Monthly Archives: August 2017

The Clash • Cut the Crap [LP, CD]

Today being Joe Strummer’s birthday, I thought I’d republish this review I did in 2010.

Saw a very nice copy of THE CLASH’s 1985 swansong, Cut the Crap, at one of my favorite record shops the other day. I didn’t have a copy of this record—the only one I was missing by the only band that matters—so I picked it up. Now, you may remember the reviews of this final album under that storied band name from when it came out, and they were uniformly bad. Not B.A.D., as in the band Mick Jones started with Don Letts after he was kicked out of his own band (and who were a better group than the one on this record), but C.R.A.P.

Joe Strummer, bless his populist little heart, decided to carry on under the name he helped promote to #1 Punk Band in the Land, recruited some young punks (no new boots or contracts), and cut an album of new generation singalongs. A few of these songs aren’t that bad, including the two singles “This Is England” and the severely misguidedly-titled “We Are the Clash,” neither of which charted very high. Part of the problem here is that Strummer co-wrote the tunes not with his old mates in the band (or even the new ones), but former Clash manager Bernie Rhodes. Some songs retain a bit of the old grit-and-go the band once had, but let’s face it, this one was not helped by BR’s input. Basically, it’s the arrangements and the constant “everybody sing with me!” choruses that wear on you.

Clearly, Strummer must’ve felt he had something to prove when he undertook this record. Despite the fact that The Clash had Top 10 hits everywhere, had successfully toured the globe in support of their 1982 Combat Rock album, and had garnered more great reviews than any punk band ever, he’s definitely giving it his all here. “This Is England” ain’t half-bad, “Movers and Shakers” and “North and South” are alright, too, but overall, you can’t really listen to this one much. And that may be why, when in the early ’90s a box set of the band’s work was released, mysteriously this record’s name was missing from the band discography and not one cut from it appears on any of the three discs. I like to think that maybe even those few years later Strummer realized that he’d sullied his band’s name and decided to try and forget the past. In the late ’90s all of the band’s albums were remastered and reissued—all except this one. I guess they really did cut the crap.
2/5 (Epic FE 40017, 1985)
[review originally published 1/27/2010 on Skratchdisc]

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The Dukes of Stratosphear • The Complete and Utter Dukes [Box Set]

They’ve taken both of XTC’s alter ego releases as THE DUKES OF STRATOSPHEAR and put them into an ultra-mega-deluxe box set called The Complete & Utter Dukes that includes both CD and vinyl versions (180 gram, too!), a 7″ single, a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle, some Dukes Dollars, and a coupon for a Dukes t-shirt of your very own. All of this comes in a real nice purple velvet box. So if you haven’t picked up 25 O’Clock or Psonic Psunspot since they were reissued by Andy Partridge’s Ape House label, now’s the time. The remasters are much better than the ones Virgin originally put out, the CDs feature extra demos and stuff, and the vinyl is very psychedelically psupreme. (The vinyl versions come out separately in their own right anytime now.)
5/5 (Ape House APEBOX002)
[blurb originally published 1/18/2010 on Skratchdisc]
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The Dukes of Stratosphear • 25 O’Clock [EP], Psonic Psunspot [LP]

As alter egos go, there aren’t too many as psychedically pspot-on as THE DUKES OF STRATOSPHEAR. The nom de plectrum of Swindon, England’s XTC, it was used as the name of a pfictitious rock group circa mid/late ’60s that was actually a mid/late ’80s “tribute” to the music that Andy Partridge, Colin Moulding and Dave Gregory grew up on. Thirty years ago this month the Dukes released the second of their two records, Psonic Psunspot; as the successor to 1985’s 25 O’Clock it was the logical conclusion of an exercise that started out as a lark and ended as a favorite pair of platters by both band and fans alike.

By 1985 XTC, a nominally successful new wave/alternative rock group started in the late ’70s, were starting to run out of psteam. The band’s last two albums (Mummer and The Big Express) had failed to capitalize on the momentum gained by hit singles “Making Plans for Nigel” and “Senses Working Overtime,” and their label (Virgin Records) was noticeably worried. To keep their creative juices flowing, the record company agreed to give the band a tiny budget to record what became the 6-song 25 O’Clock EP and for them a fun break from the pressure of trying to write and record a proper XTC LP. Partridge, Moulding & Gregory enjoyed themselves immensely. Free to do basically whatever they wanted (within the reported £6,000 budget), the musicians fuzzed-up their guitars, played tapes backward and did anything else they felt psuited the concept. What they created in 25 O’Clock was not only a half dozen great tunes, but a virtual Trivial Pursuit of Psychedelic Rock. Here there’s a mellotron like the one on “Penny Lane,” there there’s a guitar lick recalling The Pink Floyd. Though the Dukes didn’t do actual cover versions of the psych and pop songs they got their inspiration from, they clearly channeled their heroes in a wholly believable manner.

25 O’Clock did so well for the band and Virgin Records that XTC had a new mandate (and pressure) to make a successful record under their own name. Their 1986 album Skylarking was just that, with the song “Dear God” becoming a ubiquitous track on alternative and college radio in the USA. By 1987 XTC was given the go-ahead to do another Dukes of Stratosphear record, with a larger budget than the first release. Psonic Psunspot, a 10-track album, expanded the Dukes’ influences so much that it actually comes off as more of a hybrid Dukes/XTC album—too current-sounding to be believable as a ’60s release, but too psychedelically inclined to be credited to XTC. Still, some of the songs, such as the Beach Boys-influenced “Pale and Precious” and single “Vanishing Girl,” are XTC in all but name.

This time, XTC’s US label, Geffen Records, took notice and released the album on both vinyl and CD (under the title Chips from the Chocolate Fireball, including the 25 O’Clock tracks). Once more XTC took a backseat, not hopping into the driver’s seat again until Spring 1989’s Oranges & Lemons. Thirty years after their final release, the Dukes of Stratosphear continue to thrill with their recorded righteousness—often outshining releases by XTC proper. If “Little Lighthouse,” “What in the World??” and “My Love Explodes” don’t smother you in their organic guitar goodness, you may well be a lost cause.

In 2009, frontman Andy Partridge’s record label, Ape House, reissued the albums separately on both vinyl and CD (and in a super deluxe box set called The Complete & Utter Dukes). The 180-gram vinyl versions sound even better than the original UK records do (I still have mine), and the CDs added bonus demos and unreleased tracks to fill in the rest of the picture. These days the band members look back at the Dukes fondly, if maybe a little jealously—after all, if it weren’t for them, XTC may have never had another chance to dazzle us with the likes of Skylarking, Oranges & Lemons and 1992’s Nonsuch. Declaring, on their debut record, that “it’s time to visit the planet smile… it’s time the love bomb was dropped… it’s time to drown yourself in soundgasm,” the Dukes of Stratosphear were both of their time and of all time.

4/5 (Ape House APELP023 [25 O’Clock] and APELP024 [Psonic Psunspot])

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Various • Making Time: A Shel Talmy Production

I finally made time for this one. A compilation of tracks produced by an American ex-pat, Making Time: A SHEL TALMY Production is a 25-track platter of mostly British rock and freakbeat from the early/mid ’60s. Talmy is most famous for producing The Who’s first album (and its same-titled single) My Generation, a few Kinks records and The Creation’s greatest, errr, creation, “Making Time.” Ace Records, the UK label known for putting out quality compilations of this ilk, has once again sorted out a quality collection of tunes, including some big names and lots of lesser known ones—and even a pseudonymous track by a fellow called Davy Jones (not that guy from the Monkees). What you don’t get with Making Time is the feeling that Talmy was the great producer that legend has him, but really just a hustler with a good ear.

After all, Shel Talmy is famous not only for a handful of great singles but the fact that he lied his way into producing in the first place. In the early ’60s there was no such thing as the internet or even fax machines; Talmy flew across the Atlantic with a stack of records he hadn’t produced, presented them as his own and landed himself a job with Decca Records UK. (He was supposedly given the okay to do so by the man who did produce them, Capitol Records’ Nik Venet, who passed away in 1998.) Apparently Talmy was a good enough salesman to quell any doubts there may have been about his CV because the next thing you know he’s producing The Kinks—represented here with “Tired of Waiting for You”–and then The Who. Along came The Easybeats, Manfred Mann, The Creation, Chad & Jeremy and a load more. Hell, he even produced a female singer with the unlikely but cool name of Perpetual Langley! Later down the road he started his own label, Planet Records (not to be confused with the one started by Richard Perry in the late ’70s). Talmy gets a bad rap for keeping The Who in mid-sixties limbo with litigation that severely curtailed their early momentum, but that was eventually sorted out by both parties.

Making Time presents such a varied group of artists that it’s hard to make a case for him being such a great producer. His productions are fine, for the time, but they don’t stand out as being all that unique, like Phil Spector’s and even Brian Wilson’s do. He did pick some talented groups to produce, though, so perhaps we should really salute his ear for talent rather than production. This compilation presents a reasonable number of great artists and tunes, but there are some definite duds, too; good lord please don’t make me listen to anything else by Lee Hazlewood if it’s as bad as “Bye Babe”! And I could live without ever hearing Tim Rose or Trini Lopez again. In all, though, this CD is of Ace’s usual high quality level and worth the price.

Bonus notes: One track here is by The Rockin’ Vickers, which was a group that included the young Ian Kilmister under the name Ian Willis (who finally achieved fame as Lemmy of Motorhead). Also, the Davy Jones track, “You’ve Got a Habit of Leaving,” is a “previously unissued alternate overdub” of the young David Bowie’s 1965 Pye single.

2.5/5 (Ace Records CDCHD 1497; 2017)

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The Beach Boys • 1967 Sunshine tomorrow [CD]

Here’s another in a series of releases designed to bring you more of THE BEACH BOYS’ mid/late ’60s output. This time, since they’ve already mined the Pet Sounds/ Smile era about as much as must be possible, we’re getting the very next chapter in their story: the sessions for their following album, 1967’s Wild Honey. Unsung by the mainstream press but acclaimed by those with a deeper appreciation for Hawthorne, CA’s favorite sons/cousins/best friends, this new release covers a year’s worth of activities from a time when the Wilson Bros. & Co. were much busier than anyone knew.

1967 Sunshine tomorrow [capitalization is theirs, not my typo] is a 2CD set with a mind-numbingly large quantity of tracks, 65 in all. The Wild Honey album itself is quite good—this, after all, is where the single “Darlin’” comes from—the band’s first LP outing in which they produced themselves, played most of the instruments, and really began to cut loose from Capitol Records’ short leash. Chances are, after the lukewarm reception Pet Sounds garnered, and then the Smile catastrophe, record company suits were okay with letting the band just go away for awhile. Who knows, they may have secretly been giving them enough rope to hang themselves, making it easier for the label to cut ’em loose and let their current slump become some other executives’ problem.

Whatever was the label’s master plan, The Beach Boys themselves started a number of projects in 1967 and no less than seven of them are represented here. Wild Honey itself makes up disc one, with a brand new stereo mix (it was never mixed that way back in the day) that shines a nice bright light on the album, including some great songs of their own and a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “I Was Made to Love Her.” Some thirteen tracks of outtakes from the album’s sessions are next, which comprise an interesting look at what the Boys were doing but which aren’t that revelatory to their working practices. (We’ve already been given two different 4CD anthologies of how they made Pet Sounds, and though these WH tracks were primarily recorded at their own personal studio, aside from sound quality they don’t show anything new of the group’s arranging and recording methods.) Still, disc one is Wild Honey through and through. Disc two, however, is much less focused. Here we get Smiley Smile sessions (the album prior to WH that ultimately became the sad reminder of what Smile might have been, had the band ever finished it), live and simulated live tracks for the aborted Lei’d in Hawaii album, more live tracks, and a few pre-Surf’s Up studio tracks. I found the Lei’d tracks quite depressing. I hoped (or is it expected) they’d be exciting, but instead they were slow and dull. Clearly The Beach Boys were in transition, and it’s been documented that they, indeed, seemed rudderless at this point. Sadly, this is the proof. The actual live tracks are as lifeless as the studio recordings they planned to add audience sounds to in order to hoodwink America. Luckily, the band—or some entity close to them—sensed these dreary tracks would not help their case and chose not to go ahead with the project. That they have now speaks to either their wish to give the hardcore fans what they want or to their failing memories. After all, the Boys are now Old Men.

1967 Sunshine tomorrow would have made a dazzling single disc. As a crammed 2CD venture, though, Wild Honey gets lost in the morass-o-tracks presented here. I’d have preferred a one CD affair. And yes, I can choose to just not listen to the other disc (which I will likely do), but in reviewing the entire thing, I gotta say, the “sunshine tomorrow” we’re given today is sooooo bright that it’s hard to see the Wild Honey at its core.

2.5/5 (Capitol Records)

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