Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Who Are You, Mrs. Keller?

I got an email this morning from a Mrs. Keller who says she's teaching a class in business and economics. Her class has found my LibGuide on Economics very helpful. Six members of the class have some suggestions for additions to the links on the page, if I'm interested. Five of the links look to be bland enough, but the sixth is to an online guide to trading stocks online. I'm not clicking on that link, and I'm not posting it. For the record, Mrs. Keller, my LibGuide on Economics has had all of 5 hits since the start of August (sigh), so I don't think your "class" has found it helpful at all.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Listening Notes: 1983 Part the Last

The Police - Synchronicity

There's no point in denying that these are catchy songs and expertly arranged. However, even 28 years ago, I didn't need an introduction to Jung or Paul Bowles from a self-important rock star. Which goes to show that you can take GS Sumner out of the classroom, but you can never take the classroom out of GS Sumner.

U2 - War, Under a Blood Red Sky

I loved "War" 28 years ago, but I must have been listening past the filler. The hits still work for me, which is why I now prefer the live mini-album. More hits, less filler. I don't have much interest in their striving, but they work as a big rock band.

Tom Waits - Swordfishtrombones

I'll admit I've never been a big fan, but this was the album where he figured out that ugly rock and roll would serve his ugly voice much better than ugly tin pan alley. Still, allow me my prejudices. His disdain for the square life is an affection, a pandering to what he expects his audience wants to hear.

Paul Young - No Parlez

Seriously, I liked this back in the day, and I'm still fond of it. It's weirder than you'd think, full of experiments that don't quite work. ("Love Will Tear Us Apart" as blue eyed soul?!?) That's the problem with trying to make everything new. I have to think his career would have been better if he'd just sung dull versions of standards.


Husker Du (sorry no umlauts) - Metal Circus: Two great Grant Hart songs surrounded by Bob Mould ravers. Minutemen - Buzz or Howl Under the Influence: None of the above. OH-OK - Furthermore What: Indeed, quite so, and charming to boot. DFX2 - Emotion: Nice stonesy songs, but emotion, I don't think so. Los Lobos - And a Time To Dance: Just getting warmed up.

Subjects for further research

Joining Pablo Moses in the one play is just not enough is Pylon's "Chomp" and Nile Rodgers' "Adventures in the Land of Good Groove". In case anyone ever reads this and wants to know what's going on, head over to Robert Christgau's Expert Witness site where the regular commenters are conducting a poll on the best albums of 1983. This was my relistening list. I didn't include Lou Reed, the Blasters or REM because I regularly relisten to them. There were another 40 albums I could've included here, but I couldn't get my hands on a legal copy in the time allotted. It's not like this is my job or I have any special expertise. This is supposed to be fun.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Listening Notes: 1983 Part 5

The Go-Betweens - Before Hollywood

The first side is so austere that it tried the patience of even this committed fan. Once "Cattle and Cain" begins, I remember why I'm a committed fan. If you don't know them, this isn't the place to start, but you should find that place. Hint: "Tallullah".

Ramones - Subterranean Jungle

Also not the place to start for a seminal band, but I rather enjoy this lesser work. It's a chance to here Joey sing a bunch of covers, and he was good at that.

New Order - Power, Corruption & Lies

The band came up with three great songs in 1983, but only one is on the album. After "Age of Consent", the album is dull experiments and filler. The other two songs are the bracing dance songs "Blue Monday" and "Confusion"; they're on the second disc of the spiffy reissue.

The Robert Cray Band - Bad Influence

I think of this as an early template for "Strong Persuader", a terrific album I hope I don't have to proselytize for. This sounds quite good because it invokes the better album, but songwriting isn't the later album's equal.

NRBQ - Tapdancin' Bats

Fun for a dog's breakfast, but I am not sure if the best song was written by JS Bach or is about Captain Lou Albano.

The Replacements - Hootenanny

Not as much fun as you'd think for a dog's breakfast. The best song is Paul Westerberg solo. "Let It Be" seems a million miles away.

King Sunny Ade - Synchro System

I have no idea what a bad King Sunny Ade album sounds like, but I like "Aura" which is on the second half of my CD more.

James Blood Ulmer - Odyssey

I like to describe this as my favorite jazz album, but I'm not sure many jazz fans would accept it as a jazz album. These days you can find his CDs in the blues section, if you can find them at all. I can't even call this sui generis, because the band made two subsequent albums. What I can tell you is that I love this album from the avant-garde sonics to the violin posing as a down home fiddle. The three sung songs situate the five instrumentals perfectly.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Listening Notes: 1983 Part 4

Womack & Womack - Love Wars

I feel vaguely non-plussed for liking, almost loving, these somewhat sedate but well constructed songs. At times, this seems almost more like folk music than rhythm and blues, like Bill Withers. Maybe I would be fully in love if Linda sang all the time, but I don't think Cecil's ego could live with that. Whatever happened to them?

Richard Thompson - Hand of Kindness

You know the story - good songs about the divorce and the new love, great guitar, good band. It's just not "Shoot Out the Lights". Is that a fair measure? Normally I'd say no, but Richard walked out on Linda. So think of my unfair judgement as part of the settlement.

The B-52s - Whammy!

"Hi, my name is Ricky and I'm a Pisces and I will be sorely missed"

Talking Heads - Speaking in Tongues

If there ever was an inaccurate title it's this one. David Byrne couldn't speak in anything except fully formed paragraphs if his life depended on it. Having said that, I've come to quite like his control freak's version of getting gone. This album catches both him and the band at the moment when they hadn't left their art school sensibility behind. Which isn't to say that I don't prefer the album before and after.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Listening Notes: 1983 Part 3

Aztec Camera - High Land, Hard Rain

The charm of Roddy Frame's precocity hasn't aged as well as I'd hoped. Or maybe the humorless yearning in the songs doesn't speak to my middle aged self the way they did to the younger version of me. Good tunes, well sung, but I'm not that guy anymore.

John Anderson - All the People Are Talking

Did you know the hit country song country off this album was co-written by Robert Altman? And it was only a hit when DJs started playing as Warners didn't think it was a single. Great singer, but he was never good looking enough to sustain a career when the material wasn't there. The material's mostly here this time.

X - More Fun In the New World

The first song declares it was better before they voted for what's-his-name, and if that doesn't sum up the bohemian attitude in 1983, I don't know what does (especially the pronoun). They're not as passionate about discovering the new world as they were about falling in and out of love. So, sure, it wasn't more fun, it was less fun. The trick was not to let it take a piece out of your music.

John Hiatt - Riding With the King

When I wish Marshall Crenshaw would show more interest in lyrics, I don't want to take up the tricks of hack songwriters - the clever lists, the tricky reversals, the borrowings from advertising. I don't want him to sound like John Hiatt. I don't hate any of these songs. Hiatt's not a terrible singer. But, by about the fourth song, I felt I was listening to a songwriter's demo tape. I used to like this album, but now I don't even try.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Listening Notes: 1983 Part 2

Kate & Anna McGarrigle - Love Over and Over

This is like a pleasant enough stab at a commercial compromise between studio rock and their own sound, but if I were choosing Kate & Anna albums, this isn't the one I'd chose. I've heard too much of their first two albums (plus demos - that's "Tell My Sister" if you're visiting a record store) recently to fall in love with this.

Katrina and the Waves - Walking on Sunshine

This is going to be embarrassing. I've always been in love with the young Katrina Leskanich's singing. There, I've said it. These 10 songs aren't works of genius, but they have hooks and melodies. Katrina sings the hell out of 8 of them, including the title song you should hear without those damn horns. I loved this when it was a Canadian only release 28 years ago, and I love it now.

Madonna - Madonna

Would I be listening to this album if the singer had, I don't know, Teena Marie's career? I'm not trying to be snarky. It's a good album, but a little singleminded in its pursuit of dance floor hedonism, to the point where I'm not sure the singer understands what she's singing. Take "Borderline". Is she happy or upset that her love is going over the borderline? Or is the confusion the point of the song?

Marshall Crenshaw - Field Day

Whose idea was the drum mix? I understand why - it was a "commercial" sound. It just wound up fighting with the vocals. I'm not convinced by the songs either. For instance, in "One Day With You", I keep expecting Marshall to get specific about the travails he'll endure for that one day, but it's just ruin, pain and degradation. It makes me wonder if he puts words in his songs only because pop songs are supposed to have words. My choice of his albums has always been "Good Evening", but I'm in the minority.

DeBarge - In A Special Way

I liked El's recent comeback, but I'm still not moved by this. To my ears, it's an unpleasant double team seduction. James comes on hard, then El whispers sweet nothings, then James is back being hard, then El whispers again, then El wants you to get on with it, then James gives up on you, then Bunny consoles you. Way too harsh? Undoubtedly, but life is short.

Jonathan Richman - Jonathan Sings!

If there's a record that makes me glad I bought a new turntable, this is it. It's so good it makes me wonder why he's made such dull records since. I don't know that he worked with these backup singers again, but they are perfect here. And the songs. He finds a wide eyed way of looking at the world without being icky about it. In my favorite, he takes the perspective of a three year old.

Pablo Moses - In The Future

Is when I'll have to consider this album properly. I don't remember enough of it for one play to make any kind of judgment.

George Clinton - You Shouldn't-Nuf Bit Fish

Far be it for a white guy living in Manitoba to tell anyone where any particular work in George Clinton's oeuvre sits. I prefer "Computer Games" because, you know, of "Atomic Dog", but then I'm a white guy living in Manitoba.

UB40 - 1980-1983

I wasn't going to listen to this, but I feel guilty about saying time has diluted their politics. Isn't "One in Ten" just as relevant now as then? Yes, but not with Ali Campbell singing it. His voice is suited to mild reggae covers. At the time, their very existence gave their songs an edge, but time has smoothed that away.

T-Bone Burnett - Proof Through the Night

Before he was Grammy bedecked producer, T-Bone was an opinionated singer/songwriter. How much you care for this album depends on how much you value his opinions. I can hear why he became a producer, although I'd rather watch out for the trap door.

Was (Not Was) - Born To Laugh At Tornadoes

Nietzsche died a lonely madman - Jerry Lewis had his own telethon - until they took it away.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Listening Notes: 1983 Part 1

Randy Newman - Trouble in Paradise

There's a corporate sound to this album that gives these meant to be satiric (but no one told the LA boosters who took "I Love LA" at face value) songs an extra oppressive air. I don't know, maybe that's the point. More likely, Randy simply always wanted the best musicians to play on his records and wanting anything else is some kind of folkie fallacy. It just makes it hard to believe that he doesn't secretly sympathize with the, well, overdogs in his songs.

UB40 - Labour of Love

I'm not sure this is the first of the "let's do an album of covers", but it turned out to be a marketing coup. Even if it took forever for the US to pick up on "Red, Red Wine". Now that time has diluted the band's politics by distancing us from the context, what's left is a well played, wanly sung bunch of reggae songs. Not as good as the original versions, but nice enough on their own terms.

Cyndi Lauper - She's So Unusual

I think one of the original charms of the album was that you didn't expect it to be so good. Take the first song, the Brains' "Money Changes Everything". She starts out singing it in a fairly low register, as if the song's been arranged for a male voice. It's only on the play out that she sings loudly in a high voice, signifying the pain involved in the song's choices. It's a nice arrangement and it wasn't even one of the big singles. The trouble is that if you're going to make pop singing a career, it doesn't show off your voice well. Or maybe I'm reading too much into a happy accident.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Listening Notes: John Lennon, Kevin Coyne, Teddybears

John Lennon - Gimme Some Truth

Box sets that try to rethink an artist's oeuvre run the risk of obscuring the artist's strengths. Lennon was a terrific singer and a reasonably intelligent man. Sorting his songs into a political disc and a son/lover disc makes the songs seem too schematic. The living disc is more random. The covers disc has some awful arrangements. So, good songs, pointless box set.

Kevin Coyne - I Want My Crown

This is the box set for someone I'd barely heard. I thought I'd like it more than I did. There's too much confrontation and not enough pleasure in the songs, and this gets more pronounced the farther along in the seventies the set goes. Commercial frustration? Drink? Coyne was a social worker before he was a singer/songwriter, and in one all too memorable song he sings about a charge of his, a fat girl who committed suicide. I can understand why that would obsess him, but he wants to drag the audience into the guilt as well. Sorry, I've got enough of my own to be guilty about.

Teddybears - Devils Music

Big, dumb and fun. There isn't as good a song here as "Yours to Keep" (with Neneh Cherry, where have you gone Neneh Cherry?) from the last album, but Robyn can give me a heart attack anytime.