Category Archives: vinyl

Nick Lowe • Nick the Knife, The Abominable Showman, Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit, The Rose of England, Pinker and Prouder Than Previous, Party of One [CD, LP]

YepRoc has been working the NICK LOWE discography for some time now. Starting out with Labour of Lust, Pure Pop for Now People (Jesus of Cool) and the Rockpile-attributed Seconds of Pleasure, plus a best-of (Quiet Please) and a handful of new releases, the label finishes things off with the final six albums Lowe put out before he went independent in the mid ’90s.

Nick the Knife, The Abominable Showman and Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit (Columbia US, 1982-1984).

Granted, the half dozen releases here are among Lowe’s least successful, but that concept is only relative when you consider what Nick has knocked out in his career. His first couple of releases after his band Brinsley Schwarz called it a day – Pure Pop and Labour – have stood the test of time as power pop classics. But Lowe was never interested in being the torchbearer for that genre. So on his further releases he slowly but surely expanded his reach by tackling a wider range of pop flavors, including rockabilly, straight country, country-politan and more.

1982’s Nick the Knife cut closest to the Pure Pop/Labour one-two punch, with “Stick It Where the Sun Don’t Shine,” “Burning” and the reggae-tinged remake of his tune “Heart,” flanked by most of Rockpile (who made the original “Heart”). A year later Lowe had put together the band that would support him on the next few records, releasing The Abominable Showman (excellent title!) and scoring artistically with “Raging Eyes” – in his typical time-tested vein – but moving along into greener pastures with “Time Wounds All Heels” and the sublime sounding/lengthily titled “(For Every Woman Who Ever Made a Fool of a Man There’s a Woman Made A) Man of a Fool.”

Without a hit or hint at the Top 40 since “Cruel to Be Kind,” Nick’s label was leaning on him to come up with something chart-worthy. He gave them 1984’s Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit, a cleverly-titled (though too clever for its own good) album with a surefire single, “Half a Boy and Half a Man,” which went nowhere fast. Despite a likely successful cover of The Springfields’ “Breakaway” and Mickey Jupp’s kick-ass “You’ll Never Get Me Up (In One of Those),” a worthy successor to “Switchboard Susan” (from Labour of Lust), Cowboy Outfit mostly stayed confined to the closet. Too bad, too, because Lowe penned some great album cuts (“Awesome,” “The Gee and the Rick and the Three-Card Trick”) that really showcased some of his untrumpeted strengths.

1985’s The Rose of England seemed to have the panacea to Lowe’s lack of chart time despite its boring cover art. (The US version featured a high school artist drawing/collage that was actually worse than the all-type treatment used in the UK.)  The remake of Nick’s own “I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock ’N’ Roll)” was produced by then-chart topping Huey Lewis and played by him and The News. A catchy tune that was already great before Lewis helmed its second coming, it still didn’t have that certain-something to bother the charts. Neither did the excellent reading of John Hiatt’s “She Don’t Love Nobody,” the rockabilly killer “7 Nights to Rock” or even Nick’s “The Rose of England.” Still… nothing.

A few years later, after taking a breather presumably to have a rethink, 1998 saw the release of Pinker and Prouder Than Previous. A peculiarly-titled little troublemaker, it had some likely candidates for stardom, such as Lowe’s “Lovers Jamboree” and the fun take on Wynn Stewart’s “Big Big Love,” but nothing that actually made a stab at bringing Nick something other than a consolation prize.

The Rose of England, Pinker and Prouder Than Previous and Party of One (Columbia US 1986, 1988 and Reprise 1990).

His US label, Columbia, decided they’d had enough and Mr. Lowe moved on to Reprise for 1990’s Party of One, arguably his best album since Nick the Knife. But even with quintessential all-time Lowes like “(I’m Gonna Build A) Jumbo Ark” and “All Men Are Liars” (which contains the clever couplet “Do you remember Rick Astley?/He had a big fat hit, it was ghastly”), as well as the more mature but just as good “What’s Shakin’ 0n the Hill” and “I Don’t Know Why You Keep Me On,” this party was a bust.

What was it going to take to bring Nick the kudos that seemed to be his for the taking? Whitney Houston’s The Bodyguard movie, whose 1992 soundtrack featured a cover of Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding,” though the song’s author’s name was probably completely unknown to those who saw the movie and bought the soundtrack album. Perhaps it was the success – and royalty checks – from this project that helped Lowe to figure out what he wanted to do next.

Not content to age disgracefully, Nick embraced a personal path without the pressure to write what the label thinks will be a hit (I mean, were they ever right in the past?). Lowe’s albums since 1990 have been much more relaxed affairs, with the kinds of songs (originals and covers) that better reflect his life and role as one of new wave’s elder statesmen. You still get the humor, just not the sophomoric kind. It’s definitely a double-edged sword, though, for those of us who came aboard because of his association with the punk/wave scene and thanks to songs like “Cruel to Be Kind” or “Crackin’ Up” have found the ensuing releases to lack the spunk of the early albums. And even though we may have the self awareness to realize that those who don’t mature are doomed to come off as perennial punchlines, we can’t help but listen to the early records and wish our hero’s future releases had continued in the same vein.

YepRoc should be commended for taking the torch and keeping it lit. Though the packages themselves are devoid of any frills (no lyrics, inserts or anything like that, at least in the CD configuration), they have added bonus track rarities such as demos and live versions from B-sides and elsewhere, when applicable. The CDs feature these items on the single disc; vinyl buyers get them on an included bonus 7″. Applause! And – if you bought all six albums during the pre-order period – you get a Nick Lowe lunchbox. Sure, there’s no thermos included, but you’re probably not taking this thing to school anyway. Unless you’re one of those who refused to grow up and still wish there was a “Switchboard Susan” on every Lowe LP.

3.5/5 (entire series) (YepRoc, 2017)

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The Replacements • For Sale: Live at Maxwell’s 1986 [CD, LP]

Many of us think back on the ’80s and feel it wasn’t a very good time for rock ’n’ roll. Well, we are clearly forgetting about THE REPLACEMENTS! Listen to For Sale: Live at Maxwell’s 1986 and you’ll recall that it wasn’t all bad – in fact, some of it was absolutely killer.

Captured professionally after their major label debut (1985’s Tim), this very live recording features the classic Replacements lineup (Paul Westerberg, Bob Stinson, Tommy Stinson and Chris Mars) on an “on” night in Hoboken, NJ. If you know anything about this band and their near mythological live shows, depending on the night, they either were the best band on earth or they sucked big time. Representing the former – oh, thank heaven –this 2CD or 2LP release is quite possibly the Live at Leeds of our generation.

The set list this February night leaned heavily on tunes from Tim and their indie classic Let It Be, such as “Hold My Life,” “Bastards of Young,” and Westerberg’s awesome “I Will Dare,” sounding much more muscular in its live rendition (no Peter Buck on banjo!). There’s also an assortment of earlier hardcore fare such as “Fuck School,” “God Damn Job,” and one of my toppermost ’Mats tunes, Hootenany’s “Take Me Down to the Hospital.” I don’t wanna… die before my time… already used… eight of my lives…

For Sale also contains a number of cover tunes done the way only The Replacements could do ’em: unpracticed, spur-of-the-moment, warts ’n’ all. Witness “Fox on the Run,” the Sweet hit, which goes for about a minute (just past the first chorus) before it ends in a shambles. Elsewhere, “Nowhere Man” and T. Rex’s “Baby Strange” actually make it to completion, naturally in the rough ’n’ ramshackle manner these guys typically delivered.

All this is to say, if you need your rock music all polished and rehearsed, you probably don’t wanna shell out for this 30-years-overdue live release. But, if you’re a true disciple of The Replacements – and if you’re not, there’s something wrong with you, man! – then you will find this album to be the quintessential, missing chapter of the book of the story of Minneapolis’s true rock ’n’ roll hall of famers. Hello Cleveland! indeed.

5/5 (Sire/Rhino R2 562078, 2017)

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Chris Bell • I Am the Cosmos [CD, LP]

Big Star’s ascendance to America’s best loved, most under appreciated rock band reaches its zenith with Omnivore’s authoritative reissue of the CHRIS BELL retrospective, I Am the Cosmos. Once again presented as an exhaustive 2CD compilation of the man’s life’s work, this version of Cosmos is a more focused affair than Rhino Handmade’s 2009 version or the original 1992 Rykodisc (single CD) release. I’ll admit: At first I thought it was going to be too much. After all, there are four versions of the title track included, and multiple versions of some of the other tunes. On paper it sounded like more than even this fan would want. I was wrong.

I won’t go into the whole Big Star story here, except to say that Chris Bell left the band after their debut, the critically acclaimed, consumer-ignored #1 Record (1972). After that, only one 45 of his own material (“I Am the Cosmos” b/w “You and Your Sister,” both included) was released in Bell’s lifetime. Yet this ample release shows that – despite the numerous versions of songs – he had a lot more in him. His harder rocking side is represented by “I Got Kinda Lost” and “Make a Scene,” his softer side by “You and Your Sister,” and the spiritual by “Look Up.” Then there are the yearning, burning tracks like “Cosmos” and “Better Save Yourself,” the winning pair that opens all versions of this compilation. Hard edged guitars anchor some tunes while strummed acoustics steal the scene in others; you even get funky Moog synthesizer (I believe) in the rollicking “Fight at the Table.” Bell’s talents were many and they’re all on display here. It’s hard for the Paul McCartney fan in me to not draw a parallel between Macca and Bell’s early ’70s smorgasbord of styles – and that, as you may know, is a high compliment in these quarters.

Omnivore Recordings has been on a Big Star bender for some time now, what with numerous band releases (including Complete Third, the comprehensive look at the band’s final album), Alex Chilton refreshers (I particularly like, but never reviewed, Free Again: The “1970” Sessions) and Chris Bell’s Looking Forward: The Roots of Big Star. It’s clear from the liner notes in these various releases that label head Cheryl Pawelski and her crew will not rest until they have covered every angle of the Big Star story, and for that I’m grateful. Many lesser bands’ stories have been examined with an even larger microscope, so there’s definitely room in the world for just about anything Big Star related. Certainly some will think it’s all too much, and that’s okay. The rest of us can happily discover more of what Chris Bell, Alex Chilton and Big Star wrought during their musical careers by letting Omnivore lead the way.

I Am the Cosmos is released 9/15/17 as a 2CD set, as well as a single LP on clear vinyl (initially, and with download code for the rest of the material), and digital download.

4/5 (Omnivore OV-231)

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Alex Chilton • A Man Called Destruction [CD, LP]

Last month Omnivore reissued ALEX CHILTON’s 1995 album, A Man Called Destruction. Aptly titled, Chilton himself described it as “a soulful effort by a fairly primitive mind.” The album is a musical stew of rock ’n’ roll, New Orleans R&B/jazz and more – recorded the way this kind of stuff used to be recorded: live in the studio, one or two takes, minimal overdubs.

Recorded at Ardent Studios in Memphis, Destruction’s twelve songs (and this reissue’s bonus tracks) have a wonderful feel because they’re not perfect. Those who only know Chilton via the Big Star records will be thrown for a loop by Destruction. The arrangements aren’t power pop at all – sorry, Radio City fans – this is what Alex sounded like when he led the band all by himself. The songs, too, are primarily Alex’s, though there’s a handful of cool covers, including Jimmy Reed’s “You Don’t Have to Go” and Chris Kenner’s “Sick and Tired.” The latter track is one Chilton had been doing in his solo shows (when not “reuniting” Big Star with half of Seattle band The Posies). Buoyed by his own soulfully raw guitar sound, the arrangements include a rough but ready horn section and some real primal organ (check out his “Don’t Stop” to hear what I mean).

Omnivore’s reissue adds seven bonus tracks to A Man Called Destruction, including some alternate takes, a couple of originals that didn’t make the final album, and a cover of Clarence “Frogman” Henry’s “(I Don’t Know Why) But I Do,” kind of a fitting sentiment about how some of us feel about Alex Chilton. Apparently, those who knew Alex Chilton say the two spheres of sound (power pop and primitive rock) were equally at home in the man’s psyche, a reflection of his own personality. Sometimes affable and agreeable, sometimes contrary and difficult, like it or not that was Chilton. We don’t know why we love him (at least we can’t exactly pinpoint it), but we do.

Available now on download, CD and 2LP vinyl (clear blue for the initial pressing) including all of the bonus tracks.

3/5 (Omnivore OV-227)

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Sheriff Jack • The Complete Works [Vinyl] or: “How I Learned to Stop Wondering and Love the Internet”

Note: I started this article with a great idea and the best intentions. While wrapping it up I discovered some info that, had I known it at the outset, would have greatly changed this story. More about that at the end…

If I didn’t know any better, I’d think SHERIFF JACK came to me in some fever-crazed dream. Nobody seems to know who or what he/she/it is, there’s basically nothing about him/her/it on the internet (no web page, entries on music blogs and sites, etc.), so he/she/it might just be a figment of my frazzled imagination. But: I have all four record releases (I know of) that were issued under the name, and I know I’m not making it/her/him up. So, you’ll just have to believe me and read on – or move along to something easier to digest.

Let’s go back thirty plus years to 1986, for it is then that Jack shows up for the first time on record at the Seattle college radio station (KCMU, now KEXP) where I once DJed. Supposedly Sheriff Jack’s first release, a 12″ EP called Let’s Be Nonchalant duly enters the station’s current releases bin. Four songs are on it, including such bizarre titles as “Buy Everybody a Cake” and “Buttered Slice of Democracy,” so naturally yours truly (a sucker for oddball song titles) needed to know more. And it was – and is – difficult to describe. It sounds slightly power pop or new wave, in the guitar-driven sense, but with just enough of that mid ’80s snare-in-your-face on it to be slightly distracting. That, and the guy sort of sing-yelling the lyrics. The record was produced by Pat Collier, who was known at the time for his work with Robyn Hitchcock and The Soft Boys, and as a member of the band The Vibrators (“Baby, Baby”). And the release came out on Midnight Music, which had also released Hitchcock and Soft Boys records. Kinda mysterious in those pre-internet days, and try as I could, I couldn’t figure out who this Sheriff Jack was. But, being in my early 20s and easily distracted, I bought the record but shelved it and the info search and moved on.

A few months later, out comes a full-length album, Laugh Yourself Awake. Where the first release had the tiniest amount of credits on it, this record had all kinds of credits but some of them seemed made up. Ever heard of a guy named Ted Aerialcruise who plays trumpet? Well, he’s on these two records (and the next one). The album itself carried on with the hard-power-pop yet very British tunes, this time with titles like “Bird-Oh!” (super slicing guitars) and “Cock Anne at Marjorie’s Door,” and even a cover of Big Star’s classic, “Back of a Car.” BUT… this time we get a slight biographical bit about Jack: “This stuff written, arranged, played and sung entirely by a bipedal humanoid known as Sheriff Jack… recorded in Alaska.” Well, I knew that “Alaska” was actually a recording studio in England, frequented by – you guessed it – Hitchcock, The Soft Boys and producer Collier (credited this time with “knobtwiddling deluxe; high-gloss finish”). There was a management contact phone number on the cover, but calling across the Atlantic just to find out who these people were was neither doable nor affordable then. Again, I enjoyed the eccentric English (I assumed) college rock (as we loosely classified anything without a solid genre description attached to it). The weirdo subject matter continued, the slightly yelled/sung vocals did, too, and the altogether unique guitar sound of Sheriff Jack continued to delight me and (hopefully) whoever heard it via the radio station.

Another few months later, the same performer/ producer/label team turned out a 4-song EP entitled Everybody Twist, which featured the title song (from Laugh Yourself Awake) and three more oddities (“Bold 3,” “Values for Your Culture” and “Something Cold”). Some sort of life form named Uncle Beastie sang “Something Cold,” a dirgey tune with a lower register lead vocal that comes off as fairly ominous; aside from this one, the EP is really an extension of Laugh Yourself Awake. I added this record to my Sheriff Jack collection thinking that maybe, if he/she/it/they put out further records, eventually some solid facts would emerge. Or I’d move on to some other obsession.

Then, in October 1987 another Sheriff Jack album appeared, the cleverly titled What Lovely Melodies! I know the date because the copy I bought locally HAD A PRESS RELEASE BIO IN IT. Thanks to whoever was sent a promo copy and sold it right away with the bio still inside! That press release details previous and current Sheriff Jack records as well as their release dates and catalog numbers. And! FICTITIOUS BIO INFORMATION. Shit! I’m sure ol’ Jack wasn’t really “the prodigy son of an Alabama hobo” or that he was the “ex-leader of Iceland’s leading protopunk garage loonies The Icebreakers.” I get that they wanted to keep Jack’s identity a secret, but how long could they keep up such a ruse?

The bio writer did do a pretty good job of describing SJ’s sound: “[It includes] all manner of aural perversion from sick and silly little songs to gruesome guitar meltdowns… It’s all here, fine pop music with a left-field twist to spice it up.” Okay, we can work with that. “Can’t Resist a Melody,” the ostensible title track, takes another crack at it: “What lovely melodies! / And they’re driving me CRAZY / Though I know what I’m doing is sinful / But I do it anyway ’cause I’m really odd…” The sound on this record expanded to include some slightly R&B and even vaudeville tunes among the quintessential Jack palette. Did I mention some of the other titles? “Pink Ducks”? “Dada Art Attack” (“it’s like riding a horse in a cul-de-sac”)? “The Buddha with the Runny Nose”? Okay, there you go.

As far as I know, that was Sheriff Jack’s last gasp. Well, it’s now September 2017 and I have no further information about him. But somewhere in the back of my head, as I was finishing this little exercise in demon-exorcising and seeming futility, I hear, Marsh, did you try EVERYTHING? Wait a minute… we have Discogs now! Type in Sheriff Jack and you get an entry listing an alias of Lewis Taylor. Turns out this guy was once part of the Edgar Broughton Band (late ’60s/early ’70s UK semi-prog rock) and, after his tour of duty as Sheriff Jack, put out records under his own name. Well, I’ll be. Read further and you’ll see that Taylor later changed his name to Andrew Taylor (ahem, do you remember a character from ’60s US television, who was a sheriff, named Andy Taylor??) and has played bass under that name with Gnarls Barkley.

I’m sorta speechless.

At this point, all I can say is: I’m going to attempt to reach Mr. Andrew “Sheriff Jack” Taylor and see about getting an interview with him. This time, as my trusty sidekick, I will have the internet to help me track him down.

4/5 (Let’s Be Nonchalant, Midnight Music DONG 20, 1986), 4.5/5 (Laugh Yourself Awake, Midnight Music CHIME 00.21 S, 1986), 4/5 (Everybody Twist, Midnight Music DONG 29, 1987), 3.5/5 (What Lovely Melodies!, Midnight Music CHIME 00.34 S, 1987)

You can hear Laugh Yourself Awake on Spotify. However, I don’t have an account so I can’t check to see if it’s still up.

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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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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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David Bowie • Cracked Actor (Live in Los Angeles ’74) [3LP, 2CD]

Talk around the internet forums and blogs in April of this year was that this splendid release, DAVID BOWIE‘s Cracked Actor (Live in Los Angeles ’74), would probably be out on CD at some point. After all, the vinyl-only Record Store Day release sold out quickly and surely there was plenty of still-mourning fans who’d missed out. I’m not sure any of us figured the CD would be out barely sixty days later, but here it is: the 2CD reissue of a release not even two months old. Clearly it was always the plan. Crank up the hype machine, sell out of the initial vinyl run and then unleash the compact disc set while the iron was still hot. [Does that count as a mixed metaphor?]

Cracked Actor is an exciting live album and worth every penny regardless of the configuration you chose/choose. If you didn’t get the vinyl – for whatever reason – and you still thrill to a live Bowie show then you’ll want to add this release to your collection. Recorded in concert at the Universal Amphitheatre in September 1974, it’s a show and band lineup that appeared between the Diamond Dogs and Philly Dogs tours of that year. Bowie seemed to be tinkering with set lists and musicians incessantly and this transitional date was, luckily, recorded by the BBC to bolster a documentary they were working on at the time. The band included Carlos Alomar and Earl Slick on guitars, Mike Garson on keys and David Sanborn on sax, and they were a startlingly solid group considering how recently they’d come together. Vocalists included Warren Peace, Ava Cherry and a certain Luther Vandross, who worked with DB on his next studio release, Young Americans. Songs include numerous cuts from Dogs, plus some from Aladdin Sane and Ziggy Stardust as well as “All the Young Dudes” (written by Bowie and a then current hit by Mott The Hoople) and a cover of “Knock on Wood.” I really like the muscular, saxified “Cracked Actor” and the sublime “It’s Gonna Be Me,” ultimately an outtake from Young Americans. Cracked Actor is another case for Bowie as the amazing interpreter of his own songs that he was, and how every concert of his was an event because of that.

Indeed, the show has been bootlegged fairly extensively (apparently there was more stage banter and a longer intro than appears on this official release) so it’s not news to the more intrepid Bowiefans that this show even exists, but you won’t be sorry for buying this version even if you do have one of the boots. In a deluxe three panel album jacket, the 3LP presentation is a 5-sided, 20-song show that features rearrangements of even his then most recent material. (Side 6 features an etching of the distinctive Bowie logo that dons the cover of this release, as well as Dogs.) Sound quality is pretty top-notch for a live show, given its 1974 recording but late 2016 mix by longtime Bowie partner Tony Visconti, and mastering by Ray Staff at AIR Mastering. The pressing itself is on 180 gram vinyl and is dead quiet, with the records coming in static-free poly-lined black sleeves. The 2CD comes out tomorrow and features the same track listing but some liner notes and photos not in the vinyl package. It ought to be just as compelling, albeit maybe not as warm as the wax. At least you won’t have to flip the discs over as often. Either way, vinyl or CD, I wouldn’t miss this one!

4/5 (Parlophone DBRSD 7476 [0190295869373], 3LP, 2017) [I reviewed Bowie’s other 2017 RSD release, BOWPROMO, here.]

Here’s a clip of the title track from this very record, as broadcast on the BBC’s Cracked Actor documentary in 1974.

 

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John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band* • Sometime in New York City [album]

“Boy, he sure does cover a lot of Beatles-related stuff in this blog.” – Yes, I Do

JOHN & YOKO got together in the late ’60s when they were still John Lennon, one of The Beatles, and Yoko Ono, fairly obscure avant garde artist. The kindred spirits not only made love together, but art and music, too. At the time they made 1972’s Sometime in New York City with their Plastic Ono Band the music and other aural delicacies they’d created were quite often looked upon as liberal rubbish. Sometime, though, was the first time they put out a record of actual songs and music under both of their names – so they were really laying it out on the line. Of course Lennon didn’t have a lot to lose; he was, after all, still considered a Beatle. Yoko, as we all know, willingly lured Lennon into a life of aural degradation (ahem) and broke-up her husband’s band, so she also had little to worry about as she was already the lowest of the low! Forty-five years ago today he and his wife committed this double album to wax (and 8-track tape) and let the dice fall where they may.

To call Sometime in New York City a political album would be putting it mildly. Nine of the ten songs that make up record one (the second is comprised of live cuts) are political in one way or another, whether it’s “John Sinclair” or “Angela” (about Sinclair and Davis, both who had been jailed [separately] for very minor offenses), or the main, lead off track, “Woman Is the Nigger of the World.” The fact that Lennon & Ono chose it as the album’s only single shows that they must have been ready to tackle all comers and (naturally, considering the title) go to lengths to defend its title and what it was actually about. And, not surprisingly given its name, the single pretty much tanked. (Released on 45 in the US, it made it only to number 57.) Not a bad song at all, “Woman…” catalogs some of the many crappy ways women are treated (“we make her paint her face and dance…/We insult her every day on TV and wonder why she has no guts or confidence”) and is one of Lennon’s most fully realized political messages. You might argue that its title is over the top, and by today’s standards it’s definitely politically incorrect, but you can’t argue that the song’s point isn’t clear. Other songs on the LP tackle “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “The Luck of the Irish” (both concerning then current events in Ireland), “Attica State” (about a prison riot and how the authorities poorly handled it) and a few other topics. Only “New York City” lets up on the polemics, coming at the end of side one and a nice 12-bar blues breather before getting back to business on the other side of the record.

As noted above, Sometime features both John and Yoko songs, and indeed, Ms. Ono sings lead on half of the studio tracks. This may be the one time before 1980’s Double Fantasy that Yoko’s singing isn’t difficult listening. In fact, her songs here are as pop as she ever got, even considering “Kiss Kiss Kiss” or 1981’s “Walking on Thin Ice.” Seriously, if you think all she was capable of was caterwauling you’re wrong. I’m not saying that her vocalizing isn’t an acquired taste to most of us, just that if ever there was an argument against the standard that ain’t singing, that’s noise line, this album is it.

Hampered somewhat by its mixes, the Lennon and Phil Spector-produced studio part of the album is a fairly murky presentation of John & Yoko’s latest. The second record, internally called Live Jam, sounds much better. It was recorded in concert in London, 1969 and at NYC’s Fillmore East in ’71 on a bill with Frank Zappa & The Mothers (that set resulting in The Mothers’ acclaimed Fillmore East – June 1971). A few of the songs here are of Lennon & Co. and Zappa & Co. together jamming (as we used to call it) on some blues and other concoctions.** In 2005 Yoko Ono oversaw a remix of the studio cuts and most of the live tracks for a single CD reissue, ending up with a much clearer, more palatable mix of the album. (She had all of Lennon’s albums remixed in that decade and they’re worth checking out if you don’t find the exercise completely sacrilegious.) While its not necessarily how Lennon would have wanted us to hear it, this version of Sometime in New York City does give new life to his and his wife’s early Seventies co-billed creation.

3/5 (Apple SVBB 3392 [2LP, 1972]; Capitol CDP 0946 3 40976 2 8 [CD, 2005])

* Full original credit: John and Yoko/Plastic Ono Band with Elephants Memory and Invisible Strings [sic].  ** Frank reissued these cuts in a more Zappa-centric mix on an early 1990s compilation called Playground Psychotics.

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