3/12/2014

Milestones: Legendary Argentine Rockers' Debut Turns 30

SODA STEREO
self-titled
[Sony Argentina-1984]

Coinciding with their homeland’s recent emergence from war and a punishing military dictatorship into a democratic society, the debut album by guitarist/vocalist Gustavo Cerati, bassist Zeta Bosio and drummer Charly Alberti is a hearty stab at escapism and very much a record of its time (new wave, ska, the Cure, the Police, XTC and other early ‘80s signifiers are all referenced). But that spirited approach is what keeps the album from becoming hopelessly dated. Of course, top-notch songwriting never hurts your cause and the album isn’t lacking in that department: “Sobredosis de TV”, “Te Hacen Faltas Vitaminas”, “Un Misil en Mi Placard”, “El Tiempo es Dinero” and “Afrodis√≠acos”, all helped the album become a smash hit and a critical favorite.

Those more familiar with Soda’s latter, more refined international releases—their third album, Signos [Sony US Latin-1987], was the first to be released in the US—might ask if the debut platter bears the seeds of the influential, ground-breaking band they were to become. Well, it’s quite a stretch from typical, albeit talented, ‘80s new wave-influenced combo to panoramic, sonic-exploring, 21st century rockers slightly ahead of the curve. But let’s just say a sophomore slump would’ve been a surprise. And that 30 years later, this one still holds up.

Highlights: see above.

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3/04/2014

It's Only Rock and Roll (but he likes it)

Of course he’s known as the acclaimed, award-winning director of such classics as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas and Casino, as well as for the music that populates his feature films, but Martin Scorsese’s love of music goes past well-chosen cues and directing Michael Jackson videos (“Bad”).

Starting with his Assistant Director gig on Woodstock [1970] Scorsese’s musical exploits on the big screen have been overlooked, for the most part, in comparison to his feature film bread and butter. Aside from The Last Waltz [1978], which uncharacteristically captures an artist—in this case, The Band—not at the beginning of their career or, more commonly, at their apex but, as the name implies, during their send-off, Scorsese has been almost as busy directing musical endeavors in the 21s century as he's been making features during the same time frame: he was one of the directors involved in The Concert for New York City [2001]; directed the Delta blues-dedicated segment "Feel Like Going Home" for the PBS miniseries The Blues [2003]; helmed the Bob Dylan documentary No Direction Home [2005]; shot Shine A Light [2008], The Rolling Stones’ 2006 performance at NYC’s Beacon Theatre (which Mick Jagger jokingly refers to as “the only Scorsese film that "Gimme Shelter" isn’t played in."); and directed George Harrison: Living in the Material World [2011] a doc based on the life of the late Beatle.

It would be nice if Mr. S tackled a more contemporary subject the next time he’s bitten by the music bug—Beck, RadioheadJack White, maybe?—but the above additions to his staggering resum√© are quite impressive just the same.

3/02/2014

Truth Hits Everybody


CIRCA ZERO
[429/SLG]

In a few weeks—March 25th, to be exact former Police guitarist Andy Summers will release his first foray into straight up pop/rock outside of the trio that made him famous, the first since his lackluster 1987 album XYZ [MCA]. Inspired by The Police’s reunion tour of ‘07-‘08, Summers decided to put aside his jazz and new age endeavors and get back to the rock. And with his new band, Circa Zero, the masterful six-stringer returns to the trio format where he made his fame and reputation. 

Unfortunately, the bland pseudo U2 with a hint of the Police and a sprinkle of a lethargic, less interesting version of The Fixx on the band’s debut Circus Hero would be a tad easier to digest if, in an interview with Ultimate Classic Rock, Summers hadn’t prefaced its release with a declaration/mission statement that drips of arrogance, hypocrisy and fogeyism.

[W]e said: ‘Let’s make a rock record,’ And when I say rock record, that’s what we meant. We didn’t mean a sort of weird, alternative indie record by people who can’t really write songs. We aren’t really into that."

Summers somehow seems to be under the impression that there’s an actual audience for music made "by people who can’t really write songs". (Wow, not even our cynical asses are that jaded.) Now, let’s put aside how this makes him sound every bit the cranky 71 year old man he is and concentrate on the two more salient points it brings to light: 


1- Because The Police came out of what was then rock's alternative/indie scene—even if the actual nomenclature was yet to be applied at the time—his dis was hypocritical and uncalled for.

2- His previous pop/rock record, the aforementioned XYZ, was drowning in subpar songwriting, and seeing as how Summers never contributed anything solid in that particular department to The Police's catalog—“Omegaman” being the lone exception—it's pretty rich for him to talk about "people who can’t really write songs".

All of this would be moot if Circus Hero actually delivered the goods. Sorry, Charlie. Truth be told, it's not so much a dud as an undercooked misfire. Let's put it this way: You know someone dropped the ball somewhere along the line when the acoustic renditions of three of the albums tunes—included as bonus tracks—outshine the entire rest of the record. Yup.

And the less said about that name...


Highlights: "Underground", "Gamma Ray", "Underwater", "Light the Fuse and Run", the acoustic bonus tracks.