Muse – Showbiz

ARTIST: Muse                                 220px-Museshowbizalbumcover

TITLE: Showbix

YEAR RELEASED: 1999

CHART ACTION: #29 UK

SINGLES: Uno (#73 UK), Cave (#52 UK), Muscle Museum (#25 UK), Sunburn (#22 UK), Unintended (#20 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Maybe not, at least not here.

LINEUP: Matthew Bellamy, Christopher Wolstenholme, Dominic Howard

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Debut from the grandiose, semi-progressive UK group establishes their sound and their air of pomposity, all while being mostly listenable.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Sure, they’ve got some Radiohead in them (a less obtuse and strange Radiohead). Yeah, they’ve got a streak of pretention and gratuitous grandiosity. But darn, if this record doesn’t hook you in for the most part.

The second track, “Muscle Museum” is the album highlight. There’s a definite hook and melody that makes it radio friendly, but the complexity and the production means that it’s not just garden variety radio fare, and the hooks make it a lot more than just a new proggy track by a prog-wanna-be band.

The trio don’t always succeed at what they’re doing. Some of the deeper cuts don’t have the same drive or energy, and it does seem a bit long-ish (hey it was the late 90’s, no edits needed), but this basically established Muse’s base sound, one they’d build on later.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The band chose these tracks from 50 or so, with some of the other songs destined for B-sides.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, various versions for digital download, Japan, and the Benelux area. 

GRADE: A-: Sometimes over-wrought, but enough good-to-great tracks to keep you listenting.

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Metric – Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?

ARTIST: Metric                                 220px-Old_World_Underground,_Where_Are_You_Now-_Cover

TITLE: Old World Underground, Where Are You Know?

YEAR RELEASED: 2003

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Combat Baby, Dead Disco

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Were you in Canada in 2003? No. Well, no then.

LINEUP: Emily Haines, James Shaw, Joshua Winstead, Joules Scott-Key

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: First album release by Canadian new-ish wave (a throwback, kinda) rock band mixes electronics, indie rock, and a new wave sensibility.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: At times, this release could fit in nicely in 1981 or so with the new wave era of synths and guitars, but there’s a modern twist and polish to Metric. Led by Emily Haines’ vocals and keyboards and James Shaw’s guitar work, Metric is definitely both old school and part of the 2000’s indie scene.

It’s an enjoyable romp through both old and new. Haines’ vocals, at times semi-spoken, are the forefront, and the music and arrangements complement her stylings. The synths played by Haines add some unique coloring to a few songs, and Shaw’s guitar hooks and riffs make the tracks very radio friendly while not being generic.

Metric’s gotten a lot of praise for their later work, but this is just as strong and should be on the list for any fan of the band, and of any new wave fan who wants something to remind them of the old days.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Their US record company delayed their 2001 debut album until it was really too late, and it was finally released in 2007 (and that’s where I’ll cover it).

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No 

GRADE: A-: A pleasant retro-but-not-really indie rock record that deserves more attention.

Graham Parker – Squeezing Out Sparks

ARTIST: Graham Parker       Squeezing_out_sparks_cover

TITLE: Squeezing Out Sparks

YEAR RELEASED: 1979

CHART ACTION: #40 US, #18 UK

SINGLES: Protection, Local Girls, Nobody Hurts You

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: You Can’t Be Too Strong

LINEUP: Graham Parker, Brinsley Schwarz, Martin Belmont, Bob Andrews, Steve Goulding, Andrew Bodnar

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Free from his first record contract, Parker releases his master stroke, full of bile, and surprising tenderness.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: After three good-to-great studio albums, followed by a mess of a live record for a contractual obligation (The Parkerilla, not available now and don’t bother), Graham Parker and his backing band The Rumour come out swinging with the best, most complete record of his career.

Parker’s songs have their typical bite, and his energy pulls the band along so that they’re equally urgent on most of the cuts. Only on the tender “You Can’t Be Too Strong”, which many thought of as an anti-abortion song (when Parker said it’s more of a questioning song than anything, and is from the point of view of the man who isn’t strong to face his responsibilities), does Parker let his guard down.

Else, Parker’s still the angry young (ish) man of the UK scene at this time, even madder than Elvis Costello. This is the record to have by him; it’s a great time piece and stands up now.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: National Review named “You Can’t Be Too Strong” as one of its top Conservative songs – which Parker roundly disputed and showed that the NR is horrible at understanding pop culture.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Oh, yes. Live Sparks is the album played live (which makes me sad that I didn’t see him at this time), with a cover of “I Want You Back”, and his all-time bilious single “Mercury Poisoning” 

GRADE: A: It smokes, to this day.

 

 

U2 – October

ARTIST: U2                                     220px-U2_October

TITLE: October

YEAR RELEASED: 1981

CHART ACTION: #104 US, #11 UK

SINGLES: Fire (#35 UK), Gloria (#55 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: With a Shout

LINEUP: Bono, the Edge, Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen Jr.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Disappointing second album sounds rushed and unfocused. Narrator: It was.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: After getting acclaim for Boy, it seemed nothing went right for U2 when recording their second album. Famously, Bono’s lyric ideas were stolen, and he had to come up with lyrics basically on the spot without his ideas and notes. They came right from a tour to the sessions, and didn’t have many ideas.

They’re lucky some songs sounded as good as they did. “With a Shout”, “Gloria”, and “I Threw a Brick Through a Window” are just as good as anything on their first record, with the Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. all contributing new ideas and sounds into their sonic palette.

Yet, as a whole, it’s unsatisfying. The lyrics and music sometimes don’t meld very well (understandable), and had they had more time, they may have turned out something as good as their debut. They didn’t have the time, and it showed.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Also, there was an existential crisis in the band. Bono, the Edge, and Mullen were involved in a group called The Shalom Fellowship, and began to question rock-and-roll and its lifestyle.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes. Singles, b-sides, BBC sessions, live cuts. You know the drill. 

GRADE: C+-: Three great cuts save this album, and probably saved the group.

Accept – Playlist: The Very Best of Accept

ARTIST: Accept                      accept

TITLE: Playlist: The Very Best of Accept

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Restless and Wild, Balls to the Wall, Fast as a Shark, Midnight Mover, TV War

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Neon Nights, Metal Heart

LINEUP: Udo Dirkschneider, Wolf Hoffman, Peter Baltes, Jorg Fisher, Stefan Kaufmann. Herman Frank was in for Fischer at times during this era.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: More seminal than popular, this German metal band was a bridge from the UK metal scene to the speed / thrash metal era.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: “Fast as a Shark” has a frenetic pace and a intense double kick drum, and is definitely the bridge between the New Wave of British Heavy Metal to the speed / thrash metal that would define the ‘real’ (sorry Poison) metal of the mid-to-late 80’s. For that, Accept should be remembered.

It’s not like they didn’t have any other tracks worth mentioning. “Balls to the Wall” is a hell of an anthem (except it’s about a minute too long), “Restless and Wild” is a track that almost out Priests Judas Priest.

Vocalist Udo Dirkschneider was the face of the band. His gruff vocals, with a surprising high range, is the highlight amongst a lot of generally generic metal. Wolf Hoffman can spin a good riff or three, but without Udo they’d be just another metal band.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Stefan Kaufmann left in 1982, but after an album with Herman Frank, they asked Kaufmann back.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 

GRADE: B: Solid metal for the most part.

Shalamar – The 12″ Collection

ARTIST: Shalamar                         shalamar

TITLE: The 12 Inch Collection

YEAR RELEASED: 1995

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Top 10: Uptown Festival (#25 US, #10 R&B, #2 Dance, #30 UK), Take That to the Bank (#79 US, #11 R&B, #20 UK), The Second Time Around (#8 US, #1 R&B, #1 Dance, #45 UK), Right in the Socket (#22 R&B, #11 Dance, #44 UK), Make That Move (#60 US, #6 R&B, #30 UK), This Is for the Lover in You (#17 R&B), A Night To Remember (#44 US, #8 R&B, #15 Dance, #5 UK), I can Make You Feel Good (#102 US, #33 R&B, #7 UK), Dead Giveaway (#22 US, #10 R&B, #18 Dance, #8 UK), Dancing in the Sheets (#17 US, #18 R&B, #9 Dance, #41 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Deep disco fiends may know the rest

LINEUP: Jeffrey Daniel, Jody Watley, Howard Hewitt. Hewitt replaced Gerald Brown. Their last hit featured Micki Free and Delisa Davis instead of Watley and Hewitt. Gary Mumford was the original, original lead singer. Session players under the direction of Leon Sylvers played the tunes.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Disco, soul, funk vocal trio filled the dance floors for about six or seven years, and released some classics of the time.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Starting out as a Don Cornelius studio only joint, when Shalamar became popular, Cornelius and Agent Dick Griffey found a trio to go out and sing and record. Producer Leon Sylvers worked the magic, and the trio of Jeffrey Daniel, Jody Watley and Howard Hewitt became stars in their own right after the third record.

Mind you, the trio was hired more for their dance moves than anything, but they had vocal talent as well. Sylvers, along with others, were the main songwriters, but Shalamar was an efficient vehicle for his works.

This is a collection of their 12” singles, which sound great and give you a chance to enjoy Sylvers’ production more than anything. You’ll boogie on with this.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: After their big hit “Dead Giveaway”, most everyone jumped ship due to issues with management and their record company. “Dancing in the Sheets” was their last hit and without Sylvers the magic was gone.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No 

GRADE: A-: A good look at the disco / funk / R&B trend of the late 70’s and early 80’s..

Guadalcanal Diary – Walking in the Shadows of the Big Man

ARTIST: Guadalcanal Diary     

TITLE: Walking in the Shadows of the Big Man

YEAR RELEASED: 1984

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Watusi Rodeo, Trail of Tears

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Why Do the Heathen Rage?, Pillow Talk

LINEUP: Murray Attaway, Jeff Walls, Rhett Crowe, John Poe

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Athens scene band, jangly guitars, but a different deal than REM due to the more linear story songs and harmonies.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Hearing the guitars, you think that maybe Guadalcanal Diary cribbed something from older scenesters REM, but then when Murray Attaway sings, and the lyrics are definitely mostly straight forward story songs or love songs, with harmonies from the rest of the band, it becomes more of a second cousin band to their more famous scene-mates.

Their debut, produced by REM producer Don Dixon, show off the band’s strengths in harmonies, and creating a mood. Yet, it seems slight, since two of the tracks were instrumentals, and another was a live version of  Kum Ba Yah”.

Guadalcanal Diary had promise – a more traditional sound still with the college radio / independent streak. This debut showed off some of the things that endeared them to fans later down the road.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Dixon had recorded an EP for them, and this album to put out on a local label. When they got signed, they convinced Elektra to release this record and not make them record new tracks.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, B-sides and their first EP are appended. 

GRADE: B: It’s really good in most spots, but it’s slight and seems slapped together at times.

Bloodrock – Bloodrock

ARTIST: Bloodrock                                          Bloodrock

TITLE: Bloodrock

YEAR RELEASED: 1970

CHART ACTION: #160

SINGLES: Gotta Find a Way

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Nooooo

LINEUP: Jim Rutledge, Ed Grundy, Stephen Hill, Lee Pickens, Nick Taylor

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Managed by Terry Knight, the brother band to Grand Funk Railroad isn’t the worst rock band of the 70’s, and that’s about it.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The song “Castle of Thoughts” kind of sums up Bloodrock. Half decent guitar riffs and drumming, including cowbell, a keyboard player noodling during the breaks between verses, and lyrics which probably sounded deep on the fourth doobie of the night, but really are inane.

Bloodrock was shaped by manager Terry Knight as the brother band to his wunderkinds Grand Funk Railroad, but while GFR had some personality, and a little bit of complexity and power, Bloodrock sounds thin. Singer Jim Rutledge tries, but doesn’t convey much except shouting the lyrics in a gruff monotone.

There are a couple of highlights, and the only reason I’m reviewing this album is that they don’t have a collection, and they have some ‘infamous’ songs that they’re known for coming up in their career.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: They had backward masking on “Gotta Find a Way”

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No 

GRADE:C-: Mediocre playing, bad lyrics, most exiled.

Styx – Man of Miracles

ARTIST: Styx                       220px-Styx_-_Man_of_Miracles

TITLE: Man of Miracles

YEAR RELEASED: 1974

CHART ACTION: #154

SINGLES: Best Thing

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: None, and there’s a reason for that

LINEUP: Dennis DeYoung, James Young, John Curulewski, Chuck Panozzo, John Panozzo

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Styx tries to pivot to rock away from progressive rock, with semi-embarrassing results.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: As much as John Curulewski could hit those high harmonies on “Lady”, the rock songs he wrote for this album as a way to get radio to become interested in Styx were, um, not good. The vocals sound like parodies and there’s a forced energy that permeates them.

James Young’s rockers are no better. Add to that a track that was already on an album, and you have a band at a definite crossroads with themselves. Dennis DeYoung steps up and creates some of his better early work, and while they were trying to get away from prog, “Man of Miracles” seems to be one of their better prog efforts and does set up their next few records.

This was their last effort for the Chicago-based Wooden Nickel, and they were lucky to have some good timing with a single released two years prior (“Lady) to keep their career moving.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: “Best Thing”, already on their debut album, was on this album too and released as a single. When this was re-released, a horrid cover of “Lies” by the Knickerbockers replaced it. Then, “Unfinished Song” replaced that, though it was on another album as well. The streaming version has “Lies”

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: See above for the fun. 

GRADE:C : They were damn lucky “Lady” was a hit, because this wasn’t cutting it, despite Dennis DeYoung’s efforts.

The Beach Boys – The Beach Boys Today!

ARTIST: The Beach Boys                              BeachBoysTodayCover

TITLE: The Beach Boys Today!

YEAR RELEASED: 1965

CHART ACTION: #4 US, #6 UK

SINGLES: When I Grow Up (To Be a Man) (#9 US, #27 UK), Dance Dance Dance (#8 US, #24 UK), Do You Wanna Dance (#12 US).

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Please Let Me Wonder, Help Me Ronda (original)

LINEUP: Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Dennis Wilson PLUS The Wrecking Crew

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The first album where Brian entrusts his songs to the famous Wrecking Crew of studio musicians.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Brian Wilson’s songs were evolving, changing, become more complex, and the sound he wanted certainly wasn’t going to be replicated by the band itself. Brian had stopped touring after a mental breakdown, and the result was a leap forward in musical structure and complexity.

Starting with Dennis’(!) vocal for “Do You Wanna Dance”, the first side of up-tempo numbers have deep cut classics like “Good to My Baby” and “Don’t Hurt My Little Sister” along with the first two singles. Brian’s falsetto, my goodness…

The second side has three of Brian’s best ballads to date, especially “Please Let Me Wonder”. A couple of ok tracks, and the usual unbearable talky album filler (though it’s positioned at the end for easy exiling) are there.

It’s the first Beach Boys album that sounds like a conceptual whole without a lot of filler or half-assed instrumentals. Just one of THOSE cuts.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: This album was only issued in mono on first release. Also, “Help Me, Ronda” was later remade as “Help Me, Rhonda”, shorter and punchier – and that’s the version everyone knows.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, the formerly unreleased stereo mixes along with some singles.and B-sides. 

GRADE: A-: A set up for Pet Sounds, though there’d be some detours on the way.