Monthly Archives: March 2017

Paul McCartney • Flowers in the Dirt [2017 Reissues]

If you follow all the latest reissue news on the many fine blogs there are dedicated to such important info, you may know that PAUL McCARTNEY has been under fire for this, the latest in his Archive Collection series. Flowers in the Dirt has just been reissued in multiple formats, including a 2CD version, a 2LP vinyl version, and a super deluxe 3CD+DVD box set. All three include the original 12-track 1989 album (the CD versions had and have an additional track) plus a second disc of demos. The super deluxe adds on a third CD of “demos” and a DVD featuring videos of the singles and documentary footage. What’s all the hubbub, bub? you ask. And for that you’ll have to read on (or if you’re impatient, skip down a few paragraphs)…

Flowers in the Dirt was one of McCartney’s occasional “return to form” releases – an album that brought him some solid chart success after nearly a decade of drought (from ’83 until ’89 was a struggle – remember “Spies Like Us”?). Arriving just ahead of the single release of lead-off track, “My Brave Face,” Flowers was at once contemporary and completely McCartney. This album showed Macca at his best, with sweet, hooky pop on tracks like “This One” and “Figure of Eight” (both released as singles), lush confections like “Motor of Love” and the super single-that-wasn’t, “Rough Ride.” It was also a record featuring songs the once-Beatle co-wrote with new wave wunderkind Elvis Costello, whom it was noted filled a sort of John Lennon role – EC being a foil for McCartney to bounce ideas off of, and (presumably) a voice of reason if Paul were to lose the plot. “My Brave Face,” penned by the pair, placed in the Top 20, and Costello’s recording of “Veronica” (also composed by McCartney/MacManus) gave EC his highest placing ever in America. The demos the two recorded together are what make the second CD/LP a got-to-have; here are nine of the songs the duo wrote together, performed raw ’n’ ready and including great tunes that never made it to proper release, such as “Tommy’s Coming Home” and “Twenty Fine Fingers.” You get these same nine songs, further along in arrangement, on disc three of the super deluxe edition, and (I’m told) much closer to full band versions. I haven’t picked up this version yet, and here’s why…

This 1989 limited edition version of Flowers in the Dirt included a 3″ CD with non-album tune “Party Party,” which is only included as a download in the 2017 box set.

Flowers’ super deluxe version also comes with a disc’s worth of downloads, comprising many of the b-sides and remixes spawned by the album. Many hardcore fans feel these should have been included as physical media, especially considering the high cost of the set. With four books included, it does seem like McCartney’s leaning more on his own scribbles ’n’ doodles and then-wife Linda’s photos than on the music – and that’s supposed to be what these “archival releases” are all about. It also happens that this means some great songs are missing, such as “Flying to My Home” and the two sides of the 1987 single that preceded the album, “Once Upon a Long Ago” and “Back on My Feet,” which were never even released in the USA. For a box set at such a price this disc-worth of tuneage is conspicuously missing. Sure, many of us already have these items via the singles (vinyl and CD) they came from – or via a plethora of bootlegs – but it’s the principle of the thing! And besides, these items were already officially released once so it’s not like Macca’s denying a demo’s release because his voice sounds hoarse or out of tune. He claims he’s trying to stick with the times by offering these tracks as downloads, but really, the only people likely to buy the super deluxe version of Flowers want them on physical media – people who are generally older than those who spend their time downloading music. McCartney and his advisory team need to wake up! Conduct some fucking focus groups, people! Find out what the bulk of the likely buyers want, and give them that. Jeez. Do I have to do this myself?! (Don’t even get me started on Paul’s cassette-only release for Record Store Day!)

ANYHOW. Flowers in the Dirt is a brilliant record, and this remaster (I’m judging from the CD) sounds just fine. Nothing stands out one way or the other from the original 1989 release, though I’m hoping the vinyl is better than the original. Those buying the CD version in the USA may want to pick up a copy at Best Buy, who offer a free limited edition 7″ of “My Brave Face” (b/w “Flying to My Home”) via coupon included in the package.

4/5 (Capitol/UMe; 2CD, 2LP and 3CD/1DVD box set)

For more about the FITD controversy, visit Paul Sinclair’s excellent SuperDeluxeEdition.

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The Clash • The Clash [LP, CD]

In early April 1977, punk rock was something us Yanks enjoyed from the relative tranquility of our overstuffed living room chairs via nightly network newscasts and their exaggerated coverage of the UK’s latest outrage. Twenty-somethings with safety pins for earrings (and noserings!), ratty leather or Levi’s jackets emblazoned with patches and pins of their favorite bands – bands we’d never heard of here, with crazy names and logos – were shown constantly. It was real exciting for a 14 year old just starting his first band! I, like most of America, bought into the hyped-up, dumbed-down coverage, believing that “punk rock” must be pretty stupid judging from what our US talking heads were reporting. Of course, most of the stories on TV were shallow, not telling us how the movement was both a slam against the mega-rich rock stars of the time and the fact that there were no jobs for the working class, who were forced to try and live “on the dole” with no hope and quite likely no future.

By the time THE CLASH had their debut album, The Clash, released 40 years ago, punk was everywhere. The Damned had already issued their first records (see my review of Damned Damned Damned elsewhere on this blog), the Sex Pistols had a single out, and bands were forming everywhere in garages across the land. Here in the States, small, punk-infused movements were getting going in New York, L.A., San Francisco and nearly every city with more than four disaffected youths, and even way down under in Australia there was The Saints (see my review of I’m Stranded) singing about the same things! Fact of the matter is, teenagers and young adults all across the civilized world were feeling fed up with what appeared to be their lots in life and music was a real good way to express it. Anyone could pick up an instrument and play it, and some could even play together well enough to create songs – the rest could buy a cheap 7″ and sing along with the woes their new heroes had set to music. Punk rock wasn’t as homogeneous as it has been portrayed; some bands came up with great tunes and melodies while others set basic war chants to music. Some bands were political, others weren’t. If you had ears to listen there was something for you.

Photo by Chalkie Davies.

The Clash was for those who were through with what the government was giving them. Joe Strummer and Mick Jones, with Paul Simonon and Tory Crimes, sang about “Hate and War,” a “White Riot” and “Career Opportunities” (“the ones that never knock”). The music was primitive and powerful. Strummer’s lead vocals weren’t so much sang as spat. Jones’ guitar was played with all the grit you could get out of a Gibson. This is a record that demands the listener to don full-on riot gear in order to avoid the blood splatter blasting from the grooves! “London’s Burning,” indeed.

In retrospect it’s strange that this album was considered so raw that it wasn’t even released in the USA until after the following album, Give ’Em Enough Rope, was issued. When it was finally released here (after it had sold over 100,000 units as an import), the A&R dude at Epic Records stripped a handful of songs from it and replaced them with some newer, more “radio friendly” cuts plus a 7″ single with two brand spankin’ new non-LP tracks. (See, even back in the late ’70s record companies were trying to get you to buy more and more copies of a release you already owned. “’Cause killers in America work seven days a week!”)

I’ve got a few different versions of The Clash. On CD there are both the 1999 issues (UK and US configurations, of course) and the 2013 remaster included in The Clash Sound System mega-boxset. Vinylly, I spin the pictured 2013 Record Store Day issue pressed in “white riot/Protex blue split color” wax. Both recent versions were mastered by “Tim Young & The Clash” (presumably minus Strummer!) and sound great considering the rawness of the recordings, unlike most of what was being released by major record labels in the ’70s. I imagine any 1999 or later CD or vinyl of legitimate issue will suffice – what we’re talking about here is a punk rock cornerstone, an album that would actually benefit from shoddy quality. If it was supposed to sound polished and proper it wouldn’t be punk!

4.5/5 (Epic Records, 1977)

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Crystal Zevon • I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon

Taking its title from one of WARREN ZEVON‘s greatest songs, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead is a biography of one of rock’s smartest, funniest, hard-livin’est guys ever. Written/edited by Warren’s ex-wife, Crystal Zevon (whom he stayed sort of enamored with his entire life), this longish book from 2008 finally got into my hands long enough for me to read all the way through – and it’s all killer and no filler.

Zevon, best known for co-writing one of my favorite “novelty” songs of all time (“Werewolves of London”), was a California guy-genius who led a storied life of sex, drugs, rock ’n’ roll, LOTS of alcohol and lots more sex. When he found out he was ill and near the end of his life he asked ex-wife Crystal to write the book because she knew all of his ups and downs – and he knew she’d do it right. In fact, he specifically told her not to leave anything out. And I don’t think she did! There are anecdotes in this book that few would put in their own autobiography, but which can’t hurt the man now that he’s gone.

To put it bluntly: Warren Zevon was too smart for his own good. Like the smarter dog breeds, the ones who get into trouble because they get bored easily, Zevon was always looking for something exciting to do. He was a great songwriter, an accomplished piano player (and apparently good on the guitar, too) – and he was his own worst enemy. He was a mean alcoholic. Even after he went through AA and successfully 12-stepped his way to sobriety, he still couldn’t help himself from being an asshole. And yet, you come out the back end of this book thinking he was one complicated motherfucker, yet a guy you couldn’t help but feel for despite all of his bullshit.

If you’re a fan of his music, there’s a lot to get out of this book. Everyone from early champion Jackson Browne to The Turtles’ Flo & Eddie to Bruce Springsteen, Paul Schaffer and a sackful of others weigh in on their recollections of writing, recording and touring with Zevon. But the bulk of the book, which is told in quotes from the people who knew him (interspersed with background info from the author), focuses on not so much the musician as the man. And that makes the story interesting for musicians and non-musicians alike.

Throughout I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead you’ll see what Warren Zevon put his family and friends through. It wasn’t easy being his friend (or relative), clearly, but he was certainly well-liked and -loved. I was especially moved by longtime co-writer Jorge Calderon’s reaction to the news (delivered to him by Zevon himself) that his on again, off again partner had mesothelioma. It’s a painful, touching moment that shows that perhaps only Crystal Zevon was qualified to “tell” her ex’s story. Knowing what to put in, what to leave out, and what needed to be told could only be done by someone who really knew her subject. She did, and she told his story without letting sentimentality get in the way. If you have any interest in Warren Zevon you won’t be let down by devoting some time to this book. I’m so glad I finally did.

3.5/5 (Ecco Books, 2007)

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The Damned • Damned Damned Damned [CD, LP]

Some anniversaries make you feel old. Some of ’em make you feel young. And some – like the 40th anniversary of this, punk rock’s quintessential and inaugural album – make you feel both old and young at the same time. THE DAMNED‘s first album, Damned Damned Damned, was released in late February 1977 on UK upstart Stiff Records and in the last year it’s been reissued on both vinyl (Drastic Plastic USA) and now CD via BMG UK. It’s one of those records that never loses its cheeky appeal.

Yours truly didn’t discover The Damned until 1981-1982 (via an IRS Records sampler featuring 1980’s “Wait for the Blackout”), and by then they’d undergone a bit of maturing. But on their debut disc, The Damned were a rowdy, youthful quartet just happy to be making noise and having someone record it. Producer Nick Lowe was that someone, and you don’t have to consult reissue liner notes or Wikipedia to tell that his job was primarily to keep the youngsters focused long enough to get a dozen songs on tape. Just listen to Damned Damned Damned and you can hear all the joy and energy these guys exuded. Whether it’s their debut single, “New Rose” (“is she really going out with him?”), followup single “Neat Neat Neat,” or any of the other punk classics here (I’ll cite “Fan Club,” “Born to Kill” and “Feel the Pain” as my favorites), this barely 30-minute “long player” charges out of the gate like a horse not just going for the win but running for its life. By the time closer “I Feel Alright” (aka The Stooges’ “1970”) finishes, there’s no doubt that this album deserves its inclusion in the top of the punk pops.

Damned Damned Damned still has a lotta life in it. Whether you pick up the late 2016 vinyl reissue on Drastic Plastic (available on 150 gram yellow or 180 gram black vinyl; excellently mastered by Kevin Gray at Cohearant Audio), or the brand new 2017 BMG CD (no weight or mastering credit), you can’t go wrong. I like the vinyl for Gray’s beefy mastering job (the CD’s a tad bit thinner-sounding), but the CD comes in a book-style package with some great liner notes and photos. Neither has any extra tracks, though, so for those you’d have to grab one of the compilations like 2005’s 3CD box set, Play It at Your Sister, et al.

There have been way too many changes in personnel, temperament and outlook over the last four decades to detail here, but in ’76-’77 The Damned were vocalist Dave Vanian, guitarist/songwriter Brian James, bassist Captain Sensible and drummer Rat Scabies; a buncha guys with colorful names making raucous rock ’n’ roll. Today only Vanian and Sensible remain (the latter having switched to guitar a long, long time ago), but the band – who have made a number of great records since 1976 – still tours regularly and this year they’re touring that killer record they made forty years ago. It’d be a shame to miss the chance to hear this punk classic performed nice ’n’ loud right in front of yer face by the only band that still matters, The Damned.

5/5 (Drastic Plastic DPRLP76, vinyl; BMG BMGAA01CD, CD)

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