Friday, December 8, 2023

The View On Pop Culture: John Mellencamp, Ted Leo, The Greenhornes, Dan Bern, The Snakes, Hot Hot Heat, The Kills, Chris Thomas King, (2003)

Ted Leo's Heart of Oak


When CD burners first became available for home computers, they ran somewhere north of $500 and recordable discs were around $4.00. The price soon dipped below $200 for a good quality burner and under $1 for blanks, jump-starting the Napster era and creating the music industry’s worst nightmare. Cheap hardware and efficient software led to the rise of the “mix disc,” a logical replacement for the beloved mix tape. Now the Reverend would never think of defying the Digital Millennium Copyright Act by actually recording the songs below onto CD-R, so consider this my first “mix column,” a handy guide to what I might record onto disc provided it wasn’t a violation of federal law to do so…  

John Mellencamp “To Washington” (off the web)
Mellencamp’s musical response to the war has him waxing Woody (Guthrie, that is), delivering a populist ode questioning the wisdom of attacking Iraq and wondering about the long-term ramifications of the war’s aftermath. By going back to his folk-influenced, roots-rock origins, Mellencamp sounds fresher than he has in years.

Ted Leo “Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone?” (from Hearts Of Oak)
The new critical darling of the alt-rock world, Boston’s Leo lives up to the hype if only for this fond remembrance of the Specials, ska and the British two-tone movement. With a melodic hook more infectious than the flu, Leo fondly recalls the music of his youth and plays pied piper to a new generation all in one deft stroke.

The Greenhornes “Satisfy My Mind” (from Dual Mono)
With three chords and enough attitude to fuel a dozen garage rock revivals, the Greenhornes channel Sky Saxon and the Seeds with this feedback-drenched, echo-enhanced rocker. Forget about the new rock sound of the Strokes, the Greenhornes deliver the raw, cheap rock & roll thrills you know you crave…

Dan Bern's Fleeting Days
Dan Bern “Crow” (from Fleeting Days)

Bern’s reputation as a quirky songwriter is well earned, but the unique wordsmith’s way with a phrase is overshadowed here by a monster rhythm that sounds every bit like Elvis Costello & the Attractions circa 1978. With the angriest “kiss off” lyrics since Graham Parker and a get happy beat, you’ll be humming “Crow” in your head for days.

The Snakes “Scenes From A Cadillac” (from The Snakes)
Guitarist/songwriter Lenny Pops, formerly of cult band Brian Jonestown Massacre, rips a page from the Lou Reed handbook with this nifty rocker that sounds like a cross between the chaotic instrumental miasma of the Velvet Underground and Roger McGuinn’s psychedelic country-rock riffing. If that sounds like your cup of tea, then the Snakes might just rock your world.

Hot Hot Heat “Get In Or Get Out” (from Make Up the Breakdown)

One of the, er…hottest indie bands on the auction block, Hot Hot Heat are unabashedly stuck in the eighties, the band’s catchy blend of synth-pop and blue-eyed soul sounding like it would have been perfectly happy on early MTV broadcasts, nestled between the Jam and Duran Duran.

Immortal Lee County Killers “Robert Johnson” (from Love Is A Charm…)
Forget the White Stripes, the Immortal Lee County Killers are the real young soul rebels! The band’s reckless sound successfully pairs the country blues of the Mississippi Delta with twenty years of punk rock rage to forge a mutant musical genre. Not for the faint of heart, the Immoral Lee County Killers are the next underground idols.

Green Rode Shotgun “Nothing Is Good Enough” (from Bang)
Mournful vocals and Mike Campbell-influenced guitars build to an instrumental crescendo, driving this energetic tale of lost love to a satisfying climax while the marching band styled chanted chorus is just icing on the cake. If you were to play this tune through your car stereo, traffic would come to a standstill.

The Kills' Keep On Your Mean Side
The Kills “Superstition” (from Keep On Your Mean Side)

A man, a woman, a guitar and a drum machine have never sounded so brutal, the Kills building a dense, menacing wall of sound. Guitars ring with feedback, the percussion strikes like clashing hammers and the vocals are a short step away from a feral frenzy. As primitively sensual as you can get while still using electric instruments…  

Chris Thomas King “Revelations” (from Dirty South Hip-Hop Blues)
Guitarist King fuses traditional Delta blues with contemporary hip-hop rhythms to create what he calls “21st Century Blues.” Here he samples the great Son House’s “John The Revelator,” effectively rewriting the gospel-tinged classic. King’s hyperdelic guitar licks sound like a cross between Ravi Shankar and Jimi Hendrix, jumping into the abyss and moving the blues even closer towards judgment day.

The D4 “Invader Ace” (from 6Twenty)
New Zealand’s entry into the garage rock sweepstakes has done their homework, the D4 as snotty as the Dead Boys, as reckless as the Stooges and as energetic as Radio Birdman. Throw in the prerequisite clashing guitar riffs and loud rhythms and you have a band that, while as derivative as a made-for-TV movie and as brainless as a Conservative talk show host nonetheless tears the roof off the sucker with this remake of a Guitar Wolf obscurity.   

The White Stripes “Black Math” (from Elephant)

Jack White is either a freakin’ genius or a complete fool and he’s not talking. The new darlings of the rock intellensia recorded their fourth album on pre-war equipment, infecting this brilliant song with a pre-digital age vibe and a timeless blues-rock sound. In the process, they proved to the world that you don’t have to spend six figures in the studio when a $200 guitar and a cheap amp can tell the truth just as effectively.

Johnny Cash “Hurt” (from American IV)

Your humble columnist just can’t stress enough how disturbingly beautiful this song is. Trent Reznor’s morose reflection on death and dying becomes something else entirely in Cash’s capable hands. Bittersweet hemlock vocals caress Reznor’s lyrics, Cash considering his (admittedly) limited future, defiantly staring down the grim reaper in a battle to retain his soul, proving that this still-great artist will not go quietly into that good night... (View From The Hill, March 2003)

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