Archive for the 'sublime' Category

22
Feb
20

Parliament “The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein”

“Funk is its own reward.” “May frighten you.” I think someone speaks those words, in a kind of intro, or did I just imagine that? There’s a giant list of credits that reads like a funk all-star band, so I’m not sure who is doing what on any song, but I assume there’s a lot of George Clinton. There’s a couple of short songs, then the epic song, “Dr. Funkenstein,” which is a fairly slow, laconic, extremely funky whole-world of a song, with a chanted chorus and voices coming in from all over the place, speaking, singing, stream-of-consciousness. There is this pretty simple but genius repetitive guitar part that runs through it that I just want as the theme song for my life. The song is six minutes, but I wish it was a lot longer. I never do this, but I’m going to buy this song for my computer (sometimes I listen to music there, at home, when I’m not playing records) so I can just play this on repeat for hours. It’s like a TV show theme song, or a whole TV show, or movie. This record came out in 1976, and I may have heard it at a party, but probably not. I was in the phase of progressing directly from prog-rock to punk rock, but I missed the boat here. A few years later, one of the funniest and most offensive punk records I’ve ever heard, Black Randy and the Metrosquad’s “Pass the Dust, I Think I’m Bowie,” has songs that just lift directly from Dr. Funkenstein. I don’t know why, exactly, but I just keep listening and listening to this song. With all the sound effects, and odd vocals—spoken parts, some in annoying cartoon voices, some in frog-voice—stuff that would normally get on my nerves—but here it sounds like a symphony of good insanity. All of the songs on this record are good, including one of those super-long-title ones, “I’ve Been Watching You (Move Your Sexy Body),” and “Let’s Funk Around,” which exploits that tireless and seemingly inexhaustible tradition of using the word “funk” in place of the word “fuck.” The cover (front and back) is also first-rate, with members of the band, presumably, dressed for the stage, or the lab, in some kind of a 1970s television sci-fi set, a good one. I remember looking at a partial discography for Parliament—just the list of titles from the Seventies—all just excellent, mysterious titles. I wonder if these are easy to find—I mean, not for hipster prices, normal person prices—I’ll keep an eye out for them. It’s like a crime against my sensibility that I don’t own any Parliament Funkadelic vinyl.

09
Feb
20

Frank Sinatra “Watertown”

In an attempt to keep these reviews shorter, I’m going allow myself the option to write about a record and then return to it if I feel like I have something to say—and this is one where I’m sure that will be the case. I am currently obsessed with this record, which Frank Sinatra put out in 1970, quite possibly to a bit of head scratching. I think it’s one of those records that has been “rediscovered”—though that’s probably kind of annoying to people who were big fans of it all along. I would always group it with the later, sometimes weird and goofy Sinatra albums (like the one where he sings about Uranus), but I was wrong about how much I’d grow to love it. In fact, as of this Saturday, I have roughly 400 vinyl records (I had many more at one time but lost almost all of them) and this, right now, is my number one favorite, which also means it’s my favorite Sinatra record—and I have a lot of favorites.

The album cover looks like the menu of a vegetarian restaurant in 1979—though, I actually love the cover, and will buy an extra copy to hang one on my wall—but it sure isn’t a glossy photo of Frank in a hat with a cocktail. The lyrics are inside, and the lyrics are crucial. This is a concept record, produced by Bob Gaudio and written by him and Jake Holmes. It’s not so unusual for Sinatra, a concept record of sad love songs—except this is not standards, but late Sixties pop. It’s somewhat similar to what was previously my favorite record, Richard Harris and Jimmy Webb’s The Yard Went On Forever, in both themes and style, and seeing as that came out two years earlier, I wonder if it was an influence for this one? I also wonder (and I’m sure I can find this out someday) if Sinatra and Richard Harris were friends or rivals? Anyway, Bob Gaudio was one of the Four Seasons, which almost sounds like a Spinal Tap-ian joke when you say it that way, but look at his songwriting credits. He’s no less legendary than anyone who’s written a pop song, yet his name was not familiar to me until very recently. It seems weird to say that people like him and Jimmy Webb are underrated, but that’s our culture for you—and the Dylan and Beatles world we live in. If anyone ever wants you to explain that fuckin’ black rectangle in 2001: A Space Odyssey, tell them to think of the Beatles—not so much what they were, but how our culture creates these things that suck up all the light, rendering us blind to everything else, and create so much noise it also deafens us. Then those are those things, and there are very few of them at that—and everyone else is washing dishes at Applebee’s, if they’re lucky.

Since I’m a song person, I can love a record for one good song, or hate it because it only has one good song. A collection of great songs, especially in order, and creating a story—that doesn’t come along very often, but here it is. I’m going to have to write about this again just so I can go through song by song and really appreciate each one. I’d say half of them should have been major hits, as standalone songs—and would have been if our world wasn’t bullshit. The other thing I want to do later is read more about this record—I think there might be websites and newsgroups about it—has anyone done one of those 331/3 books yet? This would be perfect for one of those. Maybe I’ll finally do a proposal. But it would be daunting, too, because there’s got to be some people out there for whom this record is it. Maybe I’ll meet one of those cats sometime, maybe online, or we can write a good old-fashioned letter. Or maybe I can start a Watertown meeting in my town. Oh, one thing I do want to mention right now—after I bought this record and was immediately impressed by it, for about the first hundred listenings I felt that it kind of pooped out at the end—didn’t finish as strong as I’d have wished it to. That was before I paid close attention to the lyrics (as much of a lyric fanatic as I am, sometimes when the music is strong enough, I just kind of ignore the lyrics for the longest time). You’ve got to pay attention to the lyrics on this record, and especially on that last song. It’s just devastating.

02
Feb
20

The George Shearing Quintet and Orchestra “Black Satin”

This George Shearing Quintet record is a little different than some others I have in that there is orchestra, arranged by Billy May. There’s something about it that I like almost better than any I’ve heard—it’s hard to say why. There’s something kind of odd about how that Shearing sound—his distinctive piano, coupled with vibes and guitar—sounds with the orchestra. Maybe it’s just that this was one of the records my parents had, and I heard it a lot as a kid. I don’t remember at this point exactly which Shearing records they did have, but pretty much every time I hear any of them, it takes me back to childhood more completely than anything—I can smell what the house smelled like, the carpet just after vacuuming, the late-afternoon sun coming in the west-facing picture window. There’s always something a little sad about it, but comforting, too. I could probably put this record on once a week for the rest of my life. No weak spots—but then there rarely is (that I’ve found) with Shearing. The drawing on the back cover, with the brief liner notes, is a formally dressed rich, young, white man and woman sitting on one of those round couches, like a plush couch wrapped around a post, like the ones in the lobby of the Hotel Breakers, in Sandusky. The joke here is: “Get a room,” because if you ever tried having sex on one of those round couches… what am I saying? No one’s tried that! The cover photo shows a young woman in a slim back dress with some kind of crazy beads draped around her neck that looks like a dead fish, if you squint. She’s reclining on, maybe partly under, what’s supposed to be, of course, “black satin”—but if you really look at it, it more resembles a photo-studio setup of black, plastic trash bags! I’m not sure this doesn’t represent a very bad day in a Capital records photo studio. The woman looks pretty great, like she’d just as soon kick your ass as make out—and if you use your imagination, you could comfortably put this cover photo on a movie poster about alien pod people or a punk rock album various artist collection called, “Straight Outta Da Trash.”

19
Jan
20

Lena Horne “Stormy Weather”

This is a record I imagine a lot of people having in their collections in the late 50s—it’s got a classy cover, a photo of Lena Horne spotlighted in the darkness, maybe next to a piano—what I’d imagine to be a studio photo replicating a concert setting, but I don’t know. She was a huge star—the liner notes on back talk about how she was a star of first name recognition, like Ella and Frank—and those two come to mind listening to this record of standards—as her singing is every bit as singular as theirs—though none of them sound remotely like each other. So I like to think about a time when this record was on the normal person’s turntable—it’s anything but a boring record. I wonder if younger people know her? I suppose when you say “Lena,” now, more people think of Lena Dunham. As familiar as she is, I know nothing about her really—she lived into her 90s, had a 70 year career, passed away 10 years ago. She was at some point married to Lennie Hayton, who was known to wear captain’s hats, and conducted the orchestra on this record. One wonders if they are an inspiration to the Captain & Tennille. This LP is beat to hell, yet it plays—and just takes me back to a time before I was born. The first song, “Tomorrow Mountain” (Duke Ellington/John Latouche) is spectacular—crazy lyrics—the first I’ve ever heard it. Some of my favorite songs are here, including “Summertime,” “Stormy Weather,” “I’ll Be Around,” and “Just One of Those Things.” All 11 songs are good—nothing bland here, actually—you can’t really call this easy listening—there’s nothing easy about it. It’s out there, it’s jazz, it’s art—even a little challenging. I guess I’m going to have to keep an eye out for other old Lena Horne records now—I’m certainly happy to open another door to the richness of the past.

30
Nov
19

Lana Del Rey “Ultraviolence”

If you call your album “Ultraviolence” are you making a reference to A Clockwork Orange, either the book, or the movie, or both? Though maybe there was something (band, ad agency, hoagie) with that name—referring to the book, or the movie—in the vast cultural wilderness of the last four decades that I missed—and this record is actually referring to that. Is it a fragrance? If not, it should be! Well, in this case, it refers to a (seriously creepy) love song, on the album. I was happy to see a lyric sheet, but it isn’t a lyric sheet, it’s song by song credits, typed with a seemingly very, very small typewriter—I read some of them before my eyes hurt too much and I had to stop—but if you can find another woman’s name anywhere in the vast sea of dude-ness, Leave a Comment, and I’ll issue a personal apology. Like so many records by young people, this one has a thick cover, super heavy vinyl, and is a double record. I guess when I’m thinking back to some of the most exciting records of all time, like from the Seventies, quite a few were double records—I guess it was supposed to announce a spectacular surge of creativity, and also the record company’s boundless love for the artist. But for people who grew up in the CD era, maybe a record seemed like it should be 14 or 18 songs and well over an hour, and to put that on vinyl you need two records. Oh well, the important thing is, are there are good songs—and there are lots here. I think they’re all written by Lana Del Rey, along with someone else, in many cases. I like the songs, I like the sound, I like her singing—I should probably end this review here—the new concise and positive me. But I’m not getting paid by the word, so I’m also not getting paid for brevity.

“Cruel World” is pretty, and melancholy, and pretty damn melancholy, but at least, given that title, relatively free of irony? I love rhyming “Bourbon” and “suburban”—has anyone else used that rhyme? I’m sure, but I can’t recall any, offhand, you need the proper stars to line up. There’s a really familiar sounding song, maybe a hit? Or maybe it’s just growing on me from repeat listens. All solid songs here—I like this record—it’s just relentless in its dramatic, melancholy sound. You want to text her and say, “It’s not so bad. It’s all going to be okay.” But what if she texted back: “How do YOU know?” Well, okay, maybe not then. Keep doing what you’re doing. Apparently she has, with more records since this one, and they’re all hit records, I believe. It’s kind of hard to know, as least for me, anymore, the difference between relative stardom, and stardom, and superstardom, and the next thing. She’s definitely getting “paid by the tear,” as David Berman said. Of course, there can be a cost to that, of course, but maybe those bills have already been paid. Just last week I read an interview, by chance, online (as those things happen, these days, seemingly at random) with a woman singer and songwriter, apparently quite successful, though it was the first time I heard of her (and since forgot her name). What caught my attention was the seeming openness with which she talked about unhappy relationships—and it just struck me, made me kind of sad. I know these are rich people problems, but love is one place where we’re all equal, at least to a great degree—and being famous, or revered, or having money, doesn’t necessarily make it easier. Honey is wonderful, but it attracts everything, including dirt. I’m sorry I can’t remember who the interview was with, but Leave a Comment if you think you know, or maybe I’ll include it as a comment here, later, if I remember. Oh, also, that reminded me of Randy Russell’s excellent short story about falling in love with a singer’s songs, then meeting the person. It’s called “Fiddle o’ Blood,” and I recommend it.

It’s a good album cover, with big, casual photos. It’s kind of refreshing in that the photos on both the front and the back take up the the whole covers, with white letters superimposed, and they are both black and white, and look like from the same day, same photo session. Lana Del Rey is wearing the same kind of white, V-neck T-shirt I wear to work under my white work shirt, though hers looks pretty new, not gnarly like mine, and also, she’s wearing a bra under hers, which is a nice look—though not one I could pull off. On the front it looks like she’s getting out of a car, though I can’t tell what in the world is going on here, or what kind of car it is—from the small details, I’d say it’s a 1970s crap car. It’s a nice, kind of blurry photo—she looks like she’s about 20. Maybe she was at the time. It looks like there’s a tattoo on the outside of her left hand—the part you’d use to karate chop something. Then on the other photo you see a tattoo on the inside of her left hand. Or maybe they’re not tattoos at all, but simply reminders, written with a Sharpie (“Remember photo shoot,” and “Call Speen”). I’m kind of hurt that she needs a reminder, but on the other hand—well, I’m not sure what it says on her right hand. There should be a website that just tells you what famous people tattoos say. Oh, right, there probably is one. I’ll check that out now. On the other hand, no, that’s gross. I’d rather not know.

17
Nov
19

Mott the Hoople “Mott”

My random system for picking records to write about landed on this one, which I may have touched on before, and hopefully will again, since it was such a huge record in my life. Then a couple of days later, in a thrift store, I saw this British pressing with a totally different cover—not that rare, or anything, but I’ve never seen it before, in person, somehow. This is the cover with a die-cut head-shape hole (which, I’ve read, was the bust of Augustus printed on transparent plastic! That part now gone. Also, why?)—and inside, a kind of amazing photo collage. The cover also looks like it was half spray-painted this shade of day-glow pink I didn’t think existed in 1973. I still prefer the US version, which is nothing special—four Seventies rock guys standing there with some stage lights—it’s almost comic in its datedness—but for me, pure nostalgia in its magic. I’ve forgotten a lot of my childhood, but I remember Scott Suter telling me to buy this record—we were in 7th Grade—and I did, intrigued by that band name that made no sense. The opening piano on “All the Way from Memphis”—that weird sound, something off about it, almost like the tape is slowed down or slightly manipulated (I’ll read about this somewhere, someday)—it just burned an indelible memory in my brain, and when I put it on now, it takes me right back there. There are a handful of things like that in your life—usually music is involved—and so I value those things like nothing else.

I think Mott the Hoople is the only band whose last two records are their best two, and it’s somehow not coincidental that they were named “Mott” and “The Hoople,” or that they came out in 1973 and 1974 (the two best years of popular culture, at least in the century surrounding my existence). In a way, they were both last records, because this is the last one with Mick Ralphs, who went directly from this to forming Bad Company. “The Hoople” is both remarkably the same and different than this record. I’ve long struggled and finally given up trying to pick my favorite of the two. Both versions of the band are great all the way through, but it’s Ian Hunter who’s at the center of the mess. It’s hard to make any sense of that guy. You can hear the Bob Dylan influence in everything he does, yet he sounds nothing like Dylan. I’ve gone through periods where I thought he was someone else in disguise, or even thought he was actually a woman. The conclusion I’ve finally come to is that he’s the most normal guy in the history of rock’n’roll, and also the strangest. It turns out it wasn’t Bowie who was the space alien, it was Ian Hunter. Though he might not be a space alien, but instead a ghost, or an android. I did something I never do, last year, and went to see an aging rock band live show—which was Mott the Hoople (with three of them from the ’74, “Hoople,” record) and so I did see the 80 year old Ian Hunter in person, and sure I was a few seats away, but it was like, next stop, Jesus. So the mystery just deepened (also hope—for what one can do at 80 years old).

A funny thing about this record is I’ve just kept listening to it over the years, never really got tired of it (though I don’t, you know, play it to death). When I was a lad, I liked the songs that rocked out more, while the ones with those alienating words (Hymn, Ballad) in their titles put me off a little. Now, those are my very favorite songs, just beautiful slower rock songs, with fairly incredible lyrics, worth checking out, if you never have—songs that I will most likely listen to again tomorrow, and next month, and early next year. Those, along with “I Wish I Was Your Mother” are now my favorite songs on the record. The whole thing is listenable, and also quite an oddity. The best rock music, for me, has always been that which is, how would you say it? Ill-fitting. Also, Ian Hunter’s voice, that’s just going to be knocking around in there, in my skull, like a cave painting, for the rest of my days, and after that, who can say.

08
Nov
19

Frank Sinatra “A Man Alone”

I never heard this record until recently—though, of course, I’ve heard some of the songs—but I bought a vinyl copy—attracted to the cover—a giant, blown up, close-up of Sinatra, looking sad, his head the size of a watermelon, and just this ring he has on is nearly as big as a CD. The subtitle is “& Other Songs of Rod McKuen.” I guess it’s all written by Rod McKuen—is that true? It’s a great record—this was a real discovery here in 2019. There is one thing that I feel confident about, and that’s that my life will end before all the discoveries dry up—and that’s a comforting thought. Anyway, I liked this record so much I bought a second copy (believe me, I didn’t pay much for either of them) because the cover was slightly different, and it opens up and there are some photos inside and liner notes by Rod McKuen. Actually, in light of that, I think there might be too much here for me to write about at once—maybe I’ll write a second review sometime later. Because the thing I’m going to focus on first is the one song on this record that I don’t like, called “Love’s Been Good To Me.” I don’t hate this song (though I’m not remotely crazy about the harpsichord), but it’s just that it stuck in my head one day, and I realized that it was bugging the shit out of me, and I had to ask my self why.

It’s a catchy tune, and I have nothing against that, but I think what bugged me is the first line of the chorus—“I have been a rover”—which, there’s nothing wrong with that, so why does it bug me? I mean, there’s plenty on this record that’s kind of corny, and I like that stuff—I generally like corny, kitschy, overblown shit. But the word “rover” just irritates me for some reason, so I have to examine that. Maybe it’s the concept, of a man who travels around, never settling down. I mean, not necessarily a womanizer, or a cad—it can be an honorable thing, a restless person, who never wants to settle. I don’t know why that would bother me. Except for maybe because it’s a concept that’s pretty much always associated with men, with the underlying backwards traditional belief that a woman shouldn’t live her life that way. Of course, anyone you talk to now—I mean, whose head isn’t up their ass—isn’t going to think that way. But knowing that certain sectors of society, even now, and more so in the past, believed that, I guess maybe that’s part of what rubs me the wrong way.

But still, there’s something else. Maybe it’s just the word, “rover,” that bugs me (as words sometimes do, for no good reason). I mean, it just means “wanderer,” but still. Maybe it’s just one of those words whose core is rotted by negative association—in this case, sexism. Or maybe because it’s similar to “pirate,” in that there’s an inherent double-standard, because of its long tradition of being romanticized, but if you really examine it… not so great. What else. There’s that Led Zeppelin song called “The Rover”—what’s that about? I looked at the lyrics, and I’m reminded of a warning—if you’re going to look at Led Zeppelin lyrics, make sure you’re accompanied by either marijuana or the music, and preferably both. Rover was a traditional name for a dog, like Fido, but what kind of twisted bastard would name their dog Fido or Rover these days? Oh, and one more—Rover is the name of that huge fuckin’ white ball that rises out of the sea in The Prisoner (TV show). I love that thing, it’s weird—but Rover is a dumb name for it—sorry. What would I call it? “Huge fuckin’ white ball that rises out of the sea”—I guess. Well, this is a lot of analyzing just to figure out why this song bugs me so much. Maybe it’s just that damn harpsichord.




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