Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Kinks Everybody's In Showbiz 1972

This one starts to show some very real weakness at the end of their 1966-72 run, but also features a few very fine Ray Davies tunes in the mix. The 2-record set includes one record of live performances from a two-night stand at Carnegie Hall.

Highlights include the return of the horn section from Muswell Hillbillies, one of brother Dave's best songs (the great road song You Don't Know My Name), and the radio classic Celluloid Heroes, a heartfelt and sincere ode to the theatricality that would unfortunately absorb the next five years of Ray Davies' songwriting output.

There's other good news. Here Comes Yet Another Day is a fast-rocking road song with a nice horn arrangement. Sitting In My Hotel is a sweet ballad about the isolation of stardom that Ray sings wonderfully. Look A Little On The Sunny Side again examines the woes of celebrity done up all music hall style.

There are also three songs about food on the road, and only Motorway is much good, with solid guitar and organ. The first single, Supersonic Rocket Ship, is just too twee. The live material includes an audience chant-a-long Banana Boat Song, the ending chorus (only) of Lola, and a version of the vaudeville chestnut Baby Face.

A hot Top Of The Pops (Lola...) featuring Dave's hard riffing, Brainwashed (Arthur...), and several decent tracks from the recent Muswell Hillbillies almost save the live half.

The record is worth having for the few great songs that are available only here. The better compilations, such as The Singles Collection (1997) include only the Pye/Reprise releases and as such end with Lola in 1970. Needless to say, the Golden Age of The Kinks from 1966-1972 did not go out on a high note.

And so this ends my quest to review all of the Kink's US releases from 1966-1972, a period often called the Kink's Golden Age. The rest are here:
 Face To Face 1966
Something Else By The Kinks 1967
The Kinks Are The Village Preservation Society 1968
Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) 1969
Lola vs. Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part 1 1970
Muswell Hillbillies 1971
The Kink Kronikles 1972

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Portishead Third 2008

I know little or nothing about music classified as electronica, let alone the trip hop genre. But I'd heard so much about Portishead, and I do have Beth Gibbon's outstanding solo record (with Paul Webb, aka Rustin Man) Out Of Season from 2002. I was in one of those Exchange stores and there was an inexpensive used copy. What the heck.

It is a beautiful, spacey record that grows on you with repeated exposure. Gibbons is a compelling singer, and the grooves are deep, if not particularly soulful. Jeff Barrow's drums and programming and Adrian Utley's guitars and everything else produce dense layers of sound. The music has an apparently deliberate sterility, broken only by Gibbons achingly beautiful voice, and an occasional loud, distorted guitar.

It's inventive, it's tuneful, and it's very much unlike anything else. You don't really listen to it. Rather, it just washes over you.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Blake Babies / Juliana Hatfield 1987-2001

A friend recently let me borrow her Juliana Hatfield collection, most of which is from the 90s, and does not include Ms. Hatfield's more recent work. But it was some fascinating listening, and a study in the maturing of an artist. I'll deal with them chronologically.

The Blake Babies Nicely, Nicely 1987 is a rough sketch for what the band will become. It has some good songs, but suffers from poor recordings and weak production values. Some people like that. You can hear the melodic songs hiding in punk guises, the loud edge scraping against Hatfield's high thin voice.  

Next up was my friend's favorite from her college days. Sunburn 1990 is surely an early career highlight for Hatfield and Blake Babies, and it features the guitar of John Strohm, who by this point is working hand in hand with Hatfield. It really is a band. Hatfield's girlish voice can deal with heavy themes and still sound like fun, and the songwriting is strong. Strohm is an imaginative guitar player that will be sorely missed early in Hatfield's coming solo career. The first half of the CD is killer, and after that it still holds up pretty well.

When Blake Babies split in 1991, Hatfield moved from bass to guitar for her solo career. The 1992 EP Forever Baby, mostly culled from her 1992 debut Hey Babe, has some good songs, as does the follow-up The Juliana Hatfield Three's Become What You Are 1993. But Hatfield's guitar really doesn't do her songs justice, and instrumentally they come off lacking. Too much rhythm, not enough else. And she was a great bass player with Blake Babies. They both have a couple of great songs, but only a couple.

So just when I'm thinking of giving up on her solo output, along comes Only Everything 1995. She's still not flashy, but she's learned some chops, and her guitar playing has gotten interesting at least, and maybe there's a better fit producing. But what sets this one apart from it's predecessors is the consistent song quality. What A Life, Live On Tomorrow, Bottles And Flowers, Hang Down From Heaven, and several others are notably fine. The sound is getting a bit more aggressive, and it's a good thing.

The follow-up, 1998's Bed is almost as strong, and ramps up the punk noise on a few songs as well. I didn't find quite as many memorable songs, but your mileage may vary.

The last one I got to hear was God Bless The Blake Babies 2001, their generally well-received reunion effort. It left me a little flat, although I couldn't quite figure out why. It just didn't quite sound like that band anymore, and maybe there was some energy lacking.

I didn't hear everything she released during this time span, but I heard enough to understand why Sunburn left an indelible impression on my friend, and how good Only Everything was. The loud punk-pop combined with the girlish voice reminds me of Tanya Donelly's band Belly sometimes, and for me that's a very good thing. Hatfield continues to make music to this day, including five records in the last six years. It's easy to hear why people are still interested.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

World Party Goodbye Jumbo 1990

World Party, aka Karl Wallinger, made some darn good music, and this one tops the list.

The blended influences are melded together into a lovely stew, and the best thing is that you hear the references, but the songs are all new, and all Wallinger's. And he plays new rock like a classic- Dylan, Beatles, Stones, Prince.

Put The Message In The Box and Way Down Now deserved their singles success, but the whole record is strong. Is It Too Late, a bluesy jam, opens the record. The swinging Take It Up, the Beach Boys-like choir of God On My Side, the Prince-like funk of Show Me To The Top, the uplifting Sweet Soul Dream, all are excellent.

Wallinger suffered a brain aneurism in 2000 and spent several years recovering and rehabbing from surgery, but he's produced a few newer World Party releases (a 2008 Best Of and a 2012 5-CD box of B-sides, outtakes, and some recent recordings) and continues to tour sporadically. The guy is a living tribute to the sixties music he loves.