Dirty Streets – Blades Of Grass (Alive Records)


Classic rock is sounding real tired these days – the thrill of those great songs killed by endless radio overplay –  but once in a while a new band brings some youthful energy to the genre and makes it sound exciting again. Memphis trio Dirty Streets are one such group, and their third album Blades of Grass is the perfect remedy for people who love the harder-edged side of classic rock but are sick of hearing the same few Zeppelin, Aerosmith, and James Gang songs over and over on whatever corporate station rules your local airwaves. Drenching boulder-heavy riffs in southern soul grease isn’t a particularly revolutionary idea, but combining these elements in short punchy tracks at a time when few bands are making straight-ahead rock records make Dirty Streets something of a revelation. Opener “Stay Thirsty” is the band in a nutshell, with a durable riff (from Justin Toland), a funky rhythm and pleading vocals (also from Toland) all well recorded at their hometown’s famed Ardent Studios. Elsewhere, “No Need To Rest” is “Funk #49″,”Mississippi Queen” and “Over The Hills and Far Away” blended into a tasty rock smoothie, “Movements #2″ is their previous album’s title track reworked, and “Keep An Eye Out” has some crackin’ Meters influences lurking beneath the hard surface. It’s a strong record, but the band still have room for improvement in certain areas, liked the clichéd “world-gone-wrong” lyrics that make “Talk” an awkward foray into Sly and The Family Stone-style “message rock”. Even with some flaws, I’ll take a well-executed album of long-haired rock’n’roll over forgettable flavor-of-the-month records any day.

 

The Fall – Re-Mit (Cherry Red Records)


Being a Fall fan has its ups and down. On the plus side you, get a huge amount of new material regularly adding to their ever-expanding discography, with a relentless pace of almost an album a year ever since 1977 – and some of it’s pretty great. On the flipside of Fall fandom, that huge discography has a lot of pretty bad albums too, and for every Fall classic like Live At The Witch Trials or Hex Enduction Hour, there’s a forgettable mess like Are You Are Missing Winner or The Twenty Seven Points. Re-Mit, the bands 30th album, falls decidedly into the latter category of Fall albums you’ll keep because they’re Fall albums, but won’t be likely to listen to very often. The songs, and I had to take a moment to decide whether I could call many of Re-Mit’s tracks songs, are more formless than your typical Fall album and Smith’s vocals are often reduced down to an indecipherable series of grunts and parched growls. It starts off well enough, with a short intro and “Sir William Wray” which both fall reasonably close to the obtusely ragged kraut-abilly punk-prog sound of recent Fall albums. However, Re-Mit quickly nose-dives into nonsensical babble, with Mark E. Smith carelessly growling his way through “Kinder Of Spine” and “Noise”, both of which have performances so loose and tentative, I’m 10-20% sure sections were made up on the spot. Even on their best albums The Fall are a prickly thorn of a band whose good qualities are hard to describe to the unseasoned listener, but Re-Mit doesn’t offer up any new Fall songs, Fall sounds or Fall ideas rewarding enough for me to recommend anything other than avoidance.

Neon Neon – Praxis Makes Perfect (Lex Records)


Five years after their underrated debut Stainless Style, the collaboration between Gruff Rhys and producer Boom Bip known as Neon Neon are back with their sophomore album, Praxis Makes Perfect. Praxis is a musical biography of Italian publisher and leftist activist Giangiacomo Feltrinelli who died under mysterious circumstances in 1972. Feltrinelli is a far more obscure historical character than Stainless Style’s subject, John DeLorean, and Praxis is a far more obscure album. In fact, as a long-time fan of Gruff Rhys it pains me to say this, but this sounds like the work of artists operating on creative autopilot. On Stainless Style Rhys seemed well in control of the big hooks and ’80s-style songwriting, while Boom Bip crafted top-notch beats, but here their efforts sound tired and halfhearted. Perhaps there are few decent numbers in the album’s first half like “The Jaguar” and “Hammer and Sickle”, but tracks six through ten are unforgivably inconsequential at best (“The Leopard”) and cloying rehashes of everything putrid about ’80s pop music at worst. In fact, “Shopping (I Like To)” is probably the worst song Gruff Rhys has ever been part of. So there’s that. Perhaps the worst part of Praxis Makes Perfect is that it runs at only thirty-one minutes, yet wears out its welcome long before it ends. Damn.

What To Do? (or “Another Blogger Explains The Lack Of Recent Activity”)


 

What to do, indeed. You may have noticed that things have slowed down a lot around here in 2013. There are a lot of reasons why I haven’t been able to add as much content, and here they are:

1. Since February I’ve had a new job which has eaten up a lot of my free time. I’m hoping that things will start to get back to normal and I’ll have some free time to start posting more but I can’t guarantee that will come to fruition any time soon.

2. I’m getting kind of bored with new music. I don’t know if it’s just that I’m getting to that age where people start to disconnect with pop culture (I turned 36 in April), but I haven’t been overly enamored with any new acts in the past few years and my old favorites are at a point in their careers when their new stuff is generating diminishing returns. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a lot of good music going on out there, but it’s hard for me to keep writing about stuff that’s merely good, and not great.

3. This is the big one. Labels and PR companies aren’t as eager to send CDs out as they were a few years ago. I get it, sending out CDs costs money and the industry is in the economical crapper, but I’m not interested in reviewing streams or MP3s, which is mostly what’s being offered these days. I care about sound quality, and while CDs aren’t sonically perfect, they’re much better than streams or (ugh) MP3s. I’ve tried to get with the times and review music from MP3s and streams and it sucks. I get distracted by the bad sound quality, and it just feels like a cheap rip-off. I also like to have something to show for my efforts and getting MP3s (which, let’s be honest, I can illegally download) doesn’t feel like a reward to me. Maybe I’m a dinosaur standing in the way off progress, but that’s just how I feel. I’d rather not write anything than reviews MP3s.

And there you have it. I’m going to keep plugging away, and hope that better will come. Just know that until it does, things might continue to be slow around here.

Serge Gainsbourg – Intoxicated Man: 1958-1962 (El Records)


 

Intoxicated Man is a comprehensive look at the first five years of Serge Gainsbourg’s recording career, covering his first four albums plus a host of singles, soundtrack work, live recordings, and covers of Gainsbourg material by other singers. Although best known for his later acts of public provocation and musical sleaze, these recordings are far less radical than anything else in Serge’s lengthy canon. While it may be better as a historical record of his formative years, it’s still a highly enjoyable romp through his roots of jazz, chanson, cha-cha, and orchestral pop. As the chronologically ordered set crosses into ’62-’63 recordings on the second disc, you begin to hear some of the touchstones of Gainsbourg’s later sound peaking through, especially on his fourth album (given the highly imaginative title of No. 4) from 1962. It ends with fourteen same-era Serge covers from artists like Juiliette Greco, Pia Colombo and Petula Clark which are nice enough, but I’d trade them in a second for more Gainsbourg originals.

The Mighty Diamonds – Planet Earth and Planet Mars Dub (Hot Milk)


Although the Mighty Diamonds aren’t among the most highly regarded reggae groups ever, they were responsible for a slew of strong singles and albums during the genre’s golden age. Originally released back in 1978 on Virgin Records (and mysteriously credited to “The Diamonds”), Planet Earth takes full advantage of the major label recording budget with a slew of Jamaica’s finest studio musicians working together on a set of richly-layered and well recorded backing tracks. As for the Diamonds themselves, they split their time between Rastafarian odes (“Where Is Garvey”), lovers rock (“Sweet Lady” and “Just Cant Figure Out”) and social commentary (“Planet Called Earth”). Perhaps some songs are marred by simple lyrics and repetition, but the trio’s harmonies are always strong enough for the track to go by without annoying.

Hot Milk’s reissue of the album tacks on its dub counterpart Planet Mars Dub, credited to “The Icebreakers with The Diamonds”. Usually bonus material is a welcome addition, but here it gets in the way, since the album has been re-sequenced so that each song on Planet Earth is followed by its Planet Mars Dub version. The dubs are OK, but hardly groundbreaking, and having to sit through back-to-back versions of the same rhythm gets tiring. My recommendation: just play the vocal tracks.

Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away (Bad Seed Ltd.)


Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds are one of the few remaining groups for whom every new album feels like an event. That they’ve stayed relevant for thirty years is no small accomplishment – one achieved by always adding new elements, whether through shifting musical styles or swapping out band members. Push The Sky Away is their 15th studio album, and it too is heavily marked by changes in musical presentation and line-up. The most glaring change is the departure of Mick Harvey, Nick Cave’s right-hand man and musical director going all the way back to the late-’70s when they formed The Boys Next Door. Harvey’s presence is definitely missed, as his gruff backing vocals and bluesy style were an important part of the band’s sound. With Harvey gone, wonderfully-bearded multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis steps into the role of musical director, and his vision for the band, at least on this album, is based on development of the soundtrack work him and Cave have been increasingly involved with in recent years. It’s a more restrained and impressionistic sound than The Bad Seeds have ever gone for, and at first listen I was devastatingly underwhelmed by it. Sure the songs were pretty, but where was the thunderous intensity? The humor? The guitar and drums? Even Cave himself sounded a little tired and weary, perhaps even struggling a bit to lock in with a version of the band that dealt more in Ellis’ looped sound-scapes than driving rhythms. However, with each successive listen your mindset changes, and you stop listening for what isn’t there, and begin connecting with what’s there, and what’s there is quite good.

It opens with the first single “We No Who U R”, and everything that is different about the album is quickly established. It’s lyrically menacing, but the sound and performances are both surprisingly relaxed. “Water’s Edge”, a story of seaside prostitution, and “We Real Cool” are the strongest songs on the album, with Marty Casey’s downright filthy bass notes providing a solid bedrock for Cave to sing over. Fans seem to be divided over “Finishing Jubilee Street”, which breaks the fourth wall of songwriting as Cave recounts a dream he had after finishing writing the song “Jubilee Street”. I can understand why its off-kilter lyrical stream of consciousness is a turn-off for some but for me it fits the dream-like quality of the album perfectly. Clocking in at just under eight minutes, “Higgs Boson Blues” has the same cracked “dark night of the soul vibe” as Neil Young’s On The Beach, and that’s always a good thing – and yes, Nick really does mention Miley Cyrus in the lyrics. The album ends with the title track which is a bit slight, both lyrically and musically, and probably would work better a shortened coda than as its own song. I’m left feeling that Push The Sky Away is hindered by its restrained approach and is one of the weaker Bad Seeds albums. However, it’s by no means a bad album and weak Bad Seeds are still better than just about everyone else’s best.

Tracklisting:

1. We No Who U R

2. Wild Lovely Eyes

3. Water’s Edge

4. Jubilee Street

5. Mermaids

6. We Real Cool

7. Finishing Jubilee Street

8. Higgs Boson Blues

9. Push The Sky Away

Mudhoney: I’m Now (King Of Hearts Productions)


The market for niche music product must be bigger than I thought. How else can you explain the recent flood of biographical DVDs from cult acts like The Circle Jerks, The Monks, Big Star, Rodriguez, and Mudhoney? As a fan of these and other under-appreciated bands, it’s great to see their stories getting the treatment usually reserved for mega-successful acts, but in the case of Mudhoney: I’m Now both the story and the way it’s told are a little too familiar. Co-Directors Ryan Short and Adam Pease are clearly big fans of the band, but the combination of talking head interviews and archival footage has been done a million times before, so even someone as entertaining as Keith Morris (Black Flag/Circle Jerks/OFF!) or Thurston and Kim from Sonic Youth show up to praise Mudhoney it’s more expected than exciting, thanks to their appearance in so many other DVDs chronicling underground music. How cliche has this Behind The Music-style form of storytelling become? So cliche that when Mark Arm discusses his drug addiction he mentions all the cliche ways in which drug addiction is handled in music documentaries. If you’ve read books like Grunge Is Dead and Everybody Loves Our Town or any of the countless articles written about grunge, then you already know pretty much everything about the band that the movie tells you. The movie also misses a few key detours that might have proved interesting - instead of spending so much time rehashing what everyone already knows about Mudhoney why not spend time talking about their many side-projects, or Mark Arm’s stint singing with the reunited MC5, or digging a little deeper into their influences…etc. It’s shortcomings like these that limit I’m Now’s appeal to Mudhoney die-hards.

Johnny Thunders and The Heartbreakers – L.A.M.F.: Definitive Edition (Jungle Records)


L.A.M.F. (an acronym for Like A Mother Fucker) has been a contentious album ever since it was released on Track Records in 1977. It should have been a victorious moment for Johnny Thunders and his band of hard-living New York street rats, but a muddy mix blunted its impact and led to a rather cool reception from audiences and critics (although guitarist Walter Lure states in the liner notes that the sub-par sound stemmed from the tape-to-vinyl transfer, and not the mix). How bad was the original mix? Well, it drove drummer Jerry Nolan out of the band, and the album has been remixed several times over the past few decades. That bad. It’s a shame too, because the songs are great. In the ’90s an alternate version of the album called L.A.M.F.: The Lost ’77 Mixes showed up and the sharpness of these mixes confirmed what people who saw the Heartbreakers live already knew – the band were a mighty juggernaut, deeply steeped in rock’n’roll history but playing it with enough amphetamine-aggression and attitude to put them at the forefront of the punk movement (both in the US and the UK). Each song is a classic, with “Born To Lose”, “Chinese Rocks” and “Pirate Love” among the most iconic tracks of the entire punk era.

The new “Definitive Edition” of L.A.M.F. from Jungle Records is a robust package, with a whopping four discs, 44-page booklet, and four pins. The first disc is the “Lost ’77 Mixes” version of the album (which is the best way to hear it in my opinion). The second disc is original mix of the album, remastered and with the “mud” removed, although it still sounds pretty muddy to me. The third disc collects 13 demos from three different sessions. There are two songs – “Flight” and “Take A Chance” – that didn’t make the final album, as well as four songs from an early-1976 session with Richard Hell on bass, making this a nice companion piece to the original album. The final disc is yet another 21 alternate mixes of the same songs. While simply buying the “Lost ’77 Mixes” might be a more economical choice, and the seemingly endless variations on the same 13 songs is overkill, L.A.M.F.: Definitive Edition is a handsomely compiled set and hopefully the final word on a great album.

Tracklisting:

Disc 1:  ‘L.A.M.F. – the lost ’77 mixes’

Born To Lose, Baby Talk, All By Myself, I Wanna Be Loved, It’s Not Enough, Chinese Rocks, Get Off The Phone, Pirate Love, One Track Mind, I Love You, Goin’ Steady, Let Go, Can’t Keep My Eyes On You, Do You Love Me.

Disc 2:  ‘L.A.M.F. – the Track LP restored’ 

Born To Lose, Baby Talk, All By Myself, I Wanna Be Loved, It’s Not Enough, Chinese Rocks, Get Off The Phone, Pirate Love, One Track Mind, I Love You, Goin’ Steady, Let Go.

Disc 3:  ‘L.A.M.F. – the demo sessions’ 

I Wanna Be Loved (mix 2), Pirate Love, Goin’ Steady, Flight, Born To Lose, Can’t Keep My Eyes On You, It’s Not Enough, I Love You, Take A Chance, Do You Love Me, Let Go, Chinese Rocks, Born To Lose.

Disc 4:  ‘L.A.M.F. – the alternative mixes’ 

Born To Lose, Born To Lose, Baby Talk, Baby Talk, All By Myself, All By Myself, It’s Not Enough, It’s Not Enough, Chinese Rocks, Get Off The Phone, Pirate Love, Pirate Love, One Track Mind, One Track Mind, I Love You, Goin’ Steady, Goin’ Steady, Let Go, Let Go, Can’t Keep My Eyes On You, Do You Love Me.

Françoise Hardy – Françoise Hardy (el/Cherry Red Records)


cover art

On paper Françoise Hardy’s music shouldn’t work nearly as well as it does. After all, when was the last time an attractive female teenager made lighthearted pop music that was not only worth a listen, but that stood the test of time decades later? Hardy was just 18 when she burst onto the international scene in 1962 with her self-titled debut and it’s a surprisingly assured first foray into the world of music. Hardy wisely stayed away from making cheap and disposable music aimed at the youth market, and instead sung her songs in a voice that was soft, low and full of intimacy. The music that her backing group (unfortunately credited just as Roger Samyn and his orchestra) made was the perfect fit for her voice. It’s simple pop, with splashes of jazz, light country and other delights from the pre-Beatles era. Non-French speakers (myself included) will have no idea what she’s saying, since all the songs are in French, but that doesn’t make great songs like “Oh Oh Cheri”, “Le Temps De L’Amour” and “Je Suis D’Accord” any harder to love.

This new 2013 reissue also includes her ten-song 1963 Italian-language album Françoise Hardy Canta Per Voi In Italiano (or Françoise Hardy Sings For You In Italian), which is a step less interesting than the debut (which it shares a few tracks with), due to its flatter mono sound and intrusive production touches like a vocal choir and bad saxophone solos that ruin re-recordings of “Oh, Oh Cheri” and “Je Suis D’Accord”, respectively.

Tracklisting:

1. TOUS LES GARÇONS ET LES FILLES (ALL THE BOYS AND GIRLS)
2. ÇA A RATÉ
3. LA FILLE AVEC TOI
4. OH OH CHÉRI
5. LE TEMPS DE L’AMOUR
6. IL EST TOUT POUR MOI
7. ON SE PLAÎT
8. TON MEILLEUR AMI
9. J’AI JETÉ MON CŒUR
10. IL EST PARTI UN JOUR
11. J’SUIS D’ACCORD
12. C’EST A L’AMOUR AUQUEL JE PENSE FRANÇOISE HARDY CANTA PER VOI IN ITALIANO
13. L’ETA DELL’AMORE (LE TEMPS DE L’AMOUR)
14. IL TUO MIGLIORE AMICO (TON MEILLEUR AMI)
15. E ALL’AMORE CHE PENSO (C’EST A L’AMOUR AUQUEL JE PENSE)
16. UNA RAGAZZA COME LE ALTRE (COMME TANT D’AUTRES)
17. QUELLI DELLA MIA ETA (TOUS LES GARÇONS ET LES FILLES)
18. L’AMORE VA (L’AMOUR S’EN VA)
19. CI STO (J’SUIS D’ACCORD)
20. PER TANTO TEMPO (BIEN LONGTEMPS)
21. OH OH CHERI
22. IO VORREI (CAPIRTI) (SAURI-JE)