Month: February 2016

Liz Phair – Whip-Smart

ARTIST: Liz Phair 220px-Liz_Phair_-_Whip-Smart

TITLE:  Whip-Smart

YEAR RELEASED: 1994

CHART ACTION: #27

SINGLES: Supernova (#78, #6 Modern Rock), Whip-Smart (#24 Modern Rock), Jealousy (feature track on an EP, Juvenilia, which hit #78 on the album chart)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: None

LINEUP: Liz Phair, Brad Wood, Casey Rice

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The follow-up to her cult classic debut has her best known song, but is uneven.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Phair had an almost impossible task of following up her landmark Exile in Guyville, Her new-found fame also got in the way with her writing and recording process, so much so that they moved the sessions to the Bahamas to get away from Chicago.

What resulted was an album with some brilliant moments, especially “Supernova” and “May Queen”. The album as a whole, though, didn’t unify. There was a theme, supposedly, but it didn’t cohere. It’s an album of individual songs – some great, some not so great. The production adds to this, as in the middle of the record many of the songs sound similar in tone and arrangement.

Another reason for the unevenness is that about 1/3 of the songs dated from her “Girly Sound” cassettes, with some updates. Still, it’s worth picking up as there’s a lot of good stuff here, despite the mediocre nature of some tracks.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: “Jealousy” was promoted with an EP containing some of the “Girly Sound” tapes, but with no other label support from Atlantic (who had a deal with Matador, her old independent company) she was reluctant to go on tour, as she was feeling uneasy with fame and the touring lifestyle. They responded by threatening to drop her contract, but Phair stood firm.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION:  No

GRADE: B: “Supernova” is worth the price of admission, and some of the tracks are pretty good. The mediocre tracks would be better served if they weren’t clustered together.

Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons – Jersey Beat: The Music of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons

ARTIST: Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons jersey beat

TITLE:  Jersey Beat: The Music of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: Not this, but their albums all charted until 1972 (except for a weak-ass contractual obligation record)

SINGLES: Top 10: Sherry (#1 US, #6 UK), Big Girls Don’t Cry (#1 US, #13 UK), Walk Like a Man (#1 US, #12 UK), Candy Girl (#3 US), Dawn (Go Away) (#3 US), Ronnie (#6 US), Rag Doll (#1 US, #2 UK), Save It for Me (#10 US), Let’s Hang On (#3 US, #4 UK), Working My Way Back to You (#9 US, #50 UK), I’ve Got You Under My Skin (#9 US, #12 UK), Tell It to the Rain (#10 US, 37 UK), Can’t Take My Eyes Off You (#2 US), C’mon Marianne (#9 US), My Eyes Adored You (#1 US, #5 UK), Swearin’ to God (#6 US), Who Loves You (#3 US, #6 UK), The Night (#7 UK), December 1963 (Oh, What a Night) (#1 US, #1 UK), Grease (#1 US, #3 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Bye Bye Baby (#12 US), Our Day Will Come (#11)

LINEUP: Four Seasons: Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito or Gerry Polci, Nick Massi, Charles Calello, Joe Long, or Don Ciccone. Bob Crewe and other session musicians augmented them in the studio as well.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A massive collection of the Four Seasons and Frankie Valli’s ‘solo’ work, more than you’ll ever need.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: After reviewing some individual albums by the Four Seasons & Frankie Valli’s first solo album, it came to me that for the most part that these albums were always going to be “two hits, some quick filler we wrote and a couple of covers to please friends of ours”. So why not just go and review a collection that contains the hits and maybe some of the better B-sides / deep cuts? So, that’s what I’m doing. There is ONE Four Seasons LP I am reviewing, and there’s a reason for that when it comes up.

What’s there to say about this conglomeration? The soaring voice of Frankie Valli grabbed the headlines and the steady, on-point harmonies of the rest of the group added needed color. In later years, Ciccone or Polci took some leads as Valli’s voice was giving out due to a medical condition. The arrangements, for the most part, are pleasantly pop and kept with the times in pop, with some innovative fuzz guitars in the mid-60’s and a move to disco in the mid-70’s.

There are 76 tracks here, and of course some are going to be duds. But look up at the singles – that’s quite a career of hits and history, and some of the B-sides and lesser hits are worthy of several spins as well thanks to the harmonies and arrangements. Just pick this up and exile what you don’t like. That’s what I’m doing.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: For the most part, whether it’s the Four Seasons or a Frankie Valli solo cut, the whole conglomeration recorded and produced it. It was just a marketing thing. Especially the songs they did as the Wonder Who? which didn’t really fool anyone.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION:  Um, isn’t 76 tracks enough?

GRADE: A-: The best songs are definitely A and A+. There’s some goop here, especially the later you go. It’s the only collection you’ll need, though. (I am keeping the other reviews up, just to let the masses know about the individual albums I heard.)

The Sundays – Reading, Writing and Arithmetic

ARTIST: The Sundays 220px-Sundays-readingwritingarithmetic
TITLE: Reading, Writing and Arithmetic
YEAR RELEASED: 1990
CHART ACTION: #39 US, #4 UK
SINGLES: Can’t Be Sure (#45 UK), Here’s Where the Story Ends (#1 US Modern)
OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: My Finest Hour (maybe???)
LINEUP: Harriet Wheeler, David Gavurin, Paul Brindley, Patrick Hannan
WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Jangly pop music with subtly dark undertones, featuring a great soprano voice.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The guitars jangle along, the singer has a pleasant soprano, and on first listen, this is a happy record. But it’s not, and that’s great.

The jangles are minor key jangles more often than not, and the lyrics evoke more of relationships gone wrong than shiny happy joy joy. “Here’s Where the Story Ends”, “I Kicked a Boy”, “Hideous Towns” and “You’re Not the Only One I Know” demonstrate this to the fullest. Wheeler’s voice soars to great effect when needed, and she’s not afraid to get a little experimental in phrasing and tone.

Gavurin weaves his jangly guitar around Wheeler’s voice to great effect. While not as virtuosotic as Johnny Marr (who is?) it does evoke the Smith’s sound a bit in guitar sound and structure of the songs. This is a fine collection for those who don’t mind sour with their sweet pop lines.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: “Here’s Where the Story Ends” was never released as a proper single in the UK thanks to the collapse of their record company. However, the airplay of that song boosted the record up the charts.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE: A-: A sweet and sour pleasure.

Utopia – Todd Rundgren’s Utopia

ARTIST: Utopia Todd_rundgrens_utopia
TITLE: Todd Rundgren’s Utopia
YEAR RELEASED: 1974
CHART ACTION: #34
SINGLES: None
OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Wow, no.
LINEUP: Todd Rundgren, Mark Klingman, Ralph Schukett, Jean Yves Labat, John Siegler, Kevin Ellman
WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Rundgren forms a band and goes prog. I mean, really prog. Frankly, it’s more like Zappa than prog at first. Then it’s just boring and LONG.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: By this time in Todd Rundgren’s career, he was a hit maker who churned out long and complex albums that indulged everything he wanted to do musically (since he did them all himself, mostly). Still, that wasn’t enough, so Rundgren formed a band – Utopia.

This first incarnation had THREE synth players augmenting Rundgren, a bassist and a drummer. Oh, Keith Emerson eat your heart out. What we got was three long-ass songs (one of them an excruciating 30 minutes long) and one short one.

I was intrigued by the first cut (which was recorded live). It had energy and a decent vibe but definitely it felt like something Zappa would do. As the album went on I became less enthralled, and midway through the last cut (the one lasting a half-hour) I was getting impatient. WHEN IS THIS THING GOING TO BE OVER – I CAN’T TAKE ANOTHER KEYBOARD SOLO FULL OF EIGHTH AND SIXTEENTH NOTES!

I like prog and I don’t mind long songs. They have to be interesting. This wasn’t.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The original band contained Hunt and Tony Sales, son of comedian Soupy Sales and who were part of Rundgren’s original ‘band’ Runt.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE: C: Really, there’s some interesting stuff. It just goes ON AND ON AND ON. Exiled.

Pigeonhed – Pigeonhed

ARTIST: Pigeonhed 220px-Pigeonhed_-_Pigeonhed
TITLE: Pigeonhed
YEAR RELEASED: 1993
CHART ACTION: None
SINGLES: None
OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Maybe if you were in the UK, because they liked it there.
LINEUP: Steve Fisk, Shawn Smith. Kim Thayil played guitar when it was needed.
WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Two Seattle area scenesters come together to make an electronic experimental pop with vocal record. It’s quite interesting.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Shawn Smith is the vocalist for several bands in the Pacific Northwest, most notably Brad. Steve Fisk is a well-known producer and engineer. Together, they made up Pigeonhed, a pre-Portishead electronic band combining beats, samples, keyboards and Smith’s voice – most of the time high and plaintive.

The soundscapes Fisk creates are mood and feeling for many of the songs, but some are straight electronica. Thayil, the Soundgarden guitarist, adds some accent and color on a few songs. “Her” is a straight electronica ballad that really could be on the radio right now – 23 years later.

It was well loved in the UK more than the US. I think since it was a Sub Pop release, people thought it’d be grungy – it’s anything but.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Melody Maker voted this the 22nd best album of 1993.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE: B+: This grows on you, especially if you like electronica, or acts that combine electronics, sampling and voice.

Opeth – Orchid

ARTIST: Opeth 220px-Opeth_Orchid
TITLE: Orchid
YEAR RELEASED: 1995
CHART ACTION: None
SINGLES: None
OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Fans of Scandanavian death metal, yeah. Otherwise, uh-huh.
LINEUP: Mikael Akerfeldt, Peter Lindren, Anders Nordin, Johan De Farfalla
WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Debut record from Swedish metal band consists of five l-o-n-g tracks that meld metal and progressive rock, two instrumentals, and all the riffs and solos you’d want. But they also use the death growl vocal style most of the time, just to caution you.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: It’s pretty stunning when a brand new band comes out of the gate with something as intricate and genre bending as this album. The two instrumentals show musicianship not normally heard on a death metal record (a piano solo and an acoustic guitar piece). The other songs also incorporate non-metal sounding interludes in between the bludgeoning riffs and death growl.

The chops and versatility are evident here, and even the use of the death growl vocal is something I can excuse because of the bands versatility. Akerfeldt and Lindgren’s guitar work is pretty stellar, especially moving between the riffs, metal solos and acoustic guitars. Nordin’s a pretty good drummer (and pianist as he did the piano solo track) that does the requisite double bass drum work and all the things a good thrashy metal drummer does.

All in all, a damn fine debut record for any metal or music fan. No, really!

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The lyrics? Akerfeldt basically has admitted most of them are ‘standard black metal nonsense’. “In the Mist She Was Standing” was based on a nightmare.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: There’s a bonus track, an absolute horrible rehearsal recording that’s easily excused.

GRADE: A-: If you’ve never heard a death metal record, and wanted to test it out, grab this as one of the ones to hear first.

Lindisfarne – Fog on the Tyne

ARTIST: Lindisfarne 220px-Lindisfarne-FogOnTheTyne
TITLE: Fog on the Tyne
YEAR RELEASED: 1971
CHART ACTION: #1 UK
SINGLES: Meet Me on the Corner (#4 UK)
OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: The title track, maybe
LINEUP: Alan Hull, Ray Jackson, Rod Clements, Simon Cowe, Ray Laidlaw
WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A big hit in the UK, thanks to the hit single and a commercial folk-acoustic rock sound. Pleasant, not challenging.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: As with their first album, Lindisfarne takes bits and pieces from the English folk revival and melds it with commercial sounds to create a pleasant, sometimes pastoral sound. They have some hooks this time, and harmonize nicely.

Three of the five members write, and mandolinist Jackson sings the songs that Clements writes (which was the big hit, so he’s recognizable as the voice of the band to radio listeners). Hull wrote the title track, which is well known among fans and was re-recorded by footballer Pacul Gascoigne.

If you’re looking for authentic English folk revival music, it’s not here. If you’re looking for pleasant folk rock with a couple of memorable songs, yeah, grab this. The title track is the best one; it closes the record out on a high note.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Jackson was the mandolin player on “Maggie May” by Rod Stewart.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: A couple of B-sides that are so-so.

GRADE: B+: Another good, not great, record by this band that’s upgraded by the hit single and the title track. If you wanna dip your toe into this band, this is the one.

Genesis – From Genesis to Revelation

ARTIST: Genesis FromGenesistoRevelation
TITLE: From Genesis to Revelation
YEAR RELEASED: 1969
CHART ACTION: #170
SINGLES: The Silent Sun, Where the Sour Turns to Sweet
OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Only if you bought it
LINEUP: Peter Gabriel, Tony Banks, Anthony Phillips, Mike Rutherford, John Silver. Chris Stewart drums on Silent Sun., Lots o’ strings and horns.
WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Mostly orchestral, slightly psychedelic, slightly decent collection of songs written by a teenage Genesis. Gabriel’s vocals are on point.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: School chums got together, wrote songs, recorded demos and sent them around. They got signed. Sounds typical, right?

Jonathan King got ahold of the demo, and picked “Silent Sun” as a single. Another single was released, and King then decided the band should create an album based on the Bible. The band was still in school, so they recorded it on holiday. King then added all the orchestras and strings and….nothing. By the time it was released the band was already moving on to longer form compositions and King released them from his grip.

It’s fairly impressive considering they weren’t quite of age yet when they produced this record and they were basically ‘forced’ to write most of the songs around a theme they didn’t pick. It’s got some really dud cuts thanks to the material. The orchestration really drowns out the group except for Banks and Gabriel (maybe Rutherford’s bass shows up at times). But Gabriel, man, he can sing, even then.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: King owns the tapes to these sessions to this day. There are about
18 songs, some demos, and single mixes out there and they’ve been repackaged ad nauseum.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, demos, single mixes, etc..

GRADE: C+: It ain’t half bad for what it is. Some of it is exiled sure, and it’s rather warmed over Moody Blues, but Gabriel’s vocals can patch things over.

Belle & Sebastian – Tigermilk

ARTIST: Belle & Sebastian BelleAndSebastianTigermilk
TITLE: Tigermilk
YEAR RELEASED: 1996
CHART ACTION: #13 UK (Reissue)
SINGLES: None
OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: The State I Am In
LINEUP: Stuart Murdoch, Stuart David, Isobel Campbell, Chris Geddes, Richard Colburn, Stevie Jackson, Mick Cooke, Joe Togher.
WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Delicately twee pop band’s debut, all of 1,000 copies pressed originally, found a group basically ready to take on the indie world, one delicate piano and violin phrase at atime.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: First released in 1996, and now a collector’s item in its original vinyl form, Belle & Sebastian’s first album is a blueprint for the rest of their career.

Murdoch’s songs are playful pop ditties and the backing adds a touch of class and elegance to them. There’s nothing grating or unpleasant, and they do have their share of hooks and memorable melodies. It’s just not anywhere near rock – and that’s just fine.

These are songs Murdoch wrote over the three years prior to this album and performed acoustically before forming the group. It shows that he had these arrangements in his head long before they were put on tape. This is a great intro to Belle & Sebastian as there’s not a cut that’s boring or longwinded.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Originally, the album was just the completion of a class project and after this album and their followup that would be it for the group. Word of mouth spread and they were signed in the UK for their second album

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

GRADE: A-: Put the kettle on, get the lace doilies out and relax. This is a soundtrack to a quiet English afternoon. (Yes, I know they’re Scottish…still…)

Superdrag – Regretfully Yours

ARTIST: Superdrag Regretfully_Yours
TITLE: Regretfully Yours
YEAR RELEASED: 1996
CHART ACTION: #158, #4 Heatseekers
SINGLES: Sucked Out (#17 Modern Rock)
OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Destination Ursa Major and Phaser got a little airplay.
LINEUP: John Davis, Brandon Fisher, Tom Pappas, Don Coffey, Jr.
WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Power pop band’s major label debut has a surprising hit, and an enjoyable, if not a little bitter, power pop sound. There’s nothing groundbreaking about it, just a good record.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: After an independent EP and some vinyl singles, Superdrag moves to Elektra and the big leagues. The single “Sucked Out” got some airplay thanks to MTV and the chorus where John Davis voice really cracks.

There’s nothing really extraordinary about that song, or anything else on the album. It’s a good, solid power pop album that you can add to your power pop collection from the 90’s. They write hooky songs but not as hooky as the Posies or diverse as Sloan.

Already, though, it seems Davis and company were wearying of the major label game, as “Sucked Out” is a complaint about the process of being on a major label. There’s cynicism and bitterness all throughout the record hidden underneath the power pop chords, and in some ways that makes it definitely a 90’s album

NOTES & MINUTIAE: They also had a 1994 release on cassette along with their 1995 EP on Darla records.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

GRADE: B+: Everything on here is pretty good, not great, but they’re consistent. “Sucked Out” may give you some nostalgia, and if you like power pop you should grab this.