Friday, September 13, 2019

Spotlight on R.E.M.

R.E.M. photo by Anton Corbijn, courtesy Warner Bros. Records
R.E.M. photo by Anton Corbijn, courtesy Warner Bros.

R.E.M. Select Discography

Reckoning EP (I.R.S. Records, 1982)
Murmur (I.R.S. Records, 1983)
Reckoning (I.R.S. Records, 1984)
Fables of the Reconstruction (I.R.S. Records, 1985)
Lifes Rich Pageant (I.R.S. Records, 1986)
Document (I.R.S. Records, 1987)
Green (Warner Bros. Records, 1988)
Out of Time (Warner Bros. Records, 1991)
Automatic For the People (Warner Bros. Records, 1992)
Monster (Warner Bros. Records, 1994)
New Adventures In Hi-Fi (Warner Bros. Records, 1996)
Up (Warner Bros. Records, 1998)
Reveal (Warner Bros. Records, 2001)
Around the Sun (Warner Bros. Records, 2004)
R.E.M. Live (Warner Bros. Records, 2007)
Accelerate (Warner Bros. Records, 2008)
Live At the Olympia (Warner Bros. Records, 2009)
Collapse Into Now (Warner Bros. Records, 2011)
Unplugged: The Complete 1991 and 2001 Sessions (Rhino Records, 2014)
R.E.M. At the BBC (Craft Recordings, 2018 box set)

R.E.M. mini-bio

For almost three decades, from 1983 until their break-up in 2011, R.E.M. was one of the biggest and most beloved bands in the world. Formed in Athens, Georgia in 1980 by singer Michael Stipe, guitarist Peter Buck, bassist Mike Mills, and drummer Bill Berry, the band would grow beyond its status as college radio superstars to become one of the leading progenitors of 1990s-era “alternative rock.” Over the course of their lengthy career, R.E.M. would release 15 studio and four live albums, selling better than 85 million records worldwide, and inspiring artists like Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain and Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus. Unusual, for a band with such a large commercial presence, R.E.M. also enjoyed significant critical support through the years.

R.E.M.'s Chronic Town EP
As the legend goes, Michael Stipe met Peter Buck in 1980 at Wuxtry Records in Athens, where Buck was working at the time. The two hit it off, discovering that they had similar taste in music, both favoring artists like Patti Smith and the Velvet Underground. Stipe and Buck were introduced to Mike Mills and Bill Berry by a mutual friend, and the four decided to make some music together. They quickly developed a unique musical style based on Stipe’s distinctive vocals and obscure lyrics, and Buck’s jangly guitar sound. They would record their first single, “Radio Free Europe,” along with a handful of other songs, at producer Mitch Easter’s Drive-In Studios in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. They originally used the four-track demos to promote the band, but would release “Radio Free Europe,” with the B-side “Sitting Still,” as a single on the local indie label Hib-Tone.

The single’s first pressing quickly sold out, and popular demand forced the label to press thousands of additional copies. R.E.M. returned to North Carolina to record songs that would be featured on their Chronic Town EP. Originally planned for release by the band’s manager’s label, I.R.S. Records signed R.E.M. on the strength of their demo tape and released the five-song Chronic Town in 1982. The band followed it up less than a year later, recording their full-length debut album Murmur with producers Mitch Easter and Don Dixon. The album would inch into the Top 40 of the Billboard magazine charts, mostly due to early support by college radio and the band’s constant touring and electric live shows. Although clearly inspired by 1960s-era rock ‘n’ roll, Murmur’s enigmatic sound and texture – based on Stipe’s often-incomprehensible vocals, Buck’s unique guitar playing, and Mills’ melodic bass lines – was unlike anything released by any other band at the time. The album was eventually awarded a Gold™ Record for better than a half-million units sold.

R.E.M.'s Reckoning
R.E.M. returned to North Carolina to record their sophomore album, Reckoning, working once again with Easter and Dixon. The album sported an original cover by Georgia “outsider” artist Rev. Howard Finster, whose association with R.E.M. would bring his work to a much wider audience. The album would receive almost universal critical acclaim and would peak a few notches higher on the charts than its predecessor, at #27 on its way to Gold™ Record status. For their third album, Fables of the Reconstruction, the band traveled to England to work with famed producer Joe Boyd, who had worked with British folk legends Nick Drake and Fairport Convention. The band hated the experience, and nearly broke up over it, and while Fables of the Reconstruction stumbled a bit commercially in comparison to its predecessor, it actually grew the band’s audience in the U.K.

In an effort to take their record sales to the next level, R.E.M. enlisted John Mellencamp producer Don Gehman to record Lifes Rich Pageant at Mellencamp’s Belmont Mall Studios in Indiana. Gehman sanded down some of the band’s rough edges and provided them with a tougher, harder-rocking sound but ultimately the album charted only slightly higher (#21) than the band’s previous two efforts. Still searching for something that they probably didn’t know they needed, R.E.M. hooked up with producer Scott Litt for what would be the band’s last album for I.R.S. Records, 1987’s Document. Litt had worked with artists like Ian Hunter, the dB’s, and Matthew Sweet as an engineer and producer and his efforts on behalf of R.E.M. would ensure not only his own career but that of the band.

R.E.M.'s Document
Document would be the first of six exceedingly successful albums that R.E.M. would co-produce with Litt, their initial collaboration resulting in a Top 10 hit single in “The One I Love” and minor hits with “Finest Worksong” and “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine),” earning the band its first Platinum™ Record for over one million units sold. The release of Document fulfilled the band’s contract with I.R.S. Records and, frustrated that the label’s distributor didn’t consider R.E.M. a priority, they left the label. Shopping around, R.E.M. took less money to sign with Warner Bros. Records in exchange for total creative freedom. Some fans saw this move as “selling out,” an accusation that was soon rendered moot by the 1988 release of Green, the band’s major label debut.

An authentically-eclectic mix of songs, Green benefitted from the better distribution and marketing muscle afforded the band by Warner Bros. and resulted in a Top 10 hit in “Stand” and Modern Rock chart hits in “Orange Crush” and “Pop Song 89,” the album eventually achieving Double Platinum™ sales status. Unlike many of their contemporaries, who were overwhelmed by the steamroller that was “grunge” in the 1990s, R.E.M. weathered the commercial tsunami created by an “alternative rock” movement that it helped create. The band’s 1991 album, Out of Time, would propel R.E.M. to international stardom, yielding three hit singles in “Losing My Religion,” “Shiny Happy People,” and “Radio Song.” Out of Time would earn the band three Grammy® Awards and go on to sell better than four million copies in the U.S. (over 18 million worldwide), topping the charts stateside and in the U.K. as well as in new markets like Canada, Italy, Holland, and Austria.

R.E.M.'s Automatic For the People
A little more than a year later, R.E.M. returned with Automatic For the People, another chart-busting effort that, fueled by radio hits in “Everybody Hurts,” “Drive,” and “Man On the Moon,” would also sell over four million copies in the U.S. and over 15 million worldwide. Much as they did with Out of Time, however, R.E.M. decided not to tour in support of the album. They would switch gears again for 1994’s Monster, delivering a louder, less complex set of songs that nevertheless resounded with audiences, topping the charts in the U.S. and the U.K. on the strength of hit songs like “Crush With Eyeliner” and “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” and selling over four million copies stateside. The band launched a worldwide tour in support of Monster, their first in six years, with Sonic Youth and Radiohead as opening acts.

Although shows on the Monster tour sold out consistently, the tour wasn’t without its obstacles. Three of the four band members experienced serious health issues over the course of the year and underwent surgery, sidelining the band for months at a time. R.E.M. used their time on the road widely, though, writing and performing a number of new songs. They taped shows on an eight-track recorder and based their 1996 album, New Adventures In Hi-Fi, on those recordings. Although the album was moderately successful, it sold a quarter of the band’s previous three blockbusters, which was attributed to alt-rock fatigue on the part of audiences. It would be the last album with founding member Bill Berry, who left the band on good terms after its release, and it was the last they’d record with producer Scott Litt.

In the interim, R.E.M. re-signed with Warner Bros. for a reported $80 million, a contract that included the band’s early, and still consistently-selling catalog of albums. Carrying on as a three-piece without Berry, and enlisting friends like drummer Barrett Martin (Screaming Trees) and Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows), R.E.M. closed out the tumultuous decade with 1998’s critically-acclaimed album Up, produced by the band and Irish producer Patrick McCarthy (The Waterboys, U2). McCarthy would also work with the band on 2001’s Reveal and 2004’s Around the Sun albums as well as the soundtrack to the 1999 Andy Kaufman biopic Man On the Moon. Although the band’s commercial peak was clearly in the rear-view mirror and the recording industry was undergoing drastic changes, two of the three studio albums that R.E.M. recorded with McCarthy would achieve Gold™ Record status.

R.E.M.'s Accelerate
The band released the hard-rocking album Accelerate in 2008, recorded with Irish producer and punk rocker Jackknife Lee. The album was deemed “a return to form” by many critics, and would top the charts in several countries (peaking at #2 in the U.S.). Bookending the band’s 14th studio album was 2007’s R.E.M. Live (a collection of 2005 performances) and 2009’s Live At the Olympia (capturing a 2007 performance). The band’s swansong would come with 2011’s Collapse Into Now, co-produced by the band working again with Lee and recorded in Berlin, Nashville, and New Orleans. The album fulfilled the band’s contract with Warner Bros. and the three band members decided to call it a day.

R.E.M. had considered hanging up their spurs years previous, after the lukewarm critical and commercial response received by Around the Sun, but decided to continue, Mike Mills telling Rolling Stone magazine’s David Fricke “we needed to prove, not only to our fans and critics but to ourselves, that we could still make great records.” R.E.M. has continued to live on through a series of deluxe reissues, live album releases, and various compilation albums and their influence extended beyond the 1980s-era bands that rose in their wake like Dream Syndicate, Sonic Youth, and the Smiths to include ‘90s-era rockers like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Coldplay, among others. Finishing on a high note, R.E.M. left behind a catalog of music of unparalleled artistic quality that, for a brief shining moment, managed to balance commercial and creative success unlike any band before or since.

Archive Review: Webb Wilder's About Time (2006)

Webb Wilder's About Time
It’s been nearly nine years since Webb Wilder last came ’round these parts with a new phonograph recording and we’ve all been that much poorer for his absence. Heck, during the great one’s hiatus we’ve suffered through nu-metal, modern rock, Britney Spears, boy bands, and Geo. Bush – a veritable cultural famine of Biblical proportions. You don’t have to tie up that noose and throw it over the rafters just yet, bunkie, ’cause our year is about to get a whole lot “wilder” and this scribe can only exclaim that it's “about time!”

Rounding up his “A” Team of veteran players, musical monsters like guitarist George Bradfute, bassist Tom Comet, and drummer Jimmy Lester, Webb Wilder has again hooked up with his long-time partner in crime, the “Ionizer,” R.S. Field to record About Time. As comeback albums go, it’s really like ol’ Webb never left; you can’t really call these grooves a “return to form” because Wilder has never abandoned his pure, untarnished vision of rock ‘n’ roll with a touch of country and blues. Sure, Wilder spices up the brew now and then with some fine brasswork courtesy of Dennis Taylor and Steve Herrman, the band sounding like some R&B revue of old. Overall, old time fans of the “last full-grown man” won't be disappointed by the track selection found on About Time.

Webb Wilder’s About Time

For those of you unfamiliar with Webb Wilder, or those who only know him through his XM satellite radio program, About Time will hit you like that first kiss in the backseat of your daddy’s jalopy. The songs on About Time stand as tall as the singer, a fine combination of roots-rock and Southern-fried influences. “Scattergun,” for instance, is a somber, Marty Robbins-styled old west tale of tragedy while “Battle of the Bands” is a ’50s-flavored rockabilly rave-up with rollicking horns and swinging rhythms. “I Just Had To Laugh” is a typical, old-school Field/Wilder lyrical collaboration about the trials of romance, offering plenty of clever wordplay, Wilder’s magnificent baritone, and some mesmerizing fretwork from Bradfute.

“Miss Missy From Ol’ Hong Kong” is a roadhouse rocker with Steve Conn channeling the spirit of a young Jerry Lee on the ivories. As Wilder speaks of Missy’s many attributes, the rest of the band teeters on the edge, blowing the roof off the mutha with instrumental interplay as tight as a fist and honed to a surgical-edge by 1,001 nights spent performing on the road. Wilder reworks Tommy Overstreet’s early ’70s country classic “If You're Looking For A Fool” with a heartbreaking, bittersweet tone that is punctuated by Bradfute’s sadly weeping guitar. Kevin Gordon’s excellent “Jimmy Reed Is the King of Rock and Roll” is provided a bluesy, ethereal reading that brings to mind John Campbell’s voodoo king, knee deep in the swamp, howling at the moon while Hank’s ghost-driven Cadillac careens around a corner, down Broadway, and away from the Ryman.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

There’s more, but you’re just going to have to pick up a copy of About Time for yourself and discover the mystery, the madness, and the magic of the man called Wilder. Giants standing proudly above lesser talents, Webb Wilder and the Nashvegans deliver a tonic for these troubled days and times in About Time. Welcome back, boys! (Landslide Records, released April 24, 2006)

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™, 2006

Archive Review: Gary Moore's Live At the Marquee (2002)

 Gary Moore's Live At the Marquee
One of British rock’s greatest secret weapons, Gary Moore has never received the attention or props that he deserves as one of the Emerald Isle’s wildest and most talented guitarslingers. It is certainly not his immense skills that have prevented him from gaining more than a token stateside audience, although his penchant for skipping from project to project might provide some reasons for his obscurity. After fronting the early ’70s British blooze-rock outfit Skid Row, Moore banged out hard rock with Thin Lizzy, flirted with jazz/fusion as a member of Colosseum II, and played on solo albums by folks like Cozy Powell and Greg Lake. Moore’s own solo efforts have run the gamut from heavy metal to improvisational jazz to hardcore blues. For all of his genre hopping, Moore might be pegged as a dilettante but for the fact that no matter the style of music, he plays it so damn well...

Live At the Marquee is taken from a 1980 show captured at London’s Marquee Club and is probably as good a representation of Moore’s six-string skills as one might find. Although this critic personally prefers the blues bashing Moore practiced during the ’90s, the metal-tinged rock and jazzy fretwork found on Live At the Marquee is nevertheless impressive. Fronting a band that includes journeyman MVP drummer Tommy Aldridge, the Irish guitar wizard runs through a set that includes the hard-driving title cut from his 1979 solo album, Back On the Streets and the wonderfully sublime “Parisienne Walkway,” Moore’s first U.K. hit. “Run To Your Mama” rocks with a rabid ferocity, Moore’s lightning-quick runs highlighting an otherwise generic “kiss-off” song while “You” plays like melodic new wave pop. The soaring, operatic “Nuclear Attackv and the thrash-and-bash instrumentation of “Dallas Warhead” (with Aldridge’s manic drum solo) close out Live At the Marquee with a proper showing of Moore’s heavy metal skills.

Although Live At the Marquee probably won’t win Gary Moore any new fans, standing miles away stylistically from his latest release – the bluesy, bone-rattling Scars – the album does serve as a solid documentation of Moore’s early work. Hopefully this reissue will herald a complete revamping of Moore’s ’80-era hard rock catalog by Sanctuary, which very well might attract listeners searching for a new guitar hero in this age of limp, lifeless “modern rock.” Gary Moore is a guitarist of unusual skill and dexterity, a six-string virtuoso capable of great subtlety, power and speed. He deserves a much wider hearing in the United States. (Sanctuary Records, 2002)

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™, 2002

Friday, September 6, 2019

Archive Review: Eric Gales' That What I Am (2001)

Eric Gales' That What I Am
Like most African-American guitarists who dare to cross over onto rock ‘n’ roll turf, Eric Gales has suffered from comparisons to guitar legend Jimi Hendrix. Like Hendrix, Gales is a left-handed guitarist with a taste for hard rock. Early acclaim laid the dreaded “guitar hero” mantle on the young artist, Gales recording his self-assured, self-titled debut album in 1991 at the tender age of fifteen. He followed it up with Pictures of A Thousand Faces just two years later. Although both albums were heady efforts, the sides show that Gales was prone to overextending himself, jumping headfirst into a song with youthful abandon, six-string Hendrixisms flying off the grooves recklessly.

Since the early days of his career, the young Memphis guitar prodigy has honed his skills, worked with a diverse range of musicians, including former Warlock babe Doro, new wave popster Howard Jones, and hardcore rappers Eight Ball & MJG. As shown by That’s What I Am, the experience has done Gales well. A knowledgeable rock ‘n’ roll veteran in his mid-twenties, Gales is more restrained these days, but not afraid to put the boot to it when it's time to kick out the jams. Just the first two songs on That’s What I Am – the title track and “Hand Writing On the Wall” – contain more fretboard gymnastics and six-string pyrotechnics than you'll hear from a dozen hard rock bands.

The difference is that Gales weaves his solos more carefully these days, incorporating them into the groove rather than allowing them to dominate the song. The result is a looser set of songs that allow Gales’ other musical influences to shine through the mix. “Down Low,” for instance, is a slipping-n-sliding chunk o’ Sly Stone-inspired funk that will have your toes tapping while “Blue Misty Morning” takes a page from Robin Trower’s playbook with spacey, multi-layered guitars sharpening the edge beneath Gales’ soulful vocals. With half-spoken, half-rapped vocals laid down on top of a staccato guitar riff, “Insane” is crazed with bold braggadocio and hometown name checking. Gales leaps into “Black Day” with both feet, notes falling from the fretboard like lightning hitting a Kansas cornfield. “Can’t Go On” is a gentle ballad with tasteful background vocals from, of all people, Josie Cotton (check early ’80s new wave pop obscurities for mention of the talented Ms. Cotton).

Hendrix comparisons be damned, Gales tackles the master’s “Foxey Lady” with a joyful playing that redefines the song, bringing a more contemporary sound to the rock classic. That's What I Am’s other cover, of ZZ Top’s “Just Got Paid,” takes the blues-grunge of the original to new heights, sounding even dirtier and funkier than the Texas trio’s worst nightmares, Gales’ six-string razor roaring out of your speakers. That’s What I Am benefits from the production skills of Geza X (Black Flag, Dead Kennedys), who brings a hard edge to the songs that frames Gales’ skills perfectly. The result is a rocking and rollicking disc, That’s What I Am a guitar-lover’s dream come true. In one final nod to the ghost of Hendrix, Eric Gales is also the first artist signed to Nightbird Records, the new label formed by the Hendrix estate. (Nightbird Records/MCA Records, 2001)

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

Sunday, September 1, 2019

New Music Monthly: September 2019 Releases

We’re finishing up Q3 of 2019 and, from a business perspective, the label levees are about to open as they flood your local record store with new titles vying for your holiday sales attention. No matter, ’cause that means more great music for you and I, and September promises new tunes from folks like Chrissie Hynde, Black Star Riders, the Pixies, Iggy Pop, Opeth, Temples, and the almighty NRBQ, among many others! If you're a blues fan, you’ll rejoice over fresh albums by talents like Janiva Magness, Tad Robinson, Toronzo Cannon, and Rick Estrin and the Nightcats.

There’s honestly not nearly as many archival releases this month, but a whopping four-CD live box set from the Allman Brothers Band should scratch any fan’s itch. 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!

Allman Brothers Band's Fillmore West ’71

Allman Brothers Band - Fillmore West ’71 [4-CD box]   BUY!
Bat For Lashes - Lost Girl   BUY!
Black Star Riders - Another State of Grace   BUY!
Chrissie Hynde - Valva Bone Woe   BUY!
NRBQ - Turn On, Tune In   BUY!
Iggy Pop - Free   BUY!
Status Quo - Backbone   BUY!
Those Pretty Wrongs - Zed for Zulu [Luther Russell & Big Star’s Jody Stephens]   BUY!

Tad Robinson's Real Street

Devendra Banhart - Ma  BUY!
Janiva Magness - Change In the Weather   BUY!
Mike Patton & Jean-Claude Vannier - Corpse Flower   BUY!
Lee “Scratch” Perry - Rootz Reggae Dub   BUY!
The Pixies - Beneath the Eyrie   BUY!
Gruff Rhys - Pang!   BUY!
Tad Robinson - Real Street   BUY!
Leeroy Stagger - Strange Path   BUY!

Toronzo Cannon's The Preacher, the Politician or the Pimp

Toronzo Cannon - The Preacher, the Politician or the Pimp   BUY!
Bruce Cockburn - Crowing Ignites   BUY!
Rick Estrin & the Nightcats - Contemporary   BUY!
Fitz & the Tantrums - All the Feels   BUY!
Liam Gallagher - Why Me? Why Not   BUY!
Hiss Golden Messenger - Terms of Surrender   BUY!
Keane - Cause and Effect   BUY!
Michael Schenker Fest - Revelation   BUY!

Temples' Hot Motion

Hellyeah - Welcome Home   BUY!
Opeth - In Cauda Venenum   BUY!
Steel Panther - Heavy Metal Rules   BUY!
Temples - Hot Motion   BUY!

Album of the Month: With Change In the Weather, Janiva Magness tackles the John Fogerty songbook. If ever there was a songwriter with a wealth of undeniably great songs, it’s Fogerty, and it will be pure pleasure hearing Magness – a former Blues Foundation “B.B. King Entertainer of the Year” award winner – bring her enormous talents and bluesy vocals to the riches of Fogerty’s material.

New Book: Fossils, Relics of the Classic Rock Era v2

Fossils, Relics of the Classic Rock Era v2
Back in the day, record labels didn’t have a network of blogs, artist websites, and social media to help market new music. They only had FM radio, cash ‘payola’ to DJs and, if the budget allowed, advertisements in a handful of music rags like Creem, Trouser Press, and Rolling Stone to help provide hype for a new release. Much like album cover artwork, advertisements created for new album releases were often works of art in themselves.

Creative record label graphic designers often came up with ads that cleverly promoted the artist and their work; just as often, corporate hacks cranked out copy with little or no relation to the album being promoted. With this second volume of Fossils, award-winning rock critic and music historian Rev. Keith A. Gordon takes another look at these “relics,” album advertisements found in frayed and graying copies of cherished old music magazines. Offering insightful and informative commentary on over 60 ads, the ‘Reverend of Rock ‘n’ Roll’ explores this overlooked artistic aspect of the classic rock era.

The “Reverend of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” Rev. Keith A. Gordon has been writing about music for almost 50 years. A former contributor to the All Music Guide books and website, and the former Blues Expert for, Rev. Gordon has also written for Blurt magazine, Creem, High Times, and The Blues (U.K.), among many other publications, and has written two-dozen previous music-related books, including Blues Deluxe: The Joe Bonamassa Buying Guide, The Other Side of Nashville, and Scorched Earth: A Jason & the Scorchers Scrapbook.

Fossils v2 is a 140pp 5.5” x 8.5” paperback with B&W photos and is only available in paperback at $11.95 (no eBook version of this one, kids!). Get your copy through the handy link below or buy an autographed copy direct from Excitable Press:

Fossils, Relics of the Classic Rock Era, Volume Two: The 1960s-'80s 

Buy an autographed copy direct from Excitable Press ($11.95 postpaid, PayPal):

Monday, August 26, 2019

Archive Review: Dead Kennedys' Give Me Convenience OR Give Me Death (1987/2001)

Although often overshadowed by legendary outfits like Black Flag, X or the Misfits, the Dead Kennedys were arguably one of the most important and influential punk bands in the history of the genre. They were the most political of the new breed, mixing a radical worldview with a tongue-in-cheek lyrical style and uncompromising hardcore punk chops to create a thought provoking and unique, hilariously satirical sound.

A late ’80s PMRC-inspired obscenity trial didn’t shut the band up but rather managed to censor Amerikka’s most infamous punk rock troublemakers by breaking the band apart. A decade later, the band members have gone through another (very public) break-up, with East Bay Ray, Klaus Flouride and D.H. Peligro wresting control of much of the Dead Kennedy’s catalog away from vocalist and songwriter Jello Biafra’s Alternative Tentacles label.

Give Me Convenience OR Give Me Death is one of those former AT titles, reissued by Manifesto Records with the dissenting band member’s blessing; Biafra has disavowed the reissue series entirely. A sort of “greatest hits” compilation, Give Me Convenience OR Give Me Death is a great place for the uninitiated to sample the Dead Kennedys’ experience firsthand. Some of the band’s best material is collected here, including early songs like “Police Truck,” “California Uber Alles” and “Holiday In Cambodia.” A killer cover of “I Fought The Law” shows the band’s retro chops while a Biafra rant, “Night Of The Living Rednecks” foreshadows Jello’s spoken word career.

Old hardcore DK fans probably already have this title on vinyl or CD, but the reissue does offer cleaner sound via digital remastering and a 32-page reproduction of the album’s accompanying booklet, including song lyrics and Winston Smith artwork. I’d recommend Give Me Convenience OR Give Me Death for new fans, and would suggest that if you like this stuff, you should check out Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, the band’s best album and the lone title still available on Alternative Tentacles. (Manifesto Records, 2001)

Review originally published by Jersey Beat zine, 2001

Buy the CD from Amazon: Dead Kennedys' Give Me Convenience OR Give Me Death

Monday, August 19, 2019

Archive Review: The Buzzcocks' Flat-Pack Philosophy (2006)

The Buzzcocks' Flat-Pack Philosophy
Never as nihilist as the Sex Pistols, nor social realists like the Clash, the Buzzcocks’ immense reputation was built on the band’s appropriation of the three-minute pop song for the punk milieu. Frontman Pete Shelley’s acute observations on the teenage condition, coupled with an undeniable sense of melody and a biting instrumental tact – courtesy of guitarist Steve Diggle – made the Buzzcocks one of the most influential bands to emerge from the class of ’77. If, after all this time, they’re not exactly a household name in the US, well, dammit, they should be! After breaking up in 1981, the Buzzcocks reformed a decade later around Shelley, Diggle, bassist Tony Barber and drummer Philip Barker.

This line-up has now been around longer than the original band, and they have released music every bit as memorable as those now-legendary early albums. Flat-Pack Philosophy is a perfect example of Buzzcockian rock; Shelley’s matured songwriting underlined by a fast-and-loud delivery and bold, bright instrumental hooks. Although Shelley no longer shares a teenage perspective, his romantic inclinations are no less clumsy, and songs like “Sell You Everything,” “Credit,” and “Between Heaven and Hell” showcase a wider, intellectual worldview. Altogether, Flat-Pack Philosophy blows across the current musical horizon like a gale-force wind, proving that punk rock can grow old without losing amperage, fury or attitude. One of the year’s best rock ’n’ roll albums, Flat-Pack Philosophy stands proud alongside works like Love Bites and A Different Kind of Tension. (Cooking Vinyl, 2006)

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™, 2006

Buy the CD from Amazon: The Buzzcocks' Flat-Pack Philosophy

Monday, August 12, 2019

Archive Review: The Distillers' Sing Sing Death House (2002)

The Distillers' Sing Sing Death House
Contrary to what many people believe, punk is as much a philosophy as it is an attitude. Fashion doesn’t really have shit to do with it, ‘cause it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing, ya know? You can spike your hair higher than Pamela Anderson’s silly-putty funbags, pierce your face with every safety pin in your mom’s sewing kit and wear all the ripped band t-shirts that you want and it doesn’t mean dick. Meanwhile, you can go to work every day of your life wearing khaki chinos and a button-down oxford shirt and still have a head full o’ evil punk rock thoughts.

Brody Armstrong of the Distillers is an authentic punk rock poster child, and don’t you forget it pal! Possessing a voice that sounds like Joan Jett tossing down steroids with a strychnine-laced whiskey chaser, Armstrong walks the walk and talks the talk like few rockers have been able to. And don’t believe for a minute, buttercup, that Ms. Brody got her recording gig courtesy of husband and fellow punk-for-life Tim Armstrong of Rancid. The Distillers kick out the jams with every bit as much muscle, ferocity, spit and vinegar as any hardcore posse out there today. If you don’t believe me, throw Sing Sing Death House on yer measly little boombox and get ready to dodge the chunks of plaster falling from your ceiling for the next thirty minutes.

Listening to Sing Sing Death House, one gets the distinct impression that for Armstrong, punk is more than a way of life, it’s also an escape from this mundane mortal vale. When Armstrong asks “are you ready to be liberated” at the beginning of the “The Young Crazed Peeling,” you know that homegirl isn’t whistling Dixie (which would be hard for her to do anyway since she’s from Australia...) Much like Rancid, Brody’s Distillers bring a decidedly populist bent to their material – Armstrong isn't a particularly poetic songwriter, but she is an effective one, and certainly not beyond throwing out a tortured growl if needed to express her feelings.

The Distillers
The Distillers
Much of the material on Sing Sing Death House is autobiographical in nature, drawn from Armstrong’s life and experiences, which is partially what makes it so accessible. “Sick of It All” tackles the question of violence that punk rock is often accused of while “City of Angels” takes aim at LA urban decay. “Seneca Falls” picks up the torch of women’s liberation while the aforementioned “The Young Crazed Peeling” is a personal tale of rage and retribution.

All of the songs are delivered with an energetic, high-voltage hardcore hum, the Distillers cutting through all the bullshit to deliver raw, unadorned, honest-to-god punk rock thrills. At the end of the album, either you got it or you didn’t. Personally, I couldn’t give a shit either way; I’m going to listen to Sing Sing Death House again... (Hellcat Records, released February 12th, 2002)

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™, 2002

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