Reviews: The Bordellos, Iggy Pop, Steve Wynn, Holly Golightly, The Gladiators, Procol Harum, Near Future

The Bordellos

Debt Sounds

(thebordellos3.bandcamp.  com/releases)

It’s taken ten years for this to get a proper release… ten years since the Bordellos spent ten consecutive Friday nights laying down seventeen songs on a heap of machines, not one of which cost more than a cup of coffee and a bun. Ten years since their then-record label took one listen to the tapes and begged the Bordellos to bury them deep.  As mainman Brian Bordello puts it, “a label that boasted in its bumph [to specialize in] uncommercial uncompromising music refused to release it as it was too uncompromising,.”

Maybe time has softened the edges.  Maybe a decade of further familiarity with the Bordellos has acclimatized us to their staunch refusal to play nicely with others.  Whatever.  The fact is, Debt Sounds’ reputation may or may not precede it, but this is primal, prime Bordellos however you want to listen to it.

The liners spike the standard critical ploy of pointing out the most obvious influences – Billy Childish and the Velvets are both namechecked for specific songs, but their cloak has a widescreen lining… not necessarily in any way you could put a finger on, but you listen and you understand.  Is that the ghost of a “Heroin” guitar line at the back of “Sealhead”?  Maybe, but only if “Heroin” was actually “a psych folk song about a sexual predator who can only reach climax if his partner wears a seal mask.”  But yes, that is Paul McCartney’s second cousin Jade on harmony vocals.  Well spotted.

The key to Debt Sounds lies in the album’s title.  Or, more accurately, in something that rhymes with it.  Just as the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds was that band’s approximation of just how far then-current musical technology and studio craft could be taken in one direction, Debt Sounds illustrates how much further it could have gone, by the simple process of rejecting every innovation that distracts from the sheer delight of hearing a band being a band.  

No overdubs, no rehearsals, no chance of learning the songs before they were recorded.  Arrangements were invented on the fly, visitors to the studio were roped in to help out, and when the closing “Honeypie” didn’t come out loud and ugly enough, the Bordellos simply played along with the tape of the first take, and allowed the two to stand together.  The liners compare it to an out-take from White Light White Heat, which is probably as close to the truth as you could get.  

In terms of the Bordellos’ own history, Debt Sounds is a lost classic, a missing link, and all those other things that rock writers like to say about “hitherto thought lost, this is the legendary blah-blah-blah, salvaged from the archive and painstaking remastered by a cat with no ears.”  In terms of 90% of what you’ve been listening to this month, however, it is as dissonant, dissolute, disreputable and demented as any disc you could ever hope to hear.  

Play it till your ears bleed.  It shouldn’t take long. 

 

Joshua Homme/Iggy Pop

American Valhalla (DVD)

(Eagle Vision)

In case you missed it, Iggy Pop’s last album, Post Pop Depression, was probably his best in almost forty years.  Which isn’t to say he spent the intervening decades churning out substandard drivel like so many of his peers and contemporaries; simply that he set the bar so high with The Idiot, Lust for Life (and yes, I’ll admit it, Soldier) that even trying to top them would be a fool’s errand.  

Plus, pop stars don’t work like they used to.  In the thirteen years between 1969 and 1982, with and without the Stooges, Iggy released nine “new’ albums, of which just three could be considered a let down.  In the thirty that elapsed between 1982 and 2012, he released twelve.  Most of which… well when was the last time you played Avenue B?

Post Pop Depression restored him to the frontline not simply of essential listening, but of longterm relistening, too.  How easy it is, after all, to pick up the latest release by Name Your Old Fave, spin it once and then file it, secure in the knowledge that, no matter how long you live, you’ll probably never play it more than twice again.  Once when you sit down to listen to the entire back catalog in one fell swoop; and once before you add it to the cull pile, when the time comes to downsize the collection.  

Post Pop Depression defies that gloomy scenario, and the live album that succeeded it wasn’t bad, either.  It was no Metallic KO or TV Eye, of course, but again, the Iggy live bar is even higher than its studio counterpart.  There are only five truly essential live albums in the entire history of rock, and Iggy made two of them.  Any more would have been greedy.

And so, to complete the triumvirate, American Valhalla, the story behind the stories as seen through the eyes of co-conspirator Joshua Homme.  Although Iggy is naturally a looming presence throughout, it’s Homme’s tale that is the focus here; how a guy who spent his formative musical years obsessed by Iggy’s “Repo Man” woke up one day to find a text from his idol, suggesting they get together to write.

Cue all the emotions you’d expect to experience when your hero calls up out of the blue – surprise, disbelief, shock, terror.  One of the most affecting moments is when Homme receives a fat package full of notes, lyrics and anecdotes from Iggy, and then waits three months to write him back because he just doesn’t know what to say.  It’s the best gift he’s ever had in his life. How do you thank someone for that?

By helping them make a great record, of course. 

In all honesty, American Valhalla is not the most gripping documentary ever shot, although few “the making of the album” epics ever are.  They put together a band, they found a studio, they recorded some songs.  Hurrah.

But the second half of the film, where they take the record on the road, does pick dramatically and as much as the movie is Homme’s homage to his own experiences, the gut punch still belongs to Iggy.  

The night before the band had their first live rehearsal, about an hour before he had to get up for an early flight, his wife awoke him to tell him that David Bowie was dead.  The fact that Iggy still caught that early flight, and went ahead with the rehearsal as well, is not merely one of the most important revelations in American Valhalla, it’s one of the most crucial in the entire canon of Iggy interviews.

 

Steve Wynn

Kerosene Man (CD)

Dazzling Display (CD)

(both Omnivore)

Coming down, and out, from the psych-y dramas of the Dream Syndicate, Steve Wynn’s first two albums dropped him neatly into the heart of Americana, during that fascinating moment before it became the noise-du-jour in the critical eye – and was, therefore, still wide open for experiment and interpretation.

Certainly Wynn keeps one foot firmly in his past, particularly as the driving Kerosene Man motors along, but with one eye always on the horizon, the rear-view mirror becomes less and less interesting.  What, after all, is the point in going solo if you just keep making the same old noise?  

Hints of Stan Ridgway, Giant Sand and the Blasters are audible (and sundry members/associates are present), but history is harsh in the way it appends these records with the role call of all the Him Out of Thingy and Her Out of Wossitsname guest appearances that also pop up as they rumble along.  As though you’re listening not to two very distinct and enjoyable albums, but some kind of amalgam of Concrete Blonde, REM, Los Lobos and the Bangles.  Shudder at the thought and move on.  This is Wynn all the way.

Bonus tracks pile up, half a dozen on Kerosene Man, drawn from the vinyl only Swapmeet promo; six more on Dazzling Display, hailing from the Kerosene Man EP and the last deluxe edition of Dazzling Display… covers of Sonic Youth, Paul Simon, Lou Reed and Bob Dylan, to join the Serge Gainsbourg number on the main attraction.  And it’s to Wynn’s eternal credit that every one of them fits in its place.

 

Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs

Clippety Clop (CD)

(Transdreamer)

Ah, this is what we want.  It’s a tribute album to horses, and if you don’t believe that (the title is a giveaway), check out the track listing.  “Mule Skinner,” “Two White Horses,” “Horses in the Mine,” “Pinto Pony,” “Black Horse Blues,” “Kill Grey Mule” and that’s just the half of it.  

Holly and her partner Lawyer Dave (aka the Brokeoffs) run a horse rescue center, and this album is their honoring of the beasts they love so much.  And, of course, the long-awaited continuation of a musical duo that is now ten albums old, but still sounds as fresh as your first Headcoatees single.  

It’s sparse, it’s raw, it’s occasional disorientating, the simplest of musical formulae twisting around a bluesy, prairie-y, eerie windswept nocturne. Think campfires, coyotes, wild mustangs and prairies and you’re close.  Think Geeshie Wylie in a room full of amps, with Roy Rogers riding the volume control, and you’re closer.  

It’s prone to some astonishing surprises – the full band and guitar solo sound that punctuates the loping “Horses in the Mine” is just the first.  But more than that, it’s music made for the sake of making music, and listened to for the sake of that, too.  An utter and absolute delight.

 

The Gladiators

Serious Thing (CD)

Symbol of Reality (CD)

(Nighthawk/Omnivore)

By the early 1980s, a lot of the buzz that once hung around the Gladiators had dissipated, as if history had already decided that they were never going to top their Front Line output five years earlier, so why bother paying attention now? 

Two albums for Nighthawk, in 1982 and 1983, were a case in point.  Both caught the band moving on from the roots sound of old, and that was maybe a contentious move – reggae as a whole was changing, and a lot of ears insisted that the past was still the most authentic sound. 

But Symbol of Reality found the group embracing dancehall with such glee that even the handful of oldies that resurface for the show (“Watch Out,” “Righteous Man,” “Natty Roots”) were utterly revitalized for the occasion. Laced not only with occasional new titles, but also a deliriously compulsive new atmosphere.  Their version of the Wailers’ “Small Axe” has to rate among the finest Marley covers ever.

After such a delight, Serious Thing was something of a backward step – rootsier in delivery, and somehow less compulsive, too.  That said, “My Thoughts” was stone cold glorious, all the more so when it can slip into its twin version and instrumental dubs, both of which are included here.  There’s also a ridiculously buoyant remake of “Fling It Gimme,” a Gladiators single from 1969, that should have been the biggest crossover hit of the age

Both albums are packed with bonus tracks, more than doubling them in length, and while one could definitely demand more from the liner notes (Symbol’s text more or less loses interest a decade before the album was released), it’s great to see Nighthawk’s catalog coming back to life.  Especially when it brings these two albums with it.

 

Procol Harum

Still There’ll Be More – An Anthology 1967-2017 (2CD, 8CD/DVD)

(Esoteric/Cherry Red)

Available as both a sprawling eight disc monster and a considerably less ambitious two CD distillation, Still There’ll Be More could be viewed as both a promise and a threat – few bands’ back catalogs have been so ruthlessly revisited as Procol Harum’s, over the years, especially if you focus on the opening few salvos, to the point where even completists have probably raised the white flag by now.  If there really will be more, please don’t let it be those first four albums again.

Esoteric are to be congratulated, then, for delving deep into the archive. Both the big box and its baby brother offer as much space to the band’s post Home career as it does to the “classic” era.  To remind us (because we did forget) that long after the period plaudits faded, albums like Grand Hotel and Exotic Birds still pack their moments of magnificence.

But there’s more, so much more.  The main treat marches on with three complete (and largely unreleased) live recordings from 1973, 1975 and 1977; and three DVDs worth of TV performances, which are surely worth the price of entry on their own.  Its slimline sibling, on the other hand, focuses simply on offering up a song or two from the LP catalog, so it’s half greatest hits and half other bits; a joy in its own modest way, but surely of interest only to the faintest hearted Procol people.  

Spin Cycle actually attended one of the shows here, at Bournemouth Winter Gardens in March 1976, and still thrills to the unexpected delight of “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch” popping up as an encore.  So there’s another reason to eschew the two discs, and revel in the full length behemoth.  Cos the music is marvellous, the packaging is classy, and the mastering’s as good as any past repackage.  Most important of all, though, is the fact that the band’s story has never been told this well.

 

Near Future

Ideal Home (CD)

(Blanc Check Records)

First impressions of Near Future’s union of Neil Arthur (Blancmange) and Bernholz (Gazelle Twin), heard while feeding fish in another room, is of an hitherto unheard out-take from Eno’s Before and After Science.  Which is one of the most promising recommendations that any album could ever require.

Moving closer to the speakers, and playing past the opening title track, that initial impression is both heightened and dismissed.  Ideal Home is the glorious marriage of buoyant pop and dark electronics, an album that adds bits of Bowie and the best of Blancmange (of course) to the brew, but still manages to emerge, as “Field This” would say, “freshly peeled.”

It’s one of those rare electronic albums that actually finds variety in repetition, the slow-motion hurling of obscure imagery into landscapes that never go quite where you expect.  If this album was a weather map, there’d be are iguanas sunning themselves between the isobars, and never so much as through “Kites Over Waitrose,” which has already been compared to something by This Mortal Coil, so there’s no need to labor the description here.  Except to say, it’s just one more highlight of an album that has already served up a plethora of the things.

Elsewhere, “Dawn,” with its spectral recounting of the old “Daisy Daisy” song, allies pastoral innocence to creeping menace – if this were a movie, this is the part where the lava starts flowing across a Constable landscape; while “Fish and Chips” is eighty-eight seconds of distant chatter and rhythmic creaking, poised perfectly over a petrified Nico riff.

It’s a short album, just around the forty minute mark, but it doesn’t need to be longer than that.  Like those early Eno LPs, it does what it needs to in the time it wants to take, and then it slips off to leave you wishing.  And it’s not out until the end of May, so you have plenty of time in which to anticipate your own copy.

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