Friday, November 15, 2019

Archive Review: Strapping Young Lad’s SYL (2003)

Strapping Young Lad’s SYL
To make this comparison really come alive, you’re gonna need one o’ those industrial strength blenders, the kind they have in some food factory or maybe a slaughterhouse. Stick your head inside the giant metal bowl and feel the razor-sharp metal blades against your ears. Then reach over and hit the button for ‘puree’...that’s what listening to SYL is like. After a half-hour or so of joyfully experiencing Devin Townsend’s demonic growl and tortured six-string work, yer brain is guaranteed to turn to mush.

There’s heavy metal and then again, there’s HEAVY FUCKING METAL, and Strapping Young Lad definitely falls into the ‘HFM’ category. Townsend, former sideman for Steve Vai and a talented solo artist in his own right, mimics the sound of your brain being shredded like no other axeman plying his or her trade today (save for maybe Zakk Wylde). Townsend’s solo work tends to downplay his gonzo energy a degree or two on the old manic-meter in favor of prog-rock experimentation. When fronting his mates in Strapping Young Lad, Townsend throws caution (and the listener’s eardrums) to the wind to deliberately blast dangerous plaque from your speakers as loudly as possible.

Strapping Young Lad’s SYL

SYL proves that there is more to Strapping Young Lad than Townsend’s considerable ability to crack yer cranium open with his guitar. Guitarist Jed Simon of Front Line Assembly adds a dimension of industrial insanity to the sound while drummer Gene Hoglan of Dark Angel pounds the skins with the force of an underground nuclear test explosion. Along with bassist Byron Stroud, Hoglan creates an intense rhythmic undercurrent over which Townsend and Simon throw down their clashing guitars. It’s kinda hard to follow the lyrics buried in Townsend’s vocals, so they provide a cheat sheet in the CD booklet. Inane poetic whimsy such as “dripping... gigbutt... dirt pride... my pride... dripping... bunksock” sounds a lot better when it comes roaring out of your speakers like so much unburned jet fuel from the ass end of a F-16.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

The songs on SYL were inspired by the tragedy of September 11, 2001 and the album does express a fair degree of intelligent rage and frustration over man’s inhumanity to man (and woman), the above lyrics notwithstanding. Then again, nobody listens to HEAVY FUCKING METAL for the Dylanesque lyrical inspiration of the band’s muse. You slap something like SYL on yer box, crank the sucker up as far past ten as the amp will go, and then spend the next thirty or forty minutes bouncing off the walls until you either shit or go blind. To this end, SYL stands up admirably, temporarily robbing you of your vision and your hearing. With the apocalyptic tango of SYL, Strapping Young Lad delivers the first classic death metal disc of the century. (Century Media, 2003)

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™, 2003

Buy the CD from Strapping Young Lad’s SYL

Archive Review: Icons of Filth’s Nostradamnedus (2003)

Icons of Filth's Nostradamnedus
The first wave of British punk, circa 1977, spawned a number of bands that possessed a social consciousness and expressed their concerns through song. The Clash, the Sex Pistols, the Damned, even modish new wavers like the Jam all stirred up their fair share of controversy with lyrics commenting on social ills or championing left-leaning causes.

Nothing could prepare the Queen’s subjects for what was to follow, however. Extremist punks like Crass, Conflict, Discharge, Flux of Pink Indians, the Subhumans, and Icons of Filth took their cue from American hardcore bands, mixing anarchist philosophy with powerful thrash-and-burn instrumentation to create some of the most invigorating punk rock ever heard.

Whereas some of these bands – Crass readily comes to mind – were naïve idealists, forming communes and spinning off side bands, others such as Conflict or Discharge were more nihilistic in nature. With Maggie Thatcher in office in the U.K. and Ronnie Ray-gun sleeping in the White House, anarchist punks were forced to form their own record labels to get their music out since no corporate label wanted to touch them.

Conflict formed Mortarhate and, aside from the band’s own albums, they also released a number of singles and an album by fellow travelers Icons of Filth (all of which were reissued on CD by Go Kart in 2000). Throughout the years, Icons of Filth has grown in statue rather than sinking into obscurity, becoming one of a handful of artistic touchstones for underground punks wanting to bring politics into their music. With the recent revival of bands like Discharge and old mates Conflict, it was only natural for Icons of Filth to reform and stroll into the recording studio.

Icons of Filth’s Nostradamnedus

Nostradamnedus is the result of the band’s efforts, the first album from Icons of Filth in nearly twenty years and, let me tell you kiddies, this shit’ll grab you by the ears and knock your head into the wall. The band members seemingly haven’t lost a step through the years, still quite capable of creating balls-to-the-wall sounds that’ll shred yer greedy lil’ eardrums and make yer nose bleed. The usual lyrical preoccupations are found on Nostradamnedus: anarcho-leftist rhetoric about animal rights, vegetarianism, and racism and so forth, but Stig, Daffy and the boys have updated their perspective to appeal to a new millennium zeitgeist. While songs like “Riddled With Guilt” or “Treadmill” hit your brain like sticking a fork in an electric socket, others, like “Henry Ford,” tickle yer cerebellum with not-so-subtle thoughts of Luddite sabotage.

Once you get past the bad joke hidden in the album’s title, Nostradamnedus stands as an instant classic of hardcore punk, if only for the title track and “Airwaves.” Pointing directly at the fools who take every world event and match it to one of Nostradamus’ many prophecies, the band cleverly wraps up the past and future in a package with a neat little bow. After all, if the future has already been foretold, why bother to try and change it? Nostradamnedus, indeed! As for “Airwaves,” it was probably written by Icons of Filth a couple of years ago but, as we stand on the brink of war in early 2003, it couldn’t be any more relevant.

Set to a migraine level six-string drone and explosive rhythms, Stig sings “if you form an opinion that’s not in dominion/then you’re an oddball and should be kept quiet.” Kind of like how Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and these other rightwing radio gasbags keep beating the fucking war drums, ridiculing anybody who’s not ready to prostrate themselves before the wisdom of massa Bush and his Konservative Klan. “Airwaves” doesn't stop there, however, as Icons of Filth verbally slamdunk the entire corporate media monopoly and its restriction on diversity of thought – Stig spits out “when they tell you of free speech, they’re liars.”

Mindless television programs, radio playlist homogenization, empty consumerist dreams, “antenna head and already dead.” Fittingly enough, the band saves its worse barbs for punk rock itself, “rock ‘n’ roll has lost its soul and now everything's diluted/bands with fans, big money plans/your pockets empty, looted.” Kind of like how you feel when you buy that ultra-groovy new CD at the mall and get home to find out that it only has one decent song and when you stop to think about it, that song kind of sucks, too…

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Now, more than ever, we need Icons of Filth, one of the few bands with the balls to be bold in a meek musical landscape. The Rev sez “check it out!” (Go Kart Records, released November 26, 2002)

Buy the CD from Icons of Filth's Nostradamnedus

Friday, November 8, 2019

Archive Review: Motörhead's Inferno (2004)

Motörhead's Inferno
Motörhead has been this “legendary heavy metal band” for so long that even many critics have overlooked the metal icon’s overall importance in the grand scheme of things. Frontman Lemmy Kilminster’s roots are in typical ’60s-era British R&B, but it’s when he joined prog-rockers Hawkwind that things began to get interesting. As bassist for the space-rock outfit during the early ’70s, Lemmy perfected both his bottom-heavy instrumental style and his songwriting skills.

When kicked out of Hawkwind for a myriad of offenses, Lemmy formed Motörhead as an outlet for his aggressive hard rock vision, equal parts British biker culture, pre-punk punk rock attitude, and heavy metal thunder. Over the course of dozens of albums, Lemmy and Motörhead's ever-evolving line-up managed to affect punk, heavy metal, and thrash unlike any other artistic influence.

Motörhead's Inferno

For almost thirty years, Motörhead’s musical blueprint has been consistent and consistently powerful: Lemmy’s gruff vocals spitting out lyrics above a massive slab of feedback-driven guitar riffs and thunderous drumbeats. Inferno, the band’s latest, doesn’t stray far from the formula. The blistering “Terminal Show” kicks off the disc, a futuristic tale of woe set to a speed metal soundtrack that careens out of control approx. 30 seconds into the song, guest axeman Steve Vai’s razor sharp leads standing in counterpoint to Phillip Campbell’s percussive riffs.

Motörhead's Inferno
From here, the pace never diminishes, drummer Mikkey Dee’s merciless rhythms driving the songs forward while Lemmy’s bass bludgeons the listener and Campbell’s six-string work punches with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. The only surprise on Inferno, perhaps, is the acoustic “Whorehouse Blues,” an overt reference to the influence of traditional blues (and British blues-rock) on Motörhead’s metallic sturm-und-drang.

Inferno is both timeless and out-of-time, Lemmy serving up uncompromising rock ‘n’ roll field-tested by better than a quarter-century of hard roadwork. In Campbell and Dee, Kilminster has the band he’s always wanted, the iron fist inside the tattered leather glove. Like most Motörhead albums, Inferno is dominated by themes of sex, death, power, and the near-mystical aesthetic of rock ‘n’ roll. The songs roar like a wolf at the door and scream louder than Dante’s nightmares, Motörhead an anachronistic thorn in the side of the music business, the rude guest that refuses to leave the modern rock party.

The Reverend's Bottom Line

You won't hear Inferno on the radio, but its importance will be felt five or ten years from now when the kid who discovers Motörhead through this album forms the next Metallica or Nirvana. In the end, Lemmy won’t be remembered so much for the remarkable simplicity and strength of his music but for the young musicians who continue to be influenced by the uncompromising honesty and anarchistic spirit that is Motörhead. (Steamhammer Records, 2004)

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™, 2004

Buy the CD from Motörhead's Inferno

Archive Review: Various Artists - Yes New York (2003)

Various Artists - Yes New York
If early ’90s Seattle was the new Athens, then early ’00s New York City must be the new Seattle, if you catch my drift. Sure, there are “garage rock” bands (or whatever you want to call ’em) scattered all across the fruited plain (and in old Londontown as well), but all that is hip and happening tends to somehow, eventually, inevitably find its way to the “Big Apple.” Yes New York documents the current crop of NYC bands, freezing the scene in a perfect moment in time not unlike the handful of late ’70s albums that captured the Ramones/Television/Patti Smith scene that made Max’s Kansas City and CBGB’s the places to hang out in 1977.

Yes New York

The producers of Yes New York are a savvy bunch, throwing in some heavy-hitting major leaguers like the Strokes, Ted Leo, and Interpol alongside a minor league crop of future superstars like Radio 4, the Walkmen, and the Natural History. Round it out with some players-in-training like Longwave, Le Tigre, and Unitard and you have a batting line-up that will hit for power and percentage.

The once-banned “New York City Cops” is the hook to entice you to spend your coin on Yes New York; the rare live (and previously unreleased) Strokes cut copped from an April 2002 performance in Iceland. Most of the rest of Yes New York is culled from the artist’s current albums, although a few worthy gems – such as the anarchic “Tired” by LCD Soundsystem, or the new wave throwback cut from the Witnesses – are unreleased or barely released.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

So is Yes New York worth your time and money to track down? If you're interested in what is going on musically on the fringes of pop culture, then the answer would be an emphatic “Yes, New York!” As a microcosm of the current American music zeitgeist, NYC’s current scene offers all of the diversity, influences and varied sounds that any rocker would want to hear. If you're looking for a fresh take on some old sounds, check out the bands on Yes New York for a taste of what’s being done these days on the indie music scene (before it’s co-opted and corrupted by the majors!)

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™, 2003

Buy the CD from Yes New York

Friday, November 1, 2019

New Music Monthly: November & December 2019 releases

It's the end of the road for 2019, and record labels are emptying the vaults to try and grab their share of your Christmas cash. There's a wealth of vinyl reissues and pricey multi-disc box sets coming our way from artists like The Police, Queens of the Stone Age, Rick Wakeman, and Little Steven, among many others. If you've got the cash, there's plenty of great tunes to be had over the next six months! 

Release dates are subject to change and nobody tells me when they do. If you’re interesting in buying an album, just hit the ‘Buy!’ link to get it from’s just that damn easy! Your purchase puts valuable ‘store credit’ in the Reverend’s pocket that he’ll use to buy more music to write about in a never-ending loop of rock ‘n’ roll ecstasy!

Los Straitjackets's- ¡Viva! Los Straitjackets

The Bar-Kays - Gotta Groove [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
Booker T. & the M.G.'s - Melting Pot [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
Cold War Kids - New Age Norms 1   BUY!
Delaney & Bonnie - Home [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
Jeff Lynne's ELO - From Out of Nowhere   BUY!
Los Straitjackets - The Utterly Fantastic and Totally Unbelievable Sound of Los Straitjackets [CD & vinyl reissue]   BUY!
Los Straitjackets - ¡Viva! Los Straitjackets [CD & vinyl reissue]   BUY!
Nirvana - MTV Unplugged In NY [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
David Porter - Victim of the Joke? [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
Simple Minds - 40: The Best of 1979-2019 [3-CD set]   BUY!
Johnnie Taylor - Who’s Making Love [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
Uncle Walt's Band - An American In Texas   BUY!
Vetiver - Up On High   BUY!

Fats Domino's I've Been Around

Fats Domino - I've Been Around [12-CD box set]   BUY!
The Police - Ghost in the Machine [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
The Police - Reggatta de Blanc [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
The Police - Synchronicity [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
The Police - Zenyatta Mondatta [vinyl reissue]   BUY!

Send I A Lion

The Band - The Band [50th anniversary edition]   BUY!
Julianna Hatfield - Julianna Hatfield Sings the Police   BUY!
The Pineapple Thief - Hold Our Fire [live]   BUY!
Various Artists - Send I A Lion [compilation w/the Mighty Diamonds, Gladiators, Wailing Souls & others]   BUY!

Harry Nilsson's Losst and Founnd

Leonard Cohen - Thanks For the Dance   BUY!
Junkyard - Old Habits Die Hard [unreleased 1992 LP]   BUY!
Harry Nilsson - Losst and Founnd   BUY!
Queens of the Stone Age - Rated R [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
Queens of the Stone Age - Songs For the Deaf [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
The Who - Who   BUY!

Land of 1000 Dances: The Rampart Records Complete Singles Collection

Various Artists - Land of 1000 Dances: The Rampart Records Complete Singles Collection   BUY!

Rick Wakeman - Box Of Boots: Official Bootleg Series [10-CD box set]

Gentle Giant's Unburied Treasure

Gentle Giant - Unburied Treasure [Limited edition 30-CD box set]   BUY!
John Hiatt - Only The Song Survives [15-disc vinyl box set]   BUY!
Lee "Scratch" Perry - Heavy Rain   BUY!
Little Steven Van Zandt - RockNRoll Rebel – The Early Work [11-disc CD/vinyl box set]

Queens of the Stone Age's Era Vulgaris

Queens of the Stone Age - Era Vulgaris [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
Queens of the Stone Age - Lullabies To Paralyze [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
Frank Zappa - The Hot Rats Sessions [deluxe 6-CD box set]   BUY!

Frank Zappa's The Hot Rats Sessions

Album of the Month: I dunno, it's really hard to choose from all the great archival material the labels are spitting out here in Q4, but if I had to choose, I'd go with Frank Zappa's The Hot Rats Sessions, a deluxe six-disc box set that provides the rabid Frank fanatic with everything they could want from the storied collection. Zappa's sophomore solo effort, from 1969, Hot Rats was the first album anywhere to be recorded on 16-track tape, and the Maestro used the expanded technology to his advantage. The set is said to include every song recorded during the sessions, as well as a "Zappa Land" board game. The Hot Rats Sessions includes 65 tracks, all but six of them previously unreleased.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Archive Review: John Mayall's Bluesbreakers - Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton (1966/2001)

John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton
It’s hard to believe by listening to the sort of watered-down pap that Eric Clapton has cranked out the past few years, but at one time the big “King of all Guitar Gods” played with great style, passion and ingenuity. Look no further than Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton to find documentation of the artist’s early six-string prowess.

Clapton first made a splash on the collective rock consciousness while handling the heavy axework for the Yardbirds. Although not the first posse of British dandies to get their hands dirty playing the blues, the Yardbirds were one of those who did it best, and Clapton’s early contributions went a long way towards establishing that band’s reputation. Clapton left the Yardbirds in 1965, beginning a lengthy artistic journey that would inevitably lead him to becoming the corporate shill that he is today.

John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton

First stop on the evolutionary express for the youthful Clapton was with John Mayall & Bluesbreakers, one of England’s best-known traditional blues outfits. Luring Clapton away from the Yardbirds was a major coup for bandleader Mayall. Getting the guitar wizard into the studio to record Mayall’s third album resulted in what may well be the best British blues romp to find its way onto tape. Clapton is allowed to stretch out on a set of blues and R&B standards such as Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say,” Freddie King’s “Hideaway,” the Otis Rush hit “All Your Love” and the blues classic “Parchman Farm.”

Choice Mayall originals compliment the covers on Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton, especially the Mayall/Clapton co-written “Double Crossing Time,” which features an incredible Clapton solo that sounds like it descended straight from Maxwell Street in Chicago. Clapton even makes his debut as a vocalist, offering a fine rendition of Robert Johnson’s “Ramblin’ On My Mind.” Throughout Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton, the guitar star’s axework is first rate, his playing fluid and innovative. Backed by a solid rhythm section that included future Fleetwood Mac namesake John McVie on bass and drummer Hughie Flint (who would go on to play on several Clapton solo elpees), Clapton had the necessary support to let his imagination fly.

Mayall was a strict bandleader, demanding a lot from his players but here he lets Clapton become the superstar he had the potential to be. Clapton would leave Mayall’s outfit after Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton to form Cream and achieve international stardom. Mayall would run through a thousand and one band members during the next 35 years, discovering such talents as Peter Green (Fleetwood Mac) and Mick Taylor (Rolling Stones) along the way. Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton would reach the British top ten and became one of the biggest albums of 1966 in the U.K.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

The album remains a cult favorite in the United States while Clapton is better known for his subsequent work with Cream and Derek and the Dominoes. While rock ‘n’ roll fanboys continue to genuflect at the mention of the Yardbirds name, worshipping the trio of guitar gods that legendary band would produce (Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page), John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers are unfairly consigned to a lesser place in history. A spin or two of Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton shows what the fuss was all about in the first place, placing the album among the greatest blues-rock efforts that the genre has produced. (Polydor Records, released 1966, reissued June 5, 2001)

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™, 2001

Buy the CD from John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers’ Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton

Archive Review: Killing Joke's Pandemonium (1994)

Killing Joke's Pandemonium
Arguably one of the most influential bands of the past twenty years, Londons Killing Joke is nonetheless the most obscure bunch of musical geniuses that you’ve never heard of. Chances are you’ve heard the work of the children these gray-beards stylistically fathered, however, with bands like Nine Inch Nails, Faith No More, Rage Against the Machine, and Ministry all owing Killing Joke a debt of creative gratitude.

Their ground-breaking hybrid of socio-political rage, technological overkill, industrial nihilism, and white noise was delivered via a handful of classic early eighties albums that would shape much of what would be created in the genres of punk, heavy metal and industrial music throughout the ensuing decade.  

With Pandemonium, the band strips down to its original founding trio, buffing up its musical muscles and delivering an hour of unrelenting noise, fury and thought. Killing Joke have always been an ideological bunch of cynics, eschewing the depressing, suicidal aura surrounding much of Britain’s rock scene in favor of a realistic and hopeful vision of the world they find collapsing around them. Against a musical backdrop so heavy that it’ll send even the most jaded headbanger into a fit of manic glee, Killing Joke approaches the coming millennia with an almost metaphysical view, even sojourning to Egypt to record portions of Pandemonium in the King Chamber of the Great Pyramid.

The band’s collective experience of the past few years pays off with an expanded sense of creativity and lyricism, Pandemonium adding disparate strains of Middle Eastern and Asian culture to its blend of white light/white heat. The resulting effort lives up to the band’s heady legacy, even while it builds upon a bright new future for Killing Joke. (Zoo Entertainment, released 1994)

Review originally published by R.A.D! zine

Friday, October 18, 2019

Archive Review: Mississippi Fred McDowell's The Best of Mississippi Fred McDowell (2001)

Mississippi Fred McDowell's The Best of Mississippi Fred McDowell
Like most rock fans, I came to know the legendary Mississippi Fred McDowell through the Rolling Stones’ version of his “You Gotta Move” and covers of songs by McDowell acolyte Bonnie Raitt. Once you discover the real thing, though, you’ll never go back.

Born in rural Tennessee in the early part of the twentieth century, McDowell started playing slide guitar at the tender age of fourteen. His parents died while he was young, and McDowell played for tips in the streets of Memphis while still a teen. He eventually tired of rambling and settled down to a life of farming in Como, Mississippi. It was here that folk music archivist Alan Lomax found McDowell some thirty years later, first recording this enormous talent in 1959.

Mississippi Fred McDowell’s The Best of Mississippi Fred McDowell

McDowell’s “discovery” threw the folk and blues community on their collective ears as Lomax had found an authentic Delta bluesman that had never been captured on tape before. McDowell’s ambitions never led him to seek out the traveling “record men” who haunted the Mississippi cotton fields and backwoods, so no recorded legacy from the 1920s and ‘30s existed for modern listeners to familiarize themselves with McDowell’s considerable talents. Arhoolie Records founder Chris Strachwitz was one of those people amazed by McDowell’s music and the young producer promptly sought out the humble McDowell in Mississippi. Arhoolie recorded and released two excellent volumes of McDowell’s homespun country blues during the mid-‘60s, which subsequently made the artist a popular draw on the festival circuit throughout the decade until his death from cancer in 1972.

Arhoolie’s The Best of Mississippi Fred McDowell revisits material originally released by the label on four previous titles, and recorded between 1964 and 1969 in a number of different locations. Much like Arhoolie’s recent Lightning Hopkins compilation, this CD is a wonderful overview of the artist’s too-brief career. McDowell’s songs drew upon a Delta tradition that was heavily flavored by the work of contemporaries like Robert Johnson, Tommy Johnson, and Charlie Patton. McDowell brought a distinctive flair to his slidework, an impressive individualism that sets his playing apart from that of other Delta bluesmen. His voice was extremely expressive, showing a remarkable range and emotion.

The Best of Mississippi Fred McDowell offers up a stylistic cross-section of material, from the country blues of standards like “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” to timeless McDowell originals like “Levee Camp Blues” and “You Gotta Move.” There are gospel tunes here too, McDowell’s performances echoing those of Blind Willie Johnson on traditional songs like “I Wish I Was In Heaven Sittin’ Down” and “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed And Burning.” The album closed with a previously unreleased 1965 live performance from the Berkeley Folk Festival.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Mississippi Fred McDowell was a powerful and charismatic performer, an artist that came into his own late in life but had spent a lifetime working hard and playing music long before his discovery. McDowell’s was a unique talent and vision, The Best of Mississippi Fred McDowell a wonderful introduction for the uninitiated and a welcome addition to the library for those of us still earning a degree in the blues. (Arhoolie Records)

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™ webzine

Buy the CD from Mississippi Fred McDowell’s The Best of Mississippi Fred McDowell

Archive Review: Peter Townshend's The Definitive Collection (2007)

Peter Townshend's The Definitive Collection
As the guiding force behind rock legends the Who, guitarist/songwriter Peter Townshend’s induction to the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame was all but guaranteed. One of the original, first wave “British Invasion” bands that assaulted the colonies in the aftermath of the Beatles, the Who were blessed with a wealth of talent. All four members of the Who would have stood out in nearly any other band and, indeed, three of these four musicians would eventually succeed in their own solo endeavors.

Frontman Roger Daltry was a strutting, larger-than-life figure with a big voice and rock star charisma. Bassist John Entwistle played rock ‘n’ roll with an improvisational jazz sensibility, and was a better songwriter than most of his contemporaries. Drummer Keith Moon was an anarchic wildman, bashing and crashing the skins with reckless abandon. Then there was Townshend…an immensely gifted songwriter, a powerful guitarist and a whirling dervish onstage, leaping and spinning and seemingly flying on the wings of the music; he was also intellectual, introspective and often spiritually troubled.

Pete Townshend’s The Definitive Collection

Townshend was a prolific songwriter, one of the greatest in the history of the rock genre. His creative accomplishments with the Who are second only, perhaps, to those of John Lennon of the Beatles. What a lot of people seem to forget, however, is that Townshend also enjoyed a significant solo career, receiving overwhelming critical acclaim and some degree of commercial success. Townshend recorded demos of just about every song he ever wrote for the Who, and discarded more songs than the band ever recorded. A lot of this material has shown up in various “odds-n-sods” collections through the years, and Townshend’s own demo versions of songs have made his Scoop albums a series much sought-after by collectors.

The Definitive Collection is a brand-new collection of Peter Townshend solo material. Now I’m a little wary of record label hype, and calling any compilation album “definitive” is, perhaps, stretching the definition of the word. In the case of Peter Townshend’s The Definitive Collection, however, I’m going to set my reservations aside and instead revel in the music. Featuring material culled from Townshend’s 35-year “solo” career, The Definitive Collection does a worthy job of presenting the many faces of this rock legend.

Townshend’s first solo effort, Who Came First, was a low-key affair released in 1972 as an outlet for the songwriter’s growing catalog of material. Collecting songs unsuitable for the Who as well as more personal, spiritually-oriented material, the album offered an insightful glimpse into the depth of Townshend’s songwriting talents. “Sheraton Gibson,” an underrated cut from Who Came First, is a wonderful, lively song about life on the road and the accompanying loneliness, Townshend’s vocals darting in and out of the mix, complimented by his fluid, mesmerizing guitarwork.

From Rough Mix, Townshend’s acclaimed 1977 collaboration with ex-Faces’ bassist Ronnie Lane, “Street In the City” is a melodic, observational song that relies on Townshend’s winsome vocals to rise above the rich string-orchestral arrangement. Also from Rough Mix, “My Baby Gives It Away” is a twangy rocker with a loping groove and rapid-fire lyrics. Rough Mix is the jewel of Townshend’s solo career, a rambling collection of roots rock, British folk and country overtones and well worth checking out on its own.

Who Came First

The Definitive Collection also includes three songs from Empty Glass, Townshend’s 1980 solo breakthrough and his best-selling album to date. The album was written as Townshend struggled with the death of Who drummer Keith Moon. The personal nature of the lyrics and their combination of pop melodies and gutter-punk rockers took Empty Glass to the number five position on the charts. The album’s radio-ready singles were easy choices, but “A Little Is Enough,” an engaging love song with new wavy synth overtones and a driving beat is a fine addition to the collection, sounding amusing retro albeit featuring, perhaps, some uncharacteristically inane lyrics. He redeems himself with “Let My Love Open The Door,” the hit single combining the most attractive elements of ‘80s synth-pop with old-fashioned vocal harmonies and a killer hook. Befitting its title, “Rough Boys” shows a little more muscle, with a forceful Townshend vocal performance, imaginative keyboards and some tasty six-string riffing.

Townshend followed Empty Glass with the obtusely-named All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes in 1982. Overall Townshend’s most maddening album, both loved and hated by his fans, its arty, pretentious songs have withstood the test of time. The album’s “Slit Skirts” is a dynamic song, with interesting lyrics, an infectious chorus, and various musical twists and turns with signature changes and intriguing instrumental interludes. “The Sea Refuses No River” could just as easily have been one of Townshend’s compositions for the Who, a grand, majestic song that showcases some of Townshend’s most subtle vocals and his skills as an arranger. The song is, perhaps, one of the most overlooked of the artist’s canon.

By the mid-80s Townshend seemed to be going in a thousand directions at once, and seemingly lost sight of his creative strengths. “Face The Face,” from 1985’s White City: A Novel, is an intriguing choice for this collection, an almost experimental piece that starts off small, with an atmospheric intro, dissonant piano and clanging sounds building to a steady rhythm, kind of like a train coming down the track, straight at your stalled-out car. Townshend’s multi-layered vocals are one part electronic wizardry and one part Gospel fervor. “A Friend Is A Friend,” from The Iron Man: A Musical, is a slight slip of a song – perhaps that misbegotten album’s best, but a pale choice nonetheless. The two tracks included from 1993’s Psychoderelict fare somewhat better; a concept album ridden with spoken word interludes and weak material, “English Boy” is nevertheless a knock-down rocker with one of Townshend’s best vocal performances in a decade and some truly unusual musical undercurrents.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

The Definitive Collection is a fairly decent overview of the ups and downs of Peter Townshend’s solo career, replacing the decade-old The Best of collection with a better song selection. I personally would have liked to have seen one of the Who’s classic tunes from Townshend’s Deep End Live! album included here. Also, all of the best stuff from this compilation – and then some – was included two years ago on the double-disc Gold collection, part of the industry’s efforts to cannibalize itself through countless variations on the same compilations.

However, if you remain among the uninitiated that just wants a taste of Townshend, The Definitive Collection is the way to go; go for the Gold if you want a deeper drink of the artist’s talents. If you like what you hear, grab copies of Empty Glass and Rough Mix to get a full measure of Townshend’s greatest work. (Hip-O Records, released January 23, 2007)

Review originally published by the Trademark of Quality blog

Buy the CD from Peter Townshend’s The Definitive Collection