Monday, December 26, 2011

What's New?: 12.26.2011

Been slacking off lately, so let's just get right into this one. . .
Bob Dylan — Self Portrait (1970)

I guess if you believe rumors and Bob's own whimsical soundbites, this album was supposed to be bad. Sure, it's not up to the standards he had established for himself, but I don't really see how anyone who likes albums like John Wesley Harding, Nashville Skyline and New Morning (a personal favorite of mine) can truly dislike this one.  At two records, containing plenty of covers and even some questionable live performances, it is a bit intimidating.  But how can you argue with songs like the drunken rockout 'The Mighty Quinn' or the almost pastoral 'All the Tired Horses'?  Sure, it essentially sounds like Bob clearing his vaults from his preceding two or three albums, but when you're as good as Bob Dylan was during these years, even your "crap" is listenable.  Not a masterpiece, but certainly not deserving of its bad reputation.

Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era 1965-1968
Seriously good stuff. Some people call it psych, some call it garage, I just think it's a good 60's pop by bands that had no idea they were capable of being accessible. The kickoff track is the enduring classic 'I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)' by the Electric Prunes, so that's just an absolute perfect way to start a compilation like this. I knew that one already, but the rest of the album had some real surprises for me; biggest of which was the moddy 'Don't Look Back' by the Remains (hailing from Boston!) is just about in my songs of the year list. Elsewhere, enjoyable Beatles and Bob Dylan knockoffs show up respectively in the Knickerbockers' 'Lies' and Mouse's 'A Public Execution' and I find these little oddities to be pure fun. There's covers too: the Leaves take an appropriately acid-soaked stab at Jimi's 'Hey Joe' while the Mojo Men seemingly try to bubblegum it up on a take of the mighty Buffalo Springfield's 'Sit Down I Think I Love You.' Overall, it's twenty seven tracks: all killer, no filler. How could it be anything else when it's the compilation that has birthed a series of boxsets?

Pink Floyd — A Nice Pair (1967/1968)
Just the albums Piper at the Gates of Dawn and A Saucerful of Secrets together as a two record album. No problems there. Piper is, of course, British psychedelic madness and a far cry from the Floyd as many would come to know them five years later. Not better or worse; just vastly different. I used to have it on CD years ago, but I honestly can't remember what happened to it (how appropriate). Mr. Gilmour was not yet in the band at that point and it's hard not to listen to it now and not hear it as totally "trippy man." Good tunes though, for sure. 'Lucifer Sam' manages to have a killer bassline, be totally psychedelic without getting carried and it's a great pop tune all simultaneously. 'Interstellar Overdrive' is pretty much the band at its most arty, and boy do I love it. Full disclosure time: 'Bike' has always been the clear highlight of this for me. A total goof of a song, I don't care; listen to all the wacky stuff in the arrangements. Musically, it's just silly and completely disregards all conventions, while acknowledging just about all of them within a time frame of less than four minutes. Secrets, the band's second proper album and record two of this collection, however, was completely new to me. And I must be a bad person, because I prefer it. Maybe it's still the freshness factor at this point, but it feels less gimmicky. I like how the is more sparse as well. It's just as trippy as Piper, but among the tempos of the actual tunes and the more nuanced production (which emphasizes the atmospherics of the keyboards), it just has a more "complete" sound to me. 'Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun' is just excellent if you ask me (and it makes me think of Tangerine Dream more than a little bit — a good two years before they released their first album, too!). The title track is dark and sounds like a bad trip, but it's twelve minutes of artsy brilliance in the long run. 'See-Saw' looks ahead to the future, while 'Jugband Blues' is Syd Barrett's lone contribution to the album. Probably his best song on a Floyd album, ever. Fantastic stuff.

Squeeze — Babylon and On (1987)
The gratuitous 80's sax all over the opener 'Hourglass' should be a clue as to what Squeeze was up to here. Certainly past their prime, but not without enough good tunes to overcome the cheesy production of the day. So, yeah. Despite the really cheesy production, the band still has some choons left in them. Nothing life changing, but darn good rewarding fun for an 80's dork like me. Other nice ones on here are 'Cigarette of a Single Man' and the lyrically weird 'Some Americans' (a good indicator of why the band never truly made it over here, perhaps?).

Squeeze — Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti (1985)
This is a good snapshot of a new wave band trying to stay afloat in the mid-80's and failing nobly. Still good tunes buried beneath all the overproduction ('Last Time Forever' for instance would be a great song under another presentation). The closer is the hilariously titled 'I Won't Ever Go Drinking Again (?)' and it's a completely weird dub-reggae riddim-laced, puzzle-esuqe jangler with a nearly ragtime piano break. Admirable as it may be for a band to try so much in the face of overproduction, it's a good zeitgeist for the whole album as it feels like they're trying too hard most of the time.

Squeeze — Sweets From a Stranger (1982)
When the album starts out with a very Devo-esque drum machine and synthesizer riff on 'Out of Touch' and then explodes into one of those incredibly swooping classic Squeeze vocal hooks, you should be at 'Aww hellzz yeeeaahh!!' status. It's one of the best (and most underrated) tunes. The rest of the album is not quite as good as East Side Story or Argybargy, but it hangs right in there with the band's initial run of early classics. 'Black Coffee in Bed' was the big hit from this one and I still love that song, no matter how many times I hear it. There are some classic-sounding Squeeze new wavers like 'I've Returned' and 'I Can't Hold On' that are just great pop tunes, while the closer 'Elephant Ride' is among the band's best tunes. And, overall, I have hard time thinking that a fan of the albums that preceded it wouldn't get completely into this one as well (I certainly did!).

Chris Squire — Fish Out of Water (1975)
Yep, the Rickenbacker bass playing guy from Yes. With Bill Bruford on drums, similar song structures to Yes and Chris' very Jon Anderson-esuqe vocal timbre, it's pretty much a sure shot for fans of any Yes albums up to (and including) Topographic Oceans. Seriously, listen to how much he sounds like Jon Anderson on the album's first two tracks. It does have that great pastoral, world-within-a-world feel of the best Yes material and I really just dig it. At times, it does play like the great lost Yes album, just because of the way it sounds. A funky backbeat melds into very jazz-fusiony improvisation on 'Lucky Seven' while the orchestrated, several movement epic 'Safe (Canon Song)' is the best Yes song that never was. Extremely good stuff for fans of 70's Yes (which is why I'm here, obviously).

Love — Love (1966)
Epic dollar bin win! Not sure why this was in there, but I question nothing when it comes to the dollar bin. I've slowly been getting into Love over the past couple years, but this first album has eluded me for some time. Finally have it and I have to say, boy do they sound like the Byrds! I love that, especially since they're a little more garage-y and weird. But that wonderful jangle is there at the base of it all. The bulk of the material here captures that longing melancholy that the best 60's possesses and, truly, it's all the better for it. 'A Message to Pretty' sums up the band's perfect synthesis of folk rock earthiness, kitschy penchants in their songwriting and the amateur garage-y playing. Love it. Elsewhere 'My Flash on You' just plain rocks while 'Softly to Me' is arguably the band's best song ever. Classic material. Hard to think that they actually created a more well-rounded and complete album than this one.


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