Category Archives: Skratchdisc

Madness • Absolutely, 7 [CD]

[Originally published 3/23/2010 on Skratchdisc]

Two more masterly remastered and expanded reissues from MADNESS, and once again, their new parent label Salvo does a fantastic job. Absolutely and 7 were the sophomore and junior (third) efforts from Camden Town’s Nutty Boys, and instead of proving the rule that the second outing is usually nowhere near as good as the first, they disproved it by a landslide. (Quite possibly the worst mixed metaphor I’ve ever committed to paper… Oops, there I go again!)

Absolutely, released in late 1980, featured the singles “Baggy Trousers,” “Embarrassment” (one of my top Madness tunes) and “The Return of the Los Palmas 7,” and continued the band’s chart reign. Bubbly, fun melodies were still to the fore, but beginning to get noticed was the melancholy subject matter. Sure, they didn’t say directly that the girl got knocked up and made her family look bad in “Embarrassment,” but that’s clearly the story. “In the Rain,” a different recording than the one that appeared prior as a B-side (though both are here), also isn’t exactly chipper. Whatever—Madness still had it goin’ on.

In 1981 they released 7, their third longplayer and another successful outing. More big singles here, including “Cardiac Arrest” and “Shut Up” (a lot like “Embarrassment” and another Marsh-certified goodie),  kept Madness in the NME and other papers, and paved the way for eventual US success (“Our House” from the following album). They hadn’t changed the formula yet, and since these two albums followed in such quick succession, nobody seemed to notice. Original label Stiff could barely keep up with these guys, nor could those of us over here who’d already discovered them despite little or no promotion from American label Sire.

Salvo’s treatment of the band’s catalog so far has been great… all the videos are on the corresponding CDs, bonus tracks are in abundance (Absolutely features seven bonus cuts plus a 21-song live show from London), the notes and photos of ephemera are also plentiful, and the mastering is superb. No qualms here at all! Can’t wait to hear and see what they do with The Rise and Fall.

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The Hot Rats • Turn Ons [CD, LP]

 [Originally published 2/11/2010 on Skratchdisc]

Gaz and Danny from Supergrass, THE HOT RATS’ Turn Ons is an album full of cover versions. Perhaps taking the idea from David Bowie’s 1974 Pinups album, or even more recently any number of other all-covers albums, the two-man band and producer Nigel Godrich (Radiohead, Paul McCartney) put together a dozen or so songs for the occasion, and twelve of them appear here.

The festivities get started with a shot at Lou Reed’s “I Can’t Stand It” and The Kinks’ “Big Sky.” Things lag a bit on The Doors’ “The Crystal Ship” and then you get to the first single, “Fight for Your Right,” which sounds nothing like the Beastie Boys’ original. In fact, the Rats do a great job of completely changing it… for the better, really, since that song—so closely associated with the silly video that accompanied it—is ultimately a childish, bombastic thing. (And I’m not saying I don’t like it!) Stabs at Roxy Music, Pink Floyd, Elvis Costello, The Cure, and Bowie himself follow, and then comes “EMI,” which is great because, as you know, the Sex Pistols cut that song as a swipe at the first label that signed and then dropped them. And it makes you wonder, does Supergrass still have a contract with EMI, whose Parlophone label they have been on since 1995? (The band did this song on the Craig Ferguson late night show with Pistol Steve Jones—look it up on YouTube!) Well, anyway, the disc ends with a very nice, melancholy version of Squeeze’s “Up the Junction,” with an arrangement that really does justice to Difford & Tilbrook’s sad story-wrapped-in-a-happy-melody that was a chart topper in the UK in ’79.

All in all, a pretty great covers album. Some songs are awfully close to the originals, some aren’t, and some are in between. They all sound like The Hot Rats, though, a crunchy, sorta lo-fi vibe quite different from Gaz & Danny’s other band’s sound, so you’re not gonna confuse these versions with the others when they come up randomly on your iPod. My only qualm? They didn’t include the Rats’ version of “Drive My Car” on the album, even though there’s a video for it. Where can a Supergrass/Hot Rats fan get this, I wonder? I hope it’ll be on a single or something…
3/5 (Fat Possum [US], G&D Recordings [UK])

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Elvis Costello & The Attractions • Live at Hollywood High [CD]

 [Originally published 1/18/2010 on Skratchdisc]

The second in EC’s live reissue series, and the one that most of his hardcore fans have been waiting for. Live at Hollywood High is the complete 1978 concert recorded at the venerable high school, just after ELVIS COSTELLO & THE ATTRACTIONS’ first album, This Year’s Model, was released and before Armed Forces was even recorded. Very nice sound quality here (much better than Live at the El Mocambo), and puts the three songs that were first issued on the free vinyl single into context. Of course, as these things go, if you bought the most recent reissue of Armed Forces then you already have half of this concert, but for a little over ten bucks, it’s definitely nice to have the complete show.
5/5 (Hip-O Records)

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Captain Sensible • Women And Captains First, The Power of Love [CD]

[Originally published 1/18/2010 on Skratchdisc]

FINALLY two of the greatest albums that mix rock and “synth pop” in a way that dumbs down neither have been issued on CD. CAPTAIN SENSIBLE, sometime guitarist for my favorite band of all time, The Damned, put these two out in the early ’80s, on the heels of his surprise hit “Happy Talk” (yes, from South Pacific!), as he took his turn at becoming a pop star. He had more than his 15 minutes, at least in Britain, and of course he’s been back with his punk chums for longer than a decade now, but these A&M elpees were never put out on CD until the 2000s, first as limited edition Japanese issues (with uncharacteristically mediocre mastering), and now these superb versions on Cherry Red. Women And Captains First came out in 1982 and featured not only the aforementioned hit, but the further single “Croydon” (a sublime tune about his childhood and growing up “cleaning toilets”), “Brenda,” and my personal fave, “Wot!” (which also charted). Tony Mansfield gets the producer credit for both albums, and on the first one especially he really did a fantastic job… great pop songs bolstered by production and arrangements that really bring out the uniqueness of Captain’s take on rock ’n’ roll. The Power of Love followed in 1984 with real great singles “Stop the World” and “I’m a Spider,” though the hits kinda trailed off. Whatever… this was another good one, though not quite as.

Cap’n went on to do more solo stuff, and eventually rejoined The Damned after former drummer Rat Scabies departed, and the band returned to former glories with 2001’s Grave Disorder. Sensible has slowed down on the release front, but hell, he did run for political office in the Blah! Party he formed in the UK, and he has been an active campaigner for animal rights and a lot more. These two slabs of early ’80s pop are proof that not everything that had a synth back then sucked.
5/5 (Women And Captains First), 3/5 (The Power of Love)
(Cherry Red CDMRED 408, 409)

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Los Straitjackets • Yuletide Beat [LP]

[Review originally published 12/10/2009 on Skratchdisc]

A limited edition 10″ vinyl release, Yuletide Beat is LOS STRAITJACKETS’ second holiday hootenanny, and a worthy companion to ’Tis The Season… [which was reissued last year (2016) on red vinyl – ed.]. Sticking closely to the template The Ventures established many decades ago of doing Christmas instrumentals wrapped in popular rock ’n’ roll arrangements, the ’Jackets nail ten (one per inch) instros down perfectly. This is my favorite kinda music for this time of the year: you get the Christmas tunes, alright, but not the boring, stodgy arrangements we used to have to hear every year on records by Andy Williams and Johnny Mathis. Here you get guitars, pounding drums, and even wailin’ sax doing it the way it oughta be done.

4/5 (YepRoc/Spinout YEP SPIN 2813; available as download at YepRoc Records)
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The Who • Live at Leeds (40th Anniversary Deluxe Box Set) [CD]

[Review originally published 12/2/2010 on Skratchdisc]

It finally came the other day! A little over forty years after the concert was recorded at a “uni” in Leeds, England, THE WHO’s legendary Live at Leeds is still hailed as one of the best live albums ever. Of course, when they finally put it out with the entire concert included (with the entire Tommy rock opera, even), it made it even greater. Now, they’ve released it in a be-all end-all edition that includes the double CD aforementioned, the original 6-song LP (on 180 gram vinyl), a 7″ replica of the original UK (or is it German) single of “Summertime Blues” b/w “Heaven and Hell” (the latter of which was not on the original album), a hardcover 60-page book, and a vial of Keith Moon’s sweat (that version already sold out).

The other big deal about this version of Live at Leeds is they released it with the entire concert from the next night, Live at Hull. Yes, I know… the title “Live at Leeds” is so iconic that “Live at Hull” sounds like a Rutles joke (and it is, sorta, since they claim that Dirk McQuickly put out a solo record called “(When You Find the Girl of Your Dreams in the Arms of) Some Scotsmen from Hull”). It’s a great show, almost as good as Leeds, and they had to really do some work to make the first handful of songs presentable. Apparently, John Entwistle’s bass was not recorded for the first five or six songs, and that’s why the show was originally shelved. (They actually only listened to the first song or two at the time and decided the whole tape was bass-less so they passed on it.) But the shit they can do nowadays with a computer and a little gumption! keith moonThey actually “flew in” the bass from the Leeds show and digitally manipulated it to fit the performance at Hull. Man, I love technology! Sure, the show is pretty identical to its way more popular brother, but it just goes to show that to have seen The Who in ’69-’70 must have been like witnessing godhead incarnate. Of course, I couldn’t have appreciated it as well at the age of seven as I can now, or even when I first really heard the original album, probably 1980 or so, but listening to this amazingly awesome concert almost erases the memory of seeing them Moon-less at the Kingdome in 1982 (which is memorable primarily because it was the only time I got to see The Clash).

Now, you don’t get all the little inserts that came with the original LP issue, though they are reproduced in the book, but you do get a pretty cool poster of Pete Townshend doing his windmill routine, and as I said, early pre-orderers do get a sample of Moon’s sweat, which must have been prodigious considering how crazily-yet-brilliantly he plays during these concerts. Personally, I was hoping for a locke of Roger Daltrey’s hair, but I guess the sweat will have to do. BTW, as great as I think The Who were, I still think “Happy Jack” is a pretty dumb song, despite the great music.

6/5 (Polydor/Universal)

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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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