Albums

Classic Album Review: Prince – 1999 [1982, Warner Bros.]

Posted on by Allison in Albums, Classic Albums, Everything, Music | 2 Comments

If you were to ask me who I thought was the most talented songwriter in the world, you might think I’d be hard pressed to come up with a definitive answer.

You’d be wrong.

In the hybrid category of overall singer / composer / musician of 26-odd instruments, there can only be one winner. Prince Rogers Nelson takes this title without any hesitation on my part, and despite his going off the eccentric Jehovah’s Witness deep-end well over a decade ago, I still think he is the most talented musical icon of all time. He trumps Madonna in chart-accessible rebirth. He kicks the Beatles’ catalog. He oozes pop from his every orifice. He is the most overtly sexual songwriter of all time. And more so than anyone else I can name, Prince has consistently proved that he is an endless factory of eclecticism, genuine sexuality, and ass-shakingness, which brings us to 1999.

1999 arguably takes the cake in terms of best party album of all time. Everything on this damn thing makes you want to either scream-sing at the top of your lungs or embrace the loose morality of getting “down” with your bad self (Dance Music Sex Romance). This album embodies the most positive and life-affirming heathen ethics. There are some gems on here that never fully hit the public’s radar with the full breadth I would’ve expected it to, and it’s puzzling to me why some of them weren’t chart toppers while others were.

Out of all of the albums I’m reviewing for this series, I would have to say that this is the most primal and lighthearted, least cerebral, and surprisingly, least emotional. All 1999 incites in me is a desire to get out like a dancing, singing fool (and I emphasize the fool part).

The album’s title track was something I couldn’t listen to throughout the 00’s, abandoning it due to Y2K overplay. It feels kind of like fictional farce 11 years later, but the nail-biting in 1999 was real. My computer science professor had managed to convince us all that the bulk of the world was running on COBOL, which was incapable of handling the rollover to 2000. Everything will revert back to 1900!, he said, and we either apathetically or stupidly semi-believed him (what can I say, he was dumb, and we were dumber). Listening to 1999 again, I think it’s a shame that it carried the taint of Y2K mania. It’s still an ultimate party song with all of the trimmings.

Let’s go through the rest:

Little Red Corvette – Prince seems to have a shitload of songs that play as explicit sexual innuendo. He is one of the few people who is able to balance “suggestive” with “crude”, while still staying under the radar of pop culture. It’s hard to believe that LRC is still Prince’s biggest hit to date, but then I used to listen to it like the dickens, not really picking up on anything it really meant (essentially sleeping with a slut). The drum beat is still ultra tight.

Delirious – Much of this feels borrowed from “Horny Toad”, but no matter. Another example of sex flying below the censors. Probably the weakest track off the album–weird to think this charted.

Let’s Pretend We’re Married – Another favorite that didn’t receive as much attention…I always notice this as a conspicuous oversight in all “best of” Prince collections, and I’m not sure why it never captured public imagination as much as some others.  “If you’re free for the next couple of hours / If you’re free for the next seven years!”

D.M.S.R. – May very well be my favorite track off the entire album. Over 8 minutes of ass shaking, love making, I guess this is the whole theme of the entire album. We’re all going to hell, but we might as well enjoy a lot of sex in the meantime, irregardless. I just felt like using the word “irregardless” there.

Automatic – Another gem. More than anyone else, Prince has a way with keyboards, and the head boppingness makes you completely forget about the completely inane lyrics.

Something in the Water (does not compute) and Free were kind of write-offs, with Free being the sort of life after death ballad that athiests ignore. Looking at the album’s two main themes, every song either revolves around sex, love or fear of God.

Lady Cab Driver – Sure, the sounds oddly like Irresistible Bitch, but if anyone were to ask me what good, accessible funk music was, I’d point them to Lady Cab Driver. It’s easy to see why Prince was such a ladies man in spite of the fact that he essentially looked like a short, wizened monkey in high heels.

All the Critics Love U in New York – Kind of an eerie number, but catchy nonetheless.

International Lover – Totally reminiscent of a jazzier Nothing Compares 2 U.

Although so many of these songs remind me of so many others in Prince’s catalog, I have to say that no one recycles like this man (and anyone who writes over 15,000 songs can be excused for some creative borrowing from himself). He has the ability to make new out of something familiar; to make something filthy sound innocuous; and to make a 9 minute musical tirade feel palatable.

Classic Album Review: Lloyd Cole and the Commotions – Rattlesnakes [1984, Geffen]

Posted on by Allison in Albums, Article Series, Classic Albums, Everything, Music | 3 Comments

I put Lloyd Cole and the Commotions‘ Rattlesnakes album  in the same category of relatively-unheard-in-North-America U.K. 80’s  releases not dissimilar to Prefab Sprout‘s Steve McQueen. They both contain some of the most fluid and sophistopoppy songs of the decade that have held up through the test of time. Rattlesnakes achieves the distinctiveness of being very reminiscent of the mid-80’s (this is just good pop music, not new wave) while still retaining its contemporary status.

I remember very little about 1984-1985 aside from some very distant memories of my sister bringing home a classroom guinea pig that stunk up our entire house, and an uncle who spent the summers with us while he was at the University of Waterloo flipping over my mom’s station wagon. I was 4 years old, and the internet-age of music was a long way off, bringing home how radically different music channels for distribution have been revolutionized. I have no idea how easy or difficult it would’ve been to go to a record store in Toronto and pick this release up, but I would imagine that the guy running the store probably looked like Boy George.

Do the kids still know who Boy George even is??

Before I start running down the block chasing kids away with my slipper in hand, I’ll get on with the review. What makes this a classic album? More than anything else I think it’s the fact that it still plays as well as an excellent contemporary album would today. Rattlesnakes has an erudite timelessness that most college bands implicitly have due to the fact that we know so-and-so went to Harvard, Columbia, or wherever, but that few explicitly reference with academia. It oozes with substance while managing to stay warm and fuzzy, accessible (these songs may very well be considered adult contemporary by today’s standards) in a way that last week’s Roxy Music is not. We wouldn’t imagine Lloyd Cole to be an art school snob; on the contrary, I’m sure most of us would imagine him to be a nice man. He likes golf, and Wikipedia tells me he likes booking dates that are suspiciously close to golf courses (a man after my own self-serving heart), on top of which, he has been married to the same woman since 1989.

None of this really adds or detracts from the overall quality of the album (aside from highlighting the fact that Mr. Cole is now probably quite old), which I’ll get into right now:

Perfect Skin – An homage to the most underrated female organ, something that often seems forgotten in these days of Jersey Shore tanning beds (hello enlarged pores and unnatural burnt sienna crayon complexion). One thing I most appreciate about Cole’s lyricism is his ability to be specific without overwriting, “She’s got cheekbones like geometry and eyes like sin and she’s sexually enlightened by cosmopolitan” says it all. He gets caught up in gleaning the obscure details that make something extra descriptive; a quality that I especially prize.

Speedboat – A lot of bluesy pre-Charlatans keyboards going on here, which I suppose was prominent enough at the time. The careful addition of strings in just the right places makes this feel slick, though. Brilliant sounding chorus too. I hadn’t ever listened to this closely enough to catch what I would imagine to be this story about a couple drowning tragically.

Rattlesnakes – It always pleases me when the best song of the album is also the name of the album. I would also venture to say that Rattlesnakes is the magnum opus of Lloyd Cole and the Commotions’ brief 3-album career, period. I’m trying to think of a primary element that this incredible song might be missing, and I’m coming up empty. Brilliant lyrics, check. String arrangements, check. Unforgettable beginning, check. Spectrum of deep emotions, check. Reference to intellectual French Feminist and legendary actress, check. This song is just chock full of everything there might be to love about a smart *flawed* (read: real) woman, full stop. “She looks like Eve Marie Saint in On the Waterfront / She reads Simone de Beauvoir in her American circumstance”.

Tori Amos’s cover of this song is also fantastic.

Down On Mission Street – The saddest ditty on the entire album, chastising a guy who sounds like a bit of a pathetic dick. Another stellar example of well-arranged strings (and not just strings for the sake of strings).

Forest Fire – Despite some choice bass work, this song is hearkening back to an 80’s easy listening song that is on the tip of my tongue, but not quite coming out (it’s late; I started this to combat insomnia but instead of have sashayed myself into that annoying limbo of being tired but not quite stopping and forcing myself to sleep).

Charlotte Street – Harmonica happiness. Kind of reminds me of The The’s This is the Day. Sweet guitar solo 2/3 of the way through.

2cv – Did Suckers creatively borrow from this song for Save Your Love for Me? Allison’s answer is: yes.

Four Flights Up – A little bit Traveling Willburys, a little bit Chris Isaak. All good. And I’ve just learned that the Cars’ Rik Ocasek produced this along with Patience and Perfect Skin, which makes me like it even more.

Patience – What Freur’s Doot Doot song wishes it could be.

Are You Ready to Be Heartbroken? – This is likely the one our regulars will be familiar with due to Scottish dour faces, Camera Obscura. As much as I enjoyed Let’s Get Out of This Country and generally don’t mind anyone creatively borrowing as long as it doesn’t border on aping, I have to note how much better this song is due to its heartfelt sincerity. Yes Lloyd, we are ready to be heartbroken. We are ready to bleed.

Concert Review: Foxes in Fiction, August 12, Tiger Bar

Posted on by Allison in Albums, Concerts, Everything, Music, Reviews | 14 Comments

I have a very soft place in my enlarged heart for start-up musicians (and I suppose at some point, everyone is a start-up). Call me the equivalent of a patron-of-the-arts Flo Nightingale — there is something I can’t quite resist about people fiddling around in their parents’ houses, eventually graduating to blogosphere public release, and a gig at a dive bar. They might be the next big thing, and they might not. Life is full of randomness, and the thing I like about these music makin’ kids is that such successes or failures seem irrelevant, because either way there is some force within them that is compelling them towards creative expression. There’s a purity in that goal that I find refreshing because it is the very definition of artistic innocence.

Foxes in Fiction‘s Warren Hildebrand fits this bill to a tee, so it should come as no surprise that I was willing to slug it out on a late Thursday night. I wanted to see what this kid was all about, seeing as he’s garnered some attention from Pitchfork (an accomplishment that the relentless show promoter would not let go, but hey, he bought me a beer, so maybe I should let go of the fact that he sounded like he was promoting a liquidation sale in Brampton), and seems to be an all-round nice kid.

I have to admit though, I very much lamented the space that he had to play in. I don’t know if any of you have had the pleasure of going to Tiger Bar (whose name seems counterproductive, seeing as the upstairs part has a bar as well, though at least the bartender here actually responds to you when you call–more than I can say for the dickwad upstairs), but it evokes the feeling of standing in someone’s dodgy basement. Plastic lawn chairs are scattered everywhere, there is garden latticework stapled to the ceiling, and a smell that competes with the Boat’s overwhelming mustiness. On top of that, there is the serious design flaw of having the bar’s supply room smack dab in the centre of the stage, a feature that poor Warren had to compete with throughout his set.

As for the set itself, it started off pretty rockily. Warren is a one-man show, and I sincerely hope he reconsiders this set-up as he progresses, because as our friends from Zaza have commented, requiring one person to play a bajillion different band instruments eventually becomes akin to, “dancing around like a clown onstage”. The first song in his set started off with an oddly long sample that I think was supposed to sound like the beach, but maybe it was wind blowing (there were a couple of instances in which his sample was offbeat his actual guitar playing). Either way, I wasn’t sure what I had committed myself to despite liking the three songs I had skimmed beforehand. But soon after he started in on his guitar, I quickly realized that we had a homegrown next generation Bradford Cox (Deerhunter, Atlas Sound) on our hands.

You would think that I of all people would be receptive to any musician overly derivative of Coxy, and I am. It’s just that so many of the songs I had heard played on the du-woppy flavor of songs like Walkabout (Atlas Sound’s collaboration with Panda Bear), I was left wondering if the kid had any individual musical range whatsoever.  He proved me wrong with his last couple of songs, though. One called Rainfall particularly stood out, which he awkwardly dedicated to his friend Ryan. His entire family was in attendance as well, and boy were they ever conspicuous. His mother, grandmother, and siblings attended with a carafe of red wine they were all sharing. Warren even dedicated a song to his “Nana”, and I can’t lie. That warmed the cockles of my heart (the support he enjoyed from his family almost made up for the fact that the band that went on before him were obnoxiously talking throughout his entire set).

I generally give a thumbs-up to the music. You can listen for yourself by downloading the album for free here, but as the Pitchfork review brings across, this is basically more or less an extension of Atlas Sound’s Logos. In terms of the actual stage presence / connection with the audience, I felt the kid was shortchanged. There were only about 15 people in the audience, many of whom I’m certain were personal friends, acquaintances, or blood relatives. In spite of his incredibly stilted awkwardness, he did make some attempts to reach out and touch something only to be met with a fistful of air.

All I can say to young Warren is that I see a lot of potential here. Keep your nose clean, keep making music you love, practice in public, stay humble, and give everyone reason to believe in what you’re doing beyond riding the Pitchfork wave. I want to see another B. Cox, not another Nathan Williams (Wavves).

Classic Album Review: Roxy Music – Roxy Music [1972, Island]

Posted on by Allison in Albums, Classic Albums, Everything, Music, Reviews | 2 Comments

It saddens me that most people my age will only strongly identify Roxy Music‘s “wuss rock” period towards the end of their run with Avalon, due almost entirely to the excellent scoring Sofia Coppola accomplished with Lost in Translation. Listen…it’s not that songs like “More Than This” are bad; in fact, More Than This is gorgeously cynical (read: the words of a disappointed romantic, where idealism wants to co-exist with an uncompromising reality) showcase of Bryan Ferry’s songwriting skills. It’s just that there is no comparison to Roxy Music 1972. Their debut album takes you to the outermost limits of the spacey universe and back again, a journey that is often achieved within the frame work of ONE song, all captured within the single spun thread of the album narrative. This is what modern experimental music wishes it could be. This is what “indie” music was before it knew it existed. This is where you can use words like “eclectic” and “avant-garde” without sounding like a pretentious dickhead.

One of its greatest triumphs is that it has one of the best Side Ones known to man, and a Side Two that takes you into the depths of alien tumbleweed country, where people (and extraterrestrials) are probably doing lots of drugs. Though I don’t believe the band needed to resort to massive acid dropping to record this masterpiece, it can sometimes feel that way because it’s so otherworldly.

Virtually every song is actually four to five songs in one, making this recording feel like the definition of an epic adventure, borrowing from numerous genres ironically without seeming like it’s trying to pull off hipster schtick. This is Roxy fuckin’ Music after all, whose 1972 line-up is probably the only one in the world that could possibly make oboes sound this cool. In fact, this incarnation of the Roxy Music line-up is the very definition of a tongue-in-cheek dream team. See below for brilliant rock ‘n roll recipe:

1. Bryan Ferry – vocals, piano, Hohner Pianet, Mellotron
2. Brian Eno – VCS3 synthesizer, tape effects, back-up (a kindred spirit, in that we both fail to see the appeal of sports and the desire for musical reunions)
3. Andy Mackay – oboe, saxophone, back-up
4. Phil Manzanera – guitar
5. Graham Simpson – bass
6. Paul Thompson – drums

Is this a modest recording in any sense of the word? Hell no, and why would you want it to be? Roxy Music has a Godzilla-sized ten showy songs strung together and woven into an anti-lo-fi  masterpiece. I guess if you’ve got the plumage, you might as well flaunt it.

Now let’s get into the meat:

Re-Make / Re-Model – Some kind of spastic saxophone-infused frenzy that I could imagine being played in that Star Wars bar (nerds, help out with the name) at any time of day or night. One of the best features of this song is the multitude of solos interspersed with short barely pauses, gradually droning out to a faded end that takes over a minute to fizzle out. In reflecting upon the drum bit at the end, I think Paul Thompson may have doubled as Animal from the Muppet Show.

Ladytron – The beginning of this tune brings us some of the finest oboe music known to man with a creepy lulling effect and a jaunty little middle. Ferry’s voice sounds increasingly like a bleating goat here, and nothing could be more perfect. Those crashing bits meshed with the weird space echoing effect makes you long for about seven minutes more of it.

If There Is Something – In spite of my intense dislike of equine, I would choose this song if I ever had to make an entrance riding on one. There seem to be at least three distinct parts to it: the first is a happy go-lucky western-ish romp through the countryside, the second is a darker bit on the trail, the third is prolonged oboe sadness, the fourth is a vocal masterpiece in which Ferry makes us feel like we’re sitting in his gospel.

Virginia Plain – I remember first hearing this in high school alongside Brian Eno’s Burning Airlines Bring You So Much More, resulting in my listening to little else throughout Grade 11. The artists of today only wish they could write a song ending as appropriately punchy as this. Virginia Plain has all the virile energy of a bajillion tiger penises, and then some. Chumps drink Red Bull to harness the energy to stay awake. I listen to Virginia Plain.

2HB – Here’s lookin’ at you kid. Not my favorite track off the album, but you can’t win ‘em all. It starts to get awesome around the 2:30 mark with the subtle keyboard playing a more prominent role than the sax.

The Bob (Medley) – One of the trippiest things ever recorded with a purely rock the fuck out tearing through starting at the 0:50 mark, and the best example of distinct songs working within the same narrative / framework. Around 1:35 your mind gaskets start being blown to bits again by weird unidentifiable sounds that somehow don’t seem the least bit arty for the sake of being arty. 3:05 brings us to 70’s-infused LSD-ville, dipping again into the somber, lifting up again to the rock out. A fine masterpiece of a song.

Chance Meeting – Kind of a sad swansong, but also one of the flatter songs on the album.

Would You Believe? – At first you think this is going to be a bit of a sleepy number, but then you hit 1:12 and it turns into an electric take on Chubby Checker’s “The Twist”, eventually cooling down into a tambourine-happy fade out.

Sea Breezes – Every time I hear this one it absolutely slays me. I could lie in the middle of the floor listening to this on extended repeat. If I were overdosing on something in the 70’s, I’d want to listen to this as I was being taken to the hospital…but wait, 3:35 rolls around and the intrepid change in tune indicates that I’m clawing my way back to a respectful member of society again. Yes ladies and gentlemen, this is the power of different sweeping cadences.

Bitters End – Du-wop-ish, very Twin Peaks, very Platters, very good.

Fucking very, very good.