7/31/2007

What We're Listening To

BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE Feel Good Lost (Noise Factory)
JIMMY CHAMBERLIN COMPLEX Life Begins Again (Sanctuary)
JUAN LUIS GUERRA + 4.40 Soplando (WEA Latina)
QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE Rated R (Interscope)
JOE ZAWINUL Rise and Fall of the Third Stream (Atlantic)

What are YOU listening to?
Hell Still Experiencing A Chill

In 2008 The Eagles will be releasing their first studio album in 29 years and following it up with an extensive tour, according to guitarist Joe Walsh. Their last full-length venture into the studio was for 1979’s The Long Run, after which—following the album’s respective tour—the band broke up, resurfacing a decade and a half later in the mid ‘90s, thus going back on their promise to only reconvene once hell froze over. No word on what label will be releasing the upcoming album.
New Releases

Among today’s newbies are:

THE HOOTERS Nervous Nights and Satellites (Acadia)
CHARLIE HUNTER TRIO Mistico (Fantasy)
KORN Untitled (Virgin)
1990s Cookies (Rough Trade)
JOSH ROUSE Country Mouse City House (RCA)


Reissues include:

CELIA CRUZ Bravo (Fania/Universal)
DEEP PURPLE Made in Europe [remastered] (Friday)
DR. HOOK Greatest Hooks (Capitol/EMI)
SLAYER Diabolus in Musica (American)
TOWNES VAN ZANDT Live at the Old Quarter, Houston, TX (Tomato)

7/30/2007

And Then There Were Two...

As the only major acts to refrain from having their respective catalogs available for digital download, The Beatles and Radiohead seem to have lost a cohort in Led Zeppelin, who are rumored to have changed their stance on the matter. The Zeppelin catalog will supposedly be available via iTunes sometime before or on November 13th to coincide with the Atlantic/Rhino release of Mothership, a two-disc, 24-track best-of, featuring tracks from all eight of their studio albums. A week later, a deluxe reissue of the soundtrack to the 1976 concert film The Song Remains the Same, with previously unreleased material as well as a new DVD edition of the movie, will hit stores on Nov. 20.
Weekend Update

Legendary filmmaker Ingmar Bergman passed away on July 30th at the age of 89. The man dubbed "the world's greatest living filmmaker" by Time magazine in 2005 and whose career spanned 60 years, often had high praise for contemporary directors such as Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Soderbergh, and for the films American Beauty and Magnolia, but no public mention, ironically, of his most famous fan: Woody Allen. Bergman had retired from filmmaking in 1984 and theatre direction in 2003.


Tom Snyder, on whose colorful 1973-82 talk show Tomorrow John Lennon gave his last televised interview (April ‘75); U2 and "Weird Al" Yankovic made their first respective American television appearances in 1981; Plasmatics lead singer Wendy O. Williams blew up a TV set in the studio (1980); and was the stage for infamous interviews with both John Lydon nee Rotten, and Kiss, passed away on Sunday, July 29th of complications from leukemia. He was 71.

28-year-old Trevor Butler, bassist for Bottom of the Hudson, was killed on Sunday when, after a blowout, the band’s van went off I-40 in central North Carolina. Drummer Greg Lytle, also seriously hurt in the accident, is hospitalized in critical condition.

In less tragic news, Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox and guitarist Lockett Pundt were held up at gunpoint in their hometown of Atlanta on Friday evening after a gig. Thankfully, they escaped unharmed albeit a little poorer.

7/27/2007

Mmm...Simpsons

The New York Times loves our favorite yellow family on the big screen, too. Plus, Blender weighs in on the show's best band cameos.


Forever?

According to Billboard.com, the king of humility aka Kid Rock has practically phased out the hip-hop from his upcoming Oct. 9th release, Rock and Roll Jesus. (Oh, that title…we smell some contrived, Marilyn Manson-type shit-stirring coming on. Hmm…we wonder if Rock actually knows his album’s release date is the birthday of that “bigger than Jesus” guy.) His newly-made, confederate flag-waving, country artist friends should be delighted by this development. They always hinted in interviews how beneath him they thought hip-hop was. And now, presumably, Rock will give them a record they can be proud of. Idiots.


Not This Again

MARNIE STERN In Advance of the Broken Arm (Kill Rock Stars-2007)
So, it’s OK to release a sort-of prog-sounding record as long as you do it on an indie/hipster label? Give us a fucking break. Billy Corgan’s virulent dissing of the indie cred/mentality a few years ago looks more and more like the words of a sage with each passing season:

"...[T]he whole indie thing is just a pose. I can’t say that about everybody, but our general feeling in the Pumpkins always was that people took the indie route because deep down they knew they didn’t have the talent to make it on the mainstream level. And those people proved to me, that deep down they know they don’t have the talent, or the focus, or the true love of people to want to really get out there and try and connect with people. It’s really about them.

You have to make it seem like it’s about you, but it has to really be about others, it’s really about sharing. And their indie-cred mentality really is about, ‘What’s it got to dowith me?’ and ‘Can I find people who agree with me, who think like me,who dress like me, smoke pot like me?’ They’re just assholes. It’s simple. I could go on with a thousand stories, but you can put that in big capital letters: THEY’RE JUST ASSHOLES. They really didn’t care. They didn’t really care about the music, they didn’t really care about the fans … They really just want to live like pieces of shit and live their little weird creepy lives. End of story."

Oh, and uh, In Advance of the Broken Arm is alright. Nothing to write home about.


Better Him Than Us

Stereogum has got the low down on the infamous Andrew WK--remember him?--and Kathy Griffin "date". That must've been a hoot. Yeah, right.


Happy Birthday

This weekend candles will be blown out for singer/songwriter Pete Yorn (33) on July 27th; the infamous Afroman (33) on July 28th; and Rush vocalist/bassist Geddy Lee (54) on July 29th.

7/26/2007

American Autocracy

Last week, Appetite for Destruction turned 20. Wow…Has it really been 20 years since that late afternoon, hanging with friends at mom’s, waiting for MTV’s brand-new game show, Remote Control, to come on, when we saw the video clip for “Welcome to the Jungle” for the first time? Have two decades actually transpired since we sat there mesmerized, blown away, before finally uttering, “What the fuck is this?!

Not too long after that, over at another friend’s house we sat in the living room chatting while MTV blared in the background. As some Poison video came on, one of our friend’s older brothers—and not a fan of rock music—walked in to get a bite to eat, looked at what was on the TV and chided us for watching “that crap”. We told him truthfully that we weren’t paying attention. Moments later, as he came out of the kitchen with a sandwich and a drink, the video for GnR’s “Sweet Child of Mine” was on, and in between bites he managed to bellow, “See? Now that’s music!” and left. Yes, indeed.

Appetite—like Nirvana’s Nevermind, less than half a decade later—bore all of the markings of the zeitgeist. At the time, rock of the heavy persuasion was divided in two camps: Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, etc. on the one side, with Winger, Warrant, Poison, etc on the other. Meanwhile, with Permanent Vacation, Aerosmith—who could’ve saved the day—was simultaneously beginning its meteoric commercial ascendance and a long, hard slide into irrelevance. Enter Guns ’n’ Roses.

We all know of the exploits of Axl, Mr. Brownstone and co. since then. These days, the latter leads—alongside 2 other former members of his rock and roll claim to fame—Velvet Revolver, a watered-down version of GnR on its best days. Mr. Rose, on the other hand, seems hell bent on fulfilling our prediction that his extremely delayed Chinese Democracy will see the light of day only after this particular brand of government is established in the land of our Asian brothers and sisters. But for now, let us just revisit and enjoy one of the great rock and roll records of all time, released at a time when rock and roll needed it the most. Still does, actually.

7/25/2007

"...don't you know it's gonna be / alright..."

On September 1st, Chicago Review Press will publish the third edition of the late Ian MacDonald's Revolution In The Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties. Long out of print, the book towers above the seemingly millions of tomes written about Liverpool's Fab Four by offering a chronological, song-by-song account of everything the lads recorded, complete with credits and insightful commentary.

Originally published in 1994, Revolution is widely acclaimed and respected but not without its detractors. Wikipedia's entry on the book finds that...

"MacDonald’s critique, although stunningly perceptive, lucid and passionate, can be read as troublingly conservative, even nihilistic. He implies...that any cultural artifact produced after a certain date (almost certainly at some point in the 1970s, judging by MacDonald’s work in general) must be greatly inferior to its predecessors. For a writer who is so astute at balancing and disentangling both the virtues and the vices of The Beatles’ music (as well as the music of other artists), this seems reductive and simplistic."

(Kinda like Ken Burns' Jazz, and its dismissive tone regarding that genre's electric and/or post 1960s output, huh? Anyway...)

Personally we are at odds with MacDonald's respective negative assessments of "Helter Skelter" and "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" but his account of the circumstances surrounding the launch of Beatlemania with the release and subsequent popularity of "She Loves You" is imbued with almost as much enthusiasm and fervor as the song itself. And the nearly chapter-length essay into the backstory leading up to "Tomorrow Never Knows" is one of the greatest instances of music journalism we've ever come across.

In addition to his many bylines and credits, MacDonald was a contributor to the respected UK mags Mojo and Uncut. Sadly, he committed suicide in 2003.

Funny ‘Cause It’s True

It is quite possible that no contemporary music publication out there owns more biting wit, scathing humour and on-point critiques than those on Andrew EarlesWhere’s The Street Team? page in Magnet magazine. Sacred cows slaughtered for breakfast? Check. Hype monkeys brought down to earth? Check. Lame hipsterati acknowledged and reminded of their pathetic existence and utter uselessness? Check, check, check.

To wit: Lou Reed just released an album designed specifically for yoga workouts…How I long for the days when Reed rocked a Joe Piscopo jheri curl and a guitar with no headstock.”

Hmm…that must be Lou’s New York period…Ah, those were the days…

Magnet # 76 / Summer 2007 issue out now.

7/24/2007

Back in a New York Groove

For those of you unaware, we're based out of New York City--Brooklyn, to be exact--and there's been a lot of recent nostalgia talk 'bout the 1970s version of our city 'round these parts. And it almost reached a fever pitch with the publication of a series of articles, The New York Observer's "The Bad Old Days", among them. But one of the key ingredients of "old" New York's identity that has been barely talked about is the music. As musicians/music geeks with a sense of history we were longingly anticipating a time when the New York music scene would once again be the center of the industry universe. Like the '70s CBGB/punk/no wave era. Or the late '80s/early '90s hardcore scene. What we got instead was likes of The Strokes, The Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs and The Mooney Suzuki. Sheesh.

Yesterday we got an e-mail from an old friend whose 'back in the day' take on the music scene that made the city shake was something we thought we'd share with you:

“I can't say I’ve heard a lot of compelling new music lately. New York was at its most creative when it was bankrupt, during the post oil-shock crisis that ended the postwar boom. The ‘70s in the city was a period of arson, heroin, crime, 110-decibel subway brakes, and deteriorating infrastructure that no one in his right mind would want to return to. But it was also the period of punk rock and no wave, funk, the birth of hip-hop, the salsa boom, the Nuyorican [Poets Cafe], the gay disco scene, experimental music, loft jazz, performance art, and even the outlaw country movement was represented at the Lone Star Cafe. You could walk to all of this. WLIB played soca and reggae all day long.”Ned Sublette

Yeah, something like that...

[Ned Sublette is an acclaimed musician, author, and co-founder of the QbaDisc label. A native of Lubbock, TX who’s lived in NYC for some 30 years, he and the Mrs. reside in Manhattan’s Soho district. - KJ]
New Releases

Among the platters du jour for Tuesday, July 24th are:

MARC ANTHONY El Cantante [soundtrack] (Norte)
MANIC STREET PREACHERS Send Away the Tigers (Sony/BMG)
PRINCE Planet Earth (NPG)
SILVERCHAIR Young Modern [CD/DVD] (Eleven)
UNKLE War Stories (TBC)

Reissues of note include:

CHET ATKINS The Essential Chet Atkins [Legacy] (RCA Nashville/Legacy)
GARBAGE Absolute Garbage [Deluxe Edition] (Geffen)
WAYLON JENNINGS The Essential Waylon Jennings [2007] (RCA Nashville/Legacy)
SEBADOH The Freed Man (Domino)
SQUEEZE 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of Squeeze (Universal)

7/23/2007

The Boys With Thorns In Their Sides (Well...)

On what would've been the band's 25th anniversary, former Smiths rhythm section Andy Rourke (bass) and Mike Joyce (drums) talk to BBC News about their time in the influential British guitar pop quartet and their recently released DVD, Inside The Smiths, which goes into detail about their storied run, as well as the internal strife that ultimately undid the band.
The Old 'Bait and Switch'

Yahoo! Music's Nekesa Mumbi Moody has an interesting article on how much involvement ghost writers and collaborators actually have in today's pop music. Check it out.
What We're Listening To:

DRAKE BELL It's Only Time (Interscope)
NIRVANA MTV Unplugged (DGC)
THE NOISETTES What’s the Time, Dr Wolf? (Vertigo/Universal)
MATTHEW SWEET 100% Fun (Zoo)
VHS OR BETA Night on Fire (Astralwerks)

What are YOU listening to?
And The Winner Is...

Who's lamer: the people reading the latest Harry Potter book during your set or your band itself?
EVERYBODY Has To Pay Rent

How did writer/director Alexander Payne (Citizen Ruth, Election, About Schmidt and Sideways) end up working with the likes of Adam Sandler on the bottom of the barrel comedy I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry as a screenwriter?

7/20/2007

Are We The Only Ones That Think That...

...HBO's Flight of the Conchords has got to be one of the least funny TV shows to hit the airwaves--or cable to be exact, smartasses--in ages? Seriously, this is worse than cookie-cutter, lowest-common-denominator formula like, say, The Bill Engvall Show. At least, the standard issue sitcom crap has no delusions of being any good, let alone superior to its competition. Conchords comes across as the sort of hipster pseudo-comedy that seems to pursue a lack of laughter in the misguided belief that not being humorous is actually funny. (I think they call that laughing at you, guys.) At best, its surreal, uncomfortable situations recall another HBO original, Curb Your Enthusiasm, but without the latter show's wit or humor. At its worst...well, it is what it is: a drab, humorless situation devoid of comedy.

And while we’re on the subject of cable television, how about VH1’s lovely trifecta: the reality shows Rock of Love starring Poison front man Bret Michaels, and Scott Baio is 45…And Single; plus the upcoming sitcom I Hate My 30s. The first two further prove that:

a) mining '80s nostalgia still hasn't let up;
and
b) the list of available low-rung celebrities with little prospects—or shame—is rapidly getting slimmer and slimmer by the minute.
(When is Kathy Griffin doing one of these? Oh, wait…)

Obviously the fact that Flavor of Love made Public Enemy’s resident jester Flavor Flav, the biggest reality TV star of all time directly led to the Michaels vehicle. Can’t you just hear them in the boardroom? “Hey, look what we did with Flav. Imagine if we did the same thing but with a rocker and white chicks? Yeah! Ka-ching!” Yawn.

Scott Baio’s latest foray into TV is an hour-long cross between the Flavor/Rock of Love formula and one of the key plot devices from High Fidelity: namely, the revisiting of ex-girlfriends in order to reveal a deep truth about the protagonist known to everyone but (allegedly) himself. This “twist” comes courtesy of a life coach Baio has hired to help him sort out his love ‘em-and-leave ‘em ways. It also adds to the mix a middle-aged, schlubby, wannabe actor named Johnny Venokur aka Johnny V, for whom the term pathetic might be both a compliment and an upgrade. V’s been Baio’s wingman for a quarter of a century, and having no life of his own, he understandably objects, undermines and, ultimately, tries to sabotage his bud's quest for happiness. “If it weren’t for me, he’d never get laid,” Baio states in the show’s first episode. Beautiful. Zzzzz…

Who, exactly, is the intended audience for I Hate My 30s? Is it the 30-something crowd that rarely watches VH1 and whom they hope to reel in? Or, is it a cautionary, albeit funny, tale for the young’uns that do tune in? Either way, if previews are to be trusted, this looks far from promising.
New Releases

This week's batch includes:

CHEMICAL BROTHERS We Are the Night (Astralwerks)
EDITORS An End Has a Start (Epic)
MEAT PUPPETS Rise to Your Knees (Anodyne)
TEDDY THOMPSON Upfront Down & Low (Verve Forecast)
SUZANNE VEGA Beauty and Crime (Blue Note)

and reissues of:

LAURIE ANDERSON Big Science [25th Anniversary Edition] (Nonesuch)
INDIA.ARIE Acoustic Soul [Deluxe Edition] (Motown)
ERYKAH BADU Baduizm [Special Edition] (Motown)
CULTURE Two Sevens Clash [The 30th Anniversary] (Shanachie)
WARREN G Regulate...G Funk Era [Special Edition] (Def Jam)

Happy Birthday!

Legendary guitarist Carlos Santana hits the big 6-0; Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook (51); former Soundgarden/Audioslave frontman Chris Cornell and hip-hop royalty Kool G Rap (both 43); and Pearl Jam founder/guitarist Stone Gossard (41); all on July 20th

7/19/2007

Irony of the Day

According to the L.A. Times, the soundtrack to an upcoming episode of the CBS crime drama Cold Case will consist of Nirvana songs exclusively. No objections here. But what ever happened to the investigation into Cobain's murder? (Yes, murder.) That one's gone quite frigid itself, hasn't it?

"I don't even know that he killed himself. There are people close to him who don't think that he did..." - Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon, in British music mag Uncut last year.

7/17/2007

Born Again Angels of Death

[This one slipped under our radar last year. Our apologies to those who are looking at their calendars and wondering what we were thinking. -KJ]

SLAYER
Christ Illusion
(American-2006)


We’ve always wondered about the process of aging and how it relates to the very image conscious art form called rock and roll. The maximum expression of youth culture, many say no one over 40 should be out there trading on its name and reputation. Yet the Stones, for instance, have thousands of fans of the same age as their own grandchildren flocking to their shows and buying the merchandise. Those who consider that bald, paunchy rockers have no place under its spotlight have the likes of The Pixies’ beloved Black Francis or Pere Ubu’s David Thomas to contend with. And how old should a metalhead be before he/she puts away the spikes and upside-down crosses and makes an effort to finally grow up and blend in?

We’re pretty sure the guys in Slayer want you to stay true to the music no matter how far ahead chronologically you may find yourself in life. After all, they’re still fighting the good fight in their mid-40s and not much more worse for the wear, as it turns out. Hell, they’ve even made peace with monster drummer and original member Dave Lombardo, a good sign if ever there was one. And guess what? It pays off in spades.

Reuniting the same quartet that produced four back-to-back metal classics
Hell Awaits, Reign in Blood, South of Heaven and Seasons in the Abyss for those keeping scoreis likely to be labeled both a stab at nostalgia and a marketing ploy by a band that was never much for either but has recently found themselves slightly languishing popularity-wise. Fair enough. But regardless of what the motivation behind bringing back Lombardo into the fold may have been, his undisputed mastery of this kind of music and his immense, across-the-board popularity among fans of the drum kit—not to mention, of course, those who obviously love Slayer—were not lost on the band. And on Christ Illusion Lombardo pushes his old cronies into a revitalized sense of purpose, who conspire to unleash an unrelenting, in-your-face barrage of monster riffs that rarely lets up.

Sure, guitarist and main songwriter Kerry King’s annoying lyrical retreads are here in full effect—even atheists have to admit that he’s become quite redundant in his anti-religious diatribes—so for those that might be offended, you might want to do what ladies that love hip hop songs littered with tales of “hos” do: put aside the lyrics and dive head first into the music.


This is not to belittle the fact that the band have touched upon an undeniable factor in the current state of war in the Middle East they are commenting on, one which absolutely has a religious/cultural connotation to it. But Slayer posses no answers, merely a point of view. Which is fine—we’re not expecting, nor is it their job to provide us with earth-shattering revelations to guide us. What we are anticipating and looking forward to—even if we don’t happen to agree with their particular outlook on these subjects—is to be able to willfully lose ourselves in some of the most bone-crunching, take-no-prisoners tunes this quartet has ever come up with. And this time, they do and we can. Yeah, it’s that good.

Highlights:
"Flesh Storm", "Catalyst", "Jihad", "Consfearacy", "Catatonic".
Random And Nasty Thoughts (aka RANTS)

- Note to VH1 Classic: When you call a show MetalMania you’ve got to deliver. This ignorance/false advertising/who gives a fuck attitude was lame then and extremely annoying 20 years later. So, for the record: Bon Jovi was never/is not/will never be metal. And while we’re on the subject, the term “hair metal”—like the music/bands it purports to describe—needs to be pushed into oblivion forevermore. None of those hair farmers were metal, OK? And why do we STILL have to clarify this two decades on? Fuck!

- Wayne Brady is a nice guy. Somebody please get him a decent gig before he exhausts what little professional dignity he has left. Please.

- So, the John Waters flick Hairspray was made into a Broadway show which itself has now been made into a movie, right? Why the fuck? Cool, if Waters is getting some desperately needed cash, but otherwise…

- Speaking of money: You can barely make out that it’s a Wilco tune playing in those VW ads so discount any significant record/merchandise sales coming from there. And their fanbase is none too happy with the band’s music in an ad. Well, the money they got—actually, just Wilco f├╝hrer Jeff Tweedy,in all likelihood—had better be good, because it looks like Waterloo from over here.

- You know Celebrity American Idol is just around the corner, right?
What We're Listening To:

CROWDED HOUSE Time On Earth (Capitol)
IRON MAIDEN Piece of Mind (Capitol)
HECTOR LAVOE La Voz (Fania/Universal)
THE RACONTEURS Broken Boy Soldiers (V2)
YES The Yes Album (Atlantic)

7/16/2007

What We've Been Reading:

ROGER EBERT Your Movie Sucks (Andrews McMeel-2007)
You gotta respect someone that sits through an average of 500 films a year, especially when a huge chunk of those are absolutely dreadful. And when that someone is film critic Roger Ebert you also need to pay attention to what he has to say. As his former reviewing partner, the late Gene Siskel, once stated on The Tonight Show, they watch the good, bad, the mediocre and all the Friday the 13th movies, so they know what they're talking about.

Some of these reviews were written in joyous zeal. Others with glee. Some in sorrow, some in anger, and a precious few with venom, of which I have a closely guarded supply”, Ebert states in the introduction to Your Movie Sucks. This isn’t the first time that he’s gone to that well: I Hated, Hated, Hated, This Movie (2000)—its title taken from Ebert’s review of director Rob Reiner’s North (1994)—was his first collection of movie reviews with a rating of one and a half stars or less. The full-on skewering continues on Your Movie Sucks and it sure is fun.

Before jumping into the 175 film reviews from this decade compiled in alphabetical order, Ebert singles out three of them for the book’s prologue:

- Deuce Bigelow: European Gigolo (2005), sequel to the contemptible Deuce Bigelow: Male Gigolo (1999). The last three words of the former’s review give this book its title and is the funny one among the three in this prologue.

- Chaos (2005), which its producers billed as “the most brutal, horrifying movie ever made” and engage Ebert in an open letter discussion of the movie’s merits. "...Ugly, nihilistic, and cruel—a film I regret having seen." A sobering review and exchange.

- Actor/director Vincent Gallo’s The Brown Bunny (2004), which after Gallo cuts a half-hour from the original version and has a lengthy face-to-face with Ebert explaining his predicament and the circumstances leading to showing an unfinished film at Cannes, the latter gives the new version a 3 star review. The choice insults and name calling on both sides that precedes this is also included and together with the above titled "The Brown Bunny Saga."

Your Movie Sucks is not only entertaining and often funny, but it frequently explains to the layperson why these movies don’t work. If you ever walked out of some of these films thinking they just didn’t feel right but couldn’t really put your finger on it, you’re in luck. Of course, the likes of Daddy Day Care, Dirty Love, The Dukes of Hazzard, Scooby Doo, and the inimitable Freddy Got Fingered are way too easy targets. But there are quite a few films that perhaps with a casting change here, a screenplay touch up there, and maybe with a more sympathetic and/or talented director they could’ve had a decent flick. But they didn’t, and we have Mr. Ebert to thank for sitting through them so we don’t have to. Then again, some of these films are so unbelievably bad your curiosity may be piqued. (We personally do not enjoy horror/slasher films but plan on seeing the aforementioned Chaos at some point.) Just don’t say Roger Ebert didn’t warn you.

7/13/2007

The Mighty Rearranger

ROBERT PLANT
Pictures at Eleven
[Swan Song/Rhino-1982]
The Principle of Moments [Es Paranza/Rhino-1983]
Shaken ‘N’ Stirred [Es Paranza/Rhino-1985]
Now and Zen [Es Paranza/Rhino-1988]
Manic Nirvana [Es Paranza/Rhino-1990]
Fate of Nations [Es Paranza/Rhino-1993]

Very few people are more well-known than the front man of a mega famous rock band. In fact, we recall reading somewhere that Mick Jagger just might be the most photographed person of the 20th century. Weird, huh? But there are exceptions, of course. Two that come to mind are guitar gods Eddie Van Halen and Jimmy Page, who arguably have had the spotlight shine in their direction a bit more prominently than David Lee Roth and Robert Plant, respectively.
And while Diamond Dave and Led Zep’s golden god shouldn’t have a problem getting a good table at a nice restaurant, Plant has actively sought to downsize his profile as former Zeppelin vocalist and accentuate the focus on his solo career, which in its 25th anniversary is now 15 years longer than his tenure in that iconic hard rock quartet.

Whether or not timed to coincide with this milestone, Rhino has released remastered versions of his Atlantic-distributed, solo output, with the pre-requisite bonus tracks. (The latter are pretty much superfluous across the board and should not influence your decision to purchase these new editions.) We’re gonna concentrate on a batch that represents his first decade or so as a solo artist. This, as it turns out, is the bulk of his recorded solo output, due to Plant not issuing any new studio recordings between 1994 and 2004. (2002’s Dreamland [Mercury/Universal] is a mostly covers album and the widely-acclaimed Sixty Six to Timbuktu [Atlantic-2003] is a career retrospective box set.) So, here we go…

Lead off track and first single “Burning Down One Side” got some solid airplay and generated genuine interest for Pictures At Eleven—not to mention this was the first solo release by Led Zeppelin’s lead singer only 2 years after the death of drummer John Bonham—which helped it reach the Top 5 in both the US and UK. But the album has little to recommend it and its Led Zep-lite sound has aged much worse than the heavily-synthesized albums that Plant would follow it with.
A year later, Plant updated the sound of Pictures with much better results. The Principle of Moments is still spotty in the songwriting department but it produced two bonafide hits: “Big Log” and the timeless “In the Mood”, the videos for which made a then-35 year old Plant an MTV darling and a genuine star on his own. (Special mention goes to the Peter Gabriel-influenced “Stranger Here…Than Over There”, one of his all-time best album cuts.)

Not wanting to rest on his laurels, Plant lunged forward and made one of the most interesting and talked about albums of the time: Shaken ‘N’ Stirred, a synth-heavy, slightly experimental, and at times, frenetic pop record that could only have been made in the ‘80s. Imagine a more free-form Ghost In The Machine-era Police fronted by Plant (hit single “Little By Little”, “Trouble Your Money”), or alternately having him hitch his wagon to The Art of Noise (“Too Loud”, “Doo Doo a Do Do”) and you’re in the ballpark. Barely remembered these days, Shaken ‘N’ Stirred is probably not Plant’s best album but it is definitely the most distinctive piece of music from his solo years.

Having gotten the experimental bug out of his system, Plant swings for the fences with Now and Zen, and gleefully sends up his Zeppelin pedigree on “Tall Cool One”, which not only boasts guitar fireworks from former band mate and songwriting partner Jimmy Page but also includes deftly-placed samples of the Zep classics “Whole Lotta Love”, “The Ocean”, “Custard Pie” and “Black Dog”, all while a chorus of “Lighten up, baby/I’m in love with you” keeps the potentially ambiguous message crystal clear. Big ‘80s mainstream production is the key to Now and Zen’s sound and the singles “Heaven Knows” and the lovely “Ship of Fools”, alongside the aforementioned “Tall Cool One” bear that distinct stamp. This is the album that made solo Plant a mega star, by the way.
Unfortunately, he chose to follow it up with the non-descript Manic Nirvana which sounds a lot like the music Billy Idol was recording around the same time. (Mr. Sneer's “Cradle of Love”, for instance.) Manic Nirvana is not a bad album, but not a terribly interesting one either.

The cannon-like drums and heavily-processed electric guitars of the previous album were toned down and complimented with acoustic guitars, violins, and keyboards the next time out. And in Fate of Nations Plant had his most personal album up to that point. Probably the only record in his solo catalog that can be labeled with the radio designation Adult Contemporary, Nations is a more relaxed and mature affair that includes the heartfelt “I Believe”, in which he addresses the death of his young son Karac some 20 years prior.

Hardcore Zeppelin fans might find more to love on both the aforementioned Dreamland and the top-notch Mighty Rearranger [Sanctuary/Es Paranza-2005], both featuring Plant’s highly impressive back up band the Strange Sensation. But the above albums are all worth a cursory listen at the very least and each and every one has something you can take from them. Hey, you might even get a bustle in your hedgerow.

7/12/2007

Not Quite Lou Gehrig

One of the cruelest bar games played by both musicians and music geeks alike is figuring out who the luckiest man/woman in rock and roll is. But unlike the legendary Yankee we mention in the above headline--who famously referred to himself as the luckiest man alive while staring eventual tragic adversity in the face--we're talking about people of limited talent who lucked out and got the gig of a lifetime. So, why not put it to a vote? Let's score it 1-10, with "10" representing little or no talent and supreme luck, and "1" being the exact opposite: reasonablty talented and deserving of the fame and the fortune that has come their way. Vote for each one of the nominees as you see fit, send it in to kikojonesusa [at] yahoo [dot] [com] and we'll publish the results in an upcoming "5".

The nominees are (in alphabetical order):

Michael Anthony (Van Halen)
Andrew Ridgeley (Wham!)
Gene Simmons (Kiss)
Ringo Starr (The Beatles)
Meg White (The White Stripes)

Vote now!

7/10/2007

The Doctor Is In

CHRIS BARRON - Southpaw - Brooklyn, NY - 7/08/07
In the years since the Spin Doctors' on/off hiatus went into effect, frontman Chris Barron has been doing double duty as a folksy, roots rock/Americana solo act. One thing is certain: the man gives it his all and is not afraid to show it, whether it's just him and his trusty acoustic--as he performed at the Live Earth concert--or ably backed by a 3-4 piece band.

It was the latter configuration that he featured in Brooklyn, on an uncomfortably muggy Sunday night in which Barron brought cool, musical relief to a gathering of the faithful. Consisting mostly of tunes from his solo output--the Pancho and the Kid album--the set did nod to the man's storied past with the inclusion of "Can't Kick The Habit" from the Spin Doctors' most recent album Nice Talking to Me and of course closing out with a rootsy version of his most famous composition, the much-beloved "Two Princes".

Hopefully, the Doctors will reconvene soon enough. But in the meantime, it's good to see Barron hasn't lost the passion for writing and performing music. Do yourself a favor and catch him soon. Just go ahead now.

7/06/2007

What We're Listening To:

DRAKE BELL It's Only Time (Interscope)
THE PHARCYDE Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde (Delicious)
THE PRETENDERS self-titled [remastered] (Sire/Rhino)
THE PRETENDERS II [remastered] (Sire/Rhino)
QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE Rated R (Interscope)

What are you listening to?