The Listening Post: February 2012

  • De NovaThe Redwalls. The cover of De Nova tells you all you really need to know. The cover, featuring the band and a strange symbol is a sly homage to the classic second album by Traffic. The Redwalls are an unapologetic classic rock throwback band. In spirit they’re like The Grip Weeds, but while that band focuses their sound on a Byrds/Who mashup, the real touchstone for The Redwalls is the power pop bands of the early 1970s, especially Badfinger and The Raspberries. There’s nothing original here; the album sounds like a compilation of lost tracks from the great power pop bands. But that’s okay. While originality isn’t their claim to fame, who wouldn’t want to hear a great lost Badfinger album? Hooks and catchy choruses abound, the playing is uniformly excellent, and sometimes the songs are really great, especially the slower songs like “Thank You”, “Build A Bridge”, and “Hung Up On The Way I’m Feeling”. There are a few lesser compositions that play all the right notes but sound less than inspired (“Love Her”, “On My Way”, “Front Page”, and “How The Story Goes”) and the high-energy closing track, “Rock & Roll” is about as creative as its title. Still, listening to De Nova is like listening to a great rock radio station in 1974, and that’s not a bad thing at all.
    Grade: B
  • Rocket To RussiaThe Ramones. There have been attempts in the past to compile a “Best of” the brudders from Queens, but those attempts were destined to fail. The simple relentlessness of the Ramones would drive most listeners insane after 40 minutes. The Ramones are best appreciated in their early albums, especially the first four. Each of them clocks in at less than 33 minutes; there’s simply no time to get bored. Of these four, Rocket To Russia is the longest, featuring fourteen songs in a pummeling 32 minutes. It was also their first attempt at growing up…sort of: there was an actual ballad on the album, the excellent “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow”. At their heart, The Ramones were totally in thrall to the early days of rock and roll. On Russia they do a blistering, yet loving, cover of Bobby Freeman’s “Do You Wanna Dance?” and The Trashmen’s “Surfin’ Bird”. But this is still a Ramones record, where cretins hop at Rockaway Beach, where Sheena’s a punk rocker, where teenagers are lobotomized by DDT, and where a happy family gulps down Thorazine. It’s all great, great fun. A half hour of prime Ramones is almost impossible to resist: they’re like the Archies, but sped up and full of steroids. Great, dumb, fun.
    Grade: A
  • After Bathing At Baxter’sJefferson Airplane. Take six talented musicians and singers, fill them with psychedelic drugs, pour them into a recording studio with an unlimited budget and time, no adult supervision, and what do you get? The third Jefferson Airplane album. First, the good: the band’s innate talents are enough to get them over the finish line for much of the first part of the album. “The Ballad Of You, Me, And Pooneil” has some bizarre lyrics but the song is about folk singer Fred Neil, who was a bizarre guy. Still, there’s a great vocal attack from Grace Slick and Marty Balin, and Jack Casady starts to step up on bass. “Young Girl Sunday Blues”, the great “Martha”, “Wild Thyme (H)”, and the frenetic “The Last Wall Of The Castle” are all very good. None of them, except “Martha”, compare favorably the songs on the previous album, the classic Surrealistic Pillow, but they’re still worthy additions to the Airplane canon. The rest of the album is far more problematic. “Rejoyce” is an okay piano tune that has what may well be the zenith of hippie solipsism in the line “I’d rather my country die for me.” “Watch Her Ride” and “Two Heads” are a little beefier musically, but are held down by uninspired playing and dated psychedelic lyrics. The combination of “Won’t You Try/Saturday Afternoon” starts promisingly with the “Won’t You Try” section but collapses into boredom once “Saturday Afternoon” rolls around. Worst of all are “A Small Package Of Value Will Come To You, Shortly”, a mercifully brief sound collage, and the atrocious jam “Spare Chaynge”, which is ten minutes of your life you will never get back. Those two songs make up almost 25% of the album, a mortal blow from which it can never recover. What hurts Baxter’s the most is the lack of songs from the Airplane’s best songwriter, Marty Balin, who co-wrote only “Martha”. Too much of the rest falls victim to Grace Slick and Paul Kantner at their most pretentious.
    Grade: C+
  • More Fun In The New WorldX. The fourth album by Los Angeles’s best punk cum rockabilly band, X, is a triumph on almost every level. The last album produced by Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek, More Fun In The New World is the album that X always wanted to make. The furious punk rock attack of their dĂ©but album is still there in the form of barn burners like “Make The Music Go Bang”, “Devil Doll”, “Painting The Town Blue”, and “I See Red” but the album also features change-ups like the radio-friendly “The New World” and “True Love”, the pop catchiness of “Poor Girl”, the tone poem “I Will Not Think Bad Thoughts”, and even a cover of “Breathless” that falls short of Jerry Lee Lewis’s hit but still allows the band to indulge in their love of pre-Beatles rock ‘n’ roll and rockabilly. Oddest of all is the album closer, “True Love, Pt. 2” a white boy funk song that uses “True Love” as a starting point and that beats the Talking Heads at their own game. It gives the band a chance to pay tribute to some of their favorite songs, from “Be Bop A Lula” to “Land of 1000 Dances” to “Mother Popcorn” to “One Nation Under A Groove”. It also references songs as disparate as “Skip To M’Lou”, “I Been Working On The Railroad” and, surprisingly (and hilariously) Ram Jam’s “Black Betty”. It’s completely infectious and probably would have sounded great on the dance floors of 1983 America. Throughout these thirteen songs the band is as tight as Lana Turner’s sweaters, and the Slick/Balin-inspired vocal attack of John Doe and Exene Cervenka is relentless. Whether More Fun In The New World, or even X in general, should really be classified as punk is open for debate. What is settled is that when they were at their best, this was a great band with great albums. There’s not a bad track on this.
    Grade: A+