Thursday, May 19, 2011

What's New?: 5.19.2011 Part One

All dollar bin finds. . .

Led Zeppelin — Led Zeppelin IV (a/k/a 'Zoso' a/k/a 'Untitled') (1971)

Technically a re-acquisition, but never really heard with contemporary ears (read on for the full story). This would be the unidentified grey spine on the top of today's scan. I've really had a tough go of things with Led Zeppelin, honestly. I bought up their entire discography when I was twenty because I worked at a used record store and felt like I should dress it, if I was going to play the part. Never really got into it, honestly. Soon learned about all the stealing (or "borrowing" if you prefer it that way) they did and just couldn't jive with the longhaired rockstar attitude mostly. Fast forward ten years and I'm a Fairport Convention fan and kind of a lonely guy, so I'm prone to musical chance taking. Zeppelin IV for a buck? Why not? And guess what? Despite the stealing, despite Robert Plant's still kind of annoying screamy voice, I like it. It fulfills that "rockin' out" urge that I get every so often. I found Zeppelin III (easily the band's most "folky" album — a sure fit for me) at a thrift store (for seventy seven cents, no less) a few months back, so I've been taking that in as well lately. And I genuinely like it. I guess I can look past all the "borrowing" and rockstar posturing and just appreciate this (and III) for just really solid albums of a bunch of guys sitting in the studio just vibing off the same creative wave. I've been very outspoken in the past about how much I couldn't stand these guys, but, all along, I've been too much of a classicist to fully subscribe to that. Overplayed as it may be, you really do have to marvel at the outright scope of 'Stairway to Heaven.' It's essentially the first "power ballad" if you would like to apply that term. 'The Battle of Evermore' is the highlight for me because it takes the folk rock explosion and legitimately translates it to the hard rock crowd. Good stuff. Surprisingly.

U2 — Boy (1980)

October (1981)

and War (1983)

I've had a go of it with u2 over the years, as well. If you look at what they were doing and when they were doing it, it should have been a no-brainer that I should be into them. But, as I got into them in retrospect, I always had a hard time separating the band from the early 8o's from the Bono-led behemoth that I knew from the early and mid-9o's. A mixtape from Dave a while back (awesomely subtitled 'The Lillywhite Years' and fully consisting of material from these three albums) put me into a different train of thought entirely. Sure, I knew 'I Will Follow' and 'Sunday Bloody Sunday' already. But what about 'An Cat Dubh' (and it's awesome segue into the equally awesome 'Into the Heart') or 'Stranger in a Strange Land' or even 'New Year's Day'? Yeah, I fucked up by judging the band by its contemporary output and not their roots. All three albums are just undeniably strong post-punk. The Edge's guitar —with all of its Mike Oldfield, John Martyn and Vini Reilly influences— is just ace throughout all three albums. And while I find that I like the first album the best, October seems to me to be very underrated. Because it's the most consistent of the three, by far, It lacks the gargantuan highlights of the two albums that surround it, but it's the more listenable of the three albums, that's for sure. Still, as solid as all this stuff is, I give the ultimate nod to the first album, just based on pure sound. Any album with a side one that strong has to be the best something. I still prefer Unforgettable Fire (and, to a lesser extent, Joshua Tree) to all of these albums. But good god damn, pleased as punch to finally have them around at my whim.

Midnight Oil — 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 (1983)

and Red Sails in the Sunset (1984)

I've long-avoided Midnight Oil for some reason or another. I have an early teen memory of watching Peter Garrett flail around like a madman on Saturday Night Live and thinking something along the lines of, "Australia must be weird." Who can say no to spending two dollars on a band you've wanted to check out for years? Certainly not I. 10 is a good record, but overwhelming. I mean, sheesh, it starts with the weird paranoia of 'Outside World' erupts into the schizo rock of 'Only the Strong' and then moves into the dark jangle of 'Short Memory.' And that's just the first three songs! It does have a strong strummy alt-pop base to it all and it especially gets good on side two. But I think the band really got cluster-effingly great on Red Sails in the Sunset. It takes all the angry, liberal Cold War paranoia to its absolute extreme (just have a look at the cover) and the tunes are there with just about every track. It is very mazelike, as songs will end abruptly and the next song will begin almost immediately, but it's pretty darn seamless and the whole thing hangs together as an entire piece. The subject matter, by nature, is pretty dark and this all comes to head with the first three minutes of 'Jimmy Sharman's Boxers' sounding like something not that far off from the Cure's Pornography. Overall, two really solid albums that I feel like I've really only touched the surface of so far. It will take many more listens for these to fully absorb.

Dire Straits — Dire Straits (1978)

It's been said before, but it's relevant as hell, so why not repeat the same old stuff: Dire Straits, especially on this album, was like a classic folk rock band playing through a post-punk mindset and production philosophy. I mean, to hell with the rest of their catalogue. But, seriously, listen to Mark Knopfler's jangly twangy guitar sound. How can anybody not love the George Harrison-style slide guitar on top of low-key, tunefully wah-wah'd rhythm strums and a nearly ambient sensibility in the atmospherics? Seriously, what is it that makes the sound of this otherwise nice (and, admittedly, refreshing; especially in 1978) roots-rock album so engaging? I guess that's just it: the low-key, genuine and stripped down sound of the production. Maybe it's because Mark Knopfler was nearly thirty by the time he released this album, but he sounds downright past all of the hype. Seriously, is this the band's first or last album? I can't tell. Much like R.E.M., they certainly never made another album quite like it. The riffs are definitely indebted to the blues, but sometimes, like on the rightful standout 'Sultans of Swing,' they take on a weird, angular pattern that clearly betrays the album's origin. Mark Knopfler may have known every Dylan and Robert Johnson lick in the book, but he was (perhaps subconsciously) playing with the punks and their offspring in mind. So, ultimately, this may be the perfect album for people like me: the type who have a short patience for classic rock and the blues as interpreted by 60's/70's rockers, but who also do love to hear that thing when done right and, most of all —and most importantly— love the punk and the new wave philosophy. Because this album certainly has all of that.

Romeo Void — Never Say Never EP (1981)

Basically continuing in the vein of their classic first album It's A Condition. I've always been a big proponent of that album since I first heard it about a decade ago. And, unfortunately, it's somewhat of a (still) lost American post-punk classic. Like the good independent-minded band that they were, they kept on and released this EP the same year as their debut album. It's pretty much a continuation of that album, with a bit more of a sheen in the production. But still, wow at how good these four songs are. Could've taken some of these, switched them out for lesser moments on It's a Condition and had a really stunning album that would've competed with the post-punk goliaths. Instead, I hear it as another swipe at greatness by a band that simply didn't know any better than putting the lyric "I might like you better if we slept together" in their initial shot at the charts (wtf do I know — it's actually their most popular song in hindsight). The other three songs here have that awesomely dreary post-Joy Division dark jangle sound to them, all laced with Ben Bossi's appropriate new wave sax and Deborah Iyall's articulately bleak words on human interaction. The whole thing is great and really makes you appreciate the band as one of the unsung heroes of American post-punk. 415 Records: salute.


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