published in Goldmine, October/November 2018 issues
Ah, the ongoing saga of Mick’n’Keef’n’Charlie, too. To some, they’re more Strolling Bones than Rolling Stones, a travelling Broadway musical plowing through the same old crowd-pleasing motions to the strains of an iPod playlist. To others, they’re an age-defying miracle, a walking, talking bottle of wrinkle cream.
But to all, there’s one thing that cannot be denied. They remain a great rock’n’roll band and, almost fifty years after Get Yer Ya Yas Out first made the claim on vinyl, they’re probably still the greatest of them all.
And here’s why. They’ve never gone soft, gone conceptual, gone arty. They’ve never tried to be anything aside from what they are. And what they are is – yep, we’re back to that again. The greatest rock’n’roll band in the world.
True, conventional wisdom gives up on Stones live albums around the time of Still Life (1982); more lenient ears draw a line after Flashpoint (1991). But not one of the tours that have since taken place can truly be said to have disappointed, and if you switch off the cynicism that automatically adheres, a few are really quite glorious.
From The Vault: San Jose ’99 (Eagle Rock Entertainment) is a case in point. Available in the now-customary array of formats, 3LPs, 2CDs, DVD, Blu-ray and digital, it hails from the last stage of the US tour that accompanied Bridges To Babylon, although you wouldn’t really know that from the repertoire. “Saint Of Me” turns up early in the set, three songs on from “You Got Me Rocking” (from the preceding Voodoo Lounge), “Out Of Control” drops by a little later, and that’s it for the new material. For the rest…
Well, it’s the same old same old, isn’t it? Actually, no it isn’t. “Bitch,” “I Got The Blues,” “Some Girls,” “Paint It Black,” “You Got The Silver,” “Get Off Of My Cloud,” “Before They Make Me Run,” “Tumbling Dice,” and somewhere online there is surely a website that will tell you how many years had elapsed since any of those last enjoyed an extended run in the Stones’ live repertoire.
A lot. As conscious as any fan of how sad it is to go and see a favorite old band, only to be confronted with the same set they’ve been playing for the past forty years, the Stones have spent the past three decades revelling in the less-revisited corners of their catalog. Indeed, the No Security live set that appeared in 1998, capturing an earlier phase of this same outing, is layered even deeper with shocks and surprises – so many, in fact, that just four songs slide from that release to this, and three of those are the “new” ones.
“Jumping Jack Flash,” “Honky Tonk Women,” “Start Me Up,” “Brown Sugar,” “Sympathy for the Devil” – of course a few tried and trusted favorites are here, but even the Stones seem to have tired of “Satisfaction” at last, and the audience scarcely sounds like it missed the song. Not when an epic “Midnight Rambler,” frenetic “Route 66” and a lurching “It’s Only Rock’n’Roll” were there to replace it.
Is this a classic Stones live album? Well, it ain’t Ya-Yas, but not much is. Lined up alongside every concert set they’ve released since then, however, the twenty-plus albums that reach from Love You Live (1977) to Havana Moon (2015), and scrape a few earlier shows from the vault as well, it’s definitely in the top ten, and probably even higher.
Yeah, they’re still the greatest….
It’s a good month for defying the years. Poptone is, depending upon how you want to look at it, either one-half of Bauhaus or two-thirds of Love & Rockets, although they – Daniel Ash and Kevin Haskins – prefer to reflect upon the last time they worked unencumbered by erstwhile bandmates, in the shortlived Tones on Tail.
But Poptone, their debut album (Cleopatra) is the sound of them revelling not in nostalgia, but in beefy reinvention. Across four sides of white vinyl, they do revisit a clutch of ToT oldies, alongside further highlights from the Love & Rockets catalog, and a single Bauhaus number, too (“Slice of Life”).
But anybody looking for something even remotely approaching a carbon-copy needs go elsewhere. With Haskins’ daughter Diva Dompe completing the line-up on bass, Poptone is a live-in-the-studio rampage that refuses to even vaguely countenance the possibility that these songs aren’t as fresh as this morning’s tea and toast.
Only a lot crunchier. The opening take on “Heartbreak Hotel” might be a deceptive way of ushering you in, but from the moment the guitars kick into the Public Image overdrive of“This Is Pops,” the fury that leaches forth from the speakers is palpable.
Throughout, Poptone rides a tumultuous wave of aggression that ups the tempo of even “No Big Deal” and “Mirror People,” while “Ball Of Confusion” becomes a bale of barbed-wire, all without losing a soupçon of its original melody and intent. And, as if the basic power of the trio is not harsh enough, the brutalist blurt of Ash’s saxophone adds wilder weirdness to the soundscape.
So yes, it’s the same old songs. But they have only grown grander with age.
A new Judy Dyble album descends, the follow-up (at last) to 2013’s Flow and Change, although a glance at her discography shows how busy she’s been in between times… in fact, last year’s Summer Dancing collaboration with Andy Lewis is still on the turntable as Earth Is Sleeping (Acid Jazz) arrives to displace it, but fair exchange is no robbery, and this one, too, is a cracker.
One word of warning – the vinyl sheds two songs from its CD counterpart (“Take Me Dancing” and “Lullaby for Ellie”), and slightly revises the running order, too. But it’s a joy either way, and that despite Dyble’s liner notes suggesting that the album is less the product of a deliberate writing binge, and more the consequence of an afternoon’s spring clean.
Thirteen songs are retrieved from the cobwebbed corners and cluttered cupboards in which a few had lain for up to a decade, and one’s been sitting for even longer – “Velvet To Atone” revisits a number Dyble first broached with Trader Horne, and improves upon it, too. And with everything else freshly revised and imaginatively recorded, one has no hesitation in proclaiming this an ideal, and exquisite, follow-up to whatever you want to call her “last” album.
Dyble’s voice remains an instrument of crystalline purity; her writing – more poetry than pop, and as visual as it’s vocal – continues to intrigue and enthral. And her band weaves so deftly through her imagery that the album often feels more like a work of art (or, at least, a jolly good book) than anything so simple as a record.
One final thought, though. Although both her writing and her delivery do incline their heads in that direction, Dyble’s much-vaunted “folk roots” have always had less to do with her than they do the eventual fate of a band she used to sing in. Throughout her solo career, after all, her tastes have been equally inclined across any number of directions (jazz, electronica and pop among them); to single out any one in particular is disingenuous at best.
One does wonder, however, how we’d categorize her if her best-known ex-band had been King Crimson. Which, of course, it almost was, and idly, one speculates on what else remains in the vault. We’ve heard her version of “I Talk To The Wind.” Now where’s her “21st Century Schizoid Man”?
New too is Walterio, the latest from Walter Salas-Humara (Rhyme & Reason). Ex-the once so excellent Silos, his fourth solo album follows in past footsteps, warm Americana cut through with echoes, reflections and occasionally improvements on moods that have chimed throughout his career, without ever losing sight of the present.
Lyrically he’s sharp, musically he’s thoughtful, and the contemplative “Will You Be Ready” is anthemic in its intent. But later, “She’s a Caveman” could be a fifties rock’n’roll novelty song, set to the mood of John Wesley Harding; and “Should I Wait For Tomorrow” is, quite simply, glorious.
As is a reissue for Watch Your Step, the 1982 debut by Ted Hawkins (Craft Recordings), shining a welcome spotlight on one of that decade’s most intriguing performers.
Famously discovered singing his songs on the streets of LA, Hawkins is effectively accompanied by the sparsest of combos, but sings like the most impassioned bellowing bluesman of all.
Present in two takes (one solo, one with the band) the title track is positively electrifying, and that’s only the beginning. “Bring It Home Daddy” is doo wop Stax; “The Lost One” is a misplaced Paramount b-side; “Who Got My Natural Comb” is knock-‘em-dead fifties vamping; and so forth. And taken altogether, it’s the kind of party you’ll never want to leave. Step on!
From the moment they were born, through their demise and later rebirth, Public Image Ltd has only ever been about one man. John Lydon, nee Rotten, former frontman with the Sex Pistols, reinventing himself upon that band’s collapse not as the snarling face of anti-establishment punk part two, but as something far bigger and more dangerous.
A confrontational melange of dub, dissonance, disco and Kraut Rock, the most danceable band that you couldn’t really dance to, PiL emerged with the self-referential yowl of an eponymous debut single, followed through with two of the crucial long-playing documents of the post-punk diaspora… and then came and went, ebbed and flowed, soared and plummeted for many years more.
Utterly divorced from whatever else Lydon was doing, be it a Pistols reunion or a dairy commercial, a hit with Afrika Bambaataa or a roost on reality TV, PiL is the irritant in the bottom of your shoe; the toothache you push but will never have pulled; the records you like but so rarely play.
And The Public Image is Rotten: Songs from the Heart (Universal) is a six disc box of vinyl that tracks forty years of disturbance.
The discs are sensibly sequenced. Two follow the band’s 45s, a third rounds up the b-sides. The fourth and fifth are packed with 12-inchers and dance tracks, the sixth focuses in on rarities. Something for every mood, so long as you know this isn’t a love song.
There are some staggering highs – first a twelve inch, then a monitor mix, of the awesome “Death Disco”; “…Love Song,” “Rise,” “Disappointed,” “Cruel.” Every era of PiL has dismissed the doubters by unleashing something of astonishing brilliance. Just as it has then turned around and delved into some woeful messes. A few of the b-sides are certainly substandard, a few of the mixes do go on for too long. And the digital source of the vinyl sound seems to cut off some of the nasal sneer that was Lydon in excelsis.
But that is beside the point. Compared to any past recounting of the Public Image catalog, Songs from the Heart is a triumph of the will, and a triumph of the won’t as well; a gleeful refusal to even glimpse towards what the world might regard as commercial music, in the knowledge that the world will listen anyway. And the booklet – nothing less than a full color scrapbook of both good press and awful, will amuse you through all twelve of the sides.
From one extreme to another. From the future that the seventies had no choice but to embrace, to the past that it gracelessly left behind, the third-through-seventh Yes albums reappear, newly remixed by Steven Wilson and nearly repackaged as a six LP box set (one’s a double).
Yes – The Steven Wilson Remixes (Rhino) is a shockingly prosaic title for a package that arguably contains the band’s most florid work, thE sequence that soared between The Yes Album, Fragile and Close to Edge, and then plunged for Tales from Topographic Oceans and just missed rock bottom with Relayer. Or so conventional wisdom insists, although different ears hear different marvels in each, and it’s very easy to get tired of “I’ve Seen All Good People” on playlisted repeat.
Previously released on CD, so not altogether new, the box’s contents are themselves little more than restatements of the original albums. Wilson’s remix is deferential in the extreme, smoothing a few of the rougher edges that the original productions left untouched, refocusing the stereo and just dusting off the shelves – less a remix, then, so much as a good spring clean. It won’t change your opinion of any of the albums; does not make the overblown seem any less absurd. But it is a cleaner listening experience, and though you cannot really say why, you might find yourself preferring these to the albums you’ve loved for the past forty-five years.
Remixed, too, are the covers, incidentally, re-envisioned by Roger Dean in a way that both pays tribute to, and steps away from the original art. So, all in all, the kind of effort that doesn’t really have a reason to exist, but when you hear it, you’ll be glad that it does.
The fortieth anniversary of Bob Marley’s Kaya, like the preceding Exodus last year, is marked with a remastered reissue, accompanied by a “new” version of the same album, overseen by son Stephen, and conjured from a wealth of archive sources – demos, out-takes, alternates and so on. It’s a process that worked with surprising success on Exodus and this time, too, Marley comes up trumps.
Recorded side by side with Exodus, Kaya was nevertheless a very different (and, at the time, disappointing) album; spirited where its predecessor was dark, buoyant where Exodus was foreboding. And Marley’s most deliberately commercial album yet.
Kaya 40 strips away that latter quality, revealing the turmoil that accompanied the sessions, while chipping away the light-heartedness that was layered as the sessions progressed.
Which is not to say it’s an altogether different album, nor that its moods are more somber. It remains a joyful listen, alive with some of Marley’s most contagious latter-day recordings – “Easy Skanking,” “Is This Love,” “Sun Is Shining,” “Satisfy My Soul” … side one feels like a a greatest hits album on its own.
But it isn’t quite so “in yer face” playful, meaning – whereas Exodus 40 was a fascinating curio, Kaya 40 might well be its partner’s superior.
A new album from Washington woods-based Prana Crafter, aka multi-instrumentalist William Sol, arrived with instructions to listen through in one sitting. Why, what else would one do?
Sol’s past, after all, has established him among the most intriguing musicians on the current scene, and Enter The Steam (Sunrise Ocean Blender/Cardinal Fuzz) is no exception. Forty minutes of gentle melody, atmospherics and imagery may or may not count Donovan among their most apparent antecedents, but the opening title track certainly looks in his direction and besides – the world could probably do with one now.
The instrumentals that are littered between the songs are equally intriguing, and of course they posit other directions. You’ll think of the names you need to know while the record plays on through, but if, to drive a blunt pitchfork through so much class and originality, we really are undergoing psychedelic revival, this side of Prana Crafter is poised somewhere between a relaxed Ummagumma and an acoustic Tangerine Dream.
But no matter. It is an album to experience as one uninterrupted listen, it sounds heavenly on the headphones, and you should hunt it down right now.
Well worth the effort, too, are a clutch of albums from the UK Sugarbush label, already remarked upon several months back as the home for the latest by Schizo Fun Addict. And to paraphrase those ads that you still find on old inner sleeves, if you liked that, you’ll love Pugwash, the Junipers, the Breretons and Greek Theatre, new names to many but each the purveyor of sounds… power pop, Britpop and Floydian extremes are a few of the treats that soar both out of the memory and into the unknown.
Trappist Afterland are especially fabulous, as close to the Third Ear Band as you’ll get without growing an additional orifice, but darkly twisted as well – traditional folk from the surface on down, but there’s something moving at the bottom of the well. Add David Tibet’s recommendations by way of liner notes, and the apocalyptic sheen that overhangs even the gentlest moments, and Afterlander is an experience that soon proves hard to shake.
Soaring, too, is the Wellgreen’s take on multi-harmony power pop, and the quirk-laden Summer Rain; but best of all, if you want to hear a lot, is A Spoonful of Sugarbush, a thirteen track sampler that doesn’t revisit a single of the names above, but nevertheless captures the Sugarbush ethos is each of its manifold forms.
But finally, returning to the realm of reissues, Fruits de Mer’s resuscitation of Fuchsia’s debut album reminds us that, when it was first released, it was just another weird folk thing snuck out at the height of the eclectic prog boom.
Since then, of course, it has grown in stature, to become a holy grail for an army of collectors, and this expanded vinyl reissue is certain to follow suit. A limited edition in gatefold sleeve, Fuchsia’s first official re-emergence bolsters that remarkable original LP with a second 12-inch platter of demos (one of which tops fifteen minutes), and new recordings, a DVD interview, a twenty-four page booklet; a poster and reams of rare photos and memorabilia.
What most impresses, however, is just how readily Fuchsia remains what founder Tony Durant intended all along, a very conscious attempt to “do something different, hence some of the more unusual song structures.”
Strings arranged by a novice arranger, four days of recording for a band that had barely recorded; and a clutch of songs that defy categorization, even when the history books tell you what to expect. Plus, Durant’s hands-on involvement ensures that this time, everything was done correctly. Which isn’t always the case with reissues, is it?