The Listening Post: October 2011

Finally, Autumn.

  • On FyreLyres. The 1984 début album from Lyres is a superior collection of organ-heavy retro garage rock. Band leader Jeff Connolly is completely enamored with 1960s Nuggets-style music, but comes off as a genuine practitioner of the craft and not a mere copycat. On Fyre features songs that qualify as genuine garage rock classics as surely as anything by the Music Machine, the Standells, or the Chocolate Watchband. “Help You Ann,” “Don’t Give It Up Now,” “She Pays The Rent,” “I Really Want You Right Now,” and “You’ve Been Wrong” are all original compositions that sound like they’ve time traveled from 1966. Covers of two Kinks songs—”Love Me Till The Sun Shines” and “Tired Of Waiting For You”—are faithful and fantastic. On “Love Me Till The Sun Shines” it’s downright spooky how much Connolly’s voice has the same tone and timbre as Dave Davies, who sang the original. The album stumbles a bit with “I’m Telling You Girl,” which mangles a Kinks-style riff and lacks anything resembling a tune. “Not Like The Other One” and “Someone Who’ll Treat You Right Now” are okay album tracks, but well below the high standards set by the rest of the album.
    Grade: A
  • Army Of AnyoneArmy Of Anyone. Call them “Audioserf.” It’s amazing what a difference one band member can make. Army of Anyone was the second attempt by Stone Temple Pilots to replace the notoriously unreliable Scott Weiland. The first, Talk Show, released a surprisingly good album that played up the poppier side of STP. Army Of Anyone, with Filter vocalist Richard Patrick replacing Weiland and Ray Luzier taking over for Eric Kretz behind the drums, accents the heavier side of STP. As the drummer, Luzier is excellent, superior to Kretz. But while Patrick has a great voice, he’s simply not Scott Weiland. The secret weapons of STP are Weiland’s melodies and the way his voice weaves into the music. Weiland’s voice complements the music, riding with it. Patrick seems determined to bludgeon the listener with bombast, even as he comes close to getting Weiland’s extraordinary sense of melody. There’s nothing wrong with the quality of his voice, but his style is overwrought. Almost every chorus sounds like he’s about to launch into Filter’s signature tune “Hey Man, Nice Shot.” There’s some great stuff on this album: “Father Figure” is the proto-metal sound they seem to be shooting for throughout, but it’s the only song where every piece locks together perfectly. “A Better Place,” “Non Stop” and “Disappear” are almost as good. “This Wasn’t Supposed To Happen” is strongly reminiscent of the softer side of Stone Temple Pilots, mainly because Patrick tones down the histrionics and concentrates on the melody. It’s no surprise that it’s the track where he sounds most like Weiland. The rest of the album falls below that level. None of it is bad, but there isn’t much remarkable about any of it either. It’s likely that this was a one-off collaboration, since the DeLeo brothers have reunited with Weiland and Kretz. In a way, that’s too bad. The album is good, but there is great potential here. It reminds me of the first STP album, Core, in that sense. Whether Army of Anyone would have followed this with something as majestic as STP’s Purple is anyone’s guess, but the talent was there.
    Grade: B-
  • Last Words: The Final RecordingsScreaming Trees. Seattle’s best unknown band has a reputation of being grunge also-rans, but they were so much more than that. The albums Sweet Oblivion and Dust are every bit as good as more famous albums from Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice In Chains. The Trees broke up in the late 90s, a few years after their last and best album, Dust. Singer Mark Lanegan went on to concentrate on his solo career, and the rest of the band drifted into obscurity. Now comes Last Words, a collection of tracks the Trees had recorded for the followup album to Dust, but had never released. This is not a rarities collection, but really an unreleased album that’s been sitting in the can since 1999. Had it been released at that time it’s difficult to see how it would have been viewed as anything less than a letdown after Dust, but all these years later it comes as a nice reminder of how great a band they could be. What mars the album is that it sounds somehow unfinished. There’s a solid skeleton of great songs, and a lot of meat on the bones, but what’s lacking are finishing touches. Songs like “Crawlspace,” and “Tomorrow Changes” are good, but sound more like solo Lanegan than full-fledged Trees songs. Much of the rest sound like outtakes of songs from Dust. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because Dust was so great. “Revelator,” “Black Rose Way,” and “Anita Grey” sound the most finished and are the best tracks on the album. The rest of the album is very good, but lacks the power of earlier songs like “Nearly Lost You” or “Witness.” The result is an album that would have been truly great if they had just done a few more takes, maybe added a few more overdubs, or tweaked the writing a bit.
    Grade: B+
  • Pleased To Meet Me (Deluxe Edition)The Replacements. The best band that never happened hit their songwriting peak with 1987’s Pleased To Meet Me, an album that perfectly combined thrashy punk rock, power pop, and acoustic tenderness. The march of progress the Replacements were on reached its culmination here, with all due respect to the masterpieces that preceded it, Let It Be and Tim. The only flaw of Pleased To Meet Me was the production that put a shiny gloss on the record and smoothed out the drunken charm of the earlier albums. Tracks like the lovely acoustic ballad “Skyway” suffer the most from the production. Rather than sounding like a troubadour with an acoustic guitar, “Skyway” practically glistens and it detracts from the desired effect. The Replacements were many things but this was the first time they could be called “smooth.” Fortunately the eleven bonus songs on the Deluxe Edition are, with the exception of “Cool Water,” the sound of the scruffy ‘Mats near and dear to the hearts of fans. There are three songs in the bonus tracks that appear on the album: a studio demo of “Valentine,” what sounds like a run-through of “Alex Chilton” and an early pass at “Can’t Hardly Wait.” None of these come anywhere near the quality of the official releases, but all are fascinating. “Alex Chilton” and “Valentine” sound like outtakes from the rough, brilliant Let It Be. There are brutally ragged versions of “Route 66” and “Tossin’ ‘N’ Turnin'” that give a sense of the anarchic heart of the band, and the studio demos of “Birthday Gal,” “Bundle Up,” “Photo” and “Kick It In” are loose and fun, though it’s also clear that these songs are not as good as the ones that ended up on the finished album. None of the bonus tracks are really essential, though all are worthwhile, and the alternate versions of the album tracks give a tantalizing glimpse into how much greater this incredible album might have been with a little less shine and a little more ragged glory.
    Original album grade: A+
    Bonus tracks grade: B+

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The Listening Post: April 2010

April enters like a lamb, bringing warm weather and fresh music:

  • Diamonds In The RoughIan Person. From the guitar player of Sweden’s best band, The Soundtrack Of Our Lives, comes this solo project. It has a lot in common with Soundtrack, especially the love of classic rock songs and structures. The influences on Person are clearly evident throughout the album: “Spiders” is sunny, ’60s pop, the title track is mid-70s Stones, “Fool’s Parade” sounds like a first pass at The Who’s “Overture” while also borrowing liberally from Ravel’s “Bolero,” “Summer Song” and “Make You Mine” nick the guitar tone from Big Star’s “Watch The Sunrise,” “The Delivery” is flamenco, etc. The big touchstone seems to be Tommy-era Who. If this criticism makes it sound like Person is just rehashing better songs by better bands, the truth is the opposite. These songs borrow the tone of their classic forebears, but are not copies of earlier songs. Diamonds In The Rough is an aptly-named gem of an album that pulls off the neat trick of sounding classic and fresh at the same time. The vocals are confident and relaxed, the guitar playing is superb. Person manages to make the album sound like a band project even though he is the main musician throughout, which is also no small feat. There are too many instrumentals for my tastes (five—and while a couple of them are truly excellent and none of them are bad, this is where the album stumbles). Overall, it’s a great achievement for Person to make an album that ranks alongside the best of his more well-known band efforts. More, please. Grade: B+
  • Stink (Deluxe Edition)The Replacements. The sophomore effort from The Replacements was the 1982 EP bearing the all-time classic title Stink. It was not as much fun as their magnificent debut with the equally all-time classic title Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash, mainly because the humor was more obvious. Where the humor of the first album seemed natural, the humor on the followup seems forced (although hats off to “Dope Smoking Moron”). Paul Westerberg was not, at this point, a great songwriter, but he was at least a fun songwriter with an enormous amount of potential. But with the shining exception of “Kids Don’t Follow,” the songs on Stink are even more primitive than the ones on their debut. If you don’t think it’s possible to get more primitive than “I Hate Music,” just give a listen to “God Damn Job.” True, “Go” is a break in the Stink ethos of loud, hard, and unbelievably fast, and sounds more like the type of songs Westerberg would start to write on the next full-length album, Hootenanny. But while the lyrics on Stink sound like they were written twenty minutes after the song was recorded, the music is pure adrenalin: Westerberg, the Stinson brothers, and Chris Mars simply pummel the listener into submission, but since the original EP is 8 songs and only 14 minutes long, the effect is cathartic, not overwhelming. The deluxe edition features four additional songs and every one of them is a winner. “Staples In Her Stomach” is a prime example of early Replacements, as good as anything on the first three albums, and deliriously fractured versions of “Hey Good Looking” and “Rock Around The Clock” show that there was a depth of musical knowledge underneath the party-til-you-puke image the band projected. The fourth bonus cut is a home demo of a magnificent Westerberg song called “You’re Getting Married” that slows the tempo and clearly indicates that Westerberg was already starting to move past what he would later call “noisy, fake hardcore.” While Stink sounds like a bit of a rush job copy of the debut album, it’s still a whole lot of fun, and the bonus tracks make it even better. Grade: B+
  • Teargarden By Kaleidyscope, Vol. 1: Songs For A SailorSmashing Pumpkins. I’ll leave it to the hard core geeks to determine whether this is really the “Smashing Pumpkins” or just a Billy Corgan solo project under a more famous name. True, Corgan is the sole remaining Pumpkin, but then the Pumpkins were always the Billy Corgan Show. The guy played almost all of the instruments except drums, wrote almost all the songs, and sang everything. In the history of the Smashing Pumpkins, bassist D’Arcy Wretzky and guitarist James Iha were little more than coat hangers for Corgan and drummer Jimmy Chamberlain. Corgan was the Pumpkins and if he wants to hire a bunch of people to replace Iha, D’Arcy, and Chamberlain…well, sure. What do I care? The last effort by the Pumpkins was their “reunion” album Zeitgeist which came and went without a trace, buried under a mountain of sludgy guitars. While there were some good moments on that album, the overall effect was like being beaten to death by jackhammers…loud, and unpleasant. What was missing from Zeitgeist were actual songs. The Pumpkins were always at their best mixing brutally hard rock (“Cherub Rock,” “I Am One”) with psychedelic dream pop (“Disarm,” “1979”). Pumpkins or not, this is what Corgan has returned to on this EP, the first of 11 projected EPs to be released under the catch-all title of Teargarden By Kaleidyscope. These four songs represent the best stuff Corgan has turned out since Mellon Collie and The Infinite Sadness, and seem to indicate that Billy’s had his iPod set to a Led Zeppelin playlist. “A Song For A Son” revels in its Zeppelin IV-isms, and features scorching guitar work from Corgan, while “Widow Wake My Mind” combines a 1970s summertime breeze pop with Houses Of The Holy crunch. “A Stitch In Time” has a breezy acoustic/psychedelic feel. The final song, “Astral Planes” is the weak link. Musically it’s not at all bad but there’s only about five words in the song, repeated endlessly. If you’re going to write lyrics, make an effort. Otherwise, just leave it as an instrumental. Just for the record, I don’t really miss Iha or D’Arcy, but while the new drummer is excellent, replacing Jimmy Chamberlain is all but impossible. All songs are available as free downloads from Smashingpumpkins.com, and the actual EP will be released at the end of May. Grade: A.
  • The White StripesThe White Stripes. This blast of blues from Jack and Meg White is so primeval that if you listen closely you can actually hear the sound of red, white, and black dinosaurs off in the distance. Call it “Peppermintsaurus.” From the opening drum kick that starts “Jimmy The Exploder” to the squall that is “I Fought Piranhas” the debut album contains all the elements that would make the White Stripes one of the most exciting acts to come along since “Smells Like Teen Spirit” blew out of radio speakers. But just because all the elements are there, doesn’t mean they’re all in place. The White Stripes is defiantly primitive and the bluesiest of all their albums, and at times it reaches greatness: the covers of Robert Johnson’s “Stop Breaking Down,” Bob Dylan’s “One More Cup Of Coffee,” and the traditional “St. James Infirmary Blues,” are standouts. They are also all cover versions. The only original that rises to their level is the brooding “Do,” though several others are nearly as good, especially the furious “Screwdriver” and the molten metal Detroit blues, “The Big Three Killed My Baby.” But like the product put out by the Big Three, there are also clunkers: “When I Hear My Name,” “Little People,” “Slicker Dips” “Wasting My Time” and “Cannon” are riffs in search of a song (though “Cannon” has a welcome shout out to Son House by incorporating a couple of verses from “John the Revelator”). But this album also marks the first, welcome appearance of “Suzy Lee” (who would show up later on “We Are Going To Be Friends” from White Blood Cells), the excellent acoustic blues of “Sugar Never Tasted So Good,” and the twisted dance of “Astro,” which features a closing guitar solo that hits you like a taser. Jack and Meg would do better, but this is a fine album. Grade: B