Wednesday, June 25, 2008

180. The Beatles - Abbey Road (1969)

Now we conclude our journey through the back catalog of a little-known '60s band I've recently discovered.

This is it kids, The Beatles' final album. They gave it a good six year run, but it seems the years of hard work with little acclaim or monetary compensation had finally taken their toll on this little band.

To their credit, they go out with what I believe is their finest achievement. Unlike their previous album, The Beatles, there's a unified feel, not only in the performances, but in the sound of the songs themselves - bluesy and American - despite the fact that all four members were composing individually.

For all of its appeal, Abbey Road is actually quite a strange album. No other Beatles album - not even The Beatles - contains such a mixture of standout classics and obscure curiosities. In the former category, we have two songs that have nearly become standards. They're also the first two songs on the album. One is John Lennon's Come Together, a sinister, nonsensical ditty that sounds like blues from the future. The other is Something, sweet, sexy, orchestrated, and the first time - after years of being third banana - that George Harrison gets the better of Lennon/McCartney as a songwriter. Even the bridge ("you're asking me will my love grow") is a mini-masterpiece.

In a twist of status quo, Paul's compositions are among the more obscure and obtuse. Maxwell's Silver Hammer, a cheery-sounding tale of a remorseless serial killer, falls squarely in the disturbing-if-you-listen-closely file. The passionate Oh Darling is a R & B torch ballad exercise that gives McCartney a chance to show off his impressive singing/emoting.

Next is Ringo Starr's second and final foray into composing, Octopus's Garden. It's whimsical and sweet, built on harmony. The lyrics concern a secret place beneath the sea, and the narrator's wish to go where "no one's there to tell us what to do." One could read it as simple and childlike, a sort of sequel to Yellow Submarine. But it also appears to address Ringo's attitude toward the band, a wish to be away from the turmoil. By all accounts The Beatles were in the thick of many problems in 1969, both interpersonal and business-related. As easy-going as Ringo was, I'm sure he was still affected mightily.

I Want You follows. It's a sort of alternate reality version of Oh Darling, as if Lennon and McCartney both decided to write songs on the same theme. It's similarly passionate and simple, but heavier, with a repetitive guitar lick that builds and builds as the song ends. If you were listening to this on vinyl, here ends side one, abruptly, almost angrily.

And here's where The Beatles have a happy accident. On CD, the dark, violent end of I Want You immediately gives way to the bright ringing first notes of Here Comes the Sun. It's a supremely satisfying transition. The song itself is a second Harrison triumph, full of clarity, optimism, and pop goodness.

Here Comes the Sun is actually the last proper song on the album, as the rest of side 2 is an 18-minute tapestry of unfinished Lennon/McCartney song bits. With any other band, this would probably be a tedious prospect, but credit the strength of the songwriters and the ingenuity of producer George Martin with turning it instead into a thrilling exercise.

The suite kicks off with Because, a gorgeous tune in three part harmony, hearkening back to This Boy. That segues into You Never Give Me Your Money, which appears to address the band's financial problems. The song itself contains a couple of movements; it starts off as a vocal showcase, then morphs into a McCartney blues number. Sun King is next, and John seems to be gently parodying his bandmate Harrison when he sings "Here comes the sun king." Later, he sings in what sounds like pidgin Italian.

Things rock up with a couple of odd character sketches, Mean Mr.Mustard and Polythene Pam before Paul's oddly modern She Came In Through The Bathroom Window. It might as well be the blueprint for today's indie pop. Golden Slumbers and Carry That Weight take us from orchestral rumination into a joyful sing along.

Finally, we have The End. Following an excitable jammy instrumental performance, the instruments fall out, a singular piano line comes in and the boys harmonize portentously on the lines: "And in the end, the love you take / Is equal to the love you make." Very few of us, Royal Tenenbaum excluded, get to write our own epitaph. The Beatles got that chance, and they made the best of it.

The four lads from Liverpool may not have become world famous, but they did manage one last feat. They invented the bonus track, that bane of many a music-lover's existence. In this case, it's a charming little bit of doggerel from Paul McCartney tacked on accidentally to the end of the record. Her Majesty finds Paul declaring both his drunkeness and his love for the queen. To think, he became a Sir anyway.

Grade: A+
Fave Song: Octopus's Garden

Sunday, June 22, 2008

2008: Mid-Year Round-Up

175. Sloan: Parallel Play (2008)

The album's name comes from the developmental stage wherein children will play in proximity, but not interact with one another. It's a cute title, but doesn't quite work as an analogy for the band, despite the fact that all four members write and sing their own songs. That's because there's too much synergy and collaboration going on, and after 9 great albums together, that's what you'd expect.

Here Patrick, Andrew, Jay, and Chris add a few more masterpieces to their portfolio, including Burn For It, Witches Wand, Cheap Champagne, and All I Am Is All You're Not. Sloan are one of the few bands that might not be capable of making a bad album. Grade: A- Fave Song: Witches Wand

176. Supergrass: Diamond Hoo Ha (2008)

Do yourself a favor and seek out the newest effort from one of Britpop's most enduring and consistently surprising bands. Following 2006's contemplative Road to Rouen, Diamond Hoo Ha returns a sense of fun and swagger to the group's sound.

Songs are propulsive and unpredictable, with discoey choruses, indie rock verses, harmony-laden pre-chourses, marching band intros, and keyboard solo bridges.

Check out Rebel In You, 345, Outside, Whiskey and Green Tea, or Diamond Hoo Ha Man for further evidence. Grade: A- Fave Song: Rebel In You

177. Alanis Morissette: Flavors of Entanglement (2008)

I don't think every artist needs to suffer to be great, but many do, and Alanis is one of them. Following a messy break-up with actor Ryan Reynolds, Morissette put her pain to song and fans are the beneficiaries.

It's becoming a cliche to say this, but Flavors of Entanglement is varied enough to come off as an alternate reality greatest hits package, encompassing all of Alanis' past musical moods and lives (save her teen pop days). The pissed-off Alanis of Jagged Little Pill appears on Straitjacket (which features a throbbing chorus that starts: "This shit's making me crazy / The way you nullify what's in my head"). The searching Earth child Alanis of Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie appears on opener Citizen of the Planet while the brooding diary-entry wordiness of that album is replicated in Moratorium. The confessions of Underneath and Tapes recall the driving narratives of Under Rug Swept. And finally, the clear-headed gentleness of songs like Everything on So-Called Chaos come back in the resolute album closer Incomplete.

Producer and co-writer Guy Sigsworth (formerly of Frou Frou, who did Let Go on the Garden State soundtrack) brings a full, catchy electronic-tinged sound to the songs. It's Alanis' strongest effort since you know when. Grade: B+ Fave Song: Giggling Again For No Reason

178. Jakob Dylan: Seeing Things (2008)

Jakob Dylan, who I admire greatly, tries the bare bones solo acoustic approach on his first album without The Wallflowers. It has the result of marking a clear difference between Dylan's solo and band songs, but it also feels slightly over-calculated to build cred, especially since producer Rick Rubin did the same thing with Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond.

The air of self-seriousness in the songs themselves doesn't help; a bit more of the wicked humor Jakob has displayed in the past (Sleepwalker, If You Never Got Sick) would have been welcome. As is, things can't help but drag a little.

Even so, it's not an album one can judge quickly or superficially. The songs aren't designed for instant gratification; they're more likely to grow on a person over time. Evil Is Alive and Well, Everybody Pays As They Go and Something Good This Way are all likely to stick with you for awhile. Grade: INC Fave Song: Something Good This Way Comes

179. My Morning Jacket: Evil Urges (2008)

With each album, My Morning Jacket's sound has gotten clearer and their songs have become more melodic. As a result, many hipster fans and critics have rebelled. Personally, I have no problem with more accessible material, but MMJ are still far from mainstream. Few bands on the radio these days encompass R & B, '60s pop, '70s AM mellow gold and disco, '80s southern rock, Britpop, and psychedelic country.

Granted, the modern funk and falsetto of Highly Suspicious walks the fine line between thrilling and annoying before giving over to the latter, but the quality of the other songs - nearly every one is a highlight - more than make up for it. Grade: A- Fave Song: Two Halves

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

12 featuring Jay-Z

Here's the drill: 12 songs to summarize an artist's career, in chronological order (of course).

Week 21

Jay-Z may have a lot of nice houses, but he's not content to just stay there. He likes to go visit his friends too. Here are the 12 best songs featuring Jigga as a guest. As I did with my 12 by Jay-Z feature, I'm going to let the man speak for himself.

1. Foxy Brown - I'll Be (found on Ill Na Na, 1996)
"Will tears fall to your ears if I don't stop?"

2. Notorious B.I.G. - I Love the Dough (found on Life After Death, 1997)
"And tell me you won't ball every chance you get / and any chance you hit, we live for the moment / Makes sense don't it? Now make dollars"

3. Mariah Carey - Heartbreaker (found on Rainbow, 1999)
"She call me heartbreaker / When we apart it makes her wanna piece of paper / Scribble down 'I hate ya!'"

4. Beyonce - Crazy in Love (found on Dangerously in Love, 2003)
"Young Hov, y'all know when the flow is loco / Young B and the R-O-C, uh-oh / Old G, big homie, the one and only / Stick bony but the pockets is fat like Tony Soprano"

5. Pharrell - Frontin' (found on The Neptunes Present...Clones, 2003)
"Everytime your name was brought up / I would act all nonchalant in front of an audience / Like you was just another shortie I put the naughty on"

6. Outkast - Flip Flop Rock (found on Speakerboxx / The Love Below, 2003)
"Why that, why this, niggaz wanna hijack the flyness / I'm on a whole 'nother plane / A whole different lane, a whole 'nother game that I'm playin' / Understand what I'm sayin'?"

7. Kanye West - Never Let Me Down (found on College Dropout, 2004)
"First I snatched the streets, then I snatched the charts / First had they ear, now I have their heart / Rappers came and went / I've been here from the start"

8. Kanye West - Diamonds from Sierra Leone (Remix) (found on Late Registration, 2005)
"I'm not a business man / I'm a business, man / Let me handle my business, damn!"

9. Young Jeezy - Go Crazy (Remix) (found on Let's Get It: Thug Motivation 101, 2005)
"See I'ma '80s baby, mastered Reaganomics / School of Hard Knocks, everyday is college / You ain't did nothin' I ain't did, nigga pay homage"

10. Nas - Black Republican (found on Hip Hop is Dead, 2006)
"Now the team got beef between the post and the point / This puts the ring in jeopardy, indefinitely"

11. Beyonce - Deja Vu (found on B'Day, 2006)
"Is he the best ever, that's the argu-a-ment / I don't make the list, don't be mad at me / I just make the hits, like a factory / I'm just one-to-one, nothin' after me"

12. Rihanna - Umbrella (found on Good Girl Gone Bad, 2007)
"No clouds in my storms / Let it rain, I hydroplane into fame / Comin' down with the Dow Jones / When the clouds come we gone"

Sunday, June 15, 2008

174. The Beatles: Yellow Submarine (1969)

Now we continue our journey through the back catalog of a little-known '60s band I've recently discovered.

As they reached the inevitable nadir of their undistinguished career, something weird happened. Some devoted fan took The Beatles' songs and made an animated movie out of them. With Peter Max-inspired design and a stream-of-consciousness plot, the movie was most definitely of its time, and that's probably why very few people are aware of it today.

Probably even fewer people know that The Beatles released an accompanying soundtrack, though to be fair it's not much of an album. There are 6 Beatles songs, two of which were previously released: Yellow Submarine and All You Need Is Love. The album's entire second side is taken up with the film's score, composed and conducted by the 5th Beatle, producer George Martin. The score has been much maligned (an updated version of the soundtrack released in 1999 even eliminated it in favor of additional Beatles songs), and unjustly so.

It's no secret that George Martin came from a classical background, but it's a slight surprise that the score is not quite traditional. For one, Sea of Time expertly incorporates George Harrison's eastern-leaning Within You Without You. The soaring Pepperland and romantic Sea of Monsters are more conventional, but might lead you to create a movie in your head that's better than Yellow Submarine itself. March of the Meanies, however, is the most arresting tune. It's swirling and macabre and predates Danny Elfman's film-scoring career by a good 15 years. All in all, it's nice music for listening to while reading before you fall asleep.

As for the four new songs; they are really the selling point. The question is, are they worth it? As with many things, the answer is yes and no. George Harrison's Only A Northern Song is dreary and murky and dissonant. The lyrics are a sign of interband turmoil, seeming to address the fact that John and Paul were so lauded for their songs, while his went underappreciated (Northern Songs is the name of the Lennon/McCartney publishing company). However it's strange that George tries to prove his point by writing the exact kind of song he's deriding; the chords are off, the multitude of instruments are out of synch with one another, and his singing is languid and uninspired.

It's All Too Much, another George contribution, fares better. The beat is infectious while the verses and chorus are dreamy. It's a potent combination, and one that Britpop bands like Blur would take straight to the bank 25 years later.

McCartney's All Together Now is another slight and surfacy song from the master of them. It succeeds mostly thanks to a sprightly acoustic jangle and a hoe-down feel. Lennon, on the other hand, delivers the best of the batch. Hey Bulldog is down and dirty, driven by honky-tonk piano, with generous helpings of cutting guitar and bouncy bass. The sound is thoroughly modern, loose, and thrilling.

In total, while enjoyable, Yellow Submarine is not an essential entry in The Beatles' catalog. In fact, one could go without hearing it, and never have the feeling that they'd missed much of anything. Fans would have to wait for the next album for true satisfaction, and they wouldn't have to wait long.

Grade: B-
Fave Song: Hey Bulldog

Friday, June 13, 2008

Refrigerated Love: The Complete Discography

Since Wikipedia has repeatedly denied submissions for an entry on Refrigerated Love, I'm using this blog to present you with the official discography of the band, including albums, compilations, solo albums and bootlegs.

I. Albums:

Refrigerated Love (1981)
1. Okay Then
2. The Ballad of Colin and April
3. Just Enough To Squeeze
4. Stolen Girlfriend
5. On the Other Hand
6. Exactly Right For Me
7. Gretchen
8. Still Life in Mono
9. Not a Soul But Us
10. That Hurt

Plant Lives (1982)
1. Foilage All Over You
2. Best Buds
3. Sequoias of Your Heart
4. Talk To Me
5. Love Sprouts
6. Gettin' My Hands Dirty
7. In With The New
8. Reap What You Sow

Defrost Before Heating (1983)
1. Nigel's Party
2. Big Promotion
3. Questions About You
4. Beneath the Strawberry Sky
5. Men & Women
6. Isn't It Neat
7. Mona Lisa
8. Valleys
9. Tell the Truth or Something Close To It
10. Hugs
11. The Last Thing I Need
12. January Sun

Monster Mashers (1984)
1. Crushin' On You
2. Did You Hear That?
3. Change is Inevitable
4. Subversive Thoughts
5. Far Below
6. Screaming to Scream
7. Shocking and Rolling
8. Godzilla's Got Gonorrhea
9. If It Sticks

Gardening Secrets (1985)
1. Cholera!
2. Dress Me
3. Wailing Old House
4. He Knows the Way
5. Mourned and Neglected
6. Fresh Air Will Kill Me
7. Returned
8. That Damned Dickon
9. What We Cultivate
10. Forgiveness (Gardening Secrets)

Heart Like a Flying Car (1987)
1. I Am the Robot
2. Ever Again
3. Would It Be Pathetic If I Asked Again
4. Pulse of the Night
5. Goodbye For the First Time
6. Flying You Home
7. Unexplained
8. Your Point of View
9. Inside, Outside, Upside Down
10. Outro, pt. 1

Tail (Lights) (1987)
1. Tail (Lights)

My Handlebar Mustache (1987)
1. My Handlebar Mustache

If You're Thinking Of Going (1987)
1. If You're Thinking Of Going

Do The Math (You + Me) (1987)
1. Do the Math (You + Me)

Maybe If You're Lucky (1987)
1. Maybe If You're LuckyApril's Over (1987)
1. April's OverFull-Throated (1987)
1. Full-ThroatedAt That One Restaurant You Like (1987)
1. At That One Restaurant You LikeJust Background Vocals (1987)
1. Just Background VocalsThings I Pretended To Like (1987)
1. Things I Pretended To Like Have We Lost Our Minds, Yes We Have (1988)
1. Pale and Ravenous Demon
2. A Gentleman, He?
3. Worse Than Dislike
4. Dreadful Little Mind
5. In the Small Hours
6. They Absolutely Decline
7. A Romantic Revival
8. Merely Bewildered
9. There Was Everything

Live On (Live) (1989)
Recorded circa 1982
1. Intro / Flute Solo
2. Just Enough To Squeeze
3. Love Sprouts
4. Gretchen
5. That Hurt
6. Gettin' My Hands Dirty
7. Not a Soul But Us
8. Still Life In Mono
9. Stolen Girlfriend
10. Talk To Me
11. Subversive Thoughts
12. Foilage All Over You
13. Exactly Right For Me
14. In With the New
15. Sequoias Of Your Heart
16. We're An American Band (incongruous Grand Funk Railroad cover)

Songs For the Year 1996 (1992)
1. Four Years From Now
2. Take Off Your Pants
3. How It Used To Be
4. Apocalypse Then
5. Dystopic
6. Addition by Addition
7. Luddite Blues
8. It's Pretty Much the Same
9. That's What I Said
10. Off the Rails
11. Food, Shelter, Clothing
12. Cog in the Machine Songs For they Year 2006 (1993)
1. Hey! It's the Future!
2. Sci-Fi Epic
3. Behind the Shadow
4. You Are Still Very Young
5. Fear Himself
6. Strangers Here
7. Our Human Limitations
8. Come In Peace
9. Willing Suspension of Belief
10. What On Earth?
11. Nostalgasm

We Refuse To Pun the Word Cover (1994)
Cover album (original artist is in parentheses)
1. Hell Is For Children (Pat Benetar)
2. Anyone Can See (Irene Cara)
3. Edge Of Seventeen (Stevie Nicks)
4. You Make Me Want To Make You Mine (Juice Newton)
5. Spanish Eddie (Laura Branigan)
6. Words Get In the Way (Gloria Estefan)
7. Silly (Deniece Williams)
8. You Should Hear How She Talks About You (Melissa Manchester)
9. Could I Have This Dance (Anne Murray)
10. When The Lightning Strikes Again (Sheena Easton)

A Life In a Day (1995)
1. Antelopes Stampeding (Parts 3 and 4)
2. The Sound of a Cabinet Door
3. A Lock On St.Peter's Gate
4. Traipses
5. Just Noise
6. This Is What You Were Looking For
7. Parade Through An Empty Town
8. Snippets From A Carnival
9. A Life In a Day

1. Get Ready Get Set
2. Stick It To Me
3. Animal Appetite
4. Underplayed
5. Madmen
6. Infamous
7. Maui
8. When Were You Planning On Telling Me?
9. In My Sights
10. Say Amen Later
11. You Don't Do It For Me
12. Her Desires
13. Eclipse on Saturday
14. Mundane Life

Exercise Bike (1997)
1. Exercise Bike
2. I'm Your Woman
3. We're Better Than Everybody Else
4. Facial Expressions
5. I'm Leaving Now
6. If It Takes Five Minutes
7. Are You Impressed?
8. Continental Divide
9. It Happened Again
10. Empty Plates
11. Santa's Lament
12. Is That It?

Songs From Our Next Album - Live (1999)
1. Found Salvation In a Cereal Box
2. A Laughing Matter
3. I'll Get Home Three Days After Tomorrow at About Ten O'Clock But No Later Than One On The Following Day
4. Just a Little
5. Call Back Later
6. Oh Ah Eh Uh
7. Shake That Thing One More Time, Ricky
8. New Pair of Sneakers
9. With This Love (Avec ca Amour) (with Celine Dion)
10. Love You Like a Cardboard Box

We're Actually Serious, Really (1999)
1. Found Salvation In a Cereal Box
2. A Laughing Matter
3. I'll Get Home Three Days After Tomorrow at About Ten O'Clock But No Later Than One On The Following Day
4. Just a Little
5. Call Back Later
6. Oh Ah Eh Uh
7. Shake That Thing One More Time, Ricky
8. New Pair of Sneakers
9. With This Love (Avec ca Amour) (with Celine Dion)
10. Love You Like a Cardboard Box
11. I'm Sick Of Your Sh*t

No Expiration Date (2008)
1. Landing on the Sun
2. Hair Gel
3. I Don't Know What's Real Anymore, So I Guess That Means I'm Psychotic
4. Hey, Fever
5. Guaranteed Fresh
6. Song for the Next Generation (You Can Thank Us Later)
7. What If, Maybe, I Suppose
8. Plant One On Me
9. We're All One Race
10. Released Intro
11. Released

Coming In (2009)
Cover album (original artist is in parentheses)
1. Tits on the Radio (Scissor Sisters)
2. Black Boys on Mopeds (Sinead O'Connor)
3. Release the Stars (Rufus Wainwright)
4. Monkey (George Michael)
5. Opportunities (Let's Make Lots of Money) (Pet Shop Boys)
6. Don't Want To Know If You Are Lonely (Husker Du)
7. Little Jeannie (Elton John)
8. Chains of Love (Erasure)
9. History of Us (Indigo Girls)
10. Saint Tropez (Ricky Martin)
11. Turbo Lover (Judas Priest)

Inmortality (2011)
1. Sounds Like an Impressionist Painting
2. In Decay
3. Black Tie Only
4. Mate
5. Iridium
6. Amelia
7. Possessive Rant
8. Fill Me
9. Karaoke Night
10. Get Over Here
11. Under the Tundra
12. It's Been a Long
13. No Comment (hidden bonus track)

II. Compilations

Worst Hits (1988)
1. Tail (Lights)
2. I Am the Robot
3. Goodbye For the First Time
4. Inside, Outside, Upside Down
5. Flying You Home
6. Sequoias Of Your Heart
7. Pulse of the Night
8. Ever Again
9. Would It Be Pathetic If I Asked Again
10. Unexplained
11. Pillow Silence*
12. You're My Ruler*
*new songs

They Weren't Good Enough To Be On The Albums (b-sides and rarities)
1. Miranda Rights
2. The Difference Between Eggshell and Off-White
3. John Wesley's Secretary
4. Frigidaire Assembly Plant
5. Boy Talk
6. Ask Again Later
7. Restaurant Napkins
8. Just A Pawn
9. 9/10ths Of The Law
10. Impersonation
11. I Can't Get Behind (Getting Out Front)
12. Blockbuster

More Worst Hits (1998)
1. Stick It To Me
2. Take Off Your Pants
3. Just Noise
4. Words Get In the Way
5. Sequoias of Your Heart '98 *
6. Merely Bewildered
7. Exercise Bike
8. Men & Women
9. Infamous
10. You Are Still Very Young
11. In With the New (Moby remix) *
12. Santa's Lament
13. Crystal Vase *
14. I'm Saying I Love You Because You Said It First *
*new or previously unreleased songs

III. Solo Albums

Ricky Hornblatt: Fencepost (1990)
1. M-80
2. Riding Sidecar
3. Song for the Man
4. Sam and Diane
5. Red Barns
6. Storm In the Fields
7. Rusty Nails in a Fencepost
8. I Want A Girl
9. Take A Look

Nigel Hornblower: Hullabaloops (1990)
1. The Way You Do That
2. Laughter In Hell
3. Crack
4. I Put A Bullet In a Lawman
5. Hullabaloops
6. Witching Minute
7. Beautiful This Evening
8. Speeding Underground

Elvis Hornman: Verse Chorus Verse (1990)
1. Sung Intro
2. Verse Chorus Verse
3. Here Is What I Think About Watering Lawns
4. Ode to a Forgotten Teddy Bear
5. Osirus
6. Things I've Seen (Part 1)
7. Words of Praise (for Malcom and Martin and John)
8. Army Vehicles
9. Another To Go Please
10. Tanzania
11. Love In Oslo
12. In Regards to Your Special Order
13. They Called Him Tsunami
14. Inpretensious
15. Things I've Seen (Part 2)

Hornel Lieberman: A Warm Bowl of Chili (1990)
1. Here She Comes Again
2. Three Hundred Sixty Degrees
3. I Like Spending My Time With You
4. At the Counter
5. Sarcastic Girl
6. She's Clumsy
7. Clear Skies in Autumn
8. Only For Others
9. Any Way Possible
10. Painting Without Blue

Colin Porthorn: Mystery Pants (1990)
1. Brooke
2. Debbie
3. Patricia
4. Deena
5. If You See Marlene
6. Erica
7. Debra Jo
8. Oh Patsy
9. Mary
10. Ashley

Colin Porthorn: Show Me Your Passion (2010) (single)

IV. Bootlegs

The Coldsmen - Live From Stankey's on 3rd (1986)

At the height of Refrigerated Love's popularity this bootleg from a 1980 Coldsmen performance was widely (and illegally) circulated. It's a fascinating look into the early songwriting of Nigel Hornblower and Colin Porthorn, but is marred by poor sound quality and nearly constant audience jeering.
1. April Showers
2. Cardamom, Basil, Oregano, and Chives
3. Stolen Girlfriend (early version)
4. Mrs. Winkelbottom
5. County Fair
6. Sound of Noise

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

12 written by Prince

Here's the drill: 12 songs to summarize an artist's career, in chronological order (of course).

Week 20

There's no possible way to do a 12 by... for Prince as a performer. I'd have to be more like 48 by... But, if we look at songs the Kid has written or co-written for other artists, then 12 is a perfectly reasonable number. I've tried to include songs that were pretty much exclusive to the artist that did them.

1. Stevie Nicks - Stand Back (from The Wild Heart, 1983) Though not credited, Prince Rogers Nelson definitely had a hand in this one. Just listen to those synths and the funky guitar and it'll become a little more apparent.

2. The Time - Jungle Love (from Ice Cream Castles, 1984) So prolific was the Artist that he had to create other bands to showcase his songs. Thus was born The Time, and this unforgettably primal anthem.

3. Shelia E - The Glamorous Life (from The Glamorous Life, 1984)
Maybe one of his most memorable instrumental hooks, and that's saying something. They lyrics contains strange shifts in point of view, so don't try to figure out the message. I've been working on it for years.

4. Sheila E - A Love Bizarre (from Romance 1600, 1985)
Over 12 minutes long and worth every moment, but it's a shame the single version isn't available on iTunes. At any rate, this is probably the most involved Prince gets in any of the songs on the list, singing back-up and offering some trademark screams near the end.

5. The Bangles - Manic Monday (from A Different Light, 1986)
Shimmery pop inspired by a crush.

6. Kenny Rogers - You're My Love (from They Don't Make Them Like They Used To, 1986)
What's interesting is that just as his own music was becoming more innovative and strange (Kiss came out the same year), the tunes Prince wrote for others were as straightforward and palatable as apple pie.

7. Sinead O'Connor - Nothing Compares 2 U (from I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got, 1990)
This one was written in 1985 for The Family, but Sinead did this cover of that version and the rest is history.

8. Tevin Campbell - Round and Round (from Graffiti Bridge, 1990)
Was he emulating his proteges Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis? Maybe a little, but adding a soulful voiced young Campbell to the heavy beat dance music was a stroke of genius, and also showed Prince could roll with the times.

9. Martika - Love...Thy Will Be Done (from Martika's Kitchen, 1991)
The Toy Soldiers singer got under Prince's wing for her second album and he gave her this pop gospel song.

10. Joe Cocker - Five Women (from Night Calls, 1991)
"It took five women to get you off of my mind / It took five months of plenty good wasted time / But it just took five minutes when I saw your face again / To fall in love all over." An immaculate blues tune worthy of Ray Charles or Eric Clapton that once again shows the versatility of the Purple One. Cocker's strong vocal doesn't hurt anything.

11. Celine Dion - With This Tear (from Celine Dion, 1992)
Written in epic, melodramatic style, With This Tear is a lighter-waver. One can't help wishing to hear the man himself sing it though.

12. El Debarge - Tip O' My Tongue (from In the Storm, 1992)
Great beat? Check. Funky little horn riff? Check. Sexual innuendo? Yep. Random Biblical references? Uh, yeah.

Friday, June 06, 2008

173. Refrigerated Love: We're Actually Serious, Really (1999)

Reviewer's Note: I've dusted off this old review that appeared in the April 1999 edition of the Augustana Observer in anticipation of the new Refrigerated Love album due later this month. For more information, read the brief history of the band I wrote a few years back.

When Refrigerated Love first stepped onto the rock and roll scene in 1981, you would have been hard-pressed to find anyone who really cared. Today, eighteen years and 34 albums later that apathy is still holding strong. Earlier this year, the seminal British band released a live album called Songs From our Next Album - Live. The record wasn't a commercial success, mainly because of the fans' unfamiliarity with the songs, and the fact that drummer "Pasty" Pete Pockhorn and lead guitarist Nigel Hornblower failed to show up for the gig.

Now, with the full band in tow, that next album has finally arrived. Entitled We're Actually Serious, Really, the album is a decided musical growth for the band. Gone are sophomoric song titles like Godzilla's Got Gonorrhea (from 1984's Monster Mashers) and Take Off Those Pants (from 1992's Songs for the Year 1996) and banal lyrics like "I saw you standing next to that tree baby/ and how I wished that tree was me lady" (1982's Sequoias of your Heart) We're Actually Serious, Really features a number of acoustic ballads, a 12-minute epic with strings, and even a duet between lead singer Colin Porthorn and Canadian diva Celine Dion. There is the requisite rocker or two, but the guitars have acquired a Big Star-ian jangle and the lyrics are surprisingly adult, with an almost Dylan-esqe weightiness.

Take the double-guitar attack of I'll Get Home Three Days After Tomorrow at About Ten O'Clock But No Later Than One On The Following Day, a concise and emotional country rock song. In it, lyricist Elvis Hornman imagines a semi-truck driver radioing ahead to his wife: "As I sit here in this weigh station/ I'm thinking of you and feeling jubilation." Porthorn's raspy choirboy voice imbues the song with a Roy Orbison type swagger. Equally impressive is the sure-to-go-number-one power ballad Love you Like a Cardboard Box which is like an Elton John song sung by Perry Como.

There's also a heart-breaking tribute to the band's tambourine player Ricky Hornblatt, who died last year when he was electrocuted trying to learn guitar in the tub. Entitled Shake That Thing One More Time, Ricky, the song takes the form of a 1970's Beach Boys' mini-opera, replete with soaring harmonies and nonsensical spoken word verses.

Other highlights include the Bob Marley-inspired Found Salvation in a Cereal Box which recounts guitarist Hornblower's brief flirtation with religion, and I'm Sick of Your Sh*t a lilting classical guitar number Porthorn wrote for his grandmother.

Happily, keyboardist Hornel Lieberman also contributes a song, the thoughtful glockenspiel-driven New Pair of Sneakers and does the vocals himself (he sounds like he's channeling Never Let Me Down-era David Bowie). It reminds this reviewer of 1990, when all the Refrigerated Lovers released solo albums. Lieberman's A Warm Bowl of Chili has been an overlooked favorite of this critic for years.

Critics haven't always been fond of these cheeky lads from the UK. When the group started as a retro-folk duo called The Coldsmen they were consistently booed off stage. When their 6th album, 1987's Heart Like a Flying Car went seven times platinum on the strength of the number one hits Inside, Outside, Upside Down and I Am the Robot, the critical backlash was considerable. I myself likened their 16th album, 1988's Zappa-inspired Have We Lost Our Minds, Yes We Have, to a "piece of hardened dog feces." But times have changed. Refrigerated Love have gone through all the cliches of rock and roll: They've released a plethora of truly bad albums, lost members to death, broken up, spent all their money on cocaine, been sued several times, raised the ire of conservative Christians, and advertised for Pepsi. Now that it's all behind them, they've finally decided to focus on the most important part of being in a band: their haircuts.

Grade: A-
Fave Song: New Pair of Sneakers

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

12 by Weezer

Here's the drill: 12 songs to summarize an artist's career, in chronological order (of course).

Week 19
Weezer have a new album out this week, so what better time to celebrate their virtues? Liking the band is taking more and more justification and explanation, but they're still an intriguing musical force.

You'll find this a slightly unconventional list. A conventional Weezer "best of" would probably read something like this:
1) Buddy Holly, 2) Undone - the Sweater Song, 3) My Name Is Jonas, 4) Mykel & Carli, 5) El Scorcho, 6) Hash Pipe, 7) Island in the Sun, 8) Dope Nose, 9) Keep Fishin', 10) Beverly Hills, 11) We Are All On Drugs, 12) Pork and Beans. Instead:

1. Say It Ain't So (from Weezer, 1994)
A little bit heavy, a little bit catchy, quiet-loud dynamics. So basically, it's Pixies lite. The song is interesting lyrically because it's basically nonsense until the "Dear daddy..." bridge, which lets out a torrent of emotion.

2. No One Else (from Weezer, 1994)
The sentiment is a little too controlling for comfort, ("I want a girl who will laugh for no one else / When I'm away she puts her make-up on the shelf/ When I'm away she never leaves the house") but anyone who has ever been jealous will understand.

3. In the Garage (from Weezer, 1994)
Sort of a '90s version of The Beach Boys' In My Room. Cuomo nostalgically remembers his garage as a haven from the trials of adolescence, with KISS posters, X-Men comics and 12-sided die. So, yes, the nerd thing isn't a put-on.

4. Mykel & Carli (from Undone - the Sweater Song single, 1994)
Mykel and Carli Allen were Weezer superfans who gave the band unwavering support in their early days. In 1997, while driving home from a Weezer concert, they were killed in a car accident. Though this song was written before their death, it is creepily prescient ("Till the school bus came / and took my friends away") and serves as a fitting tribute.

5. The Good Life (from Pinkerton, 1996)
Cuomo has made a career of self-realization, and this was the first time it happened. Tired of moping, he realizes "it's time I got back to the good life." However, he didn't really follow his own advice and ended up having to make that same realization at least two more times.

6. Pink Triangle (from Pinkerton, 1996)
A sweet little story song where the narrator realizes the object of his affection is gay. Rather than play it for laughs or derision, he instead focuses on his own pain and lets the funny lines come naturally: "If everyone's a little queer / Can't she be a little straight?"

7. Don't Let Go (from Weezer, 2001)
Energized, sugary power pop.

8. Keep Fishin' (from Maladriot, 2002)
Maladroit is easily their worst album, but Keep Fishin' survives solely because the video featured the Muppets! You can't deny Kermit in a Weezer shirt.

9. Hey Domingo (dowloaded from, 2002)
Following their early-aught comeback, Rivers Cuomo was ridiculously prolific. The band began posting a prodigious number demos online for free download. I have 40 songs from this period that never appeared on an album or b-side, and Hey Domingo is one of them. To call it one of their 12 best songs is a stretch, but it represents couple of things: 1) How the band cultivates a strong relationship with their fans and 2) How talented Cuomo is; Hey Domingo and many of the other songs have a-list melodies and hooks.

10. Perfect Situation (from Make Believe, 2005)
Make Believe got slagged off by many, but of all their records, I find it to be the closest in spirit to their beloved first one. Here, Cuomo has blown it with another girl, his insecurities enveloping him while the band tries to coax him out of it.

11. Hold Me (from Make Believe, 2003)
Very vulnerable. For whatever reason - the smirk, the glasses - people tend to believe Cuomo is nearly always being ironic or sarcastic. I don't think he is. I like how the song starts out with sweet harmonious lilt and builds into a mid-tempo rocker.

Heart Songs (from Weezer, 2008)
Cheesy, yes. But I like cheese. And I can't resist an origin story, which this basically is. Cuomo sings about the bands and tunes that have inspired him, ending with the formation of his own band. Some have given Cuomo guff about the line: "Debbie Gibson tell me that you think we're all alone" assuming that he confused her with Tiffany. My hypothesis is that he was referring to the song Sure from her 1990 album Anything Is Possible, which contains the line "Cause we're alone tonight." I'm sticking with that.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

172. The Beatles: The Beatles (1968)

You know the famous avant garde artist Yoko Ono, right? Everyone knows her. Well, did you know her husband had a band? I've been slowly working my way through reviews of all of their albums. Check it out:

I guess it's indicative of the slightly amateurish nature of this band that they'd wait until their 10th outing to do a self-titled album. It's ironic too. The title would seem to indicate a completely unified effort, when in reality it's exactly the opposite.

As I've been slogging through The Beatles' catalog, I've been keeping track of the changing band dynamics. John Lennon clearly dominated their early efforts, with Paul McCartney taking over on Sgt.Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour. The Beatles, however, shows the band with no clear leader. Instead, it's four men co-existing, each contributing their own insular ideas.

There wasn't much self-editing going on, in how many tunes were included on the double album or in the songs themselves. It's easily the loosest, rawest album of The Beatles' career. If Sgt. Pepper is a fussed over Renaissance oil painting, The Beatles is a sketchbook of graphite doodles. And they aren't all pictures of the same thing, that's for sure! The album is as diverse as it gets, from '20s and '50s homages to country parodies to grating, pain-filled songs to achingly sweet ones and a lot in between.

That's not to say that there aren't patterns to be found. Though no longer dominant, McCartney was clearly feeling his oats. He contributes no less than 6 standout classics: The proto-Billy Joel reggae of Ob-La-Di-Ob-La-Da, the beautiful pastoral simplicity of Blackbird and Mother Nature's Son, the swooning I Will, and the tongue-in-cheek rockers Birthday and Back in the U.S.S.R. The latter is perhaps my favorite McCartney song ever, with charming musical allusions to both Chuck Berry and The Beach Boys, plus Cold War commentary.

Lennon was similarly inspired, but in a completely different direction. His standouts are memorable, but not nearly as cheery or straightforward, containing a sense of dread, alienation, menace and concern. I'm So Tired starts off sounding suitably fatigued and then builds into tortured desperation. Is it about being separated from Yoko? Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me and My Monkey has a frantic rhythm and an untamed vocal from John not heard since Twist and Shout. Yer Blues takes the titular genre to the end of the line as far as I'm concerned ("Yes I'm lonely/wanna die"). Glass Onion has a Motown beat and self-referencing lyrics including the revelatory line: "The walrus was Paul." Revolution 1 is intriguing, but a bit slow. One wishes they would rock it up a bit. Finally, Happiness Is A Warm Gun is a genuine reflection of the times, pairing the violence that erupted across America in '68 with Peanuts "happiness is a warm puppy" mania that had swept the nation the same year. The song itself presents the same contradictions, sounding earthy and druggy, modern and classic all at once.

It's nearly impossible to capture the breadth of this album without going on for much too long. Paul and John trade off strange story songs with The Ongoing Story of Bungalow Bill and Rocky Racoon, Paul recreates the '20s with Honey Pie and John wastes precious wax with Revolution #9, nothing but a creepy, noisy experiment. George Harrison and Ringo Starr also get in on the act. George's contributions are a bit thin, save the gorgeous While My Guitar Gently Weeps, which isn't really as deep as you might think (sample lyric: "I look at the floor and I see it needs sweeping."). Ringo steps up as a composer for the first time with the appropriately-titled Don't Pass Me By. Like Ringo himself, the song is pleasant and charming.

It's worth pointing out that the contrast in Lennon and McCartney's styles doesn't always work how one might expect. As I've stated before the generally-held popular belief is that Paul wrote the sunny melodic songs and John wrote the dark rhythmic ones. While it holds true the majority of the time, there are strong exceptions. Two of the album's heaviest songs, Helter Skelter and Why Don't We Do It in the Road are courtesy of McCartney. The former inspired Charles Manson, the latter is as frankly sexual as pop music gets; R.Kelly probably wishes he'd written it. Likewise, Lennon contributes two of the most melodic and and sweet songs on the record: Dear Prudence, a plea to Mia Farrow's sister to enjoy herself, and Julia, a tribute to his dead mother.

These Beatles were full of surprises, and none bigger than the fact of how far their music had come in 5 years, from polished pop to art rock headphone music to this brazen, messy display of talent.

Grade: B+
Fave Songs: Back in the U.S.S.R. and Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except For Me and My Monkey