Robyn Hitchcock • Robyn Hitchcock [CD]

It’s been awhile since ROBYN HITCHCOCK put out a proper full-band album. Or at least, since he did one in the same spirit as his Egyptians-era albums of the mid to late ’80s. This one, cleverly titled Robyn Hitchcock, is a lot like those heralded albums such as Fegmania! and Globe of Frogs. Recorded in a short stint in Nashville, Robyn apparently decided it was time he unleashed a batch of songs on an untested group of musicians and see what happens. Luckily, the results are in and this 2017 release is available for us to hear for ourselves.

Having started his recording career as founding member of The Soft Boys, Hitchcock went solo for a couple of albums before, in 1985, putting together the Egyptians (really The Soft Boys minus one) and releasing Fegmania! The Byrdsy, Barretty band came up with some great arrangements of RH’s tunes, including “Egyptian Cream,” “My Wife and My Dead Wife” and the odd but good “The Man with the Lightbulb Head.” The band went on to do a handful of albums until, in the early ’90s, they disbanded and Hitchcock went on to pursue extra textures (within and without group settings) with varying results.

What I like about his new one—I still can’t believe he didn’t come up with a better title than Robyn Hitchcock—is that it recalls the Egyptians but adds some interesting vibes via pedal steel guitar (don’t get yer panties in a wad; it ain’t a country record!) and the sheer kismet of making music with a new group of people. At times the tunes feel like they were channeled through the Egyptians—or that the band, perhaps subconsciously, asked themselves, “what would the Egyptians do?” when approaching these songs. Definitely, “Mad Shelley’s Letterbox” and “I Want to Tell You About What I Want” have that classic vibe. But a few, like “Virginia Woolf,” “Autumn Sunglasses” and “Raymond and the Wires” go that extra mile to reveal something different. Maybe it’s that pedal steel adding those swirly, stretchy, almost keyboardy soundscapes. Or even just the difference in the bass—Jon Estes has a different tone and approach to the instrument than Andy Metcalfe did. Whatever it is, if you’re a seasoned fan of RH&E then you’ll be pleased and even surprised at how good this album sounds. If you’re more attuned to Hitchcock’s post-Egyptians epoch then this will feel good, too. Robyn & Co. have given us a record that all of us Hitchcock fans can enjoy, and that’s pretty awesome. And one with a lot less insects crawling around.

3/5 (YepRoc YEP-2483, 2017)

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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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Barry Hutchinson • The Damned – The Chaos Years: An Unofficial Biography [Book]

Not many books have been written on THE DAMNED. Luckily, über fan BARRY HUTCHINSON has just published a deep dive into the first twenty years of punk’s greatest group. The Damned – The Chaos Years: An Unofficial Biography is an exhaustive look at the band’s beginnings, its exciting first few years and its slow descent before re-emerging in the early 2000s as mainstays of the movement’s first wave.

Hutchinson created the book from “exclusive interviews from all band members past and present,” and indeed there are quotes from founders Brian James, Captain Sensible, Dave Vanian and Rat Scabies, as well as just about every other guy or gal who’s ever played guitar, bass, keys or drums with the perpetually unstable band. At 400 some odd pages, you’ll be thrilled by the wealth of info covered by the author, as he seems to not only know of every anecdote worth describing (and maybe even a few that could have been skipped), but seems to have witnessed the anarchy, chaos and destruction firsthand. The author’s writing style is pretty raw – he’s clearly more of a fan than a professional writer – and the book does suffer some from that. But there’s no denying that this guy knows his subject matter and is definitely qualified to tell their story. Some of the quotes sound like they came from question-and-answer sessions submitted via email (something a pro editor could have tightened up), but that unfiltered presentation allows the various band members’ true characters to come through loud and clear. I contacted Barry via Facebook and he tells me that, because the book was published via Lulu’s “self-publishing” platform, he can revise the book pretty much at will. “The handy thing with print on demand,” he says, “means its fairly easy to do.”

If you’ve ever wanted a better look at the band than Carol Clerk’s The Damned: The Light at the End of the Tunnel provided (it was severely shortened to serve as more of a tie-in to a late ’80s compilation than a serious book), Hutchinson’s book is worth checking out. Not unlike Wes Orshoski’s documentary, Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead (which I reviewed in this blog; read it here), it’s a telling of The Damned’s story by someone who really does give a damn(ed).

3.5/5 (Lulu.com; order the book directly at this link)

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The Beatles • Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band [2CD Anniversary Edition]

Today being the 50th Anniversary of its release, here’s my take on THE BEATLES’ quintessential record.

“I get high with a little help from my friends,” sings Ringo Starr near the beginning of the most written about album in rock. I still feel “high” when I listen to it, having discovered it among my parents’ records as a kid. For its 50th anniversary, THE BEATLES have released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in a new mix and a bevy of formats designed to shed new light on their pop art masterpiece. Of course, five decades on the album has been both heralded and hacked. But the fact of the matter is: it’s still being written about. You can say all you want about it – badmouth it, throw sticks and stones at it – but it refuses to be influenced by naysayers or acclaimists. So let’s skip all of that (after all, fifty years of criticism is hard to summarize) and just get to the heart of this release.

Giles Martin, son of legendary producer and “fifth Beatle” George Martin (who produced the original), got the go-ahead to give the legendary Sgt. Pepper a makeover. Giles & Co. used the original 4-track tapes (including session tapes that, luckily, weren’t recorded over or discarded) and created a new stereo mix designed to deliver the punch and clarity of the original mono mix, which was done by George Martin and The Beatles over the course of a few weeks in the Spring of 1967. The original stereo mix – the one we’re all used to – was created over a few days without the Fab Four’s oversight. It became the de facto official version because stereo became the default configuration for future rock releases. Eventually the mono mix was put out to pasture, and that’s too bad because it was quite good (though it’s now again available on both vinyl and CD). Giles Martin’s new stereo mix relies less on gimmicky over-separation and goes for a more evenhanded approach, and it largely succeeds. (Stereo was new to the pop audience of the mid ’60s so exaggerated separation was the order of the day – sort of like over-enunciating in order to be understood.) Though some changes on the new stereo mix are too subtle for the typical listener to notice, it’s just as enjoyable. I like the more pronounced bass and drums, the clarity of some of the guitar and piano parts, and of course, the lovely sound of John, Paul, George and Ringo’s vocal harmonies. I could go into detail (I took notes during my first playback), but really, you can find that online in many places. Go ahead if you want to, or just go pick up a copy and hear for yourself.

As for the various formats available of this 50th Anniversary release, there are Sgt. Peppers to suit every budget and lifestyle. I decided to start with this 2CD version, which features the new stereo mix on disc one and a similarly-sequenced program on disc two that features early versions, false starts, instrumentals and more. It comes with a 50-page book (quite generous with photos and notes) and the original cutouts in a nice little slipcase. I got it on sale for $20 locally so it’s pretty affordable. You can also buy a single CD (just the new stereo mixes), a 2LP version (new stereo mixes on record one, some alternate versions and such on record two), and of course, the super deluxe 4CD/DVD/Bluray box set with even more alternate takes, a 140-page hardcover book and a brand new 5.1 surround mix in high resolution audio. Don’t get me wrong – I will get the big deal box – but the 2CD version is probably your best Beatles buy if you’re not bothered with all the extras. My purchase of it came with a nice poster of the inside of the original gatefold album cover (pictured above), which is pretty cool despite the extreme cropping of a very familiar image.

So there you have it, hopefully not too long-winded and with just the right info to pick the perfect Pepper.

4.5/5 (Apple/Capitol/UMe B0026524-02)

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MC5 • The Motor City Five [LP]

It’s oh so tempting to start this review with:

“Right now, right now it’s time to… KICK OUT THE JAMS MOTHERFUCKERS!”

But that would be such a cliché. Everyone knows that that’s how they introduce the song “Kick Out the Jams” on the MC5’s debut album, Kick Out the Jams. Have I said “kick out the jams” enough times so far? Well, lucky for you, this album I’m reviewing here is called The Motor City Five, and therefore I won’t need to say “kick out the jams” again for another few paragraphs, I reckon.

This album is one of the first releases on a new label called Run Out Groove, a semi-crowdsourced label that ostensibly lets the consumer pick what they’re going to put out (via voting on their web site), then does a small, “craft” pressing of the winner, limited to however many copies they get pre-orders for. This release, ROGV-003, is limited to 2,668 copies, which can be bought via the above web site (though this one’s already sold out there), online or in-store. I missed out on ordering this one but found one at a local Seattle area plattery. Mine’s number #0989 for those keeping score at home. It’s pressed on high-quality 180-gram audiophile vinyl (clear with subtle red and blue swirls in it) and housed in a heavy duty Stoughton tip-on album cover – this one’s got that reflective silver foil material that’s so cool. (You can see a vague rendition of me hovering above the MC5 in these photos.) Each Run Out Groove release will be a limited edition, and though some will be reissues of existing albums (releases that only came out on CD, for instance), The Motor City Five is a compilation of tracks the MC5 recorded throughout their original run in the late ’60s/early ’70s. Let’s get into more about this specific release, alrighty?

Kind of a shorter version of the CD compilation The Big Bang! Best of the MC5 (from 2000), The Motor City Five is a 12-track, 50 minute compilation with a couple of raw, pre-Elektra singles and then a selection of cuts from their three original albums from 1969 to 1971. Of course you get (you knew it wouldn’t last!) “Kick Out the Jams,” “Ramblin’ Rose” and “Rocket Reducer No. 62 (Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa),” plus later cuts like “High School” and “The American Ruse.” It’s a killer collection and a superb way to get into the MC5. Their hard rockin’, garage-y psychedelic goodness spawned many a great rock, punk and/or metal band (Stooges, The Dogs) – if you’ve wondered if all of those genres could co-exist in one band then here’s the proof. Few bands can or will ever stand up next to the MC5 in terms of sheer strength and energy. I never got to see them live but I can assure you that if the live cuts here – from their first album* – are any indicator, holy shit! I’m sure my whole life would’ve changed.

Overall this is an amazing account of one of America’s most kick-ass rock bands and a great start for a new record label (though it is an offshoot of Rhino). Yes, I found a couple of nits to pick – the notes on the insert refer to Detroit’s venerable Grande Ballroom as the “Grand Ballroom,” which wouldn’t really matter except that “Grande” is pronounce “grandie” by the locals – but they’re tiny little nits! Besides, you knew that I would find something to knock. It’s my job! That being said, I hope the quality of Run Out Groove’s future releases stays at this level. If it does and you buy ’em then you’ll be adding some seriously great records to your rack.

5/5 (Run Out Groove ROGV-003, 2017)

(* Their first album was recorded live and is called, ahem, Kick Out the Jams!)

 

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David Bowie • BOWPROMO [12″ Single Box Set]

Another Record Store Day release, and one that was heavily anticipated and criticized, BOWPROMO is a box set version of a DAVID BOWIE rarity. What was once upon a time a promotional record with one side dedicated to rough mixes of tunes that mostly ended up on Hunky Dory, this RSD version features half of that record along with era ephemera included in a nice little clamshell box. Let me clarify.

I say “half” a record because the original promo was dedicated to two artists, Bowie and a female singer named Dana Gillespie. A management stablemate of Bowie’s, her songs comprised the other side of the record, which was sent out to drum up interest in GEM Management’s two artists. For this release Gillespie’s songs – her side of the record – were removed, so we have a one-sided 12″ with half an album’s worth of prime David Bowie. The mixes of these songs are different from what ended up being officially released (five of the seven tracks ended up on 1971’s Hunky Dory), and are therefore officially interesting to Bowiephiles around the world. The mixes’ original master hasn’t survived into the 2000s and so these were culled from an actual pressing of the promo – and they sound quite good. In fact, listening to these songs, which include “Oh! You Pretty Things,” “Kooks” and “Queen Bitch,” makes me want to give Hunky Dory another try. I have a copy somewhere (I believe the Virgin CD reissue), but as the latest batch of Bowie vinyl reissues has been so good (I never got a chance to review Diamond Dogs, but it’s a stunner!) I may just have to pick it up on record. I can tell you that all of the songs here are epic, including “It Ain’t Easy,” which is muscular as hell, and “Bombers,” which finally saw release on the Rykodisc CD version of HD.

david bowie bowpromo labelPackaging on BOWPROMO is first-rate – as it should be, considering the pretty penny they charged for it. Picked up for fifty bucks locally, the release comes in a thin box that houses the one-sided 12″ (nothing pressed on the other side) which comes in its own cover sheathed in green wrapping paper, plus a manila envelope with color photos of our boy-ie, and a press release-style printout detailing the differences in these mixes from their official released versions, as well as info on the original promo release. Many have complained online about the fact that there are only seven songs here, but this presentation is worth the $50 I got it for. Whether it’s worth more or less depends on you, more or less. One might consider the old adage “a fool and his money are soon parted,” as one person did on one of the music blogs I read, but who’s to say what constitutes a fool-ish action? If I think it’s worth what I paid, then you are a fool to consider me a fool. (And I’m dying to finish this with “And I pity the fool!”)

5/5 (Parlophone)

You can see the original press release for this reissue on David Bowie’s web site.

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Pink Floyd • Interstellar Overdrive [12″ single]

Pink Floyd Interstellar Overdrive RSDRecord Store Day 2017 brought with it a plethora of pleasing platters and the first one I’m writing about is this PINK FLOYD 12″ single. Yes, it’s a single of one of the band’s earliest works, “Interstellar Overdrive”. This isn’t, though, the studio version you’ve thrilled to on their debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, but an earlier recording that has never seen the light of day (on vinyl) until now.

Recorded in late 1966 in a studio in Hertfordshire, England, this 15 minute take has much to offer. Take its sheer length: I can’t think of too many bands that were doing quarter-hour songs at that point, which may be why the original, official release was shaved to under ten minutes. Yet, the fifteen minutes gives the band even more room than usual to stretch out. Syd Barrett gets to wail on his Telecaster, slipping in and out of lockstep with bassist Roger Waters and drummer Nick Mason, while keyboardist Richard Wright plays some seriously demented organ pads full of distortion and contortion. Chaos reigns supreme! Also, the instrumental song’s “chorus”, the descending chord progression that anchors the song, is played to a curious drum beat – seemingly taken directly from Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walking”! I’m not kidding. The backbeat played by Mason is just like that boom-ba-boom, boom-ba-boom pattern we all know and love.

Package-wise, this is mostly a winner. The record comes in a nicely designed Hipgnosis cover, complete with printed inner sleeve, poster and postcard showing the Floyd in a saturated, black and white photo taken by Irene Winsby for Melody Maker. The only con? Well, it’s a one-sided record. I mean that literally. There’s nothing on the flipside except smooth, black vinyl, completely unladen by any sort of a groove. Isn’t it just like Pink Floyd? Wasting an entire side of 12″ vinyl. On the other hand, arty types that they are/were, they give us a poster and postcard we aren’t likely to actually use (why, that would decrease the release’s value, RSD dorks!) just because they can. And I kinda like that. After side one’s blistering 14:57, you see, there’s not much you can follow it with.

4/5 (Pink Floyd Records)

The following video (assuming it’s still up) is from a documentary by Syd Barrett buddy Anthony Stern, purportedly the first use of the 14:57 take of “Interstellar Overdrive” on the above-reviewed release. There’s more information on this recording here.

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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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