Friday, May 30, 2008

Mott the Hoople – All the Young Dudes

I’ll admit that I discovered Mott when everyone else did – with their hit “All the Young Dudes”. My glam rock girlfriend at the time was a huge Bowie fan, so even if the cool FM radio stations weren’t playing this great tune, I would have found them anyway.

And damn, what a discovery! Yes, this record – which I love – is a lot smoother than their previous outings, but once I dug deeper into their history I became a fan for life!

The band never changed that much but due to Bowie’s influence and production they moved from a Dylan-esque r’n’r band to a glam band almost overnight. Sure, they may have changed their clothes (there are some amazing photos of the group at this time) and their sound became a bit slicker, but they were still obviously Mott.

They were never afraid of making other people’s songs their own – with previous covers of the likes of Sonny Bono and Melanie (not my wife!) – and this album opens with their take on Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane”. This pretty much becomes the essential version of the song, despite Lou’s many takes. Great guitar tones, a nice lead guitar bit added by Mick Ralphs and Ian Hunter’s amazing delivery. Simply superb!

“Momma’s Little Jewel” sound perfectly perverted, though I truly have no idea what it is about. It’s a terrific glam-rifff-rocker with an evil feel and that’s good enough for me! This transitions directly – via the sound of a needle being scratched across an album – to the hit title tune. Again, Bowie may have written this but Mott definitely made it their own and they own it now!

I think it’s pretty obvious that Hunter was listening to the Velvet Underground when he stats “Sucker” with the line “hey there, your friendly neighborhood sadist gonna take you for a ride”. But besides the lasciviousness, it’s a freakin’ great song!

I never really did know what Ian was singing about and with his Dylan influences we probably aren’t supposed to, but “Jerkin’ Crocus” comes off dirty as hell – “I know what you want, just a lick of my ice cream cone”! More excellent guitars, too – from Ian’s ringing rhythms to Mick’s soaring leads. The band really works together throughout the record – organist Verden Allen accentuates just the right places while drummer Buffin and bassist Overend Watts (such bitchin’ names!) keep everything moving at a rockin’ pace.

Ralph’s “One of the Boys” (which later mutated into “Can’t Get Enough” for Bad Company) opens with the sound of a dial phone, which gives it an interesting nostalgic feel. But, man, what a rocker! Super heavy guitars are layered on top of each other with a great melody and a catchy, sing-along chorus that was so simple and self-evident that no one could dispute it or argue with it. So good it’s scary! The song fades out and then a phone rings and it’s Ian singing in your ear! The song comes back full force with the chorus repeated over and over in glorious refrains while Ralphs wails away!

Verden gets his time in the spotlight (just before he was ousted from the band) with his head-banger, “Soft Ground”. Definitely organ-dominated, but heavy as hell and a damn cool song.

Ralphs is back with “Ready For Love”, another tune that Bad Company realized the potential of. This is a fine version with trade off vocals from Ralphs and Hunter. Ralphs was a helluva songwriter and a heluva guitar texturialist.

The record closes with Hunter’s “Sea Diver”, a Dylan-esque ballad. Ian is certainly a sincere singer but I still prefer his rockers to his ballads, overall.

But, this is a fantastic glam-rock masterpiece and a must buy for anyone who cares about 70’s rock!

Boris - Smile

I just recently discovered this Japanese trio due to Dan Epstein’s auper-hip blog, La Vie en Robe. In the video that Dan posted, the ultra-cooly-aloof female guitarist produces shrieking guitar tones while posing expressionlessly in front of a massive stack of Orange speakers while the bassist/singer sports a double neck guitar and screams his lungs out as the drummer flails like he was in Blue Cheer! Amazing stuff!

They are a bit more divergent and experimental on record, but no less manic and no less crazed! The kinda remind me of early Union Carbide Production, not necessarily in the sound, but in the juxtaposition of rockin’ noise and just plain noise!

Opening with “FlowerSunRain”, the tempo is somewhat slow, but the guitar wails away like an outtake from “Maggot Brain’! It builds until it is almost overwhelmingly sonic and then stops suddenly before it becomes too much. This gives a good idea of what these cats do – an ambient background with heavy overtones. Very interesting and different.

“Buzz-In”, by contrast, is overdriven punk rock mania, pure and simple! “Laser Beam” follows and is more of a high-energy/heavy metal powerhouse driven at break-neck speed and is a piece of beautiful insanity!

A short acoustic interlude that is abruptly cut off leads into “Statement”, the high-energy r’n’r that is featured in the video mentioned above. This single made me actually search out and buy a new band’s CD at full price, so you know it’s gotta be good!

“My Neighbor Satan” alternates between pretty, melodic balladry and over-driven, wah-wah wackiness that would make any normal person think that it was two different songs but one thing that Boris isn’t is “normal”!

I don’t know what the hell “Ka Re Ha Te Ta Sa Ki’ (sub-titled “No Ones Grieve”) might possibly mean (if anything), but it starts will a wall of bass distortion before blasting into still more super fast drumming and layers and layers of guitars. It then takes a tangent somewhere along the line and turns into a drone-y tune, but keeps the layers of guitars soloing on top of it all! Melanie says it reminds her of Pink Floyd, but this is far heavier and more distorted than any PF I’ve ever heard! But, I understand the cosmic comparison – this definitely sounds like something I could listen to if I still got high. Hell, I dig listening to it straight! But I could see this as a backdrop for a midnight ride across a desert or a soundtrack for a bad acid trip.

The record officially closes with the ethereal “You Were Holding an Umbrella” that is more quiet, Pink Floyd-ian in its approach – that is until you are bombarded with a massive amount of super-loud feedback! Once again, they move back and forth from quiet to loud before moving into a Blue Cheer-esque wall of noise.

There is a final, uncredited track that is pretty much quiet, ambient sounds, but once again, they simply can’t help throwing on some excessive guitar freakouts. Overall, though, this is mellow – I guess they just want to make sure that they have your attention once in a while!

Whether or not you get high, if you are a fan of psychedelia as well as high-energy metallic rock, then Boris is a damn groovy mix of the two!

Blue Oyster Cult – Tyranny and Mutation

BOC’s second album continued the wise tradition of not including photos of the band on the cover because while this band sounds absolutely evil, they looked like what they were – some short east coast jews! Nothing wrong with that, mind you – just not what the music portrays them as.

I’ve rambled on about these cats and even this record already, but I just picked up the CD with bonus tracks (finally!) and had to rave on a little more!

The genius of re-working of the first album’s “I’m on the Lamb but I Ain’t no Sheep” into the record’s blistering opener, “The Red and the Black” is pretty mind-shattering! This is high-speed, high-energy, played with unreal finesse! Buck Dharma boggles right from the start – beautiful tone, super fast riffs and still melodic! Truly one of the great guitarists in all of rock!

“OD’d on Life Itself” has simple riffs and nice guitar interplay and is one of the few BOC songs that a beginning guitarist could actually play! That is, until Buck comes in and throws a million notes all over the place! Great stuff, though!

A perfect follow up is “Hot Rails to Hell”, which somehow seems to be the sequel to “OD’d” though I don’t know what either one is about! This sounds like the band is racing the devil to hell itself! The ending has almost hypnotic intertwined guitars that send you directly into “7 Screaming Diz-busters”. Riffs fly fast and furious here while singer Eric Bloom sings about “Lucifer, the light”. Cool, heavy stuff!

Patti Smith’s words make their first major record debut on “Baby Ice Dog” – cool imagery and plenty of changes make another fine, obscure number. “Wings Wetted Down” is probably the weakest song on the album but still not bad, just not as good as the others.

But after this is one of my faves, “Teen Archer”, with its catchy chord progression and lyrics like “balling all night, balling all day, but she won’t ball on me”! Damn, I could relate! Everyone gets to show off a little and the song is rockin’ and well crafted. “Mistress of the Salmon Salt” fits perfectly as a follow up tune and is another BOC masterpiece!

The bonus tracks on this CD include live takes on “Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll”, “7 Screaming Diz-busters” and “OD’d on Life Itself” as well as a studio version of “Buck’s Boogie” which previously only appeared on the live On Your Feet or On Your Knees. All great stuff!

Aerosmith by Aerosmith

Showing off the two guitar attack right outta the gate, Aerosmith’s debut record then has Steve Tyler announcing “good evening people, welcome to the show” and one of rock’s legends is born! The band is still feeling its way around in the studio and all of the sounds and vocals aren’t quite there yet, but this is a very cool r’n’r record.

“Make It’ moves into “Somebody”, a heavier boogie feel, like a more macho Marc Bolan with a head-shakin’ beat. While not one of their more well known numbers, this always stuck with me – so much so that my high school band covered it.

While tremendously overplayed these days, I still think that “Dream On” is a damn good tune, with nice guitar and keyboard interplay. Joe Perry now says that he doesn’t like what he played on this and thought of it as a bit of a throw-away, but I can’t imagine what else he would have put in that would have worked better.

“One Way Street” feels to me a bit like Aerosmith’s version of their heroes’ “Midnight Rambler”, though it doesn’t sound anything like it. But it is a bit of an extended exploration of a 3 or 4 chord bluesy riff, with plenty of harmonica. Not quite as dramatic as the Stones, but a good, groovin’ tune.

According to an Aerosmith biography (Walk This Way) that I read, Steve thought that “Mama Kin” was going to be the song that propelled him to stardom. While it is a fine rocker, it really isn’t one of their highlights. “Write Me” is in a similar vein and is another uptempo bopper.

“Movin’ Out” is a bit more crafted and builds from a sparse, bluesy guitar intro to a fist-pumpin’ rocker, a nice solo, a slower, spacey mid-section then some power chords revert it to the intense groove. Nice vocal interplay with the band, too. Good stuff!

The band shows off some more originality while highlighting their love of the blues with their version of “Walkin’ the Dog”. This is turned into a 70’s riff-rocker with cool, scratchin’ guitars and a slightly odd bridge before blasting back into the last verse.

Overall, not their best, but a fine debut and a slice of pure 70’s guitar rock!

Patti Smith Group – Easter

Coming after a record produced by Jack Douglas (producer of such 70’s bands as Areosmith), Jimmy Iovine produces Easter and this is the Patti Smith Group’s rawk album with much less poetic preaching (as good as it was) from Patti and more of a straight r’n’r record.

Opening with “Til Victory”, Easter becomes a manifesto of Patti’s intent on becoming a r’n’r star and not simply a cult hero. A rockin’, super catchy tune that leads into “Space Monkey”. This is a super cool groove and another great number.

The hit of the album is, of course, “Because the Night”, her collaboration with Bruce Springsteen. As odd as that coupling seems, it totally works as both parties retain their personality and create an amazing pop/rock classic. Somehow each seems to cancel out the other’s pretentiousness and just work together.

One of my fave songs off of this record is the acoustic “Ghost Dance”. This has an almost American Indian feel (I’m sure that was the intent) and so is a cross between the Doors and a group chant. I’m probably describing it poorly, but it is a sing-along that just feels real, if y’know what I mean…

“Rock’n’Roll Nigger” never did quite accomplish what it wanted to – to desensitize the word so that it was no longer offensive and was just another word. But, goddam, it is a high-energy, 3 chord r’n’r masterpiece that has been referenced by more bands than I can count. I know people who hate this and think the concept was childish, but I appreciate it and still think it is superbly rockin’! I do remember having a button with this title on it at the time and truly offending my black friends – to the point where one said “what would you think if I had a button that said h’n’h honky”, which I thought was pretty hilarious, though she was serious!
Following this is the title song from the ultra-cool 60’s movie “Privilege”. A great song and a damn clever cover tune!

It seems to me that “We Three” is Patti’s answer to David Crosby’s “Triad”, which was obviously about a ménage a trois, though I’m not so sure about this one. It does appear to be on the same wavelength – just a little more oblique.

“25th Floor” is a heavy guitar/organ hard rock rocker that sucks you in and that does give Patti some room to explore her poetic side as it merges into “High on Rebellion”, but it never lets up. I don’t mind her explorations and this is a good one!

The vinyl album closed with the title track, a keyboard ballad that allowed Patti to concentrate more on her words, once again.

The CD contains a bonus track of “godspeed”, previously a B-side to a single. This is a slow, ethereal exploration that uses occasional finger snaps as the only percussion, other than the piano chords. Nice and moody with sporadic, almost Tom Verlaine-esque guitar figures and an interesting closer to this set.

Easter was definitely a more commercial outing, especially coming after the noise-drenched Radio Ethiopia. It still shows off the strengths of Patti and the band and has some damn fine, rockin’ tunes as well as poetic monologues.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Foxboro Hot Tubs - Stop Drop and Roll!

I guess we were a couple of the last people on earth to know that Green Day had created a fake garage band and put out an album, but once we did, Melanie had to pick it up!

While you might not initially suspect this is GD, some of the songs sound just like outtakes from any of their albums - meaning their are more pop-punk than garage. But, many are pretty garage-y and while fun, they basically recycle riffs that any garage-head has heard a zillion times before. GD does it well, though, with good playing, singing (of course) and production throughout.

Of course the punk rock that they are influenced by was highly influenced by 60's garage (to say the least) and they are simply taking a page from the Damned and their Naz Nomads and the Nitemares record, so this shouldn't come as much of a surprise to anyone.

It is a good-time project and seems to be selling for a reasonable price, so get it for a blast of modern garage tunes!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Steppenwolf the Second

Since picking up the greatest hits comp a while back, I have been listening to more & more Steppenwolf and have been grabbing up some of the full albums for the great cuts that are not on the comp. This album is an extremely strong one, consisting of a mix of garage, blues, psych, politics and hard rock! Truly great stuff!

Steppenwolf the Second starts with the highly under-rated garage classic, “Faster Than the Speed of Life”, which is one of my all-time fave songs of theirs and something I always wanted to cover but never managed to. Rockin’ energy, cool trade-off vocals and harmonies, nice guitar riffs and staccato piano parts all add up to a superb r’n’r tune!

“Tighten Up your Wig” is basically Junior Wells’ “Messing With the Kid” with new lyrics, but a shout out to Wells anyway! Good playing throughout though, including fine harp work from singer John Kay.

Another unheralded work is “None of Your Doing” which begins as an organ dominated ballad before kicking into an energetic work out with a hip chorus. They venture into true balladry with “Spiritual Fantasy” which only goes to show that despite their best intentions, this is not their strong suit.

But they are back in the element with the excellent pro-pot statement, “Don’t Step on the Grass, Sam”. More terrific lyrics, trade-off vocals and a band that works together to make a damn catchy political mantra.

“28” is, unfortunately, another fairly forgettable tune but one that was either stolen from or for another song that I can’t think of right now, though the melody is almost exact. It’s gonna drive me crazy until I think of it!

Coming in on a wave of beautiful feedback, “Magic Carpet Ride” deserved to be the massive hit that it was – it’s a fantastic, psychedelic, organ-driven ride with a groove that can’t be denied!

The band shows off its blues roots again in “Disappointment Number (Unknown)”, including some inspired acoustic slide playing. They maintain their originality while working in the genre, though and it is pure Steppenwolf.

More slide work is highlighted in “Lost and Found by Trial and Error” but otherwise it is a bit of a throwaway – not bad really, just not up to their best standards. The oddly named “Hodge, Podge, Strained Through a Leslie” is not so oddly named when you realize that it is a keyboard-dominated (running through a Leslie speaker) r’n’r jam that leads directly into “Resurrection”. This is yet another number with trade-off vocals and some damn-near funky guitar playing that creates another jumpin’ groove.

The record closes with the extremely short, extremely quiet, possibly harmonium based “Reflections”, leaving the record with a whisper and not a bang.

For those who want to explore deeper into this fantastic band (other than just the hits), this is a great album showing off many of their different sides!