar solo.

How this record ever got made it a testament to the free spirit of the record industry at that time, where even a power trio of limited competencies with loud amplifiers could get signed.  The end result is a wonderful time capsule, a soundtrack to your scrambled eggs hangover and a perfect reminder that rock and roll music was once a dangerous place, performed at dangerous volumes and fueled by dangerous substances.


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Grace Jones - Nightclubbing

Being a fan of The Police back in the day - particularly the driving “Demolition Man” from Ghosts In The Machine - I was not too keen on hearing an androgynous Jamaican woman named Grace Jones unleash her own version of the song In fact, Jones was so completely off of my radar during the time of her original releases that I only remember her stunning look and not a note of her music, except that lone Police cover.

A reissue reminder of Nightclubbing prompted a new consideration-this time where I followed the album as it should have been absorbed originally. From it, I learned that Jones’ version of “Demolition Man” predates The Police’s version-so it really isn’t fair to claim that Jones’ cover is somehow sacrilegious to the original, since it is the original.

And any mention of her look failed to consider just how artistically creative it really was. The androgyny, the sharp angles of her clothing and hair, all of these divisive visuals now appear as groundbreaking, breaking new ground for other artists that also use provocative appearances to get noticed.

But back then, there was nobody like Grace Jones, and I suppose you could still say the same thing today. What I failed to learn then is the backstory to her career. Her musical career came with some pretty intense personal sacrifices, specifically how her controversial looks created friction with her father, who was attempting to become a church bishop. He was under the impression that his religious desire was becoming by his daughter’s look and musical content. The decision to distance himself from his daughter’s fame meant that he also would need to distance himself from her. While most parents would be proud at their kid’s success, Grace would be forced to appreciate her own independently.

Even the music itself was becoming more challenging. Jones had originally transitioned from a successful modeling career to music by means of disco. By the late 70’s, she had abandoned the genre that gave her a certain amount of success and began incorporating different styles of music into her own repertoire as well as toying with the idea of what women should look like.

To facilitate this, Jones traveled back to her native Jamaica and enlisted the help of Sly & Robbie to initiate her “Compass Point Trilogy,” of which, Nightclubbing comes in as the second installment. It is her most well-known work and it is more influential than originally thought.

The Compass Point Allstars go beyond the early 80’s reggae vibe that they had already consistently mastered by this point. Instead, they bring genres like disco, electronica, new wave into their island grooves, leaving Jones to use every song as a new role with the only thread becoming Nightclubbing’s danceability.

The deluxe edition expands Nightclubbing into two discs, but it’s the original one that you’ll want to focus on. Disc two is filled with redundant extended versions that offer little over the original album versions, with the exception of two unreleased tracks “If You Want To Be My Lover” and a great cover of Gary Numan’s “Me! I Disconnect From You” which suggest that Jones’ adherence to reinterpreting cover songs is a very worthwhile strategy, as was her unconventional appearance.

Ultimately, it’s what is found inside the packaging that reaffirms Jones’ musical output: challenging, endearing and influential. Ironically, the same qualities that are found on her album covers.

Monday, June 16, 2014

John & Yoko Interview Box Set

For any Beatlemaniac out there, there is a new box set featuring extensive interviews with John Lennon and Yoko Ono during a period of enormous creativity from the former Beatle. If you've ever immersed yourself in the finer details of the Beatles history, this sounds like it would provide some excellent material for your geeky little head. Details on the box set including its content are found below.

This eight CD box set features John Lennon & Yoko Ono's five iconic conversations with Village Voice journalist and radio personality Howard Smith. These in-depth discussions about music, love, creativity, peace and politics illuminate the couple's transformation from Beatles into revolutionaries.

These interviews have been mastered from Smith's original audio recordings, which had been buried in the back of his West Village loft for 40 years. Never before released on CD.

May 28 - 29, 1969 - Live phone interview, the Bed-In Montreal (35 min)

Smith speaks on the phone with John & Yoko, who are in their suite at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal. Among other things, they discuss selling Peace as a commodity, the Activist Movement, and Lennonʼs denial of being, nor intention of being, a leader.

Dec. 17, 1969 - Ronnie Hawkinʼs Ranch, Ontario Canada (89 min)

Smith traveled to Ronnie Hawkinʼs Ranch outside of Toronto to interview John & Yoko. While eating shrimp tempura, they discuss the ins and outs of recording with the Beatles, the bandʼs uncertain future, Woodstock vs. Altamont, and the impact of the Youth Movement.

Dec. 12, 1970 - Regency Hotel, NYC (86 min)

Smith interviews John & Yoko the day after the Plastic Ono Band albums are released, and they are in the midst of shooting 2 art films. They discuss the emotional process of their music including specific songs from the albums, their time in Janov therapy, how they handle fame, and whether the Beatles will ever get back together.

Sept. 9, 1971 - St. Regis Hotel, NYC (71 min)

Smith interviews John & Yoko on the day Lennonʼs album Imagine is released. They discuss the album, Onoʼs upcoming artist retrospective, Paulʼs, Georgeʼs and Ringoʼs own individual albums, the mediaʼs criticisms of their relationship, Johnʼs "working class" nature, and future plans.

Jan. 23, 1972 - The Lennonsʼ Bank St. apartment, NYC (86 min)

Smith drops by John & Yokoʼs West Village apartment on the day of a WPLJ Beatles marathon which can be heard at times playing in the background, often inspiring and directing the conversation. They discuss the experience of being a Beatle (and a Beatle wife) and the break up, stage fright and the emotional rollercoaster of performing, breakthroughs acquired in Janov therapy, love, and Revolution.

About Howard Smith:

Howard Smith is an Oscar winning film director, journalist and broadcaster. As a writer for more than 30 years, his articles have appeared in, among others, Playboy and The New York Times. Smithʼs weekly column "Scenes" in the Village Voice helped cement the paperʼs position within the emerging counterculture.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Yngwie Malmsteen Begins Guitar Gods Tour

You can practically smell the ego rising from the press release of Yngwie Malmsteen's Guitar Gods tour. I mean, why is it necessary to point out that Malmsteen got his own signature Fender model before Eric Clapton?

Because Yngwie has never been as universally revered as Clapton has and when you're as narcissistic as Malmsteen, you tend to point out every minute detail of your legacy, even the ones that really don't mean anything. Same thing goes for the Guitar Hero references. Who gives a shit?

Yngwie does. That's all that matters.

I won't be in the area during the time the Guitar Gods tour rolls around, otherwise, I'd be all over this. To see Yngwie and Uli Jon Roth (who may rank as one of my favorite guitarists ever) on the same stage would be pretty amazing, even if Yngwie's epic ego only allows him to log 9 dates to show off his six string prowess.

Here's the release:

(New York, NY) - The king of neo-classical shred guitar, legendary guitar virtuoso Yngwie Malmsteen, will soon return to stages across North America this summer for the first-ever "Guitar Gods" festival tour. Bringing together such accomplished axemen as Uli Jon Roth (Scorpions, Electric Sun), Gary Hoey ("Hocus Pocus") and Bumblefoot (Guns N' Roses), Malmsteen will headline an epic celebration (6+ hours!) of the instrument for a full evening of guitar pyrotechnics. Each show will also feature special surprise guests. The "Guitar Gods" tour is created and produced by April Malmsteen, Yngwie's wife and manager and is presented in proud partnership with Guitar Center. Please see below for the itinerary; more dates to be announced.

Of the upcoming tour, creator and producer April Malmsteen commented, "Being able to put together this festival has been a lifelong dream of mine. I sincerely believe that "Guitar Gods" will bring tremendous value and enjoyment to not only the guitar and heavy metal enthusiast, but also to anyone who loves music." Yngwie Malmsteen's most recent studio album, SPELLBOUND and his first book, the autobiography, Relentless: A Memoir, are both available now. Malmsteen was recently profiled about both on NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday; that segment can be heard here. In other news, the Yngwie Malmsteen premium artist signature series by Fender is now available. The series features a full lineup of Malmsteen-endorsed accessories such as guitar strings, instrument cables, gig bags, electronic tuners and more.

For nearly three decades, Grammy-nominated guitar icon Yngwie Malmsteen has been amazing audiences with dazzling technical speed and ability. Malmsteen's signature style of playing, which combines elements of seemingly disparate styles of music - metal and classical, spawned the now commonplace genres of heavy metal known as "shred guitar" and "neo classical" and earned Malmsteen the title "the Paganini of heavy metal". Malmsteen was the first guitarist to have his own Fender signature guitar model (even before Eric Clapton). He has graced the cover of more than 200 magazines worldwide, has won every guitar award imaginable and to date, has sold millions of records. Time named Malmsteen one of the "Top Ten Greatest Electric Guitar Players", an honor he shared with the likes of Les Paul, Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix. "Guitar Hero" enthusiasts know they have arrived when they are bestowed with the Yngwie Malmsteen award in the Xbox 360 version of "Guitar Hero 2". The award signifies a 1000+ note streak in succession.

Held in the highest regard in his own right, Uli Jon Roth brings the very special 40th Anniversary Scorpions set that he has been playing to audiences from Europe to North America, embracing his history with the band and digging deep into their catalogue for this tour.

Acclaimed for his accomplishments for perfecting his playing in multiple genres (rock, blues, surf), Gary Hoey performs his radio hits such as the Billboard Top 5 smash "Hocus Pocus" along with other favorites. 

Bumblefoot, best known for his work with Guns N' Roses, embarks on his first solo tour, playing songs from his entire critically-praised recorded history.

Yngwie Malmsteen/Guitar Gods North American tour 2014:


13 Huntington, NY Paramount Theatre
14 Sayreville, NJ Starland Ballroom
17 Englewood, NJ Bergen Performing Arts Center
20 St. Charles, IL Arcada Theatre
21 Toronto, ON Phoenix Theatre
26 Seattle, WA Showbox Theatre
27 Portland, OR Roseland Theater


3 Beverly Hills, CA Saban Theatre
8 Tucson, AZ Rialto Theatr

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Beth Orton Central Reservation Gets The Reissue Treatment

One of my favorite records from 1999, Beth Orton's Central Reservation is a stunning glimpse into the vocalist's raw talent and abilities. For anyone who may have missed its impact when it was originally released 15 years ago (what?!), you now have a chance to catch up with the reissue treatment it receives. For reals: "Sweetest Decline" with its very first line of "She wears secrets in her hair/The whispers are not hers to share/She's as deep as a well" are the things that classic records are made upon.


Beth Orton's Central Reservation album will be re-issued by 3 Loop Music as a 2CD expanded edition to be distributed in the US by MVD Entertainment Group. Released in 1999, the album received a Mercury Music Prize nomination and helped Beth earn a BRIT Award in 2000 for Best British Female. The follow up to Beth's acclaimed debut Trailer Park, Central Reservation featured the hit singles "Stolen Car" and "Central Reservation" and spent 56 weeks in the album charts, selling over 500,000 copies. The album is also featured in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.

Re-issued for the first time with a second disc of bonus material compiled by Beth, the album contains key b-sides, including the "Spiritual Life Ibadon" remix of the title track plus unreleased live recordings and demos. The expanded packaging includes brand new sleevenotes and a new interview with Beth. She recalls, "Listening back to the record now, I enjoy hearing the melodies and how I played with them and the words. The making of records is often a period of redemption for me and the recording of 'Central Reservation' was the actualising of all my most positive hopes and wishes."

CD1 (Original Album):

1. Stolen Car - 5:25
2. Sweetest Decline - 5:39
3. Couldn't Cause Me Harm - 4:48
4. So Much More - 5:41
5. Pass In Time - 7:17
6. Central Reservation (Original Version) - 4:50
7. Stars All Seem To Weep - 4:39
8. Love Like Laughter - 3:07
9. Blood Red River - 4:15
10. Devil Song - 5:04
11. Feel To Believe - 4:04
12. Central Reservation (The Then Again Version) - 4:01

CD2 Sessions At West 54th Street:

1. Someone's Daughter - 4:02
2. Sweetest Decline - 4:38
3. Blood Red River - 5:05
4. Pass In Time - 7:26
5. She Cries Your Name - 4:04
6. Devil Song - 5:30
7. I Wish I Never Saw The Sunshine - 4:55
8. Stars All Seem To Weep - 2:19

9. I Love How You Love Me - 2:36
10. Precious Maybe - 4:02
11. Stars All Seem To Weep (Shed Version) - 2:59
12. Central Reservation (Spiritual Life Ibadon Remix) - 8:50

Demos and Rough Mixes:

13. Love Like Laughter - 2:08
14. So Much More - 1:51
15. Central Reservation Band Demo - 4:33
16. Couldn't Cause Me Harm - 6:44

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Washed Out Announce New Round Of Paracosm Dates

They're weeknight dates, but at least Iowa finds a pair of visits from Washed Out's tour after they wrap up their opening slots with The National.

Here's the promotional spin:

Washed Out has premiered a new long-form video for “Weightless,” the latest offering from his acclaimed album, Paracosm. Directed by David Altobelli (M83, Sia, Conor Oberst), the mini film, presents a "gorgeous tale" of unrequited love with dreamlike sequences throughout. Altobelli says of the video, "Unrequited love is a universal emotion. In this case, the emotions are heightened because there exists yet another wall between the protagonist and the object of his affection. It's heartbreaking and inevitable, but it's also just part of being a kid in love(see Pitchfork News Story June 4th)."

Washed Out has added August and September to his 2014 tour schedule in support of Paracosm. The tour now spans June 4th in Richmond, VA at The National and currently ends on September 14th in Tampa, FL at The Ritz Ybor. Tickets for the August and September dates go on sale Friday, June 6th at 10a.m. ET.

 Festival highlights for the tour include: June 6th in New York, NY at The Governors Ball; June 8th in Toronto, ON at Field Trip; June 15th in Manchester, TN at Bonnaroo Music Festival; June 20th in Dufur, OR for WTF?! What The Festival; June 22nd in Dover, DE at Firefly Music Festival; August 29th in Chicago, IL at North Coast Music Festival; and September 6th in St. Louis, MO for Lou Fest. Please find a complete list of tour dates below.

Washed Out’s Paracosm is available now on CD / LP / DL in North America via Sub Pop and Europe via Weird Word.

Tour Dates
Jun. 04 - Richmond, VA - The National*
Jun. 05 - Washington, DC - 9:30 Club*
Jun. 06 - New York, NY - The Governors Ball / Randall’s Island
Jun. 06 - Brooklyn, NY - Brooklyn Bowl (Late Show)
Jun. 08 - Toronto, ON - Field Trip / Historic Fort York and Garrison Commons
Jun. 09 - Pontiac, MI - Crofoot Ballroom*
Jun. 10 - Cleveland Heights, OH - Grog Shop*
Jun. 11 - Columbus, OH - Newport Music Hall*
Jun. 12 - Lancaster, PA - Chameleon Club*
Jun. 15 - Manchester, TN - Bonnaroo Music Festival
Jun. 20 - Dufur, OR - WTF?! What The Festival
Jun. 22 - Dover, DE - Firefly Music Festival
Aug. 25 - Knoxville, TN - Bijou Theatre
Aug. 26 - Norfolk, VA - The NorVa
Aug. 27 - Millvale, PA - Mr. Smalls Theatre
Aug. 29 - Chicago, IL - North Coast Music Festival / Union Park
Sep. 01 - Minneapolis, MN - First Avenue
Sep. 02 - Iowa City, IA - Blue Moose Tap House
Sep. 03 - Des Moines, IA - Wooly’s
Sep. 05 - Lawrence, KS - The Granada Theatre
Sep. 06 - St. Louis, MO - Lou Fest / Forest Park
Sep. 07 - Tulsa, OK - Cains Ballroom
Sep. 08 - Dallas, TX - Granada Theatre
Sep. 09 - Austin, TX - The Mohawk
Sep. 10 - New Orleans, LA - House of Blues
Sep. 12 - Orlando, FL - The Plaza Live
Sep. 13 - Fort Lauderdale, FL - Culture Room
Sep. 14 - Tampa, FL - The Ritz Ybor
* w/ Wunder Wunder