The Listening Post: April 2011

Warmth starts to arrive for real, and pop music is the order of the day.

  • Mighty BabyMighty Baby. Rolled Gold, a collection of band demos by Sixties mod Freakbeat band The Action, was a sterling set. Though not released until 1995, the album stands up alongside such legendary albums as There Are But Four Small Faces and S.F. Sorrow. But the songs from Rolled Gold were also the end of the band, who then rose out of the ashes of The Action as Mighty Baby. Their self-titled debut was recorded in 1968 but not released until 1969 and it’s an excellent collection of late Sixties British psychedelia. While a lot of the British psychedelic scene was marked by a taste for music hall and stories of wizards and knights, Mighty Baby’s roots as a hard rock band kept their music grounded. There’s some Middle Eastern stylings in “Egyptian Tomb,” “House Without Windows” relies on the standard “I met a man while I was journeying down life’s road and we talked about the meaning of life” hippie cliche, and “At A Point Between Fate And Destiny” is as pretentious and boring as the title suggests (as well as including lyrics about an “ancient hermit”—strike three). But what makes this album more listenable today than much British psychedelia is the muscle behind the songs. There’s a high level of musicianship and most of the songs rock…something you can’t really say about bands like Tomorrow or even early Pink Floyd.
    Grade: B+
  • The Best Of The Lovin’ SpoonfulThe Lovin’ Spoonful.The gentle folk rock stylings of The Lovin’ Spoonful underpinned several songs that can only be considered classic anthems of the mid-60s. There’s simply no denying songs like “Daydream,” “Summer In The City,” “You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice,” “Do You Believe In Magic?”, “Jug Band Music,” and “Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind?” Perhaps best of all is the achingly beautiful, “Darling, Be Home Soon.” Forty plus years ago the Spoonful were blasting out of every AM radio in the country, and much of it is impossible not to like. At their best, they wrote classic pop tunes. Having said that, there’s also an ephemeral air to much of this. The songs float precisely because they are lighter than air. These are songs that are instantly enjoyable coming out of a radio while laying on the beach or enjoying the summer air. But aside from the aforementioned classic tracks, most of the rest is simply lightweight, enjoyable pop. It’s as temporary as an Abba album track. The Best Of The Lovin’ Spoonful makes a compelling case for the band as enjoyable hitmakers with some high quality songs that you may never have heard. They’re not as serious or hard rocking as The Rascals, but they have more hipster credibility than Dionne Warwick. While it’s playing, it’s a great listen. When it’s not playing, you will remember only the handful of classic tracks.
    Grade: B+
  • Mars Needs Guitars!Hoodoo Gurus. Strip away early R.E.M.’s indecipherable mumble and sinister atmospherics, and shine up the choruses and you’ve got Hoodoo Gurus. From the opening power pop salvo of “Bittersweet” the Gurus pile on hooks and catchy choruses. “In The Wild,” “Death Defying” and “Like Wow–Wipeout” are indisputable highlights, but the album is consistently solid, a triumph of songwriting and execution, marred only by a too-shiny production straight out of 1985. Unfortunately many of even the best albums from this time period struggle against the awful production that was a sign of the times, and Mars Needs Guitars! is one of those albums. The album also ends on a weak note, with the title track and “She” providing a decent, but lackluster, finale.
    Grade: B+
  • Jesus Of CoolNick Lowe. Homage must be paid first to the album title. How awesome is calling your first solo album Jesus Of Cool? Answer: pretty freakin’ awesome. Unfortunately, it was only released in the UK under that title. The American version, with a slightly altered track listing bore the also quite cool title Pure Pop For Now People. Nick Lowe was always something of an anachronism in popular music. He had the heart of a rock ‘n’ roller from the Fifties and Sixties, with an intense pop sensibility that rendered his music as catchy as only the very best power pop can be. He also had a very skewed lyrical sense that you can see in the works of modern day Lowes like Brendan Benson; there’s really no question about it: “Marie Provost” is the best song ever written about a dead movie star whose corpse is eaten by her pet dachshund, and “Nutted By Reality” is at the top of the short list of songs written about castrating Fidel Castro. You can also hear where early Elvis Costello got much of his sound, especially on Armed Forces, which featured the hit single “What’s So Funny (About Peace, Love, and Understanding)?”, written by Lowe and first recorded by Lowe’s band Brinsley Schwarz. Only “Shake And Pop” and “Tonight” lag a bit. “Shake And Pop” sounds uninspired, especially when compared to Rockpile’s ferocious version of the same song (called “They Called It Rock” and included as a bonus track). “Tonight” simply doesn’t go anywhere. But the lowlights are rendered irrelevant by classic pop rock tracks like “I Love The Sound Of Breaking Glass,” “So It Goes, ” “Marie Provost” and a killer live version of Lowe’s single “Heart Of The City.”
    Grade: A-

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