Sunday, March 10, 2019

Adam Ant: Wonderful (Capitol Records/1995)

It had been five long years since Adam Ant released an album when Wonderful appeared in March of 1995. However, this was not through any fault of his own.

In 1991 he'd recorded Persuasion, his would-be second album for MCA Records with longtime collaborator Marco Pirroni on guitar and the former Chic rhythm section of Bernard Edwards on bass (and doing double-duty as producer) and Tony Thompson on drums. Persuasion was to be the follow-up to the fairly-successful Manners & Physique album (which contained the Top-20 hit "Room At The Top"). Apparently MCA - who'd been a floundering label in the early 1990's - was entirely restaffed from top to bottom. The people who were in Adam's corner were long gone and the label implemented an absurd policy of "release only albums that are guaranteed to go platinum". Persuasion - which is a much better album than Manners & Physique in every way and would've sat nicely alongside other alternative dance of the day like Jesus Jones' Doubt and The Soup Dragons' Hotwired albums - was put indefinitely in the vaults of MCA. To this day MCA refuses to release it, licence any material from it, or even discuss it (!). 

After being released from his contract with MCA Ant signed with EMI in the UK and Capitol in the US. In the interim however, Adam suffered multiple stalkers (one of which held Adam at gunpoint after breaking into his home), being placed in a mental institution in late 1994 which led to the breakup with his girlfriend actress Heather Graham and ultimately exacerbating his bipolar disorder.

Recorded at Abbey Road in the Spring of 1994 with a band of Ex-Polecat/Morrissey sideman Boz Boorer and Pirroni on guitars, Bruce Witkin on bass and drum duties shared by Dave Ruffy of The Ruts and John Reynolds (whom Pirroni had worked with previously on the Sinéad O'Connor albums he'd played on). Produced by David Tickle (Split Enz, Divinyls), the album has a mellower feel than what Ant is generally known for and is similar in feel to fellow New Wave comeback albums like Duran Duran's Wedding Album and then-new artists like The Cramberries' Everybody's Doing It So Why Can't We?.

The album is littered with low-key glam stompers like "Vampires", "1969 Again" and the rollicking single "Gotta Be A Sin" (the chorus of which contains the chords to T. Rex's "Jeepster", backwards). Swaggering tracks like "Very Long Ride" and "Beautiful Dream" (both co-written by Kings-era Ant bassist Kevin Mooney). Ballads like "Yin & Yang", "Won't Take That Talk" and the album's soaring title-track - the album's lone Top-40 hit. "Wonderful" was Adam with his heart on his sleeve, something he'd never done in the past. And it actually was poignant and effective enough to be a real hit. 

Although, this may be damning it with faint praise, the album is loaded with subtle, adult, minor pop songs that have been largely overlooked and/or simply forgotten about. Sonically, the album is reminiscent of Morrissey's Vauxhall And I and is like nothing else in the Antman's catalog. 


Saturday, March 9, 2019

Thomas Dolby: Aliens Ate My Buick (EMI Manhattan/1988)

I first discovered Thomas Dolby in the Spring of 1989 on a program called Classic MTV. It was a thirty-minute show that showed 5-6 music videos and was hosted by returning-VJ Martha Quinn. I discovered a lot of artists via this show. The video was "She Blinded Me With Science" and Thomas Dolby made a big impression twelve-year old me. The song had an insanely catchy, quirky hook and Dolby generally sounded like the younger brother of Gary Numan and Andy Partridge. The low melodic synth line that precedes the "Science!" sounded vaguely sinister and the understated funky, chorused guitar was (and still is) a favorite pet guitar sound of mine. Quintessential new wave with a decidedly quirky bent. I was sold on Mr. Dolby.

I went out and bought the 7" single and Golden Age Of Wireless cassette at Record World later that week. MTV had done its job. There was another cassette tape in the Thomas Dolby section too; Aliens Ate My Buick. The cover was an homage to classic, campy B-Movie posters (although, I didn't know this at the time). It just looked sort of dopey and silly and twelve-year old me was not interested. I eventually picked up the album many years later. In the interim I'd fallen in love with both The Golden Age Of Wireless and its underappreciated follow-up The Flat Earth.

I had no knowledge of what had led-up to this album. Dolby scored a few films, moved to Los Angeles and married an actress. The album - produced by Bill Bottrell (Madonna, Sheryl Crow and Michael Jackson) - definitely sounds like an L.A.-album from the later 1980's (I don't think I've ever heard that description be used in a complimentary way) which, it in fact is. It spawned three singles; the Caucasian-funk of "Airhead", which has cliche-ridden observations of dumb Hollywood blondes and sounds like it could've been the theme to Earth Girls Are Easy. "Hot Sauce" which was written by George Clinton of all people and employs a definite Prince-influence. The song sounds like it might've worked if it was handled by another artist. The thin production - and mastering of the day - sort of deflates the whole thing. and "My Brain Is Like A Sieve" which isn't a bad song, but the arrangement sounds vaguely wrong and is, again, sabotaged by a weird mix and/or ill-suited production.

The remainder of the album is all-over the place. "The Keys To Her Ferrari" has a self-consciously wacky big-band arrangement with unpleasant keyboard sounds. "Pulp Culture" sounds like Beck about ten years before his excursions on Midnight Vultures. In general, Dolby comes off lyrically like the smartest kid in the class being humored by the teachers, as he attempts to be humorous; it just comes off as embarrassing. But here, Dolby sounds like he's impossible to embarrass. Ouch.

The final two songs on the album proper are both excellent and makes me wish Dolby had recorded more straight-forward tracks like these instead of attempting to sell an overripe, wacky-persona with misguided funk exercises. Co-written with sometime-collaborator Matthew Seligman of The Soft Boys, "The Ability To Swing" has a low-key jazzy shuffle. And despite Dolby's curiously affected vocals, the lyrics are direct and effective. Random aside; the chorused bassline also reminds me of that scene in The Breakfast Club where the detentioned teens are all bored and falling asleep.

The last track on the album is the positively excellent "Budapest By Blimp". At over eight-minutes long, what could be an overlong exercise in atmospherics, turns out to be a sublime soundscape with wonderful musical and lyrical imagery. It singularly displays what makes Thomas Dolby such a special artist; unexpected depth and surprising poignancy wrapped in quirky packaging with casually intelligent lyrics. Some wonderfully understated vocals from Dolby and ethereal female backing vocals on this track as well. Absolutely beautiful

The final song on the compact disc and cassette editions of the album is "May The Cube Be With You", which was originally released in in 1985 under the moniker Dolby's Cube. It's a flat, rote P-Funk-styled singalong featuring George Clinton himself and Lene Lovich (the latter of whom Dolby wrote "New Toy" for, about his desire for a new synthesizer). It ends things in a rather unspectacular fashion.

Aside from the two tracks mentioned toward the end of the album, an unfortunate collection of material by an artist whose work is generally excellent.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Tav Falco's Panther Burns at El Cortez, Brooklyn, NY 5/15/2018

Tav Falco's Panther Burns (or Tav Falco & The Panther Burns) formed in 1979 with Ross Johnson on drums and Alex Chilton (who would leave the band in 1981 but record and produce various Panther Burns albums into the 1990's) on lead guitar. Their initial brand of swampy rockabilly - something that would eventually be dubbed "Psychobilly"- with a garage rock sensibility would later see the band adopt elements of Blues, Tango and general Roots-Rock.

I've been a fan of Tav Falco and his Panther Burns since 1991, when I first heard the classic Chilton-produced Life Sentence In The Cathouse album. It was love at first listen. But I'd never seen them live. They played Rodeo Bar in NY mid-2013 but was unable to attend. I made sure I didn't miss seeing him on his latest Northeast jaunt. He's touring to promote a new a documentary Make Me Know You're Mine, about the man himself.

His band was comprised of younger musicians (Falco is an astonishing 73 years old...astonishing because the man moves and performs like he's a few dozen years younger). They were well-dressed with slim-fitting suits and Beatle-Boots. The audience treated Falco like the cult legend that he is. Aside from a completely random drunken fight between two jackass punters - who were swiftly shown the door - the night was basically an old-school rock and roll dance party. Tav offered anyone willing to tango to one of his songs - appropriately a tango - the opportunity to dance on stage, sadly, no one took the offer seriously enough to do it.

The Panther Burns played a nearly two-hour set of typically obscure classics ("Arkansas Stomp", "Bad Motorcycle" and the wonderful "Make Me Know You're Mine"). His encore included a nice tribute to Alex Chilton with a faithful cover of "Bangkok".

A great show from a legendary cult figure and his ever changing Panther Burns.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Fun Boy Three: Waiting (Chrysalis Records/1983)

The Fun Boy Three was an offshoot project of ex-members of The Specials; Terry Hall, Lynval Golding and Neville Staple. After The Specials' single for “Ghost Town” peaked at number one on the UK charts, Golding, Hall and Staple left the band to form The Fun Boy Three.

The band had near-instant success in the U.K. with their first few singles which all reached the Top 20 and their self-titled debut album which reached the Top 10. The album had a spare sound with tribal drumming and chanting, Terry Hall's deadpan vocals and background vocal support from Bananarama. The band also returned the favor by contributing to Bananarama's “Really Saying Something” single.

The Fun Boy Three's follow-up and would-be final album, Waiting , was produced by Talking Head David Byrne. It featured full-arrangements in a significantly more classical-pop vein. It features David Byrne on guitar and ex-Specials trumpet player Dick Cuthell as well. Byrne's production really does suit the songs well. And the results are a cohesive, satisfying listen.

There are a few tangos (“The Tunnel Of Love” and “The Things We Do”) a few socio-political songs (“The More I See The Less I Believe” and “The Pressure Of Life”), a few darkly comical autobiographical songs (“Well Fancy That” and “We're Having All The Fun”), music hall via reggae (“The Farmyard Connection”) and the bands' arrangement of “Our Lips Are Sealed”, which was co-written by Hall with Jane Wiedlin. It's a poignantly darker version of The Go-Go's classic bubblegummy rendition.

All in all an awesome record. Definitely a sleeper of an album. Highly recommended.

Here's the video review:

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Paul Weller: The Paramount, Huntington, NY (10/1/2017)

Paul Weller had been an early favorite of mine who, over the course of time I simply forgot about. The ex-frontman for The Jam and The Style Council was one of the best songwriters from the class of  '77. Defiantly British, in the same vein as The Kinks before them and Blur after them, The Jam were melodically somewhere between The Buzzcocks and The Clash. There was a classicism to their material in the same vein as XTC or Squeeze. Yet, unlike those bands, they were hugely influenced by classic American R&B. So much so that Weller disbanded The Jam in late 1982 and formed blue-eyed soul-tinged outfit, The Style Council in early 1983. Weller has been exploring blue-eyed soul mixed with influences of folk and psychedelia since the early 1990's when he started his solo career.

That's basically where I stopped following his career. Big mistake. He's apparently released some amazing solo records (1993's Wild Wood, 2008's 22 Dreams, 2015's Saturn's Pattern to name but a few). After hearing these records, I realize how dull other people's solo records invariably always seem to be - something that Weller has seemingly been able to effortlessly avoid. I'm also struck by how different his vocal persona is as opposed to his near-cockney talk-singing in The Jam and Style Council. He's a full-throated singer in the same vein as Steve Winwood in Traffic. In fact, he kind of sounds identical to Winwood in his phrasing and his singing.

I'd never seen Weller before so I was overjoyed to see him on the first night of his American tour. The room was full of older folks (I'm somewhat used to being a young-in at a lot of these shows) who were all drinking on a Sunday night, Monday-morning-be-damned.Weller came armed with a full-sized band (about six or seven musicians backing him) and alternated between guitar and keyboards.
The only person in his band that I knew prior was Steve Cradock of Ocean Colour Scene. Weller has obviously aged a smidge, but he's still in perfect voice and is in great shape. And he's no less vital than he's ever been.

The songs; I have to admit not being familiar with ANY of his solo material before the show. Of the fantastic twenty-nine song set, the band performed two Style Council songs ("My Ever Changing Moods" and "Shout To The Top!" - both of which were perhaps the most well-received of the night) and Jam songs ("Start!" and "Monday") which were nice to hear, the former with a slightly reserved arrangement. Performed from the new album, A Kind Of Revolution, was the newest single, "Woo Sé Mama" and "She Moves With The Fayre". I presumed these songs to be covers of classic R&B songs from long ago, only to discover they're only months old and Weller originals.

The band performed six of the nine songs that comprise the Saturns Pattern album. I've come to conclusion that this may be Weller's greatest solo album. This is only because I've only heard a few so far, and they may be all tied for being as awesome as the one I heard last. He performed two songs ("The Weaver" and the title-track) from his most-acclaimed solo album, Wild Wood. 

So, aside from seeing the legendary Jam-frontman. I got to see a soulful elder-statesman who introduced me to his solo catalog. A solo catalog that not only does not suck, but I can wholeheartedly appreciate and actively enjoy it on its own terms and not make me long for The Jam or The Style Council. Also, his band is very well-rehearsed, and Weller is still a great performer.

A great show.

Special thanks to Doug Mashkow from CD Island and Bob Wilson of WLIR-FM.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

X: Stage 48, New York, NY (9/21/2017)

I've always liked X. I was first exposed to them in the late 80's via their appearance in Urgh! A Music War! I wasn't sure what to make of the cross-eyed harmonies of John and Exene. Over time, they made perfect sense. However, I'd missed the opportunity to see them as they broke up shortly after 1993's Hey Zeus. And the following reunions didn't see many, if any, visits to New York.

I have to say, it was completely worth the wait. The band was in completely top form. John Doe had far more energy that I expected him to have. Guitarist (and saxophone player, apparently) Billy Zoom, who is still recovering from a 2015 bladder cancer diagnosis, played guitar in a chair and played sax on a few songs standing up (the sax was bolted to a stand). He seemed virtually unaffected by anything and was giving it 100% all night. Drummer DJ Bonebrake came armed with a marimba which he played for a few songs. Vocalist Exene was in fine form as well. Making herself very available; chatting with the audience when she wasn't singing and signing autographs for whomever wanted one.

The songs. With the glaring omissions of "The New World" and "White Girl" (which were in the set virtually every night leading up to this night's show...sigh) the band played virtually every song I wanted to hear by them. The awesome singe "Blue Spark", the anthemic "Los Angeles", their debut single "Adult Books", the punky rockabilly of  "Beyond & Back" (from both Urgh! and The Decline Of Western Civilization), the brooding "Nausea", their cover of Jerry Lee Lewis' "Breathless" (from the forgotten Richard Gere film Breathless) and the classics "The World's A Mess It's In My Kiss", "Motel Room In My Bed" and "Johny Hit And Run Paulene".

The highlight of the evening was easily "The Hungry Wolf". It featured an extended section with a long drum solo in the center (think the Buzzcocks' "Moving Away from the Pulsebeat"). It seemed to somehow pick up momentum by the time it came back to the vocal part. Amazing. The band performed twenty-three songs in all and had the audience captivated for the entire set. John Doe even muttered something about putting on the disco ball during the retro slow-dance song "Come Back To Me", and withing seconds, his wish was granted. It was a special night and the band was on.

I was lucky to see X in such excellent form. I seriously hope they'll start touring regularly so I won't have to wait so long to see them again.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

King Missile: Bowery Electric, New York, NY (9/15/2017)

My first exposure to New York band King Missile was via the Video Jukebox Network. The video for "My Heart Is A Flower" from The Way To Salvation converted me fairly easily. I went out and bought the cassette not too long afterwards. I took my time in investigating their back catalog and the next thing I knew Happy Hour (which is approximately 60 minutes in length) was released. Happy Hour featured the major MTV hit "Detachable Penis" and the minor MTV hit "Martin Scorsese". After 1994's King Missile I kind of checked out and was basically done with King Missile. So was lead singer John S. Hall apparently, as the band broke up not too long after this album. 

Since the breakup of King Missile, Hall went to law school and is now an Intellectual Property Analyst. He also formed King Missile III and King Missile IV and released records under that moniker as well. The current incarnation of KM feature longtime members Dave Rick on guitar and Roger Murdoch on drums (apparently keyboardist Chris Xefos does in fact play with the band when he's on the East Coast as he lives in California now). So, King Missile is basically a hobby for Hall and his bandmates. 

The sound at Bowery Electric is, like any teeny-tiny venue, hit or miss. The band themselves sounded fine. Hall's vocals were kind of drowned-out in the din. From where I was standing - front and center - I had to strain to hear him. That said, he made the best of the situation, freely roaming into the audience and interacting with the patrons, mid-song.  

The band tackled many a classic from the Shimmy Disc years ("Sensitive Artist", "Take Stuff From Work" and "Jesus Was Way Cool") and classics from the Atlantic years ("My Heart Is A Flower", "Detachable Penis", "Socks" and "Martin Scorsese"). They tackled items they've covered on record ("Mr. Johnson" and "Betrayal Takes Two") as well as covers by local legends ("Rockaway Beach"by The Ramones and "Gratitude" by Beastie Boys) . They ended the show with a cover of The Buzzcocks' "What Do I Get". 

Despite the wonky sound and the somewhat halfheartedness of the entire performance, it was a fun show. It was nice to finally see the band as I'd never seen gotten around to seeing any incarnation of King Missile. I got to meet John before the show and buy a copy of the new KMIV disc (This Fuckin' Guy); he's very approachable and makes himself very available to his people. 

An entertaining show.