Friday, June 29, 2007

John Cale - Circus Live (2007)


You might have gotten tired about hearing about John Cale after my review of his live show, but his new live album seems to stand out to me and really is pretty good. And as word has been sparse about it on this side of the ocean (since it hasn't yet been released in North America as far as I know), I figure I'll spread the word. It's actually a bit odd that John Cale doesn't get much respect in America. His input into the Velvet Underground is often overlooked in favor of Lou Reed, who may be cool, but isn't actually as cool or straight-up creative as John Cale. What can Lou Reed do? Play a mean guitar and sing like a rock star. John Cale, though, can play viola, keyboard, bass, guitar, probably anything, and sing like an angry punk or a melodic troubadour. Cale has worked with Brian Eno several times (such as the famous June 1, 1974 concert with Nico and Kevin Ayers, Cale's mid-70s Island albums, which featured Eno's synth all over them, and Wrong Way Up, a collaboration between the two), but Cale is an influential figure himself. As I mentioned in my review of the concert of his I saw, he arranged, produced, and played most of the instruments on most of Nico's albums, produced Squeeze's first album, the Modern Lovers' only album, the Stooges' first album, Patti Smith's first album (Horses), and Siouxsie & the Banshee's last album. Bauhaus loved to cover his obscurity "Rosegarden Funeral of Sores", Billy Bragg does "Fear Is a Man's Best Friend", David J (bassist of Bauhaus and Love & Rockets) does "Fear", "Antarctica Starts Here", and "Ship of Fools", Siouxsie & the Banshees do "Gun", and the Teardrop Explodes do "I'm Not the Loving Kind" (as I've mentioned before). Put simply, Cale rules.

I apologize right now for how ridiculously long this review is. It's a long album, after all.


Artist: John Cale
Album: Circus Live
Release Date: February 19, 2007
Label: EMI

Tracklisting:

Disc 1:
01. Venus in Furs [originally performed by the Velvet Underground]
02. Save Us
03. Helen of Troy
04. Woman
05. Buffalo Ballet
06. Femme Fatale [originally performed by the Velvet Underground] → Rosegarden Funeral of Sores
07. Hush
08. Outta the Bag
09. Set Me Free
10. The Ballad of Cable Hogue
11. Look Horizon
12. Magritte
13. Dirty Ass Rock 'n' Roll

Disc 2:
01. Walkin' the Dog [Rufus Thomas Jr. cover]
02. Gun
03. Hanky Panky Nohow
04. Pablo Picasso [Modern Lovers cover] → Mary Lou
05. Drone – Into Amsterdam Suite
06. Zen
07. Style It Takes
08. Heartbreak Hotel [Elvis Presley cover]
09. Mercenaries (Ready for War)
10. Outro Drone

DVD:

Electric Rehearsal:
1. Model Beirut Recital [partial]
2. Sold Motel [partial]
3. Gun
4. Reading My Mind [partial]
5. Heartbreak Hotel [Elvis Presley cover]

Acoustic Rehearsal:
1. Dancing Undercover
2. You Know More Than I Know
3. Gravel Drive
4. Chorale
5. Ghost Story

Extras:
1. Jumbo in the Modern World [promo video]
2. Gravel Drive (Blathamix) [audio track]
3. Big White Cloud (2007 Version) [audio track]

Analysis:
The songs here were recorded by Cale and his live band during his 2004 and 2006 European tours, and it's interesting to compare the song selection with what I saw on his 2007 European tour. To be honest, all the songs come from a slightly bigger collection of songs that he liked to play these days. Looking at other setlists, you can clearly see he has a certain number of songs that form his basic repertoire and he picks a good count to do at any given moment. I'll mostly discuss what I think sounds particularly interesting here and maybe compare a little with the performance I saw.

The album opens with the Velvet Underground's "Venus in Furs", which was written by Lou Reed but is mostly memorable for Cale's thick droning viola. The performance here is faithful to the recording, and it works well. Cale then proceeds to do "Save Us" and "Helen of Troy" from his Island years and then "Woman" from his latest album, 2005's Black Acetate. This sort of mix of old and new forms the basis of this album. "Helen of Troy" rocks pretty hard, even more so than the recorded version, and now that I've heard the live version several times, I prefer it to the original version. The female spoken parts in the original kind of annoy me now, and although I like the horn part in the recording, the riff works just fine on an effects-laden live guitar, too.

"Buffalo Ballet" is done quite faithfully and shows the sweeter, more melodic and acoustic side of Cale that shows up now and then. Later in the album, Cale does similarly low-key versions of "Set Me Free" and "The Ballad of Cable Hogue". All three are beautifully done and contrast well with the more rocking material. The concert I saw had a very large number of these types of songs, which I thought worked really well.

The first really interesting song is the medley of the Lou Reed-penned "Femme Fatale" (originally sung on the first Velvet Underground record by Nico) with Cale's obscure b-side "Rosegarden Funeral of Sores", a song perhaps better known a staple from Bauhaus' live performances. The medley skillfully interweaves the two songs, mostly playing around with the main riff of "Rosegarden" while alternating verses from both songs and changing the root of the riff as necessary for "Femme Fatale".

The newer song "Hush" doesn't seem to go anywhere and is the first weaker track. If you listen to the album so that there are gaps between each song, you can clearly hear the fade-out of the song (as it must have kept on going), but without the gap, it sounds like the band just suddenly shifts into the recent single "Outta the Bag", which is quite an improvement. They may have done it that way in concert, but depending on your playback system, the production either sounds kind of tellingly bad or really good. "Outta the Bag" has some weird sampled effects, but the song sounds rather good, and I love the wordless vocalizations over the ending jam, presumably done by Cale's backing musicians.

"Magritte" is a fairly good song introduced as being "about [his] favorite painter", which in itself is pretty cool, but the song is also one of the few Cale ever does on viola. It is followed by the thoroughly rocking "Dirty Ass Rock 'n' Roll", which is perhaps even better than the original. The piano sound and the guitar workouts work so well. The song goes on for a bit while everyone jams their heart out.

The second disc features more radical reworkings of classic Cale songs. "Walkin' the Dog" is an old standard by Rufus Thomas Jr. that a lot of people like to cover for reasons I fail to understand; I don't think the song is all that great, but I guess it's kind of fun, and Cale does a fairly good job with it. (He had previously released a version of the song on his first live album, Sabotage/Live in 1979.)

"Gun", which in the studio was a long, seriously rocking song with a two-man solo featuring Brian Eno throwing his effects board on the guitar solo, is here presented as an even longer piece, more atmospheric and slow. Considering the nature of the song, I think that's a poor choice as it drags too much and gets a bit boring. It's not too bad, though, and the best part of the rendition that it seamlessly transitions into Cale's classic "Hanky Panky Nohow". I didn't even notice the seque the first time I listened until Cale started singing the chorus. The version here is very minimalist, but for the song it works weel.

The "Pablo Picasso" → "Mary Lou" medley is also pretty good, albeit maybe a little indulgent in the extended jam that links the songs, but this is a rock band, after all. The medley rocks pretty hard, and it feels like the musicians are really into the songs. "Pablo Picasso" seems to be one of Cale's favorite songs to cover, which is interesting considering that it's a Modern Lovers song, and he produced the album the recording is found on. I can't help but like Cale's sneering rendition of the repeated line, "Pablo Picasso never got called an asshole". The lyrics aren't really amazing, but the point that fame can lead people to overlook character flaws still comes through. This is the last song before the "Amsterdam Suite", and the main "set" appropriately ends with Cale repeatedly singing "goodnight" throughout the outro of "Mary Lou".

The so-called "Amsterdam Suite" is basically a fragment of a spacey acoustic set Cale did with a few different musicians in Amsterdam in 2004. (A video of the whole concert can be found here. [Edit 2014.06.16: Not anymore, apparently.]) When I first saw the tracklist, I hoped that the "song" "Drone – Into Amsterdam Suite" implied that Cale would do a version of his old song "Amsterdam", but such is not the case. It's just a long drone, just like the "Outro Drone". These two tracks are largely worthless (except to prove that "outro" is a word) but they do mimic the intro and outro of the concert I witnessed.

"Zen" goes by slowly and has a pretty, shimmering keyboard throughout. I think this song and Cale's homeland inspired the name of his biography, What's Welsh for Zen?, which I think is a great title. "Style It Takes" is from Cale's 1990 collaboration with Lou Reed, Songs for Drella, which was a song cycle dedicated to Andy Warhol, the "producer" of the first Velvets album. This particular song is a bit humorous and self-referential, and it sounds great due to some great keyboard, sound effects, and banjo.

"Heartbreak Hotel", the Presley standard, is done as a slow, atmospheric piece, devoid of the rocking guitars of Cale's normal version, although the version he played at the concert I saw was noticeably different from either version. This version is totally minimalist and barely holds together. It's cool that Cale is experimenting around, as it works okay here, but when I couldn't even make up a single word he sang in his pitch-shifted version at the concert I saw, I count that as a bit of a drawback.

"Mercenaries" largely has the same story as "Gun" or "Heartbreak Hotel", which can be seen as unfortunate or interesting. I've never heard the original version, because the original recording was only released on a vinyl single and never reissued anywhere (since the master was lost), and the other original version is the live take on Cale's first live album, Sabotage/Live, which I cannot find a copy of anywhere. My understanding is that the original rocks out, with is quite contrary to this version. It's so slow and drawn out, which could be cool, but it feels like this song could have benefited from a bit more of something. [Edit 2014.06.16: I have since heard both original versions, and indeed, both versions are powerful rockers.]

So this is a long review. Anyhow, the whole thing comes with a DVD, too, which has some interesting material on it. The rehearsal features a bunch of songs that don't appear on the CDs, several of which were performed at the concert I saw. (You can even see the drummer playing his box as I mentioned in my live review!) Since these are rehearsals, a few of the songs break down or are edited, but you do get to see several full performances. There's also the requisite banter, but the best is when Cale dons his old ski mask as he used to in concert (and as seen on the cover of the Guts compilation.)


The electric rehearsal tracks include another protracted version of "Heartbreak Hotel" in yet another arrangement. This version rocks a bit harder but is still fairly abstract. The version of "Gun" is here done closer to the rocking original version, but they somehow play the song in three minutes instead of eight. The acoustic rehearsals include some solid renditions of Cale classics like "Dancing Undercover", "You Know More Than I Know", and "Ghost Story", which is a real treat. The "Jumbo in the Modern World" video is a CG-heavy affair featuring weird creatures that consume all beauty in the world and then each other, ending in the last surviving member vomiting up the entire world.

The two audio tracks are fairly interesting. "Outta the Bag (Blathamix)" isn't really very great, but I haven't actually heard the normal version, so I don't know how much is the song versus the mix. I suspect it's the mix that fails, as it's overly electronics-laden and it doesn't go anywhere. I accidentally listened to it once while fast-forwarding my DVD at 1.5 speed, and it sounds noticeably better and doesn't drag as much. "Big White Cloud (2007 Version)" is simply an update of the original, with a bigger atmospheric background. It isn't particularly revelatory, but it's certainly not bad.

Review:
The album was culled from Cale's 2004 and 2006 tours, but like the show I saw in 2007, Cale plays a wide array of material. He's got old Velvet Underground material, songs from his earliest albums, several songs from his famed Island years, and several songs from his last few albums. The mix is interesting and flows fairly well, and he re-arranges a lot of his songs, for better or worse. Perhaps even more than the concert I saw, the record relies on a bit more recent material than older, which makes sense as Cale does have older live albums with some of the same material, and he's only really re-arranged a limited number of his songs so many times. Still, it's a good listen, but I should warn that I adore Cale's 70s albums but know little about anything thereafter (and I love the Velvet Underground), so many of these songs were completely new to me. He's backed by a solid band, and he can rock out on request.

The album's actually a fair introduction to the man and his music, and it's a great album for a longtime fan. I only wish that his new arrangements of old songs were less dependent on just being long, droning space-versions. I know Cale loves his ambience and drones, but I think he could do some really more interesting things. Or just provide more variety. All the medleys, be they done that way live or just skillfully mixed in the album production, work really well. The two medleys that were clearly done live (that is, "Femme Fatale" → "Rosegarden Funeral of Sores" and "Pablo Picasso" → "Mary Lou"; I'm not entirely confident about the "Hush" → "Outta the Bag" or the "Gun" → "Hanky Panky Nohow" segues... they could have been done live or via post-production) are two of the best tracks on the album, and both were fairly cleverly arranged. Do note that slower songs are not necessarily bad: as I said before, "Buffalo Ballet" and "Style It Takes" (among others) succeed well with the more thoughtful approach.

The DVD is also makes for a fun little viewing. It isn't totally enlightening or anything, but you get to see the band having fun and playing parts of songs you don't hear on the CDs. Not fantastic, but it's there and it's not bad. The video is worth a watching, and the audio tracks are worth a listen. Unlike the CDs, which I think merit repeated listenings, the DVD is only worth watching maybe a couple times, but it is fairly interesting.

Scores:
CDs: B+
DVD: C+
Whole package: B
Full "Amsterdam Suite" performance as seen here [Edit 2014.06.16: Sorry, no longer available.]: B-

Monday, June 25, 2007

Falco - Einzelhaft (1982)

I think the first time I'd heard of Falco was when someone (probably one of my sisters) played his first major single, "Der Kommissar". (I remained rather unaware of his other big single ("Rock Me Amadeus") for a long time.) I've always liked the song a lot, and as I've been learning German for about six years now, it was also another part of the wonderful culture I have tried to connect myself with. (In fact, the only time I've heard the song on the radio was while in Germany three years ago.)

At some point before studying abroad in Vienna, I learned that Falco was not only an Austrian, but a true Wiener (that is, he's from Vienna; don't get the wrong idea), and I bought a 12" single of "Der Kommissar". While living in Vienna, I found a copy of his debut album, Einzelhaft (basically, "solitary confinement") for sale at a good price, so I bought it, and I really liked it. Shortly afterward, I decided to go to the Zentralfriedhof (Central Graveyard) of Vienna, where Falco, Mozart, and many other composers, authors, politicians, artists, and commoners are buried. Somehow I couldn't find Falco's grave, so I had to make a second pilgrimage after consulting a map that a fan made online. It's awesome:

Later, while in Graz, the second biggest city in Austria, I happened to find a reasonably-priced copy of Falco 3, which opens with "Rock Me Amadeus". I like Einzelhaft better, but Falco 3 sold better. Therefore, I'm going to review Einzelhaft and mention Falco 3 a fair amount at the same time.

Artist: Falco
Album: Einzelhaft ("Solitary Confinement")
Year: 1982
Label: A&M (USA), Gig Records (Austria/Germany)

Tracklist:
01. Zuviel Hitze ("Too Much Heat")
02. Der Kommissar ("The Commissioner")
03. Siebzehn Jahr ("Seventeen Years (Old)")
04. Auf der Flucht ("On the Run")
05. Ganz Wien ("All of Vienna")
06. Maschine Brennt ("Machine Burns")
07. Hinter uns die Sintflut ("Behind Us the Flood")
08. Nie Mehr Schule ("No More School")
09. Helden von Heute ("Heroes of Today")
10. Einzelhaft

Analysis:
If lyrics are any indication of character traits, Falco is a Vienna-loving drug user. "Zuviel Hitze", "Der Kommissar", and "Ganz Wien" are all clearly about drugs. "
Zuviel Hitze" discusses overdosing (but is open to other similar interpretations): "es hat zuviel Hitze, und da friere ich" ("there's too much heat and I'm freezing") and "Staub zu Staub vergeht / ich komme viel zu spät" ("ashes to ashes die away / I'm coming much too late").

"Zuviel Hitze", though, simply cannot match either of the other songs discussing drug use. "Der Kommissar", a #1 single in at least seven countries, was the song that rocketed Falco to international fame. After the Fire, an otherwise forgettable American band, did a cover with fairly faithfully-translated lyrics that got to #3 in America, and one of Trent Reznor's first bands, Option 30, also did a cover with some hilarious vocal work from Reznor. The themes of the song are fairly straightforward: finding drugs and avoiding the police. The song has a good synthy feel and a fantastic guitar hook, and the chorus is irresistibly catchy: "dreh' dich nicht um / der Kommissar geht um / er wird dich anschauen / und du weißt warum / die Lebenslust bringt dich um / alles klar, Herr Kommissar?" ("don't turn around / the commissioner's around / he will look at you / and you know why / your lust to live will kill you / everything clear, sir commissioner?")

The key to "Ganz Wien" lies in the main chorus line: "ganz Wien / ist heut' auf Heroin" ("all of Vienna / is on heroin today"). The song pulses smoothly and rather slowly along, but it has a good rock feel and would make a good mid-tempo dance song. As per normal for Falco, synths abound and a good, distorted guitar adds texture. The song makes a few subtle specifically-Vienna references, such as the ball season there (the Opernball ("Opera Ball") is huge) and the U4, one of the original U-Bahn (subway) lines running through the city, partially along the Wienfluss (Vienna River).

"Siebzehn Jahr" is the only straight romantically-themed song the album, which to me is great. (I get really annoyed when bands can only sing about romance. It's a great theme to sing about, but so are many, many other things. For example, politics and history.) The girl of focus here is dating a film star and successfully manages to keep her youthful age a secret.

"Auf der Flucht" discusses two cities at different points in history: West Berlin, 1967, and Zürich, 1982. The title apparently refers to running away from the crises and problems in these places. I know the story of Berlin (the Wall, overzealous police force, entrapment due to Soviet influence on all sides, etc.) but I really don't know the Zürich story. Something about unsuccessful protests against some sort of financial situation... can anyone help me here? In any case, it's interesting and has a good driving synth riff. One must ask, though, why Falco didn't mention the Berlin-like situation in Vienna right after World War II (it was also divided between the four main Allied powers for ten years).

"Hinter uns die Sintflut" is about a scandal involving the discovery of an until then-successful money-laundering big-businessman. "Nie Mehr Schule" is a catchy and straightforward piece about having enough school and wanting to just have fun. "Helden von Heute", like "Ganz Wien", is more mid-tempo, but still driving, rockish, and danceable, with some staple synth-and-guitar work. The song appears at first to just be about being trendy and hip, but then mentions (in English) "no future" and then name-checks New Wave (clearly the movement Falco is a part of), but says of it, "ist heute das Wort für nichts Besseres mehr zu tun" ("[it] is today the word for having nothing better to do").

Review and Comparison with Falco 3:
If there's one thing you can say about Falco, it's that he loves Vienna. Keeping in mind that Wien is the German word for Vienna, consider that he has an album titled
Wiener Blut ("Viennese Blood") and several songs about or mentioning the city ("Ganz Wien" ("All of Vienna"), "Vienna Calling", etc.). And if there's one thing you can say has changed about me since studying abroad, it's that I love Vienna. And it follows that I love Falco, but to be fair, his music isn't perfect.

There is something of a typical "Falco sound" (not too far from the typical New Wave sound...), and Falco doesn't really even try to avoid it. In fact, he appears to love it. However, to at least some degree, he is subject to the influence of whoever is (co-)producing and (co-)writing his music: Einzelhaft was a collaboration with Robert Ponger, but the far more poppy-sounding Falco 3 was a collaboration with Rob and Ferdi Bolland, who were clearly concerned with producing big hits. Falco 3 is loaded with plenty of hits ("Rock Me Amadeus" (a funky song about Mozart and how much of a punk he was), "Vienna Calling" (straightforward pop about.... nothing), "Jeanny" (which tries way too hard to be a big ballad), and "America" (humorously about selling records there, missing being there, and an American trying to buy a Wiener Schnitzel in Austria)), but ultimately feels very shallow. (Also... lame cover:)

Whereas the pop and gloss of Einzelhaft is redeemed by mostly clever lyrics, the novelty of being 95% German, and simply good music, Falco 3 fails to have any depth. There's too much English, too much poppyness without good reason, and the closing cover of Bob Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" is so passive, elevator-music-esque, and forgettable that one has to wonder why Falco bothered. (A rewrite of the Cars' "Lookin' for Love" as "Munich Girls" works somewhat better.)

Einzelhaft is a fun romp through nearly campy nostalgia and novelty, but even beyond that, as a serious work, it is fairly good. Wikipedia mentions the influence of David Bowie's Eno-assisted Low album, but the connection is thin. (Wikipedia goes as far as to say that "Nie mehr Schule" borrows "Speed of Life"'s music and "Helden von Heute" is a rewrite of "Heroes", but I think neither are the case.) The music is very New Wave, with lots of synth and a good dose of guitar. The beat is always danceable, and weird sound effects can be found on the fringes. Also important is just how catchy the album is (something can't really deny about Falco 3, also).

Eventually I'll get around to checking out more of Falco's albums... he has several more, most of which were #1 smashes in Austria (and sometimes in Germany, too), but the two I've discussed here and probably the only two people know anything about in America. I half want Nachtflug ("Night Flight") just for the cover:

Should you ask which Falco album to buy, get Einzelhaft. It's more fulfilling, and as far as #1 singles go, "Der Kommissar" is better than "Rock Me Amadeus".

Scores:
Einzelhaft: B
Falco 3: D+ (D is for "disappointing", remember. It isn't horrible, just... not as good as Einzelhaft.)
"Der Kommissar": A+
"Rock Me Amadeus": B+
Falco's grave: A+ (Literally the best I've ever seen.)

Note that you can find translations of many Falco songs (including most of Einzelhaft) at http://www.falco-calling.com/translat.htm.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Trent Reznor & Peter Murphy - Live Radio Shows 2006

I first got in to Nine Inch Nails in middle school, presumably from the influence of my sisters. The band and its core member, Trent Reznor, remained near the top of my list of favorite artists until mid-highschool, when I explored the post-punk scene that I now adore. That's not to say I don't like their/his old music; I still spin it now and then, it's just that other things have stolen my primary interest, such as Bauhaus, and by extension, their lead singer and later a semi-successful solo artist, Peter Murphy.

Then, in 2005, something wonderful happened. Bauhaus reunited to play a series of concerts (which I missed, but my old friend Julius did not, and he kindly lent me a recording of the Boston show he saw), and they had enough fun to do a second tour, sharing the bill with Nine Inch Nails. This wasn't the first time NIN had shared a bill with one of Reznor's favorite artists: in 1995, he shared the stage with David Bowie, who was touring his Brian Eno-produced album Outside.

I found that cool but didn't think too much of the NIN part until I started hanging out with Keagan, who reminded me about the band and their new records. My interest still wasn't entirely piqued until I caught word of a small set of radio shows the two bands did together.

I had heard rumor that during concerts the two lead singers would sometimes sing each others' songs, but I found no proof until I found a bootleg of the four radio shows the two did together. Sure enough, the two musicians sing each other's songs and play some oddball and/or fun covers on top of it all.


Artist: Trent Reznor and Peter Murphy, with guests

Session 1: 99x, Atlanta, Georgia, June 7, 2006
1. Head Like a Hole [originally by Nine Inch Nails]
2. Sanity Assassin [originally by Bauhaus]
3. Hurt [originally by Nine Inch Nails]

Session 2: DC101, Washington, DC, June 13, 2006, with TV on the Radio (the tour's opening act)
1. Dreams [originally by TV on the Radio]
2. Final Solution [Pere Ubu cover, previously covered by Peter Murphy]
3. Bela Lugosi's Dead [originally by Bauhaus]

Session 3: WBCN, Boston, Massachusetts, June 23, 2006, with Jeordie White and Atticus Ross (NIN's bassist and programmer/producer, respectively)
1. Reptile [originally by Nine Inch Nails] → Haunted When the Minutes Drag [Love & Rockets cover]
2. Warm Leatherette [The Normal cover]
3. Strange Kind of Love [originally by Peter Murphy]
4. Nightclubbing [Iggy Pop cover]

Session 4: First Midwest Bank Amphitheater, Chicago, Illinois, July 1, 2006, with the full NIN touring band
1. Dead Souls [Joy Division cover, previously covered by Nine Inch Nails]
2. Twenty Four Hours [Joy Division cover]
3. Warsaw [Joy Division cover]
4. Atmosphere [Joy Division cover]

Analysis:
These shows rock. The performances are all solid and the song choice could not be better. Most renditions are cleverly redone, and the singers do indeed trade songs. This is a one-of-a-kind thing. I will discuss individual tracks at length.

"Head Like a Hole" is done much slower and electronically, and Murphy does lead vocals. The original recording is sampled a few times. This song is a bit disarming as an opener – I find it less impressive than most of the later songs they do. It's still very interesting, but I guess the whole first set just isn't quite as fascinating as the later three shows.

"Sanity Assassin" was originally a somewhat obscure Bauhaus song, but Reznor sings and does a very electronic rendition. Murphy sings backup, but I don't know what else he's doing in the performance. "Hurt" is done with no samples or electronics, just Murphy's voice and Reznor's keyboard. It's not too exciting, but it is yet another rendition of the now-famous song. [Edit 2016.05.12: This version of "Hurt" was released as a single by Murphy in 2009.]

I don't know much about TV on the Radio, but "Dreams" is a cool song. (Side note: when I saw The Faint live in 2004, TV on the Radio was the opener on every show of the tour except in Lawrence, Kansas, where I saw them. My sister lent me their Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes album around the same time.) It's fairly post-punk, with some shoegaze-like drones. The original features both of the band's vocalists singing in different octaves, and the version here keeps the original higher vocal sound, but the deeper singer shares his parts with Murphy and Reznor. The shift between all the vocalists only makes the song more dynamic and interesting.

"Final Solution" is a weird Pere Ubu song (but the band itself is weird), and Peter Murphy did a great cover version on his first album in 1986. The version here is somewhere between the original and Murphy's version, but features Reznor on lead vocals. The sound is great - it's full and heavy, which is closer to the original version in some ways. The structure is more like Murphy's cover but this version is just a bit more intense, which works well here. I love some of the song's lyrics, like "Buy me a ticket to a sonic reduction / Guitar's gonna sound like a nuclear destruction" (whereupon the music dead halts for a moment before breaking into the chorus) and "Mama threw me out till I get some pants that fit / She just won't approve of my strange kind of wit". The ending is an extended drone, where the higher TV on the Radio vocalist emulates the wordless vocalizations skillfully.

"Bela Lugosi's Dead" was Bauhaus' first single and typically considered the first goth rock song. The song was nine minutes long (making everyone wonder why it was released as a single), but an edit was featured in The Hunger, starring David Bowie. This version is shortened to about five minutes, but TV on the Radio adds just the right feel of instrumentation and throws in some extra backing vocals for good measure.

"Reptile" was a NIN cover, but this version is sung by Murphy. The bassline is more prominent, but otherwise the song is similar to the original, but instead of the extended instrumental outro, the bass and guitar suddenly start playing Love & Rockets' "Haunted When the Minutes Drag". I love the song, but it's an interesting choice, since Love & Rockets is composed of all the members of Bauhaus except Peter Murphy. This version is even more spacey and droning than the original and has some great e-bow work.

"Warm Leatherette" is a cover of one of The Normal's few songs: the band was basically just Daniel Miller, founder of Mute Records, and he released one single (b/w "T.V.O.D.") and a weird one-sided live album. Murphy sings this version over some dancy electronic instrumentation. (Of note: the song was inspired by J.G. Ballard's Crash, but is not alone in that: The Creatures (a side project of Siouxsie & the Banshees) released a single titled "Miss the Girl" with the same source of inspiration. Grace Jones has done a reggae cover of "Warm Leatherette", to add to the weirdness.)

"Strange Kind of Love" brings a change in mood, as Reznor states; Murphy sings his own song while Reznor or one of his bandmates plays a solo electric guitar, straightforwardly emulating the original version. "Nightclubbing" is one of Iggy Pop's most well-known songs. Murphy sings lead here, which isn't surprising, since he once did a cover of Pop's "Funtime".

The final show is straight Joy Division covers, which ends up working quite well. All four songs done are fairly similar to the original versions, but hearing these musicians do such solid covers is really delightful. Both Murphy and Reznor are clearly fans; Bauhaus covers "Transmission" live these days, and Reznor once covered "Dead Souls". This version follows the NIN cover, but throws some extra e-bow in and is sung by Murphy. Murphy also sings the amped-up versions of "Twenty Four Hours" and "Warsaw" and the wonderfully aptly-named "Atmosphere", which tends to be the fan favorite Joy Division song. (I applaud the choice of overlooking the excellent but well-known and oft-covered "Love Will Tear Us Apart".) [Edit 2016.05.12: Murphy later released a live version of "Transmission" with his own band as a single in 2009.]

 

Review:
Peter Murphy and Trent Reznor are both great musicians; both have been a part of bands that I have considered amongst my favorites. These shows could not have been more skillfully done, with the possible exception of the first, which lacks only a degree of the inspired mood of the other three shows. The song choices are excellent, spanning each musician's career and some of their favorite covers. The renditions are mostly solid; the sound is always great and the concept of trading each other's songs works out very well. My only complaint is that "Hurt" and "Strange Kind of Love" are too plain and lack any of the rearrangement found in the other performances. The Joy Division cover set is a welcome surprise, and although fairly straightforward, nonetheless a worthy tribute.

I highly recommend acquiring the bootleg recordings if you like any of the people involved. They aren't hard to find and the quality and unique nature of the performances make them well worth it. Also, check out the NIN website for video of the second and third radio shows. [Note (2014.06.09): The videos are apparently no longer available on the official website.] [Edit 2016.05.12: The audio recordings are all available on ninlive.com.]

Score: A

Monday, June 18, 2007

Patti Smith - Twelve (2007)

I'm going to break away from strict reviewing narrative again for a moment to introduce a few changes to my blog here. First, I'm adding a new section to my reviews. As you may have noticed, they have so far consisted of a wandering introduction, factual information such as the setlist or tracklist, and a lengthy review. I am now going to try splitting the review into two parts. The first part will be a somewhat thorough analysis. This would be the section where I'll probably ramble the most and make the more obscure references. The second part will be the actual review, where I'll discuss the work or performance as a whole and make more general connections and commentary. Thus, the hardcore fan of whatever I'm writing about would ideally be interested in both parts, but a less dedicated reader may only want to weather the review. [Edit 2014.06.08: I gave up this format a long, long time ago, although some parts remain. These days I do whatever I feel like I need to do to get my ideas across.]

The second thing is that I want to begin rating these works and performances. I'd thought about it, but shied away until instigated. I'll be using letter grades. That means a "C" is average, "B" is fairly good, "A" is great, "D" is disappointing, and "F" is outright horrible. Pluses and minuses may be used too. (For reference, I'd give Morrissey an A, John Cale an A-, the Teardrops an A, and Smashing Pumpkins a B+.) [Edit 2014.06.08: See the About page for a better discussion of scoring.]

I'd also like to mention Pitchfork Media. Pitchfork is a music news and review website focusing on indie and alternative music. I'll say it now: I read their news section to keep up on what's going on, but I generally completely disagree with their reviews. Today's review will be a prime example.

Finally, to make it official, it is seriously a goal of mine to mention Brian Eno in each post. I'm not joking when I say he is basically the god/patron saint of good music. I may have to stretch sometimes, but his reach is far. Since he did favor a certain crowd, I may make connections through other musicians, and if I've already made that connection in a previous post, I won't explain the whole thing every time. Make sense? Feel free to propose other or better connections if you are aware of them. [Edit 2014.06.08: Obviously I stopped doing this at some point but I probably could still do it, if asked, for almost every review I've written.]

And now for the review. I'd heard about Patti Smith's Twelve a few months ago, and I was interested. I love Patti Smith even though I only have her debut album, Horses. It's such a great album that I almost fear disappointment in getting the following albums. The concerts from that period (circa 1975) are fantastic, too. The cover is great, the songs are great... it's one of my favorite albums.

Now, Twelve is a covers album, but Smith has always done covers of rock standards, straight from the start: Horses opened with an extended poetic discourse version of Them's "Gloria" and Chris Kenner's "Land of 1000 Dances" (made famous by Wilson Pickett) appears juxtaposed in the middle of one of Smith's extended originals. I promise I'll stop going on about Horses after one final comment: it was produced by John Cale (and John Cale → Brian Eno, as previously mentioned).

Artist: Patti Smith
Album: Twelve
Year: 2007
Label: Columbia

Tracklist:
01. Are You Experienced? [Jimi Hendrix cover]
02. Everybody Wants to Rule the World [Tears for Fears cover]
03. Helpless [Neil Young via Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young cover]
04. Gimme Shelter [Rolling Stones cover]
05. Within You Without You [George Harrison via the Beatles cover]
06. White Rabbit [Jefferson Airplane cover]
07. Changing of the Guards [Bob Dylan cover]
08. The Boy in the Bubble [Paul Simon cover]
09. Soul Kitchen [The Doors cover]
10. Smells Like Teen Spirit [Nirvana cover]
11. Midnight Rider [The Allman Brothers cover]
12. Pastime Paradise [Stevie Wonder cover]


Analysis:
I find it funny that I know a lot of these songs by other covers (Devo does "Are You Experienced", The Sisters of Mercy do "Gimme Shelter", Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds do "Helpless", Echo & the Bunnymen do "Soul Kitchen"), but these songs make for interesting choices for Patti Smith. She's hailed as a punk (and rightfully so, at least back in the 70s), but only "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is anywhere near punk here - and Smith does it acoustic! She may have tamed down, but she's still a great singer.

My other effectively useless but "interesting" comment is that every song Smith covers (except "White Rabbit") was sung by a male, and every single additional musician that appears on the album (except her own daughter) is a male. She's always been sort of a tomboy (again, see Robert Mapplethorpe's cover shot on Horses) and persevered as one of few females in the rock/punk movement, but she clearly has no problem working with countless other men and many of her idols are clearly also men. That's fine, but she's arguably not much of a feminist. [Edit 2014.06.08: What was I thinking!?]


"Everybody Wants to Rule the World" is the only new wave song she covers, and she admits in the liner notes that she isn't very familiar with the song or band. A pity, but she does a good job with the song. She does a low-key take, which is a consistent theme on the album, but the point comes across well and the song works.

"Helpless" is done pretty straight-up. It's not really an improvement on the original, but it's a fun version. Some accordion helps with the feel. "Gimme Shelter" is also done pretty straight but feels more suited to Smith's style. Neil Young and The Rolling Stones are both idols of hers, but a poetic reading of Young's "Down by the River" would have suited better than "Helpless", and that same logic makes "Gimme Shelter" work. Tom Verlaine (once the guitarist/singer of Television, whose first demos were produced by Eno) and Flea (bassist of the Red Hot Chili Peppers) guest on the song. Both are effective but feel a bit underutilized. (Both also appear on "White Rabbit", where they are even less utilized.) Where's the ripping Verlaine guitar solos as seen on "Break It Up"?

"White Rabbit" contains a few little poetic additions, but "Smells Like Teen Spirit" has an extended little spoken poetic bit after the second chorus to add a bit of personal Patti touch. Beyond that, the song is one of the more developed covers. It's done with banjos, acoustic guitars, and a violin, and although it's a bit weird, it works well. "Within You Without You" is the other winning cover, taking Harrison's spacey Indian philosophical drone and making the song groove a bit more like a rock song, with droning acoustic guitars throughout. The original isn't a bad song; it is usually overlooked in favor of some of the bigger songs on Sgt. Pepper's, but Smith treats the song well with her tribute.

Review:
This may not be a great record, but it sure is enjoyable. Smith should probably stick to throwing rock standard covers in the middle of her songs and mashing some oddball poems in the mix too instead of doing straight covers, but still. Pitchfork, in a fit of what must be spite, gave Twelve a 2.7 (of 10). Many of the songs here are fairly straight renditions ("Midnight Rider", "Helpless", "Soul Kitchen"), but I love a lot of these songs anyway, and it's not like Patti ever does a bad version, just sometimes nothing special. It's a fun listen, though. Enjoyable, if only arty in the case of the few inspired and creative renditions ("Within You Without You", "Smells Like Teen Spirit"). Other reviewers bash "White Rabbit", but I think that and "Are You Experienced?" sound great, if not too far out there.

Patti Smith is getting old, and as my mother commented when I mentioned the album, it's amazing that she's still going and still sounds as good as she does. Watching her "My Generation" performance on SNL makes me remember how crazy/cool she was. She's mellowed out, and I wish she'd play more guitar again (but I suppose she has so many friends in the business she doesn't need to), but she still makes good music. I love her craziness, her poetricks, her spite, her weird covers, her androgyny, and so on. I need to buy more of her records. And clearly, I should write a separate review for Horses.

Score: C+

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Smashing Pumpkins - Live 2007.05.22

The Smashing Pumpkins are back after seven years. They've played a handful of shows and their new album is due out in a month. I'm very excited, although I do have my doubts. Perhaps I should explain.

The Smashing Pumpkins were the band of my high school years. I might have been into Nine Inch Nails first, but the Pumpkins remain my favorite band. (This is slightly odd considering that most of my other favorite bands herald from the 80s post-punk scene: The Smiths, Joy Division, Bauhaus, The Cure, Siouxsie & the Banshees, etc.) I think a big part of it was that I got into them right as I was learning to play guitar. Several things converged: I had heard my sister Meredith play many of the songs years before, so there was a sort of nostalgic factor, the band has some of the best guitar work around, there was a guy who tabbed out just about every note ever played by the band (Brian "that tab guy" (obscured)), there are plenty of demos and rarities to hunt down, and their live performances were simply fantastic, only aided by the fact that they change around the sound of their songs all the time. I've spent years listening to their albums, outtakes, demos, b-sides, and live bootlegs, and I've learned to play guitar to almost all of them, and I've covered a countless number of their songs. (In fact, my first two demo albums were solely composed of Pumpkins covers – that's how obsessed I've been.)


However, the big problem here is that I got into the band in 2001 or 2002 – about a year or so after they broke up. I later learned that Billy Corgan was playing guitar for New Order about that time, but they were touring Europe, so I wouldn't have been able to see them anyway. I was there for Zwan's inception and downfall, and I quickly snatched up Corgan's solo album and the Jimmy Chamberlin Complex album too. However, these albums, regardless of their merits, were commercial failures.

One must ask why Corgan and Chamberlin, half of the original members of the Pumpkins, bandmates again in Zwan, and guests on each other's solo albums, are also the only two original Pumpkins to be a part of the reformed band. I haven't heard the new album (Zeitgeist) or the new single ("Tarantula"), but I have downloaded bootlegs of their first and third reunion shows. The setlists are interesting: they are mostly old Pumpkins material with about two thirds of the new album and a new extended jam song not yet released called "Gossamer". It should also be noted that these concerts are about three hours long. (Their festival appearances are usually shorter and feature less older material.)

I really think Billy and Jimmy just like playing their old songs. Much as I love the band, where are James Iha and D'arcy Wretzky? I always liked Iha, but he clearly clashed to some degree with Corgan. Many early Pumpkins songs were cowritten by the two, but after the second album (Siamese Dream) Corgan wrote just about everything with the occasional b-side written by Iha (somewhat explained by the fact that Iha released a solo album in 1998, right before the fourth Pumpkins album, Adore). D'arcy left the band after recording the last album, Machina: the Machines of God and has effectively entirely disappeared. So if those two are entirely out, and half of the original band is good enough for a reunion, Corgan and Chamberlin could be playing material from any of the projects they've been in together – but they aren't. Zwan apparently has too many bad memories or something, and the solo projects must not have gelled well enough or something. But when it comes down to it, which of these configurations has the biggest name, the most fame, the most history, the most nostalgia, the best songs, the biggest fanbase, and the most number of albums sold? Not to be too hard on Corgan and Chamberlin's artistic integrity, but I have to question motives here. Clearly, they aren't going to stop making music. But I think they just want to play their old songs again, but perhaps even more, they want to have the name and fame of their old band back. (Compare the numbers: Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, a double album, sold 4.5 million copies in America. Adore was thoroughly scorned but still sold 1.1 million copies, and even Machina sold around 600,000 copies, much more than Zwan's Mary Star of the Sea at something like 300,000-400,000 and Corgan's The Future Embrace at about 70,000. Then consider that if it was just the old songs, Corgan adamantly refused to play Pumpkins songs with Zwan or while solo.)

Anyway, I'll at least briefly discuss the sound of their latest live offerings as represented by their first reunion concert. [Edit 2014.06.18: Just to be clear, I didn't attend this concert, but listened via authorized bootleg.]

Band: The Smashing Pumpkins
Venue: Grand Rex
City: Paris, France
Date: May 22, 2007

Main Set:
01. United States
02. Today
03. Stand Inside Your Love
04. Bleeding the Orchid
05. Doomsday Clock
06. Home
07. Hummer
08. Starz
09. Tarantula
10. Bullet with Butterfly Wings
11. Gossamer
12. For God and Country
13. Thirty-three
14. Rocket
15. Winterlong
16. To Sheila
17. Glass and the Ghost Children
18. Cherub Rock
19. 1979
20. Tonight, Tonight
21. Neverlost
22. That's the Way (My Love Is)
23. Disarm
24. Zero
25. Untitled

Encore 1:
26. Shame
27. Silverfuck

Encore 2:
28. Annie-Dog
29. Muzzle

Review:
So I can tell that the new album is going to be at least semi-political and something of a concept album. The cover is a picture of a drowning Statue of Liberty, the translated name of the title (Zeitgeist) means "spirit of the times", and the songs "United States" and "For God and Country" help clue me in. Anyway, though – the performance. It sounds great. Corgan continues to handle the songwriting, singing, and lead guitar and Chamberlin the drums, but a few new members have been drafted to fill in the extra rolls. It is unclear to me if they are actual members or not. (Past touring keyboardists, including Mike Garson, never were considered part of the band. However, to live up to my personal challenge, note that Garson was a part of David Bowie's band, and Bowie worked with none other than Brian Eno a few years later.) In any case, in the live environment, Ginger Reyes plays bass, Jeff Schroeder guitar, and Lisa Harriton keyboards. The old songs sound pretty similar and elicit a lot of applause (or at least so my bootlegs indicate). There are some differences here and there from recorded and past live versions, but nothing really too far out there. The middle of the show features a few songs done solo acoustic: the new "For God and Country", the slightly revamped "Thirty-Three", the old and now-and-then acoustically performed "Rocket", and "Winterlong", which was never played live in the old days, but was recorded on the free, download-only album Machina II. (It's a great album, and it's free. Seriously. But the Pumpkins only got around to playing a few songs from the album, since it was released shortly before their breakup.) [Edit: Actually, it wasn't on Machina II; it was on Judas 0, the b-sides and rarities disc that came with some copies of the greatest hits compilation Rotten Apples.] Also interesting to hear are "Home" (also from Machina II, but played live a few times back in the day) and "Untitled", the so-labelled "farewell song" of the band, never before played live. "Lucky 13", another unplayed Machina II song, has been played at other concerts of the current tour. "Silverfuck" retains its old hyper-extended free-form structure and even includes a tease of the Doors' "The End" like it sometimes used to in the live environment, but it is no now longer the show closer. In the shows they've played so far, it's either closed the first encore or been skipped. With the exception of this first show, the actual closer is the new song "Gossamer", which is something of a twenty-minute jam (not found on the new album), but I don't think it has quite the effectiveness of "Silverfuck", although I can tell that the new song is trying to copy the older song's dynamics and style. (This first show's closer was the fan favorite "Muzzle", but strangely preceded by the good song but oddball choice of "Annie-Dog".)


Speaking of new songs, I've now had the opportunity to hear three-fourths of the new album's songs. I won't discuss them too much until the album comes out, but they're not bad. I might even like them. I don't yet feel like they hold up to the old material, but I might very well change my mind. They mostly sound like a continuation of the sound of Machina or Machina II. I like most of the structures, but they don't sound as nuanced as some of the older songs, although I am aware that that may be due to live limitations. I'll definitely be buying the album when it comes out – no doubt about that. I may even get the probably-unnecessary deluxe version, just because how couldn't I? I think it'll be good. Maybe not great, maybe not as good as the old stuff, but I'm guessing probably better than Zwan, Corgan solo, or the Jimmy Chamberlin Complex (although, I repeat, each of those three projects is not without at least some merit – especially Zwan live). In talking with my friend Keagan a few months back, we discussed how much Corgan has riding on this. When the Pumpkins broke up, he tried a new band. When that didn't work, he tried going solo. When that didn't sell well, he decided to reform his old band. This had better work, for his sake – or well else where he go? I'd hate to see him become the old one-time rock star, releasing mediocre solo outings every few years, but I sure won't be a Mark David Chapman and stop him from doing what he wants. Maybe I just hope the album will be good. It'd be best that way.

[Retrospective Score: B+]

Monday, June 4, 2007

The Teardrop Explodes - Wilder (1981)

Alright, I've got a couple things I want to write reviews for, but I need to listen through them more before I can really do that fairly. In the meantime, I'll write about an album that I've been listening to a lot lately. It's from 1981, so it's not exactly a new release or anything, but it is great, and it is often forgotten or overlooked. Nonetheless, I think it is a fantastic piece of music.

Band: The Teardrop Explodes
Album: Wilder
Year: 1981
Label: Mercury

Tracklist:
01. Bent Out of Shape
02. Colours Fly Away
03. Seven Views of Jerusalem
04. Pure Joy
05. Falling Down Around Me
06. The Culture Bunker
07. Passionate Friend
08. Tiny Children
09. Like Leila Khaled Said
10. ...and the Fighting Takes Over
11. The Great Dominions

Reissue (2000) Bonus Tracks:
12. Window Shopping for a New Crown of Thorns [Colours Fly Away b-side, 1981]
13. East of the Equator [Colours Fly Away 12" b-side, 1981]
14. Rachael Built a Steamboat [Tiny Children b-side, 1982]
15. You Disappear from View [Single, 1983]
16. Suffocate [You Disappear from View b-side, 1983]
17. Ouch Monkeys [You Disappear from View 12" b-side, 1983]
18. Soft Enough for You [You Disappear from View 12" b-side, 1983]
19. The In-Psychlopedia [You Disappear from View 12" b-side, 1983]

The Teardrop Explodes were something of a post-punk or new wave band hailing from the same scene as Echo & the Bunnymen. The two bands are arguably quite comparable, and both bands' lead singer once were in a band together by the name of The Crucial Three (referenced in the song "The Culture Bunker"), but the band was so short-lived that they only wrote a few songs. One of them, "Books", appeared on both singers' next band's debut album (although retitled "Read It in Books" by Echo & the Bunnymen). However, Wilder is the Teardrop Explodes' second and more or less final album. (They did work on a third, but it remains incomplete and never saw the light of day until 1990.)

The band consists of Julian Cope (songwriting, vocals), Gary Dwyer (drums), Troy Tate (guitar), and David Balfe (keyboards). Cope would later have a long and semi-successful solo career, Tate would produce the initial sessions for the Smiths' debut album, and Balfe happened to be co-owner of Zoo, the label that the Teardrop Explodes were signed to. My copy of the album is an American issue with a different cover (originally used for the "Passionate Friend" 12" UK single) and it fails to list the participating band members, so I don't really know who contributed bass, although several songs lack bass guitar and many may feature keyboard bass from Balfe.

The original album is a mere forty minutes, which may have been a goldmine in the 80s but is nothing compared to George Harrison's 1970 debut ("All Things Must Pass") at 106 minutes. To be honest, the comparison was just meant to be spiteful, and forty minutes is fine by me if the music's good enough, which in this case it certainly is. Each track is little different, but the entire slightly psychedelic package (come on, it was easy to guess just by looking at the title of the last bonus track) is quite good.

"Seven Views of Jerusalem" has a weird sort of funk groove and serves as a good example of a somewhat common theme in the album: weird instrumentation and instrumentals, obtuse lyrics (my favorite kind!), and non-straightforward drumming (often tribal). "Seven Views" might be about Jesus (who else could have seven views of Jerusalem, and what all could the oft-repeated title even mean?) but that still wouldn't explain what the line "I cut off my nose to spite my face" means. I'm not complaining – let me make that clear – I just have to wonder.

To start at the beginning, both "Bent Out of Shape" and "Colours Fly Away" (can you tell the band is British?) feature lots of keyboards, some horns and more difficult lyrics. They're a bit similar but serve as a good opening. I always love that psychedelic swirling sound heard in "Colours Fly Away", Siouxsie & the Banshees' cover of "Dear Prudence" and the Smashing Pumpkins' "Thru the Eyes of Ruby". It's better known in the guitar effects world as a phaser (or sometimes flange, which is different but similar), but I mostly just wanted an excuse to mention two of my favorite completely unrelated songs.

"Pure Joy" is under two minutes, almost besting the Smiths' "Please Please Please Let Me Get Want I Want" as my favorite song under that mark (but the Smiths song has the added bonus of the obnoxiously long title), but packs a quick guitar riff with a speedy drum roll and vocal delivery to match. And the lyrics are still weird ("I've got a good car but it's not a good car / It won't take me to paradise for the day"). "The Culture Bunker" is a great piece about Cope's frustration with Liverpool music scene and Echo & the Bunnymen's success ("I feel cold when it turns to gold for you"). Horns (another consistent theme) and an extended instrumental without a real solo are again featured.

"Passionate Friend" was the big single. "Big" as in #25 on the UK charts. (For bands I like.... that's not bad at all.) The song is quite catchy, and the lyrics more or less make sense. I still can't quite tell what's going on, but there seems to be some sort of failing romantic relationship. The bright sound and multiple hooks wouldn't lead you to that conclusion, though. There are so many Kinks-y vocal and guitar bits, and the horns! - it's just so happy, but lines like "When the love has boiled away" and "leaving you today" imply something less cheerful. However, I don't think anyone can explain the mention of the Hunanoo, the Filipino tribe whose language has 92 words for rice and 40 for soil. "Tiny Children" was also a single, but god knows why, as it's the slowest song on the album and isn't really a catchy song. That's not to say it's bad, just not something I'd release as a single.

"Like Leila Khaled Said" returns to the Holy Land to mention the controversial Palestinian plane hijacker, but the opening line "You can smother me with kisses" makes me wonder just what Cope is really singing about. Thematically weird, but a good song nonetheless. "...and the Fighting Takes Over" features a fantastic rhythm guitar throughout the song, unaided by any drumming, that I totally want to learn. The song isn't as complex as most of the others, but the guitar is just so great that it more than makes up for it. The interplay with the vocal melody and the bass is simply fantastic.

Then comes the closer, "The Great Dominions". The song is fairly slow, has lots of weird sounds, and lacks any real instrumentation outside an enveloping Air-ish keyboard. (That's not entirely true, but the keyboard dominates under the lyrics.) I still don't know what this song is really about, but the continual repeating of lines like "Mummy, I've been fighting again" make it's placement after "...and the Fighting Takes Over" seem suspicious. The song is something of a fan favorite, and it is pretty great, so I don't blame the fans, whoever they are.

I won't talk about the bonus tracks too much; they take the weirdness/psychedelia a step farther for better or worse. "Window Shopping..." has some weird two-tracked vocals, "East of the Equator" is a long instrumental, "Ouch Monkeys" is a fairly good keyboard and drum-machine drenched song criticizing humankind, and "The In-Psychlopedia" is a fast-paced, punchy keyboard-driven song. The real highlight is "You Disappear from View", in fact a single released from the aborted third album sessions. It starts with this really cheesy/great 60s-ish horn, keyboard, and treble-heavy guitar bit and continues onward to be a fairly catchy clever song.

I also have to wonder about some of the songs that weren't released from that period. (Some later were on the Zoology (which rhymes with eulogy) compilation, but I don't have that yet.) I may or may not have bootlegs of a Berlin concert and every BBC radio session the band did, but I can say that "Log Cabin" has some good keyboards and seems to sound like a quality song. I think my favorite outtake that I've heard is a cover of John Cale's "I'm Not the Loving Kind", a fairly self-explanatory song that I've always thought was great and rather funny. Cale's version is from his Island years and thus features Brian Eno production/synthesizer/effects and a full dramatic take, complete with a female backing chorus. The Teardrops version (or at least the version they performed on Richard Skinner's radio program in May 1981) is just the lyrics and a keyboard, plus some drumming at the end. Great stuff. New goal: mention Brian Eno at least once in every review. (Should be no problem at all; I already did it in my John Cale review, and for Morrissey... well, you know, James opened for the Smiths back in the day, and they'd cover "What's the World?" now and then, and Eno produced 1993's Laid. There.)

So... that's enough rambling for the day. To be honest, I'm still missing the Teardrops' first album (Kilimanjaro) and I'm just on the cusp of getting into the band. But I like where I've started, and I'd easily say they stack up right next to Echo & the Bunnymen (a longtime favorite of mine).

[Retrospective Score: A]

Sunday, June 3, 2007

John Cale - Live 2007.03.06

I still haven't gotten around to really telling people about this blog of mine, but I may as well write another post. Well, actually, I'm cheating a bit: I'm just going to revise a review I already wrote and submitted to the Fear Is a Man's Best Friend website (http://www.xs4all.nl/~werksman/cale/). If the name of the page didn't clue you in, I'm talking about ol' John Cale, former bassist, violist, and organist for the Velvet Underground, producer of Nico, Squeeze, Siouxsie & the Banshees, the Modern Lovers, the Stooges, and others, collaborator with Brian Eno (effectively the god of music, or rather patron saint if that suits your tastes better), and veteran of 37 years of a solo career. So, here we go:

Artist: John Cale
Venue: Arena Wien
City: Vienna, Austria
Date: March 6th, 2007

Setlist (thanks to Fear Is a Man's Best Friend):
Intro Drone
Evidence
Model Beirut Recital
Save Us
Helen of Troy
Walkin' the Dog [Rufus Thomas Jr. cover]
Sold Motel
Heartbreak Hotel [Elvis Presley cover]
Reading My Mind
Hey Ray
A Day in the Life of the Common Cold → Big White Cloud
Hush → Outta the Bag
Chinese Envoy
Ghost Story
You Know More Than I Know
Dancing Undercover
Buffalo Ballet
Cable Hogue
Things
Dirty Ass Rock 'n' Roll
Venus in Furs [originally performed by the Velvet Underground]

First Encore:
Fear Is a Man's Best Friend
Pablo Picasso [Modern Lovers cover] → Mary Lou

Second Encore:
Chorale

Review:
While studying abroad in Vienna, I happened to see a placard for this concert and I knew I had to go. My sister Meredith was in town that week, so we went together. We figured that I was probably the youngest person in attendance, but that hardly affected my enjoyment of the show, which I thought was rather awesome. There was no opening act, and the medium-sized venue (a former slaughterhouse, I'm told) was fairly crowded and anxious for the show to begin. After a long wait, a loud drone enveloped the building, and finally the band walked out. After the intro drone, the band started out in full-on rock mode: Cale on electric guitar, accompanied by three guys I didn't recognize on lead guitar, electric bass, and full drumset. I don't remember the setlist exactly, and I'm unfortunately still in the process of becoming familiar with all of Cale's material (including the recent stuff), so I can only guess at an approximate order and the precise content. I think I remember five rocking songs before Cale moved over to the keyboard for the first time. The setlist was fairly varied. Cale focuses on his heyday, the mid 70s, but he threw in songs from all over his career (but sadly just one Velvet Underground song). I'll comment on a few specific parts.

Cale played two new, unreleased songs: "(A Day in the Life of a) Common Cold" (I don't know the exact title) and "Hey Ray". "Common Cold" I remember as fairly good, but despite the thorough introduction that "Hey Ray" got, I have to say it was the song I was least impressed with the whole night. The lilting lyrical delivery and choruses ticking off the years just didn't strike me strongly. I picked up on most of the cultural or historical references he was making in the song, but I just didn't like the way it coalesced. The other song that I felt didn't work too well was "Heartbreak Hotel", an Elvis Presley cover that normally rocks really hard both on album and in most live bootleg versions I've heard. This time through, the song featured dense keyboards and such a strong pitch shifter on Cale's voice that I couldn't understand the lyrics and I wasn't even sure exactly what song it was. I think if the effect hadn't been quite so strong it would have worked really well.

About halfway through Cale started playing some of his more melodic old classics, such as "Big White Cloud", "Ghost Story", "You Know More Than I Know", and "Cable Hogue" (apparently referred to these days as "The Ballad of Cable Hogue"). These four in particular earned some serious applause from the audience. After setting down his electric guitar after the first five songs, Cale tended to favor his acoustic guitar and keyboard most the rest of the night. For about four or so of the various softer songs, the drummer came around to the front of his set for a while and sat down on a box. It was well-mic'd and he knew what he was doing, because he kept a solid beat going just by beating on it the whole while. I was impressed by the effectiveness of the simplicity. Now and then the bassist would also trade his electric for an acoustic stand-up.

I had noticed at the start of the show that I didn't see a viola anywhere on stage, and I told my sister that I just knew Cale would have to bring one out. Sure enough, right before the encore, he pulled his viola out from behind an amplifier or something and went right into "Venus in Furs". Some of the audience members really got into it, despite the fact that it's not an easy song to dance to. Anyway, that was pretty cool.

After Cale left the stage, the audience kept cheering until he came back out for an encore. He went right into "Fear Is a Man's Best Friend", which got a great crowd response. (As it's one of my favorites, too, I was rather enthralled.) He followed the first chorus with a classical-styled interlude not present in the studio recording, and the bassist did a good job of capturing the noisy finish of the song as heard on record. They then rocked through a medley of "Pablo Picasso" (a Modern Lovers cover) and "Mary Lou", which featured some extended jamming. After that, the band left the stage, the audience applauded, and the lights came on, so me and my sister figured the show was over. She went to the bathroom and I went to pick up my camera, which had been confiscated at the door. While waiting for my sister, Cale came back out to do "Chorale" (or I think that's what it was...), so I not only got to hear the beautiful finale, but I got to take a few blurry photographs. After that, my sister and I left for good, but for all I know he did another encore. I wouldn't put it past him, but I'm pretty sure that was the end, as I think I heard a loud drone much like the intro one as we left. All in all, it was a pretty great show. For the sake of public record, here is the better of the two photographs I took, but I warn that it really is not a great shot:



[Retrospective Score: A-]