Thursday, March 27, 2008

Nick Lowe - Labour of Lust

Yep Roc just reissued Nick Lowe's classic first solo album, Jesus of Cool. Hopefully it is the first in a series of reissues, because the man's catalog (or catalogue) is a mess. How can it be that an album as great as Labour of Lust could ever be allowed to go out of print? Sure, many of the highlights are available on Basher: The Best of Nick Lowe, but you really need songs like "Born Fighter," "You Make Me," "Skin Deep" and "Dose of You" too. Every song on that album is a classic. Nick The Knife, The Abominable Showman, Cowboy Outfit, etc. may not be as consistently great, but they still deserve to be heard without being robbed on Amazon's Marketplace. This is an injustice of epic proportions. Can you imagine the reaction if none of van Gogh's paintings were on display in any of the world's museums? If Citizen Kane were only available on SelectaVision? If Hulk Hogan retired? This is the rock and roll equivalent people. It's sick and twisted and just plain wrong, wrong, wrong. Am I making myself clear?

So go buy Jesus of Cool (even if you already own it it's worth it for the bonus tracks and excellent packaging). Then demand reissue of Labour of Lust and the rest of Nick Lowe's catalog.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Bitch Magnet - Umber

I went through a long stretch where I barely listened to any rock music, especially indie-rock. I don't know if I was burned out on it, or if I was just eager to explore other things (jazz and classical in particular). During that time I sold a lot of records that could probably be featured on this blog--Bitch Magnet's Umber was one of them (thank you to Adam for loaning me his copy so I could hear it again).

At some point, probably about ten years ago, I went through my record collection, looked at each record and asked myself "Given that my time on earth is finite, do I really think I'll ever listen to this again?" If the answer was "no" I sold it, if it was "yes" I left it on the shelf. This is one of the records that ended up in the "no" pile. It's not that I thought it was bad, it was just hard for me to envision ever listening to it again.

My predictive abilities are less than perfect. Here I am today, some ten years later, and I listened to this album while driving to work this morning (on a iPod no less, another development I failed to predict). Some guy driving a Mercedes with a vanity license plate that read "VIP 1" cut me off. I laughed. Life is too short to get angry about people who think they're important. But hopefully it's not too short to listen to Umber a couple more times. It's pretty good you know.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

John Stewart - Bombs Away Dream Babies

In an earlier post I talked about how my son introduced me to the music of John Stewart. He was quite excited when I came home a couple weeks ago with a few more Stewart albums. It was clear he was very proud of himself, especially knowing how much music means to his father.

Most of the other records I bought by Stewart are in a similar vein to Willard--the kind of slightly folky, slightly countrified rock that would later come to be known as Americana--and all of them are quite good. But Bombs Away Dream Babies was a totally different story. This sounded like Fleetwood Mac circa Rumours with John Stewart as lead singer. There was a very good reason for this, Lindsey Buckingham--a huge Stewart fan--had produced the album, and he and Stevie Nicks make numerous guest appearances.

The first notes of the lead-off track "Gold" brought back a flood of memories. This is very much the sound of late 70s California rock (I suspect if you listen closely you might be able to hear the engineers doing lines in the control room). An angry rant against the music industry by someone who had already been dropped by three labels, "Gold" ironically became a top 5 hit in 1979.

There is an inherent tension throughout the album between Buckingham's slick pop instincts and the rough-hewn honesty of Stewart's voice (at times he sounds a little like Johnny Cash in his later years). It's a productive tension that results in not only the most popular, but also some of the best music of Stewart's long career.

As popular as this album was, it has somehow fallen out of print. If prices on Amazon's Marketplace are any indication, copies of the long out of print CD reissue on Razor & Tie are going for around $100. This album badly needs to be reissued.

And is it just me, or does Stewart look a lot like Gary Shandling on this album cover?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Ron Klaus, He Reissued His House

Merge Records reissues Big Dipper's (mostly) complete Homestead era recordings today. Supercluster: The Big Dipper Anthology contains the band's two Homestead LPs, Heavens and Craps, plus the Boo Boo EP, assorted compilation tracks, and a few previously unreleased demos. It also includes a CD of unreleased tracks recorded after the band's major label fiasco. You get 3 CDs for the low, low price of $15 (only $10.99 if you are willing to settle for MP3 sound quality and forgo the liner notes, or $13.49 if sound quality matters to you but liner notes don't). Personally, I'm eager to read the liner notes.

It would be an overstatement to say that I started this site in hopes that I might have some small influence in getting labels to create reissues of exactly this sort. Actually, it would be more than an overstatement--it would be a lie--I started this site to in order to waste my time. Nevertheless, I am very glad to see this music reissued--kudos to Merge for doing it.

As complete and excellent as the Merge anthology is, there a couple things missing. Obviously, Slam, the band's disappointing major label debut is not included. I can also think of a couple other stray tracks not represented. One is their excellent (post-Epic fiasco) cover of Pete Shelley's "Homosapien" from Freedom of Choice, a compilation of New Wave covers that benefits Planned Parenthood. Just buy that already. The other is a cover of Wings' "Jet" that was included on a 45 with an issue of Bucketfull Of Brains magazine circa 1987.

Buy: Supercluster: The Big Dipper Anthology
Buy: Freedom of Choice

To celebrate the occasion, I am reposting an older post in which I (unsuccessfully) sought to solve the mystery of Ron Klaus. Over one year and four restraining orders later, I am no closer to solving the mystery. Maybe the liner notes to Supercluster will help put some of these burning issues to rest.

Searching For Ron Klaus (Originally posted 11/10/06):

Ron Klaus is something of an enigma. Let's review what is known about Ron Klaus: We know he had a party, we know he had a band, we know he had a thousand loving friends, and most importantly we know Ron Klaus, he wrecked his house. We know these things because of Big Dipper's 1988 college radio smash "Ron Klaus, He Wrecked His House" written by Ron's former Embarrassment band mate Bill Goffrier. But there is much we don't know. We don't know why he wrecked his house, we're only told "he had his reasons." We don't know what he did after he wrecked his house. Did his insurance cover any of the damage? Where did he live after wrecking his house? Was the house salvageable, or was it a total loss? Where is he now? Does he regret wrecking his house, or would he do it all over again if he had the chance? I was determined to find answers to these questions and more.

So I went searching for Ron Klaus. I had heard a rumor that he was now a captain of a whale watching ship on Cape Cod. So I started making some phone calls. After four wrong numbers I hit paydirt.

Me: Hello, Is this Ron Klaus?
RK: Yeah.
Me: Are you the Ron Klaus who wrecked his house?
RK: I guess so, yeah. What's it to you?
Me: Well, I was just curious about it, you know?
RK: It's really none of your f****'n beeswax. What do you care? Who are you?
Me: Well, it's just that, you know, there's the song "Ron Klaus, He Wrecked His House."
RK: What the f***k are you talking about? Are you a cop?
Me: No, It's just that your former band mate, Bill Goffrier wrote the song about you and...
RK: I've never been in a band, are you some kind of Moonie or something?
Me: Isn't this Ron Klaus, former bass player for the Embarrassment?
RK: Did you say Ron "Klaus"? This is Ron Kraus, K-R-A-U-S.
Me: Oh, uh sorry, I think I've got the wrong guy.
RK: Yeah, I think so dips**t.
Me: But you said you wrecked your house, what happened?
RK: I fell asleep smoking in bed and the house burned down. Then my wife left me and took the cat with her.
Me: I'm sorry to hear that.
RK: Don't ever call me again.

So that didn't work out too well, but I was undaunted. I decided to Google Ron Klaus to get some more information. I found a couple Ron Klauses, and I figured one of them had to be my guy.

First I called a Ron Klaus who is a helicopter pilot. I figured that someone got mixed up with the whale watch rumor, and Ron was really a helicopter pilot now.

Me: Hello, Is this Ron Klaus?
RK: Yeah.
Me: Ron Klaus, K-L-A-U-S?
RK: Yeah.
Me: Are you the Ron Klaus who wrecked his house?
RK: (Laughing) I get that a lot. No.
Me: Have you heard the song?
RK: Yeah, one of my buddies gave me the CD as gag. That song sucks.
Me: Oh, okay, well thanks.

So next, I tried a Ron Klaus who is an engineer and pastor. Could it be that after burning down his house that Ron Klaus went back to school, got a PhD in Engineering, then found God and became a pastor and a missionary? This was exciting! My mind was racing! Maybe Ron decided to study Engineering in order to design a house that couldn't be wrecked. And maybe he started preaching to warn young people about the evils of wrecking their house. There was a screenplay in this! Maybe a book too. This could be the next Beautiful Mind. But before I started writing my Oscar acceptance speech, I figured I should call Ron and get the skinny.

Me: (excited) Hello, is this the Ron Klaus who wrecked his house?
RK: No. (click)
Me: Hello? Hello?

Another dead end. I'm out of leads now, and Ron Klaus is perhaps even more of an enigma than when I started my search. If you have any information about the Ron Klaus who wrecked his house please let me know. I have questions that need to be answered, I have a screenplay to write. Hollywood needs me.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Tater Totz For St. Patrick's Day

I posted a couple things from this album already, but thought this would be a good track to share for St. Patrick's Day. This is one of the tracks that makes this Beatles/Yoko Ono tribute and/or parody album, Sgt. Shonen's Exploding Plastic Eastman Band Request Mono Stereo, by Redd Kross' side project Tater Totz a real head-scratcher. While the McDonald brothers' tongues seem firmly planted in cheek for much of the material they cover on the album, Lennon's "The Luck of the Irish" sounds genuinely pissed and bitter. I suspect turning this song into a joke would have been in too poor of taste for even the McDonald brothers.

Happy St. Patrick's Day.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Coney Island Pixelvision Footage

Among my old videotapes in the basement was some footage I shot of Coney Island on a friend's Fischer Price Pixelvision camera back in the summer of 1993. Most people will probably find this stuff dreadfully boring, but to me there is something fascinating about it.

I notice there are a decent amount of Pixelvision videos on youtube, which is perhaps appropriate since the compression process doesn't really make the footage much worse. The charm of Pixelvision has always lied in its lack of fidelity to (and distortions of) the image as perceived by the human eye. While this is hardly the best Pixelvision footage on youtube, it's also far from the worst (at least I figured out how to crop the image to get rid of the gutterboxing).

The first video is my recording of a ride on the famous Cyclone roller coaster (considered by many coaster enthusiasts as among the best in the world). I was hoping for better results than what I got here--you see more of the back of my friend Tim's shirt than the coaster itself. Still, I'm pretty sure this is the only Pixelvion footage of a ride on the Cyclone known to man, and that should count for something.

The second video is longer and is just a compendium of some of the sites and sounds of Coney Island circa 1993. The Cyclone is featured again, but I was more interested in capturing footage of the abandoned and decaying Thunderbolt roller coaster. Footage of the Carousel turned out pretty nicely.

For me these unreliable, fragmentary, low-fidelity images serve as an analogue for memory itself. Over time, our memories lose detail (in a sense becoming increasingly pixelated through the years). The Thunderbolt roller coaster I filmed that windy summer day was demolished in 2000 after sitting dormant since 1983. I found some strange beauty in its decaying structure that is hard to explain. But my memory of it now is hardly any more vivid than the grainy Pixelvison footage seen here. Perhaps there is some beauty to be found in that as well.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Grant Hart - 2541

Grant Hart has not been what you would call prolific since the breakup of Hüsker Dü, releasing a mere four studio albums (solo and with Nova Mob) since the band's 1987 demise. When you go five to ten years between releases, people tend to forget about you, which is a shame because everything Hart has released is well worth hearing. For those of you who lost track of Grant Hart over the years, I highly recommend his last solo album, 1999's Good News For Modern Man.

As excellent as Good News was, I want to get away a little further back in time...back to 1988 when the shockwaves from Hüsker Dü's breakup were still resonating throughout the indie-rock universe. Grant Hart fired the first shot across the bow in what everyone assumed would be an intense competition between estranged bandmates Hart and Mould with the release of the 2541 EP.

It's hard for me to believe that this EP is now 20 years old, and that I am 20 years older than when I first heard it. The largely acoustic nature of the EP was not a shock (at least not to me). Given how acrimonious the Hüsker's breakup was, I assumed both Mould and Hart would try to move as far away from the punishingly loud sound of Hüsker Dü as possible.

Hüsker Dü bassist Greg Norton has called Mould and Hart indie-rock's answer to Lennon/McCartney. Personally, I loathe the Lennon/McCartney comparisons that inevitably dog any band with two songwriters. Most of the time the comparison doesn't really fit, and worse it tends to play into the most facile dichotomies imaginable (bitter/sweet, words/melody, angry/cute, deep/shallow, etc., etc.). Nevertheless, Hart seemed intent on cementing his reputation as the McCartney half of the duo by releasing (almost) entirely self recorded music in the wake of the band's bitter and contentious breakup (2541 and the outstanding follow-up LP, Intolerance).

"2541" has always been interpreted as being as much about the breakup of Hüsker Dü as it is about the end of a love affair. Of course it is absolutely about both of those things, but Hart reveals in a recent feature in Mojo that the song was actually initially written for Hüsker Dü. Apparently, Mould refused to record it because he felt it sounded too much like a particular Simple Minds song. I couldn't even offer a guess as to what Simple Minds song Mould had in mind, but I would point out that "2541" was covered by both Marshall Crenshaw and Robert Forster (two guys who know good songwriting when they hear it). I would say that Hart's position is more than vindicated in this case. I like this version better than the one that showed up on Intolerance (and if what I read on the internets is true, so does Hart).

"Let Go" sounds like an answer to Hart's Flip Your Wig classic "Keep Hanging On." Where "Keep Hanging On" is about finding the power to persevere in the face of adversity, "Let Go" is about the libratory power that can be found in giving up. It's about recognizing that you've been hanging on to something that doesn't work for you any longer for too long--whether it's a relationship, a band, or life itself--and realizing it's time to let go and move on. With its references to suicide and stealing Oreos, the song is simultaneously dark and goofy. This has never been considered one of Hart's better songs, but 20 years later it's worth listening to again.

In the Mojo feature on Intolerance Hart, not surprisingly, reveals that much of the content on his first solo album dealt with his experiences with drugs, particularly his struggle with heroin addiction in Hüsker Dü's final days. That connection was driven home by his cover of Love's "Signed D.C." at a BBC session and released as a b-side of a single.

Hart reportedly plans to release a new solo album this year.