Month: July 2017

Tool – Undertow

ARTIST: Tool                                      undertow

TITLE: Undertow

YEAR RELEASED: 1993

CHART ACTION: #50 US, #22 UK

SINGLES: Sober (#13 Mainstream), Prison Sex (#32 Mainstream, #81 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Intolerance

LINEUP: Maynard James Keenan, Adam Jones, Paul D’Amour, Danny Carey. Henry Rollins guests on a track.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Full length debut from the progressive metal band established their credentials as a serious, conscious band.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: In the midst of the decline and fall of hair metal, and the rise of grunge, came Tool – a progressive band with a socially conscious, outspoken lyrical bent and music that emphasizes musicianship in a metal context.

Maynard James Keenan’s lyrics and vocals are what intice the casual listener into Tool, but then the guitar work of Adam Jones and Danny Carey’s drumming keep you there. At the time, it was refreshing to hear a fresher take on progressive music and metal.

The album does drag, especially at the end. Tool wanted a long statement and they deliver, though the last cut is probably one that can be removed.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: They released an EP in 1992. Since none of their music is streaming, it’s only available as a CD though it’s still in print.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE: A-: At the end, it grows long, and the last cut could be left off, but it definitely makes waves in all the right areas.

 

Steve Miller Band – Brave New World

ARTIST: Steve Miller Band              220px-Steve_Miller_Band_-_Brave_New_World

TITLE: Brave New World

YEAR RELEASED: 1969

CHART ACTION: #22

SINGLES: My Dark Hour (#126)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Space Cowboy.

LINEUP: Steve Miller, Lonnie Turner, Ben Sidran, Tim Davis. Glyn Johns plays a lot on the album, and Paul McCartney famously contributed to one song.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Shedding the overt psychedelic sound towards a more straight-forward blues rock foundation.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Two members left the Steve Miller Band after 1968, including Box Scaggs, and Miller re-focused his work more towards blues and rock, and came up with a winning album.

“Seasons” and “Celebration Song” still have some of a hippie vibe but definitely more in a traditional rock (and folk for “Seasons”) feel, and “Space Cowboy” became a Miller signature and it’s truly where the band gels, but the final track – a true duet between Miller and Paul McCartney – is the highlight.

“My Dark Hour” not only introduced a very familiar guitar riff to the Miller lexicon, but the presence of McCartney forced Miller tor really up his game, which resulted in a fantastic performance. This is a solid album from beginning to end – worth the exploration for sure.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: “My Dark Hour” came about after McCartney was the sole member of the Beatles left after a huge argument regarding their management. Miller was in the studio as well, and they started to jam.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE: A-: A gem of an album that more Miller fans should know.

Imperial Teen – Seasick

ARTIST: Imperial Teen                                         Seasick

TITLE: Seasick

YEAR RELEASED: 1996

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Imperial Teen, Butch, You’re One

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Oh, no.

LINEUP: Rodney Bottum, Will Schwartz, Jone Stebbins, Lynn Truell

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Power-pop influenced band celebrates music and pop culture in a great hummable mix.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The first three songs set the tone for Imperial Teen as a band – “Water Boy” is a hard-edged power pop song with an infectious chorus shouting “Bow down baby…bow down to me”. “Imperial Teen” is a quieter meditation that doesn’t make sense, not even “If I only had another hand / I’d cut it off and start a band”.
Then there’s “Butch”, a true power-pop song worthy of the Posies that’s rooted in gay culture with a great chorus line, “You like strawberries / I like you.”

All through this album are enjoyable melodies and enough rock to satisfy. It seems slight, and sometimes not all the way thought out – they were only together six months before recording this – but if you’re a power pop lover it’s worthy.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Rodney Bottum was / is in Faith No More and drummer Lynn Truell was in Sister Double Happiness.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE: A-: The more you play it, the more the songs sink in and reveal its charms.

Phish – Rift

ARTIST: Phish                                        220px-Phish_Rift

TITLE: Rift

YEAR RELEASED: 1993

CHART ACTION: #51

SINGLES: Fast Enough for You, The Wedge

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: I’m sure Phish fans know this album by heart

LINEUP: Trey Anastasio, Page McConnell, Mike Gordon, John Fishman

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A concept album that’s not weighed down by the story, instead it gives focus to the band’s song structure.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Phish’s second major label record is a concept album, loosely, about someone dreaming of a fight with their partner. That’s enough of a limitation so Phish can’t just meander and wander, at least in the studio.

What results is a mostly playful album despite the subject matter and tone – constructing dreams and visions at times allows more playful tunes to hide darker subjects. It also spotlights Phish’s vocal ability, which at times is overwhelmed by their jamming.

This record may convince non-fans to give them a chance. The musicianship is incredible, as usual, and the only downfall is their normal one – even with constrained storylines, they tend to meander.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: “All Things Reconsidered” is a variation of the theme from the NPR news program.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

GRADE: A-: As concise as they could be, it’s a good listen beginning to end.

Sonic Youth – Evol

ARTIST: Sonic Youth                                Evol

TITLE: Evol

YEAR RELEASED: 1986

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Starpower

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Tom Violence

LINEUP: Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, Lee Ranaldo, Steve Shelley

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Leaping to SST, new drummer in two, Sonic Youth moves past noise for noise’s sake into sculpting songs out of their chaos.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Steve Shelley, former Crucifucks’ drummer, joined Sonic Youth in time to record this album, and his presence and steadiness helped fuel a transformation in the band. No longer were they content to make noise and horrific soundscapes – Sonic Youth was going to reach you through songs that utilized their noise, not fight against it.

Though this started a bit with “Death Valley ‘69”, it really hit home with songs such as “Tom Violence”, “Starpower” and “Madonna, Sean & Me” (also called “Expressway to Yr Skull” or “The Crucifixion of Sean Penn”). The chaos is there, but there’s melody there, and recognizable song forms.

Sure, they don’t give up the noise (side two still has a couple of cuts that the melody is still a mystery), but this is a big leap forward for a band who wanted to reach more people than the 50 no-wave folks in NYC.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Mike Watt played bass on “In the Kingdom #19”, a Lee Ranaldo story-song about a car accident.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: The CD had a B-side, their cover of a Kim Fowley tune.

GRADE: A-: This is the beginning of Sonic Youth’s journey into the pop-culture landscape.

The Beach Boys – All Summer Long

ARTIST: The Beach Boys          AllSummerLongCover

TITLE: All Summer Long

YEAR RELEASED: 1964

CHART ACTION: #4

SINGLES: I Get Around (#1 US, #7 UK), Don’t Worry Baby (#24 US), Little Honda (#65 US, #11 UK), Wendy (#11 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: All Summer Long, Hushabye, Don’t Back Down, The Girls on the Beach

LINEUP: Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Al Jardine, Mike Love. Hal Blaine elped with drums.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Finally, an album with minimal filler and time wasting, though there are still a couple of real filler tracks.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: This definitely is a summer album, with the perfect summer album opener (“I Get Around), one of the best motorcycle songs of the era (“Little Honda”), a beautiful, plaintive track (“Wendy”), and probably the best example of Brian Wilson’s falsetto (Don’t Back Down”)

The other tracks aren’t totally embarrassing. The surf instrumental by Carl Wilson is decent enough, and the song about drive-in movies is childish but harmless, and there is one that’s just recording studio chatter, but that’s easily skipped and it’s not cringeworthy.

What’s best is that Brian Wilson is soon becoming the consistent and memorable songwriter and arranger that we know him for. Good musical times were coming.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: During the brilliant “I Get Around”, Brian fired his dad as the manager.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Single mixes and alternate takes.

GRADE: B: Not many to skip or exile, finally.

Steely Dan – Pretzel Logic

ARTIST: Steely Dan                        Pretzel_Logic_album

TITLE: Pretzel Logic

YEAR RELEASED: 1974

CHART ACTION: #8 US, #37 UK

SINGLES: Rikki Don’t Lose That Number (#4 US, #58 UK), Pretzel Logic (#57 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Any Major Dude Will Tell You, East St. Louis Toodle-OO

LINEUP: Donald Fagan, Walter Becker, Jeff Baxter, Denny Dias, Jim Hodder – plus 15 other session musicians.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Third album from jazz-pop group finds the band become more of a duo + session musicians, and the songs are shorter and less jazzy.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Are shorter songs better? Well, they’re no doubt more commercially viable. Personally, while the set of songs put forward by Walter Becker and Donald Fagan are just as complicated and lyrically obtuse, for my ears I preferred their longer excursions.

That’s not to say that this isn’t chock full of great stuff. “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” may be the ultimate Steely Dan song, and the second side has all kinds of characters running in the lyrics. The playing is impeccable, of course, with barely a note out of place.

It seems to my ears that some of the songs could have had some more exploration, since there’s some interesting ideas put forward.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: This was the last album that the original group toured in support.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 

GRADE: A-: I do think that some songs should have been explored further, and some could have been saved for another day. That’s just me.

Steve Earle – Guitar Town

ARTIST: Steve Earle                              Guitartown

TITLE: Guitar Town

YEAR RELEASED: 1986

CHART ACTION: #89, #1 Country

SINGLES: Hillbilly Highway (#37 Country), Guitar Town (#7 Country), Someday (#28 Country)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Goodbye’s All We’ve Got Left

LINEUP: Steve Earle, Bucky Baxter, Richard Bennett, Ken Moore, Emory Gordy Jr., Harry Stinson. Reno Kling, Michael McAdam, Paul Franklin, John Barlow Jarvis, and Steve Nathan also pitched in.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Debut album from country singer-songwriter puts him directly in the spotlight as country fans look for something new.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Country music fans who wanted something more than just the latest country-pop dreck were enthused by this record, for good reason.

Earle’s songs and arrangements all had a strong retro-country feel, and his storytelling broke out of the sentimental goop and onto something that was real, and seemingly well-worn. The title track had a great line in “Got a two pack habit and a motel tan”, which really describes life on the road.

Country music with a rock attitude was nothing new, but it was dormant until Earle came on board (though Dwight Yoakam was close). This record helped alt-country be a thing, for real.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: He had released some singles before this album, but they barely charted, if that.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: A bonus track from a live show.

GRADE: A: For the songs, and the attitude.

Daft Punk – Homework

ARTIST: Daft Punk                          220px-Daftpunk-homework

TITLE: Homework

YEAR RELEASED: 1997

CHART ACTION: #150 US, #8 UK

SINGLES: Da Funk (#108 US, #1 Dance, #5 UK), Around the World (# 61 US, #1 Dance, #5 UK), Burnin’ (#30 UK), Revolution 909 (#12 Dance, #47 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: No,

LINEUP: Thomas Bangalter, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: After two singles, French electronic duo sings major label contract, but retains control and produces a world-wide dance smash.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: A good beat, a funky bass, and a fantastic hook played over and over and over again, with electronic snippets and samples here and there and everywhere. That’s the recipe for this album, or so it seems.

The duo had made some waves with their singles on Soma, which appear here in some form or another. “Da Funk” got them noticed everywhere, and the followup “Around the World”, which basically writes the Daft Punk formula (including repetitive vocals singing repetitive phrases).

Find the hook, lock into it, make it funky and danceable, and the rest will follow. It works for them. As an album, it gets a bit tiresome but flip on a track in a mix, and you’ll be good to go.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: “Indo Silver Club” was actually released as a single on the Soma label, with no artist credit.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE: A-: Worth it for grabbing tracks here or there.

Steve Miller Band – Sailor

ARTIST: Steve Miller Band                                   220px-SailorMiller

TITLE: Sailor

YEAR RELEASED: 1968

CHART ACTION: #24

SINGLES: Living in the USA (#94)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Quicksilver Girl, Gangster of Love

LINEUP: Steve Miller, Boz Scaggs, Lonnie Turner, Jim Peterman, Tim Davis

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Second album from the Miller group has a couple three songs that have lasted, and a couple that really date it.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Steve Miller loves the blues, and his choice of covers here (songs by Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson and Jimmy Reed) prove that. The hit from this album, “Living in the USA” has definite blues / rock elements and sounds like a celebration that the Beach Boys could have used about that time.

Yet, this is 1968, and they were from Frisco, so we were ‘treated’ to “Song for our Ancestors”, which I’ve never understood the appeal of (and I can be swayed by a lot of weird hippie stuff) and by the time it gets into a slow organ-driven jam I’m lost. It bores me, and then it goes into “Dear Mary”, which is soft, sweet song that doesn’t rouse the listener either. The rest of the album is good to great, but I’m defeated by the opening track and asleep with track two. Sequencing, folks!

Boz Scaggs’ has two songs and co-writes a third, and drummer Davis and keyboardist Peterman write and sing one as well. But that band autonomy didn’t result in a band that held together, as 40% of this band wouldn’t make it to 1969 with Miller.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Yes, “Gangster of Love” is here, and it’s a short snipped that almost seems like a joke but the title somehow got pegged on Miller (instead of Watson).

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE: B-: This got a lot of raves in 1968, but maybe they were OK with an album opening with fog horns and other sounds for almost two minutes.