Throwback Album Reviews

Adrian Belew – Lone Rhino

lone rhino
Island Records

After seeing David Byrne this past weekend, I listened to every Talking Heads album I owned on vinyl. Hearing the quick paced choppy guitar riff in “The Great Curve” off the creatively innovative Remain in Light (1980), reminded me of the guitarist playing “Stay” alongside David Bowie in 1978, on the German television program, Musikladen. When looking at the musicians credited for each song on the back of the inner sleeve for Remain in Light, I found out the guitarist playing with Bowie was featured on this record. His name is Adrian Belew.

Slightly under the radar when compared to other Bowie guitarists such as Mick Ronson and Carlos Alomar, Belew is a unique versatile multi-instrumentalist, who toured with Bowie during his Isolar II – The 1978 World Tour, which was Bowie’s most visionary and inspiring tour. Belew is also known for playing with Frank Zappa in the late seventies, Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club, Nine Inch Nails, and he even fronted King Crimson from 1981-2009. When Belew joined one of the greatest progressive rock bands of all time coming off a seven-year hiatus, Belew the group with a touch of new-wave and dance rock.

While fronting King Crimson, Belew also worked on a solo career. He released his first solo effort in 1982, entitled Lone Rhino. To say the least, this album is very avant-garde.

The buzzing from the guitar synthesizers and African polyrhythms landscape you heard on Remain in Light surround you on the opening track and single, “Big Electric Cat.” There is a vigorous automative rasp here, which is comparable to Robert Fripp’s heavy fuzz playing for Bowie on Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) (1980).

The next track, “The Momur” sounds contemporary for 1982, like a classic Meat Loaf hit; even if there are waves of wild and frenzy synths. However, its lyrics reflects a sense of quirkiness Belew might have picked up when playing guitar alongside Zappa. Belew’s vocals and call and responses with his guitar effects are amusing, especially since he plays most of the instruments here on the album. “Stop It” has a bouncy Talking Heads-esque party tone to it, especially as it reaches the bridge – with the creeping synths and guitar headstock strings. This all reflects off the spirited and raw saxophone in the background, which dominates the track, along with some shouts here and there.

Belew’s vocals throughout the album is like a mix of David Bowie and David Byrne. You can tell Bowie’s and Eno’s Berlin Trilogy had an influence here, especially on the tracks, “The Man in the Moon” and the ambient instrumental “Naive Guitar.”

The start of side two, begins with “Hot Sun,” where the strained and jumpy ambient synths lead right into “The Lone Rhinoceros.” The gloomy and anxious piano chords and bass, the intense wailing guitar, and animal sounds all form a commodity Belew fears about the large mammal. The lyrics show Belew’s fascination with animal nature, as he sings about how rhinos are suffering from poachers and are on the verge of going extinct. “Swingline” and “Adidas in Heat” reflect the bizarre and experimental rock Belew explored, while playing guitar with Zappa. However, both tracks also serve as a precursor to what Belew would bring to King Crimson, throughout the early eighties, minus the wackiness. Also, The brass in “Swingline” also echoes Phil Collins’ “I Don’t Care Anymore” and “Adidas in Heat” is the closest Belew got to recording doo wop on the album. “Animal Grace” is interesting, as it has a nice texture to it rhythmically and is full of sonic waves. It breaks into a jam of effects and skittering drums.

On the final track, “The Final Rhino” Belew added an innocent improvised piano piece his four-year daughter, Audie Belew, played while her father secretly recorded her. He later added in his own guitar lines to the closing of the album, which blends and closes the album fittingly.

Belew is without a doubt an underrated guitarist and multi-instrumentalist. He had plenty to offer, especially after playing with Zappa, Bowie, and Talking Heads. Not many people are aware of Belew’s influence, especially when it comes to his impressionistic and eccentric guitar style. Lone Rhino serves as a pioneer of ’80s art pop.

It is both comical and depressing that I am just finding out about this guy mostly now, who has been behind some of my favorite albums of all time.

8.5/10

Favorite tracks: “Big Electric Cat,” “The Momur,” “Stop It,” “Hot Sun,”

Least favorite tracks: “Naive Guitar,” “The Final Rhino” 

Listen to Adrian Belew’s Lone Rhino here


Devo – Oh No! It’s Devo

Devo was always an eccentric group. They were the oddity when compared to their contemporaries like Talking Heads and Blondie. They were never musically deep as those groups, as their songs were seen as being more obscure and satirical. But they did succeed in implementing their message of De-Evolution – the decline of man, through their music, which was the main reason as to why they became a band – by using music as an art form.

DevoOhNoItsDevo.jpg
Warner Bros. Records

When Devo’s raw debut album, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! was released in 1978, the band were seen as pioneers of the new wave takeover in the late 1970’s. However, by the time after Devo released their third studio album, Freedom of Choice, which included the hit, “Whip It,” in 1980, they evolved into an unusual and quirky synth-pop act.

Soon after Freedom of Choice came out, Devo was at the top of their game. But by 1981, Devo was through being cool. I mean, by just looking at the album cover for their fourth studio album, Oh No! It’s Devo, you know this is no ordinary band. Why are the members’ heads on potatoes and why does frontman, Mark Mothersbaugh, appear twice? (that’s what’s really wrong here!) The cover art is actually hilarious because it depicts the band as spudboys, which is a term used in several Devo songs. The term, “spud” is used when a person is becoming a devolving conformist.

Here, Devo may seem like they are the ones actually declining, but they just didn’t really care about the industry or critics. The album’s title was actually influenced by critics referring to the band as “fascists” and “clowns. Well soon after, the band responded by recording an album that sounded like fascist clowns.

With synthesizers upfront and the guitars pushed in the background, Devo recorded their last good album in 1982, before they ironically devolved as a band. This is basically their “fuck you” record to the critics and the music industry, since Devo was only appreciated by both when “Whip It” was released. Everyone kept demanding another hit similar to that, but Devo wasn’t going to give it to them. And when Devo was told to “to record another ‘Whip It’” by their label, Warner Bros., the group distanced themselves even further from the mainstream. Since New Traditionalists (1981) had a much darker sound due to production problems, the closest song Devo recorded to “Whip It” around this time was “That’s Good,” which surrounds the listener with these towering atmospheric synths under a catchy melody.

Besides “That’s Good” appealing to the mainstream and David Letterman, there are still a lot of good cuts on this record. The opener, “Time Out For Fun,” is punchy with its balanced rising keys and synths is just one of those tracks to listen to when feeling stressed out and you need to take a break. With a freaky welcoming from M. Mothersbaugh in the intro, it foreshadows a vastly different sound the listener is about to uncover.

“Peek-A-Boo” is unlike anything Devo has recorded before. By making this odd tune one of the leading singles for the album, Devo set themselves up for failure. It’s dancy, but its lyrics are too freaky to succeed on the charts. This was probably the first song Devo recorded to sound like fascist clowns. With those devilish “ha ha ha ha’s” you may think you are listening to a demonized ’80s version of ZZ Top’s “La Grange.”

The playful synths on “Patterns” along with Mothersbaugh’s soothing and warm vocals acts as one of the most friendliest and mellow tracks Devo has ever recorded.

At times, M. Mothersbaugh’s vocals imitate Robin Scott’s vocals on his 1979 hit “Pop Muzik.” under the music project, M. You can hear this especially on the standout, “Big Mess,” which sounds like it would have fit perfectly onto Freedom of Choice. The song seems like it is about a man who has been watching too many old westerns and imagines himself as a John Wayne sort of character.

Hearing “Speed Racer” is like if all your childhood toys, including a big pirate and a barbie doll, had an orgy in your toy chest. Or it is like if the Sawyer family from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise started voicing and playing with dolls at their dinner table. With the group changing their voices and depending on the characters of the song over a chilling synth line, it is by far the weirdest song Devo has ever recorded.

Even though the synths are overwhelming at times, like on “Explosions” and the closer, “Deep Sleep,” without them, this album would feel dry. It was smart for the band to place more emphasis on the keyboards and synthesizers here because a guitar riff wouldn’t have the same effect on these songs. Imagine a vigorous guitar riff in place of the synths on “Peek-A-Boo.” Actually, don’t. That is just as scary.

7.5/10

Favorite tracks: “Time Out For Fun,” “Peek-A-Boo,” “Out of Sync,” “That’s Good,” “Patterns,” “Big Mess,” “Speed Racer,” “What I Must Do” 

Least favorite tracks: “I Desire” “Deep Sleep” 

Listen to Devo’s Oh No! It’s Devo here.


Sparks – Indiscreet

Indiscreet - Sparks.jpg
Island Records

The Mael brothers, Russel and Ron, were quite huge with their art rock and glam group, Sparks, in England during the mid-seventies and early eighties. However, given their popularity in the British Isles, they were not really known in the states. Even though frontman, Russel Mael’s vocals sound exotic, Sparks originated in Los Angeles. It is astonishing how little known the group was in the home country managed to work with the greats from their genre, including Todd Rundgren and Tony Visconti. But like many glam rock and power pop groups, Sparks developed a cult following.

If you were to start listening to the group, you would start with the band’s 1974 album, Kimono My House, which is considered by many critics and musicians, including Thurston Moore, to be the band’s best work. After Sparks released that, they broke through the mainstream.

Sparks were at their peak come 1975 and teamed up with Visconti to release the album, Indiscreet. Even though it was not as successful as Kimono My House or Propaganda (1974), this is Sparks’ most steady album. Sparks did not really stick to what average glam rock and power pop bands were releasing in the mid seventies. They took risks and released an album that didn’t appeal to the macho cowboy corporate rock of the time.

With their goofy and shrewd lyrics over the power pop melodies and sharp glam rock riffs on songs like “Tits” and “How Are You Getting Home?” you don’t know if you are listening to either a Monty Python record or T. Rex. Russel Mael’s dramatic vocals sound theatrical on “Get in the Swing” which shares a similar melody to the group’s combined work with Franz Ferdinand, “Piss Off” in 2015. Many of the tracks leap from genre, to power pop to quirky opera. The eccentricity is best affiliated with “Under the Table With Her” which the romantic strings and flute reflect upon something dirty occurring underneath a table at an Italian restaurant.

The diverse styles on Indiscreet, also displays Mael’s vocal range, which are comparable to Freddy Mercury’s. The consistent heavy post-punk-esque bass in “Happy Hunting Ground” and the ending riff, which sounds a lot like the main riff in Tom Petty’s and the Heartbreakers “Anything That’s Rock ‘N’ Roll” from “Hospitality of Parade” is the closest to what the band sounded like on previous albums. The misleading, “Tits,” is about a couple growing a part and how the wife’s breasts are now used to feed her son and not for sex. “In the Future” is the most quick-paced cycle of electrifying riffs, which then transitions to the banging of a cymbal on ““Looks Looks Looks,” which sounds like cheerful 1930’s big band swing. The closer, “Miss The Start, Miss The End” is epic and melancholy, both reminiscent to the opening of the album.

Sparks weren’t your ordinary glam rock band and Indiscreet is the perfect introduction to that.

9/10

Favorite tracks: “Hospitality of Parade,” “Get in the Swing,” “How Are You Getting Home?,” “Tits,” “It Ain’t 1918,” “In the Future,” “Looks Looks Looks,” “Miss The Start, Miss The End” 

Least favorite tracks: “Pineapple,” “The Lady is Lingering” 

Listen to Sparks’ Indiscreet below.


The Crust Brothers – Marquee Mark

mccmcm
Telemomo Records

At a show at the Crocodile Cafe, in Seattle on December 5, 1997, Stephen Malkmus, frontman of Pavement at the time, teamed up with another indie rock and lo-fi group, Silkworm. It isn’t surprising Malkmus collaborated with Silkworm back in 1997, since his group and Silkworm had a lot in common. They were both signed with Matador Records at the time and both Malkmus and Silkworm singer, Tim Midyett, beard quite a resemblance in lead vocals. With Malkmus and the group together, they were known as the Crust Brothers.

The Crust Brothers played many shows in the Pacific Northwest (WA, OR), but only one of those were recorded into an album, called Marquee Mark (1998). It was a show in benefit of the Wilderness Coalition, which the group promotes in-between songs throughout the album. The group stuck solely to covers, with Malkmus refusing to play any Pavement songs. Notably, “Summer Babe” was a highly requested song, but Malkmus says at the start of the show, “That’s not going to happen, we’re not playing “Summer Babe.” Silkworm songs were also demanded, where a member from Silkworm says to the crowd after the opener, “Next person who shouts out a Pavement song or Silkworm song, just hit them over the head.” Nonetheless, the band gives in and plays Silkworm’s “Never Met a Man I Didn’t Like,” with Malkmus on lead vocals. Also, with it not really being a cover, ironically, it’s the most organized and cleanest song the band performed.

Out of the twelve songs performed, most were from Bob Dylan and the Band’s popular Basement Tapes (1975). The others were hugely popular classic rock songs, such as Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Tuesday’s Gone” and the Byrds’ “Feel A Whole Better,” which the band totally killed. And on their cover of the famous Byrds’ song, Malkmus makes the melody and lead chords totally feel like “Box Elder,” a classic Pavement track. Their cover of “Bessie Smith,” also echoes the grooves and catchy riffs from Pavement’s 1997 album, Brighten the Corners, which came out months before this show. The ending guitar of “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” also sounds like the ending of Pavement’s “Cut Your Hair.” Malkmus struggles vocally on the amusing “Yazoo Street Scandal,” where you can hear him trying to catch his breath between verses. However, Malkmus finishes one hell of a messy performance, where he nails his best white boy blues impression. “Lo and Behold” sounds like the band trying to make an old Bob Dylan song into Can, an experimental classic krautrock (German) band, that was influential to Malkmus.

The band plays a lot of Dylan, but they deliver a blow to Dylan’s son’s group, the Wallflowers. Right after “Never Met a Man I Didn’t Like,” someone screams out from the crowd, “Wallflowers,” where a member from Silkworm responds with, “Yeah that’s not true, we’re not playing any fucking wallflowers songs tonight…fuck that shit.”

Out of the covers, the top one was their version of “Heard it Through the Grapevine.” Music critic Greil Marcus, even went onto call it “…the best version of the song ever played.” Even though the band sounded a bit sloppy throughout the show, this performance was surly their best; they actually sounded like a band rather than some friends screwing around jamming. Malkmus’ notable guitar work is heard throughout the performance, which is just as good as his guitar splashes from his performance of CCR’s “Sinister Purpose” from a 1999 episode of Later… with Jools Holland. 

The band plays a distorted version of the epic “Tuesday’s Gone,” which features a distinct Malkmus guitar solo.

The album ends with an energetic and fast-paced version of “Mrs. Henry.” This performance sounds like the band has succumbed to the effects of alcohol. It’s a whirl of shambles, where it’s almost a bit unlistenable.

During the many jams from the show, you can hear the versatility from members, as they each switched instruments and lead vocals on tracks. At one point, Malkmus was drumming to Dylan’s “Lo and Behold.”

Despite their lack of practice (possibly) and that slacker energy Malkmus commented about at the beginning of the album, you can hear the band enjoying themselves. And that was the point of it all. There’s a party atmosphere due to the group’s raw intensity and sloppy playing. Now, just imagine if Bob Nastanovich, multi-instrumentalist from Pavement, was part of this supergroup; the music would be just as chaotic.

The group played a couple shows throughout the next couple years. The band returned to the Crocodile Cafe on December 31, 2000, and covered Dylan’s “Spanish Harlem Incident,” which was released on Silkworm’s final 2006 EP, Chokes!.

8/10

Favorite tracks: “Going to Acapulco,” “Million Dollar Bash,” “Yazoo Street Scandal,” “Lo and Behold,” “Heard it Through the Grapevine,” “Feel a Whole Lot Better,” “Bitch,” “Tuesday’s Gone” 

Least favorite tracks: “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” “Mrs. Henry” 

Listen to the Crust Brothers’ Marquee Mark here.


The Beatles – Abbey Road

The cover of Abbey Road has no printed words. It is a photo of the Beatles, in side view, crossing the street in single file.
Apple Records

In February of 1969, the Beatles went into Abbey Road studio to record the last sessions the group would ever record together. Let It Be (1970), might be their last album released, however much of the material was recorded before Abbey Road. On Abbey Road, the Beatles incorporated blues rock (“Oh! Darling,” “You Never Give Me Your Money”), early progressive rock (“I Want You You (She’s So Heavy),” “Because”), and a few cliché sixties Summer of Love styled pop songs (“Here Comes the Sun”). Entirely, this is the Beatles album that is for dads to call the “greatest album of all time,” but lets not go that far. Many might consider it to be one of the best because it’s Beatles collapsing and each member becoming artistically different and dealing with it civilly. Abbey Road is sort of a preview of what each Beatles member would accomplish during their solo career.

Abbey Road opens with the lead single “Come Together,” – the first Beatles song I came to love as a child, when listening to 1 (2000), an album my mother would constantly play. Lennon’s whisper of “shoot” is actually Lennon saying, “shoot me,” followed by a hand-clap, in which McCartney’s elevating thick bass line muffles out “me.” It is followed by the best George Harrison Beatles song, “Something.” It includes very warm vocals and smooth organ playing from Billy Preston, which overshadows Lennon’s piano playing. Frank Sinatra called it “the greatest love song ever written” and he certainly wasn’t wrong. Then comes the quirky and ever-glorious Moog synthy “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” which then transitions into the Beatles echoing a Zappa doop-wop on “Oh! Darling.” It also echoes some early Beatles rhythm and blues/early rock n’ roll songs. Even Ringo gets to sing the brilliantly deep “Octopus’s Garden.” The Beatles aka King Crimson, later pioneer progressive rock on the bluesy “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” with a repetitive guitar riff and white noise from the Moog synthesizer, which has a powerful effect on the piece. The song ends abrupt, after leaving you hypnotic. The group later shows up the Beach Boys in harmony and makes Beethoven rollover on the harpsichord with “Because.” On side two, there is an epic medley, which starts off with the punchy honky-tonk piano driven “You Never Give Me Your Money,” which sounds like a later Paul McCartney solo number. It is followed by the mellow psychedelic “Sun King,” a track similar to “Because,” in an exotic harmony. Then comes the Harry Nilsson influenced  “Mean Mr Mustard.” “Polythene Pam” picks up the energy during the medley with Lennon’s singing and Harrison’s assertive guitar work. The guitar boogie “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window,” oddly has McCartney playing lead guitar and Harrison playing bass – usually its the other way around. The pleasant “Golden Slumbers,” has McCartney’s vocals greatly emphasized, as it shares a similar melody to the symphonic “Carry That Weight,” which includes vigorous brass during the bridge, as it also reprises the opener of the medley. The title of the closer, “The End” isn’t the only sign of the band departing. You can tell in the recording especially in the harmony section, it’s the band saying goodbye; it sounds more of a farewell than “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)” did. After the energetic but depressing closing track, “The End” the group left another hidden track, “Her Majesty,” but this time instead of it being obnoxiously freighting like it was before, its simply charming.

It might be the most influential Beatles album cover, but its certainty not their best album. The Beatles had a good run throughout the sixties, but since they started experimenting with their sound in the mid-sixties, each member started separating themselves and came to realization that their material was more noteworthy than the other. They were still young and optimistic, but not for Beatles material. This was the end.

9.5/10 

Favorite Tracks: “Come Together,” “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” “Octopus’s Garden,” “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” “Because,” “Mean Mr Mustard,” “Polythene Pam” 

Least Favorite Tracks: “Sun King,” “The End” 

Listen to The Beatles’ Abbey Road here


The B-52’s – Mesopotamia

Warner Bros. Records

In 1981, Athens, Georgia based band, the B-52’s, were known as “The World’s Greatest Party Band,” due to their quirky lyrics, uptempo music, and punchy guitar riffs. They were transforming classic guitar riffs from the fifties and early sixties and assimilating those riffs to the new wave and raw post-punk style. However, coming off two smoking hot near-perfect classic albums, The B-52’s self-titled debut (1979) and Wild Planet (1980), the B-52’s were about to embark on changing their sound and experimenting in the studio. They wanted to place value and skill onto their next release in the production, in which before, their first two albums were quick and easy to make. To make this happen, they called no other than Talking Heads frontman and Brian Eno’s sidekick, David Byrne. The Talking Heads just came off the significantly well-crafted and critically acclaimed, Remain in Light (1980). Byrne, who was a great part of the production and sound of the Talking Heads, agreed to produce the B-52’s next release. Although, Byrne was working on another project, the musical score for American dancer and choreographer, Twyla Tharp, he worked on that during the day and Mesopotamia at night. Working while getting very little sleep, the work was stressful for Byrne. This was originally supposed to be released as a full album, but with pressure from their label, Warner Brothers, to get an album out quickly and Byrne and the band having different ideas for the mixing of the album, the release became an EP rather than their third studio album. There were four known outtakes that were supposed to be released on Mesopotamia, but were left off. Three out of the four were re-recorded for their next release, Whammy! (1983), which included: “Queen of Las Vegas,” “Big Bird,” and “Butterbean.” The fourth track, “Adios Desconocida,” a tender ballad, has yet to be remade or released. The B-52’s actually wanted to include “Bird Bird” on Mesopotamia, but Warner Brothers disagreed and demanded “Deep Sleep” instead. And honestly, I agree with their label. The original version of “Big Bird” has never been released, but was played live during their Mesopotamia tour and has been rumored that it sounds just like the version from Whammy! – which includes a trumpet and saxophone solo and sounds like a typical B-52’s track, while “Deep Sleep” is very mellow and calm – something the B-52’s have never recorded, thus perfect for the avant-garde blend featured on Mesopotamia and in which, you can clearly hear the David Byrne touch.

The opening track, “Loveland” carries a steady bass line and chirpy synth lines, overlaid with Cindy Wilson’s slinky and irresistible vocals. It continues with Kate Pierson’s soothe and seductive voice on “Deep Sleep.” Pierson’s vocals quickly alters on the standout track, “Mesopotamia,” which features a very Talking Heads-esque opening and groovy beat. It greatly illustrates Pierson as a frontwoman, even though she shares the vocals with frontman, Fred Schneider. Nonetheless, she holds the spotlight. The next track, “Cake,” seems like a big mess – there is way too much happening at once. It’s a shared Wilson and Pierson track, featuring way too many layers including vocal overdubs, synths, and percussion. During the bridge, the song sort of fades away while Wilson and Pierson start talking about baking a cake, but then builds up again towards the end. “Throw the Beat in the Garbage Can” has a similar opening to Devo’s “Race of Doom” from New Traditionalists (1981), mainly in the instrumental section including: synths, keys, and bass. The song also strongly emphasizes the wild saxophone playing. The final track, “Nip It in the Bud” features a choppy guitar riff from no other than the late and extremely underrated guitarist, Ricky Wilson, a man who really knows how to wear a turtleneck. The opening guitar also draws similarity to the single, “Song For A Future Generation,” later released on Whammy!, taking the place of synths and the electronic atmosphere.

What the B-52’s showed here, were signs of change. Even though there were some classic elements, such as the bizarre songwriting and guitar style, the band radically changed their sound. They progressed themselves to the appropriate new wave and art rock eighties style. However, they wouldn’t perfect this until their next release.

7/10  

Favorite tracks: “Loveland,” “Deep Sleep,” “Mesopotamia,” “Throw the Beat in the Garbage Can” 

Least favorite tracks: “Cake,” “Nip It in the Bud” 

You can listen to The B-52’s Mesopotamia here


The B-52’s – Whammy! 

Warner Bros. Records

In 1983, the B-52’s followed up EP Mesopotamia, with their third studio album, Whammy!, which is basically a continuation of what they did on Mesopotamia. However instead of working with David Byrne, this time the band worked with Jamaican audio engineer and producer, Steven Stanley, best known for working with Talking Heads and the Tom Tom Club. The B-52’s were relentless with changing and updating their sound, thus Whammy! is another take on the band’s journey of experimentation.

During a visit at Compass Point Studios in the Nassau, Bahamas, best known for where AC/DC recorded Back in Black (1980) and also where Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, recorded their cringe-worthy seventh studio album, Love Beach (1977).  First at the studio, the B-52’s re-recorded the tracks that were left off of Mesopotamia (“Queen of Las Vegas, “Big Bird,” and “Butterbean”) and later in December of 1982, recorded six new songs. At this time, guitarist, Ricky Wilson and drummer, Keith Strickland became multi-instrumentalists, by contributing all of the instrumentals, except additional instruments such as the trumpet and saxophone for Whammy!. Even though this album vastly differs from their first two releases, it still shows the B-52’s in their typical quirky and zany style.

Whammy! opens with “Legal Tender,” which features a steady drum machine and a genuine keyboard, underlaid with warm vocals from frontwomen, Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson, singing about making fake money in a basement, ready to be spent. The synthesizers also play a huge role in the opening track, drawing a resemblance to the new trend of new wave artists throughout the eighties, giving value to the instrument. “Whammy Kiss” features frontman, Fred Schneider at his most extreme, ending the song in reverberation by screaming “Give it to me!” With that line, you could probably guess how crazy this song is. This track differs from the rest due to how over the top it is, but that was what the band was known for. Next to “Mesopotamia,” the next track, “Song for a Future Generation” is the best experimental track from the B-52’s. It shows all five members singing, along with the key and synth lines creating a pleasant and cheerful landscape. Without a doubt, this is the best song off the album. If you thought “Whammy Kiss” was outrageous, the next track, “Butterbean” is just as bad. It almost sounds like the band is mocking their classic surf/punk style with modern instruments disorganized and outrageous draggy backing vocals from the females. The chorus changes several times in the song, but it is still a fun song to dance to. “Trism” is another alluring track from the start of it, but it becomes too repetitive and drags on. “Queen of Las Vegas,” shows some similar keyboard riff like shown on the classic Cindy Wilson lead vocal track off their debut, “Dance this Mess Around.” The lyrics are the deepest on the record, showing how perfect the vocals are without any male interference. The next track is a cover of Yoko Ono’s “Don’t Worry Kyoko” however on this version, your ears won’t bleed at the very beginning (come on, I love Yoko, but fuck that opening scream) and there is no Kyoko. The B-52’s transform Yoko’s version into a jumpy, obnoxious, Devo-like synth anthem. It gets even weirder on “Big Bird.” There’s a surprising horn and African drum section over a low keyboard line – something that could have been featured on nineties Nickelodeon, later ending in jazzy style. The congas are extensively emphasized, showing a wild taste and Stanley’s influence. The final track, “Work That Skirt” is a jam featuring all sorts instruments, with the electronics sounding like something which could have easily influenced the Flaming Lips’ Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2003). It’s a fantastic instrumental piece, but it’s a weak way to end the album. As a listener, you demand more. It would have been better as a transitional track; sort of a break from all the loopy singing by Schneider, Wilson, and Pierson.

This whole experimental project was a great idea by the band – it didn’t fail at all like some artists do when changing their sound. It’s a very eccentric and genius album, but holds too much emphasis on the consistent use of keyboards and synths, which was clearly its point. It creates a futuristic atmosphere, which still holds today. It might not be as classic as their first two albums, but it shows a more stable organization in their order of songs. It’s very undeviating – keeping the party going. The point of the B-52’s music is to make you get up and dance and that is exactly what was accomplished Whammy!.

8.5/10  

Favorite tracks: “Legal Tender,” Whammy Kiss,” “Song for a Future Generation,” “Butterbean,” “Big Bird” 

Least favorite tracks: “Trism,” Don’t Worry” 

You can listen to The B-52’s Whammy! here.


Beck – Mutations 

day89-beck-mutations
Geffen Records

In 1998, it seemed that there was more to Beck than his slacker rapping pounding hit “Loser”. In 1996, Beck released his supreme second official studio album, Odelay, launching him to become one of the best musicians of our generation. Like Beck’s previous album, Mellow Gold (1994), it was an album of versatility. It blended various genres such as folk, psychedelia, hip-hop, noise rock, and electronic rock. Set apart from this, in 1998, Beck released Mutations. It was the third official studio album that showcased a more folksy and bluesy side of Beck, like in his early days. In other words, it was a return to Beck’s true artistry. In 1998, the public knew Beck for his obscured witty lyrics and eclectic style, featured in his first two official albums. Other than that, what he did was ignored commercially.

After two years of touring, Beck went back into the studio to record a new album. According to Beck, in the VH1 special, Behind the Music, he was going through an acoustic period and wanted to record a no sample-mixed album that was straightforward with some traditional songs. He hired no other than Radiohead producer, Nigel Godrich. In two weeks, they recorded some space-age folk tunes, establishing Beck as an innovative artist. He would name this album Mutations, a transformation from its predecessor. The album wasn’t supposed to be released as an official album due to the change in style from its previous one. Beck meant to release the album independently, but when Geffen – Beck’s major label, heard it, they allegedly swiftly released it. And besides, Nigel Godrich is too good to produce an independent record.

Mutations opens with “Cold Brains,” a psychedelic track about nothing but death. The most memorable verse is its opening, including Beck’s glorious emphasis on the lyric “unglued” or as we know it, “ungluuuUUUed”. Following that, is a languishing and haunting track titled “Nobody’s Fault but My Own”. It’s remorseful, but later drifts towards selfishness and then the narrator falls in a sinister nature of depression. It’s considered to be the most compelling song off the album, embedding elements of Indian music just as Odelay embraced Latin. The track “Lazy Flies,” a never-ending vocal approach from Beck with lyrics like “The skin of a robot vibrates with pleasure”. It sounds almost like a precursor to what would be shown in his spellbinding follow-up Midnite Vultures. Afterwards follows my personal favorite, “Cancelled Check” that depicts a false reassurance. In an interview with KCRW in 1995, Beck stated how the song was inspired by an infomercial, discussing positive thinking and offering the viewer more if they purchase his tape. “We Live Again” was a song written by Beck as a tribute to his grandfather, Al Hansen. Beck’s grandfather was an artist, who employed garbage in his art, like stated in the lyrics: “Turns shit to gold and blows my soul crazy” – a major influence on Beck. The song was a great transition piece into the approaching experimental climax.

A song heard like no other throughout the album is the exotic ”Tropicalia”. It’s a song depicting a festival-like atmosphere celebrating Brazilian music with dancing and such, but behind all of this, “misery awaits”. It’s a tribute to the many Tropicalian artists of the late sixties, including Os Mutantes, who Beck very much admired. In Throwing Frisbees At The Sun: A Book About Beck, Beck stated that he still wakes up early on Sunday mornings and riffles through old stacks of records at various stores hoping to find an old folk collection, or some Tropicalia that he’d never heard of. In an interview by the San Diego Union-Tribune, Beck stated “‘Tropicalia’ was a song loosely about that era of Brazilian music and culture when these musicians were under siege by the powers that be and the music was changing. I found it an exciting time and interesting subject matter.” It’s one of those happy sounding depressing songs. Later songs such as ”Dead Melodies,” “Bottle of Blues,” and “O Maria” continued this beautiful flow the album offers. Furthermore, came the song “Sing It Again,” almost like an encore piece that killed the consistent flow heard throughout the album. At the beginning, Beck is heard saying: “Should we do another one then?” The albums ends with the elegant and heart-wrenching “Static,” a perfect closing for the album, where Beck utters the final lyrics “Be gone”.

The album has now ended, so you think. Out of the speakers, comes this odd Game Boy carnival sound transitioning towards a hard rocking guitar riff. Later, you hear Beck singing on this hidden track, unlike the previous hidden tracks  from earlier albums which are mostly electronic high-pitched noises. The track is entitled “Diamond Bollocks,” which sounds like an extra off Odelay. The style of this hidden track was perfect with what followed a year later.

With the success of Odelay, Beck brought in a new fan base with Mutations and introduced listeners to the softer side of him. With a strong critical reception, it still didn’t reach the potential as its forerunner. It was an album where Beck wanted to be taken seriously. He wasn’t singing about going back to Houston to get some pants or a giant dildo crushing the sun. His lyrics here were much more somber and mature than what he recorded before. It’s not an enigma this time, we know what he is talking about. He echoed and fulfilled that beauty of those early days into something sonorous. Thanks to Mutations, it lead the way for companion albums to follow such as Sea Change (2002) and Morning Phase (2014). Unfortunately, it’s an album overshadowed by its placement within Beck’s discography, but it truly showed Beck after his breakthrough.

10/10 

Favorite Tracks: ALL 

Least Favorite Tracks: ARE YOU KIDDING? 

Listen to Beck’s Mutations here


Golden Earring – Moontan

Golden_Earring_-_Moontan
Track Records

In July of 1973, the Dutch rock band released their ninth studio album, Moontan. Hairy chests and colorful clothing was what now Golden Earring was presenting. They were also progressing more towards mainstream hard rock. They were successful. In 1973, their single, “Radar Love” became a radio hit and went to number-one on the Dutch charts and reached number-thirteen on the Billboard charts in the United States. It also hit Top Ten in many countries, including the UK, Australia, Germany, and Spain. It became a showstopper at concerts and helped the band achive worldwide fame. Golden Earring went from small ballrooms to the grand stage.

Moontan opens with the track “Candy Says”. It includes a heavy guitar riff attached with Barry Hay’s future-eighties vocals, implicating just as how Golden Earring was ahead of their time. “Suzy Lunacy (Mental Rock) blends hard rock with glam and sounds as if, T-Rex wrote a song for The Rocky Horror Show. On “Just like Vince Taylor,” Golden Earring imitates the mainstream hard rock style, sounding like KISS and Aerosmith. This was perfect because both groups opened for Golden Earring during their 1973-1974 tour, which might’ve been the influence for a sound like theirs. There is some long and consistent instrumentation that can be boring on some tracks including “Are You Receiving Me” and “The Vanilla Queen”. Nevertheless, these tracks showcase Golden Earring in their natural habitat, progressive rock.

Moontan holds more than just a single. From the first chord to the last, it fuses various genres. It was an that was overshadowed by its lead single. Moontan was the pivotal point in Golden Earring’s career, never achieving the success here again, until ten years later, with their hit “Twilight Zone.”

8/10 

Favorite Tracks: “Candy’s Going Bad,” “Suzy Lunacy (Mental Rock),” “Radar Love”

Least Favorite Tracks: “Are You Receiving Me,” “The Vanilla Queen”

Listen to Golden Earring’s Moontan here