Johnny Thunders and The Heartbreakers – DTK: Complete Live At The Speakeasy (Jungle Records)

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DTK (that stands for Down To Kill, folks) captures Johnny Thunders and The Heartbreakers live at London club The Speakeasy in March of 1977; the same month they would record their timeless studio debut, L.A.M.F. You get the full audio side of the Heartbreakers live experience on this album – the band plays with rock and roll chops that harken back to the ’50s and ’60s, but cranks it up with punk attitude and speed (in both its velocity and chemical-based definitions). Plus, you get to hear Thunders and guitarist Walter Lure berate the audience, and occasionally each other, with Noo-Yawk accented in-between song put-downs, along with a few other vulgar asides peppered in. It’s a great proposition, but if you’re looking for the best Heartbreakers live album, go with Live At Max’s, which was recorded a year later on home turf in NYC and also put out by Jungle Records. The sound on DTK is good, but the Max’s disc sounds fuller and it has a better setlist. DTK is actually two short sets recorded on the same night, with significant overlap between them. So, even though there are 15 songs in total, five are repeat performances. Still, The Heartbreakers were so white-hot at their peak you could give me a lo-fi album of them playing “Get Off The Phone” fifteen times back-to-back and it would still be a livewire listening experience, dripping with the spirit of rock and roll.
In addition to the two sets, the DTK package has Kris Needs’ original liner notes from 1982, and a more recent interview with the last Heartbreaker standing, Walter Lure, conducted by Thunders biographer Nina Antonia.

Stag – Electric Mistress (Self-Released)

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Fans of ’70s-styled rock action, rejoice! Seattle’s top purveyors of all things glam, power-pop and punk, Stag, are coming right back atcha with a brand new six song EP, Electric Mistress. As with Stag’s prior full-length, Midtown Sizzler, these songs are meant to conjure up ringworn ghosts of old Cheap Trick, Faces, Mott and new wave records; and they do! Opener “Pied Piper Blues” is a pretty concise summation of Stag’s whole vibe –  a song about staying up late listening to records, and wondering just where you stand in an increasingly un-rockin’ world. It’s also a slamming tune, with tough guitar chords, horns, rollicking piano and a great Steven Mack vocal that’s as flamboyant as it is soulful. “Dreamer” is similarly Stones-meets-Faces ragged, with an effective octave-jumping chorus, but it’s really the title track that has me swooning. It’s one of the most righteously spot-on T-Rex pastiches I’ve heard (just a hair below Tim Rogers’ “One O’ The Girls”), but with a chorus big enough for Oasis. Between this song, and “Bedazzler” from Midtown Sizzler, Stag have proven themselves as one of the best (and probably only) junkshop glam bands of the 21st century. In fact, it’s what they do best. The only song on Electric Mistress that doesn’t really do it for me is “Carousel”. Yeah, it’s got the chords from VU’s “Heroin”, but its soft punches land a little too close to the cheesier side of ’70s radio rock (i.e. Styx, Journey…etc.) for my taste. Luckily it quickly gives way to “Some Kinda Something” which ends the twenty-one minute EP journey in typical fist pumping Stag-rock style.

L’Epee – Diabolique (A Recordings)

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L’Epee (which is French for “The Sword”) is a new band, but you may already be familiar with its members. Singer Emmanuelle Seigner has been acting in art films since the mid-’80s (including a few directed by husband Roman Polanski) and has also released albums as both Ultra Orange and Emmanuelle. Guitarist Anton Newcombe is, of course, the guy behind The Brian Jonestown Massacre, and the rhythm section of Lionel and Marie Liminana have a half-dozen albums under their belt as The Liminanas. If you’re familiar with the people behind L’Epee’s discographies, then you won’t be terribly surprised with what you hear on their debut album, Diabolique, which is basically the sum of its parts. That’s perfectly OK though because Diabolique mixes the effervescent sound of ’60s French ye-ye pop with a beehive of droning psychedelic rock in a way that’s always engaging, and often downright thrilling. The key element of L’Epee’s sound is Marie Liminana’s minimalistic drumming, which stays just about one small step beyond a drum machine in terms of complexity and fluidity. Normally that wouldn’t be fulfilling, but here it forms the perfect hard-driving bedrock for Seigner’s vocals and a bevy of vintage guitar and keyboard sounds to float over. Picture Francoise Hardy or Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier fronting The Jesus and Mary Chain and you get a pretty good idea of what L’Epee are up to. The opening duo of “Une Lune Etrange” and “Lou” launch the band straight into a dark and psychotic corner of psych-rock; not terribly unlike Brian Jonestown Massacre-affiliated bands Dead Skeletons or The Black Angels. The album’s first single, “Dreams” is the closest L’Epee get to classic ye-ye, but with Anton firing off more guitar fuzz and tremolo than anyone could have imagined back in the ’60s. The band hops on a boat over to Morocco for “On Dansait Avec Elle”, with Seigner and Newcombe duetting over a Middle-eastern beat and a Jonestown-esque melody. It’s an interesting detour, and one the band return to a few songs later for the chant-like “Grande”. Diabolique ends on a high with an energetic proto-punk 4/4 stomper “Last Picture Show”, where Sagnier name-checks both The New York Dolls and Get Carter. You won’t find a mis-step anywhere on these ten songs, and as of Mid-September I’m hard-pressed to think of a better debut album in 2019.

Robin Millar – Cat’s Eyes (Apcor Books)

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Robin Millar entered Apple Studios in 1974 to record his debut LP for Atlantic Records. He’s young, ambitious, and driven by the fact that he’s going blind. Helping him commit these songs to wax was his brother in-law, Mick Taylor from The Rolling Stones, who produced and played guitar. He likely also helped wrangle up Andy Johns to engineer the record (he’d already engineered albums by Zeppelin, The Stones and Humble Pie, among others); and an A-team of England’s hottest session musicians (Billy Preston, Bobby Keys and Nicky Hopkins). Millar seemed on the cusp of a breakthrough when the album wrapped in September of ’74; then in December, Taylor announced he was quitting the Rolling Stones, and without that big selling point, Atlantic lost interest in Millar and with the exception of a single that was released in France, shelved the album.

Forty-five years later, Cat’s Eyes is finally getting its moment in the sun, with an exclusive release by the Beatles/Apple Records geeks over at Apcor Books. The album largely fits in with the softer side of the McCartney/Nilsson/Badfinger wing of the post-Beatles scene. Everything from the writing, to the musicianship, to the production is as professional as you would expect from the team behind Millar. Despite its power-pop leanings, the best songs on Cat’s Eyes are actually the ones that come closest to glam, at least in sound, if not style. “Catch As Catch Can” (which was the French single) is a potent mix of Stonesy grit and a little bit of Bowie’s “Watch That Man”; while “Hey Jo” and “Sunday” aren’t too far off from the sound of mid-’70s Roxy Music, but other songs don’t fair so well. “Remember”, “Sail Away” and “The Melody Of Love” are all laughably overwrought, with lyrics Richard Marx would consider too sappy. Even worse, “By The Way” isn’t actually a bad song, but the lyrics seem to be professing love for a fourteen year-old girl, which is creepy. Yes, those were different times, but still…

Postscript: Millar would eventually go blind and brush off his frustrations with the Cat’s Eyes experience; finding success as producer, scoring huge hits with artists including Sade, The Fine Young Cannibals and Big Country.

The Murder Capital – When I Have Fears (Human Season Records)

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The Murder Capital are a relatively new band from Dublin who you’ll typically see referred to as part of the same “scene” as other new-ish UK bands like Idles, Shame, Fontaines D.C., and the like. Their debut album, When I Have Fears, is two weeks old as of this writing, and it already seems like the band may be on their way to success. The press reviews have been good, they’ve got a big management agency in their corner (Qprime), and the album was produced by Flood, who has helped alternative acts like Nick Cave, New Order, The Killers, and Smashing Pumpkins reach a wide audience among many others. I fully understand the Murder Capital’s immediate appeal. After all, people are always hungry for young guitar-driven band, and the band’s early singles, “Green and Blue” and “Don’t Cling To Life”, seem to be worth the hype; but some serious foundational issues make When I Have Fears a better short-term proposition than an album you’ll be itching to listen to years down the road.
Singer James McGovern addresses a lot of heavy issues with his lyrics, like life, death, fear, and dread; yet he and the rest of the band approach these topics in such a grey and monochromatic way that it becomes a chore to swim through all the joylessness. Treating every moment like an opportunity for serious soul searching only works in The Murder Capitals favor when applied to a fleet-footed song like “Don’t Cling To Life” – perhaps the catchiest tune written about the death of one’s mother. Other songs, like “How The Streets Adore Me Now” and “Slowdance I & II”, are just dull. Still, let’s save our vitriol for “On Twisted Ground”, which really should be a difficult song to hate since it’s about a friend’s suicide; however, it elicits grunts and groans over its lifeless six-minute runtime simply because it sounds a lot like “Glycerine” by Bush, a miserable song most people were perfectly happy not hearing since the mid-’90s. These overbearing moments are plentiful, and they dilute The Murder Capital’s strengths.

Lunch With The Wild Frontiers: A History of Britpop and Excess in 13 1/2 Chapters – Phill Savidge (Jawbone Press)

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The cover is adorned with candid Polaroid photos of Brit-pop’s biggest stars (Liam, Damon, Jarvis, Justine…etc.), and the book’s subtitle promises a Britpop history, yet Lunch With The Wild Frontiers is both so much more and so much less than that. If you’re looking for a comprehensive and detailed history of the music and culture of Brit-pop, this ain’t it. The book is really Phill Savidge’s memoirs from his career in music PR. His public relations firm, Savage and Best, counted many of Britpop’s biggest bands as clients at the height of their popularity: Suede, Verve, Pulp and Elastica to name a few, but Savidge also handled PR duties for many decidedly non-Britpop artists like Roy Orbison, Andrew Lloyd Webber and A.R. Rahman, and they play just as important a role in his book as anyone else.

Luckily Savidge – a flamboyant rascal with a flair for style and the fantastic – is himself as colorful a character as anyone he writes about. He’s got a never-ending well of great stories to draw upon and an inviting writing style to tell them with. The latter is the key here, as it keeps readers equally engaged regardless of whether Savidge is talking about securing magazine covers for your favorite ’90s act, or his experiences taking a disinterested Lou Reed on a tour of The Hospital – a failed attempt at creating a modern day artist’s space similar to Warhol’s Factory. I actually liked the sections on Savidge’s late-’80S rise through the world of music public relations the best, as he recounts his less than world-beating experiences selling the music press on GG Allin, Suicidal Tendencies, Gaye Bikers on Acid and Savidge’s first clients at Virgin Records, The Wild Frontiers, a band featuring Marco Pirroni of Adam and The Ants who broke up a few weeks after their initial lunch with Savidge, and are now only remembered for giving this book its title. There’s literally no other mention of the band’s existence anywhere on the internet.

Whether he’s having lunch with a practically non-existent band, or hanging out with Bowie, Strummer and Jagger, Savidge’s wild adventures keep you turning the pages to see what comes next.

Martin Karlsson’s Degradation – “Too Far Gone”/ “Barbwire (Couldn’t Keep Me Away)” (Latta Bordor Records)

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Martin Karlsson’s Degradation’s debut 7″ is a nice surprise for fans of garage-pop and proto-punk. On “Too Far Gone”, the Swedish group sounds as if they’re cut from the same cloth as those late-’70s UK groups that straddled the line between power-pop or pub rock and punk rock. It’s a fun song with a helluva catchy chorus, but Martin Karlsson’s Thunders-meets-Bators vocal – part drunken sneer, part heart-on-sleeve tough posture – is what gives it a little extra edge. For a guy whose main gig is drumming for garage rock group The Strollers, Karlsson is a natural on the mic. The B-side, “Barbwire (Couldn’t Keep Me Away)”, is a ballad for wounded souls, where Karlsson and team discover that you can in fact put your arms around a memory. As with the A-side, the band loves their choruses big and oft-repeated. Normally that might get annoying, but it all works thanks to a winning combination of simplicity, attitude, and what sounds like a cowbell. More please.