Mick Harvey – Delirium Tremens (Mute)

A few years back I posted a positive review of a reissue of Mick Harvey’s mid-’90s Serge Gainsbourg covers albums – Intoxicated Man and Pink Elephants – and now I have to praise it again since its release inspired Harvey to revisit the concept almost two decades later and record the songs that would become Delirium Tremens. The concept of Harvey recording English translations of Gainsbourg’s songs hasn’t changed, however Delirium Tremens exists in an entirely different cultural context. Back in the ’90s these albums were like a public service for music geeks since Gainsbourg’s albums were hard to find, and even if you snagged one you didn’t know what he was saying unless you spoke French. Of course, since then the internet has made everything readily available, so Delirium Tremens is now simply one good performer covering the songs of another. That it begins with a mid-70s obscurity called “The Man With The Cabbage Head” (or “L’homme a Tete De Chou”) tells you right off the bat you’re not gonna hear Gainsbourg’s best known material. Harvey’s already recorded most of those songs anyway, so instead he digs beneath the surface to find gold in obscurities. He does just that with a set of largely unfamiliar songs that showcase his natural fit as a Gainsbourg interpreter as well as the arranging skills he’s honed over decades working with Nick Cave, PJ Harvey and his own solo projects. “Coffee Colour” and “Deadly Tedium” are both jazz cabaret, with witty lyrics and inventive playing from an interesting cast of backing musicians. “I Envisage” is a different beast altogether, with a none-more-black, almost Joy Division-like, performance that matches the bleak visions of Gainsbourg’s lyrics perfectly. “SS C’est Bon” is a Holocaust-era black comedy with rapid-fire lyrics that are hard to understand amidst the chaotic music, but worth looking up for a lesser-heard example of Gainsbourg’s warped genius. The album ends with Harvey and Katey Beale doing a stunning version of “The Decadance” which isn’t that far removed from the original, but is beautifully arranged all the same. It’s a perfect ending to a great album, and an exciting look ahead to Harvey’s fourth album of Gainsbourg covers – focusing on his work with female singers – planned for later this year.

My Damage: The Story of a Punk Rock Survivor by Keith Morris and Jim Ruland (Da Capo Press)

Keith Morris isn’t the kind of guy you expect to write an autobiography. The introspection and sheer volume of commitment needed to recap sixty-plus years of living didn’t seem possible from a guy best known for writing 50-second songs about getting fucked up and breaking stuff. However, he and co-writer Jim Ruland have done the work, and the resulting book is a joy. Although Keith’s best-known for fronting Black Flag and The Circle Jerks in the late-’70s and early-’80s, their stories are already so well-documented elsewhere that it’s Morris’ life before and after that era I found the most interesting. He paints a vivid portrait of his participation in ’70s beach-burnout culture, ’80s Hollywood glitz’n’glamour (including parties with Motley Crue and a crack-smoking session with David Lee Roth!) and the ’90s alternative rock explosion, and how all those things shaped the man he is today. It’s especially interesting to hear the Morris of today – sober, wiser, moral – reflect back on his wild years, and he’s got a good sense of humor about it all now that it’s in his rear-view mirror. My Damage isn’t just a collection of drink and drug stories though. Morris also lets readers in on the hard times he’s endured, from career lulls, battles with diabetes and, worst of all, business dealings with Greg Ginn. Unfortunately My Damage has no passages about how a white guy in his sixties maintains such lengthy dreadlocks – a missed opportunity in my opinion. However, the book confirms what Keith Morris’ appearances in other media have led me to believe: he’s a funny and insightful guy who’s lived an interesting life, which makes for an excellent book.

Sick On You by Andrew Matheson (Blue Rider Press)

It’s hard to believe someone agreed to publish a book on The Hollywood Brats, considering the band’s sole album – a 1974 glammy proto-punk classic – was only released in Norway, where it sold just 563 copies. Despite their obscurity, the book exists, and it’s a great read to boot. Author, and Brats singer, Andrew Matheson never wrote a book before, yet he tackled Sick On You without a cowriter. Despite his inexperience, he’s got an immediately enjoyable writing voice – part self-deprecating comedian, part arrogant rock-star and part street urchin – and a ton of great stories about the highs and lows of his almost single-minded attempts at getting a flamboyant Stones/Kinks circa-’67-meets-glam band off the ground in dull and depressing early-’70s England. His wild tales include dodgy gigs, even dodgier living situations, mafia-owned record labels, punch-outs with Freddie Mercury…and, like his run-in with Freddie Mercury, he pull no punches. He’ll tell you exactly what he thinks at all times, even when his opinions fly in the face of accepted wisdom. Unfortunately those opinions occasionally have him engaging in cheap ethnic stereotyping that rubs you the wrong way. Cut those parts out (and boy, I wish you could) and he’s got a great book on his hands – it’s no wonder Mojo Magazine named it their 2015 Book Of The Year. I bet it would make a great movie too.


The Yardbirds – Live At The BBC (Repertoire Records)

The Yardbirds’ Live At The BBC has everything you expect from an album of 1960s BBC sessions: songs that stick closely to the familiar versions from albums and singles, awkward interviews with terminally unhip BBC announcers, and some exclusive songs you can’t hear anywhere else. The majority of these tracks are from Jeff Beck’s tenure as lead guitarist, two sessions come from the Jimmy Page era (he rips off a great solo on “Think About It”), and there’s nothing from the Eric Clapton years, as he left just prior to their first session. Also missing are any songs from the brief period when Beck and Page both played guitar in the band. Regardless of who was in the band at any given session, The Yardbirds turn in great performances, and the audio is sourced from well-preserved tapes, which is not always the case for archival BBC releases. The songs they never released outside of BBC are a mixed bag.  “Hang On Sloopy” isn’t a particularly inspired cover, though it’s interesting to hear The Yardbirds tackle such a light-hearted tune. Bob Dylan’s “Most Likely You’ll Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)” is a better fit, and if singer Keith Relf isn’t exactly a convincing surrogate for Dylan’s lyrics, at least the band attack the music well. Lastly, “Love Me Like I Love You” is an original tune from a June 1965 session they never released elsewhere. It’s a relatively boring throwback to the band’s poppy British Invasion origins, but with a killer Jeff Beck solo that saves the day. Though it’s not ideal for casual fans, The Yardbirds faithful will love The BBC Sessions, and even if you’ve bought previous versions, the expanded tracklist and improved audio make this new edition the one to own.

The Zombies – The BBC Sessions (Varese Vintage)

The Zombies were the first band to officially release material recorded at the BBC when the British broadcasters opened up their archives in 1985. They released these sessions again in 1998 as part of the Zombie Heaven boxset, and here they are once more, now a two-disc set with a few previously unreleased recordings. Like their peers, The Zombies’ BBC visits were a chance to plug their hits, and to play some exclusive material that hadn’t been released elsewhere. They recorded versions of their early hits “She’s Not There” and “Tell Her No” (the latter at three different sessions), and a host of other effervescent Zombies originals that should have been hits, like “You Make Me Feel Good”, “If It Don’t Work Out” and “Just Out Of Reach”. Well-done covers of The Impressions, The Isley Brothers, The Supremes, Isaac Hayes, The Four Tops and Billy Stewart make a strong case for The Zombies as a great white soul band, and they’re also comfortable playing blues (“Wee Baby Blues”), rockabilly (“Rip It Up”) and pop (a stunning cover of “The Look Of Love”). Though The BBC Radio Sessions has an embarrassment of great songs and performances (and those goofy BBC interviews), some of the sessions were only available from secondary sources, so the sound is sometimes compromised (especially on their cover of “Sitting In The Park”). Also, there’s no material from the best Zombies album, Odessey and Oracle, though it’s nobody’s fault since the band broke up before it was released in 1968, and didn’t play it live until decades later. Even with those imperfections, The BBC Sessions has more than enough great stuff for me to recommend it.

The Hollywood Brats – Sick On You (Cherry Red)

I’ve already reviewed a previous version of this 1973 album over here, so I won’t repeat myself in detail. Sufficed to say it’s a lost classic, with influences from The British Invasion and Chess Records, combined with decadence and rebellion, to create something that fit with the glam scene, but also closely resembled punk three years before The Ramones, The Clash and Sex Pistols released their debut albums. The newest edition of this album is timed to coincide with the American release of singer Andrew Matheson’s book on The Hollywood Brats, also named Sick On You after their most electrifying song. One of the main selling points here is that the album has been remastered for the first time since its original CD release in 1994, giving it the “oomph” your ears expect in 2016. The other big news is the second disc which adds 15 bonus tracks to the original 11-track album. The majority are studio outtakes from 1973-’74 and it’s great to hear a few prime-era Brats originals (“Son Of The Wizard” especially), and a handful of covers (Kinks, Chuck Berry, blues numbers) given a proper high-energy rock’n’roll throttling. There’s also a few songs from an attempted 1980 Brats reunion (they were working on an album called Hung Like Horses – classy), but they’re sterilized by overproduction. The informative liner notes include track-by-track notes on the bonus material, excerpts from a 2012 interview with Andrew Matheson, top 10 lists from each band member, and great photos. My only complaint is that I miss the original album’s glammy cover photo. Sure their feather boas and teased hair made the band look like a junior division New York Dolls (accusations they’ve always had to refute) but, unlike the reissue’s cover, it was colorful and it had personality, which is pretty much the Hollywood Brats in a nutshell.

C87 (Cherry Red Records)

The folks at Cherry Red have been pumping out box-sets of 1980’s UK indie with factory-like regularity of late. There was Scared To Get Happy, Millions Like Us, Creation Artifact, C86, Another Splash Of Colour, and now this three-disc set answering the question “what if the NME reconvened one year after the C86 compilation to make a sequel, covering British indie from the following year (and a record label expanded it into a three disc box-set decades later).” It’s a solid idea to build a compilation from, and if you followed the UK indie singles scene at the time, you’re probably already swooning at the prospect of owning these songs – several of which are make their debut on CD. However, if you’re getting exposed to a majority of these songs for the first time in 2016, you may end up wondering what all the fuss is about.

The problem is, you show up expecting bands who, maybe for just these 3-5 minutes, could be as good as the best of UK indie in the ’80s (i.e. The Smiths, Jesus and Mary Chain, The Fall…etc.), and while some bands on C87 sound vaguely similar to their bigger and better contemporaries, the disparity in talent is tremendous. About 2/3 of the 74 songs are brought down by a combination of inexperienced songwriters, cheap recordings, vocalists with no range and lyrics without something to say (an inordinate number of songs feature wordless “ba-ba-ba-ba” type of choruses). Or, simply look at C87’s set-up logically, without even listening to it: can you reasonably expect there were 74 really good largely unknown U.K. indie bands active in a single year? No you can’t, and bearing that truth out over three lengthy discs is frustrating and even painful at times. This said, there’s about a single-disc’s worth of likeable songs, and I credit this set for including great songs by The Vaselines and House of Love (“Son Of A Gun” and “Real Animal”, respectively) and turning me on to cool tracks from The Shamen, Gol Gappas and Stitched Back Foot Airman that I probably wasn’t going to hear anywhere else. Maybe the lesson here is that the NME knew what they were doing when they made the original C86 a single album.