18 December 2001
(A) Essential (B) Recommended (C) For fans only (D) Avoid
SPIRITUALIZED Let It Come Down/RICK ALTIZER (All Tie Zer)/BEN FOLDS Rockin' the Suburbs/VARIOUS ARTISTS Parasol’s Sweet Sixteen Volume 4/ALVA STAR Alligators in the Lobby/DEAD CAT BOUNCE [Sexy Lisa]/THE MOCKERS Living in the Holland Tunnel/THE SHAZAM The Shazam (Re-issue)/BILLY MAHONIE What Becomes Before/THE B-SIDES Yes Indeed, the B-Sides, Quite/FUZZBOX Some Tranquil Devices/BOSS GREMLIN Beat Up Henry/Neil Finn & Friends 7 Worlds Collide/Pink Floyd Echoes: The Best of Pink Floyd/RICH MCCULLEY After the Moment Has Passed/MILLION YEN Blue Television Windows/PHAMOUS PHACES New Pop City
You know sometimes I really
think that Jason (Spaceman) Pierce – the singular creative force behind
Spiritualized – is playing a huge practical joke on us all. Read any write-up
on this special group and rock writers tend to focus heavily on Pierce’s
alleged drug use history and these same scribes will pore through his lyrics to
make such connections. So what does Pierce call his latest challenge to the
Let It Come Down. Hilarious!
Personally, I have always believed that Pierce has been talking about love all along. Falling in and out of love, wanting it, despising it and so on. You know the universal experience of that thing called love.
So essentially, Let It Come Down is a ‘morning after’ album full of glowing optimism, certainty of purpose and peace of mind. Listen to “Do It All Over Again” – possibly the song of the year – and try not to feel elation and sheer joy with its uncanny evocation of Phil Spector’s teenage symphonies. True to its plea, you will indeed press repeat and listen to it ‘all over again’!
Musically, these songs bear skeletal melodies almost as if Pierce needed to strip the tune down to bare essentials whilst utilizing copious layers of horns, strings, keyboards, choirs, harmonicas, woodwinds, guitars, basses and drums to communicate his feelings of well, L-O-V-E. And you know what? It works and how…
The naïve “Don’t Just Do Something,” the soulful “Out of Sight,” the buzzy “The Twelve Steps,” the delightful “The Straight and the Narrow,” the poignant “Stop Your Crying,” the gospel-tinged “Won’t Get to Heaven (The State I’m In)” and “Lord Can You Hear Me” complete Pierce’s master plan brilliantly.
Never quite as strong as Ladies and Gentlemen, We’re Floating in Space… maybe but Let It Come Down still manages to touch the heart and soul of this believer. (A)
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(All Tie Zur)
Rick Altizer is a brave man
indeed, leaping in where angels fear to tread. Specifically, the ‘no-man’s
land’ between progressive rock and pop music. Not to mention that (together
with co-lyricist Dwight Liles) he liberally sprinkles his well crafted songs
with Christian concepts and principles.
First things first, prog pop? Yes indeed. Think of the early 1980s incarnation of King Crimson as an excellent starting point. No surprise perhaps then that Adrian Belew guests on several tracks here with his unique guitar contributions. Then take the pure pop classicism of Lennon-McCartney, Jellyfish, Jason Falkner, Doug Powell and Jeff Lynne and this album – Altizer’s third – makes dizzying perfect sense.
In fact, ELO is a good reference for Altizer’s superlative songs. Listen to the middle eight of “Disco Ball” or the easy harmonic feel of “World’s Longest Night” without thinking of Jeff Lynne’s sublime influence. Which would inevitably bring us of course to the Beatlesque authority of the insightful “Moon and Mars,” the jaunty “Just Because” and the poignant “John Lennon’s Glasses.” A veritable feast for pop fans!
As for the conceptual drive behind Altizer’s material, muse on choice lyrics like ‘Be the death of me and be my resurrection/Be my destiny untangle my direction/Breath your breath in me and be my resurrection’ from “Resurrection” which succinctly encapsulates the salvation experience. Or the cautionary tale of “Never Shake His Hand” – ‘He’s introduced as an honest man/He’ll recommend a subtle change in plans/And then he leaves you wasted in the sand/Never shake his hand’ and marvel at the brilliance of Altizer and his collaborators in capturing such ‘difficult’ subject matter in a three minute pop song.
One of the best pop albums you’re likely to encounter, full of verve and vibrant creative energy with a meaningful message to convey. (A)
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critics who go on about Ben Folds being the new Billy Joel should really be
enrolled in a crash course on POP 101! What utter bollocks, of course! Folds is
closer to being the new Pete Townshend or the new Alex Chilton, I should think.
Yes, my dears, I do realise that Folds plays the piano whilst Townshend/Chilton
favor guitars but that's a superficial distinction. What I am trying to say is
that this first solo album proper from Folds (the bizarre Fear
of Music Vol. I does not count) is nothing less than good old-fashioned
solid power pop! The kind Townshend made with the early Who and Chilton with Big
Star. It's as simple as that. How else do you want to describe the likes of the
quirky title track with its power chords and sarcastic send-ups (“I got shit
running through my brain/So intense I can’t explain/All alone in my white boy
pain/Shake your booty while the band complains”) or the three-chord
progression of the effusive opener “Annie Waits.” No? All right then,
considering that Folds plays virtually ALL the instruments here – what about
the ‘new’ Todd Rundgren? Listen to the jaunty “Gone,” the sprightly
“Losing Lisa” or the insistent “Not the Same” and try not to think of Something/Anything?
C’mon! Or maybe even Jeff Lynne with the Beatley sensibility of “Still
Fighting It” or “Zak & Sara”?
Oh, so you think this constant need to define Folds in the context of a classic performer is ludicrous. Right you are! If nothing else, Folds proves that he is very much his own man, shorn of his former mates, as this superb album amply demonstrates. With Folds still able to traverse touching balladry & rockin’ rave ups with equal gusto, not to mention with his trademark clever wordplay in full flight, Rockin’ the Suburbs is a pop achievement to cherish. (A)
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If you love great rock and pop music done the ‘right’
way, then you must have a Parasol CD in your collection. Volume 4 in this truly
sublime sampler series features more fantastic rock and pop from this fine
label. This time around, I would like to point the way towards the ringing
“Nevermore” by those versatile Swedes, The Soundtrack of Our Lives; the
simply groovy “Move the World Go Away” by that master of the homemade gem,
White Town; the big music balladry of Absinthe Blind’s “Antarctica;” the
beautiful “Overdone” from the ever-prolific Adam Schmitt (exclusive to this
compilation); the wonderfully twangy “Not Enough Tears” from Chitlin’
Fooks; the vibrant “Where I’m Taken,” a rough mix from June & the Exit
Wounds’ (i.e. Todd Fletcher) highly anticipated sophomore album; the
impossibly hooky “Downtown Girl” by the immaculate Mark Bacino (expect his
new album soon, folks!); the poignant folky “Nothin’ But Sky” from Jack
Logan/Bob Kimbell and the elegant home demo of “Since You’ve Been Away”
from the lovely Jenifer Jackson.
Need I say more? (A)
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Alligators in the Lobby
So what is a former folkie like
John Hermanson (late of folk duo, Storyhill) doing with an excellent power pop
band like Alva Star AND boasting a fine power pop record like Alligators in
the Lobby? Good question.
It matters not cos as long as the result is as brilliant as this 10 track debut, there is nothing to ponder. On Alligators, Hermanson and his competent band of musicians suggest a fervent affinity for sophisticated rock-pop of the Todd Rundgrenesque variety. That said, the highlight of Alligators probably owes more to Hermanson’s folk roots that his current pop direction viz. the incandescent “Alva Star,” resplendent with its soaring mellotron and pastoral melody. But fans of modern power poppers like Semisonic will thrill to superior hooks of “Adore,” “Unhappily Yours,” “Thing for Me,” “Victorian” & “Revelation.” But scratch beneath that slick veneer and you will find that like “Alva Star,” the best moments come when Alva Star combines pop smarts with rustic nuances – “Falling,” “Beautiful” and “74.” Whichever way you look at it, Alligators in the Lobby is a tremendous pop achievement. (B)
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|DEAD CAT BOUNCE
Before he returned to the U.S.
of A, DCB leader Fred Thomas recorded this six-track CD in Indonesia with his
trusty rhythm section of Harto (bass) and Bakar Bufthaim (drums) and a good
thing he did too! [Sexy Lisa] is a fine snapshot of DCB’s live sound
which is energizing and vibrant with the intimacy of the best bar bands. No
great messing around with the formula here as DCB deliver the same tight, guitar
rock that its debut album Never A Dull Moment boasted. The title track is
a prime example of this – all driving guitars and manic drumming. “Happy As
A Clam” is vintage Elvis (Costello) pub rock, “Stalker” is heavier in tone
and concept, “Superhero” is an exercise in playful funk, “Townerville”
is easy goin’ folk rock whilst “Tuesday in Dili” is a dark metallic piece
that reflects back on a death of Sander Thoenes - a journalist who was murdered by Indonesian troops
while reporting the sacking of East Timor in 1999.
A concise and fluid rock album in the classic sense – let’s hope this is not the last we hear of Fred Thomas and Dead Cat Bounce. (B)
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Living in the Holland Tunnel
(One Eye Open)
Considering the genesis of their
name (think: Hard Day’s Night), it’s no surprise that the Fab Four
figure prominently in the Mockers’ scheme of things. This acclaimed quartet
(viz. Seth Gordon, Don Howell, Tony Leventhal & Joe Niefled) wisely obtained
the services of producer Mitch Easter to accomplish the marvelous Beatlesque pop
sound evident on the driving “More Important Things,” the dynamic “Yes
World,” the sweet “Coronation,” the faux-sinister “Get in Line” and
the vibrant “Robin’s Problem.”
Elsewhere, the Mockers are able to evoke light-hearted, funny moments with “It Wasn’t Just Me,” “Funk #50” (completer with French Horn) and the Byrdsy “Sheepwalking.” Whilst “Comes As No Surprise” provides a poignant contrast.
The Mockers never muck around with ‘clever’ arrangements; they keep things simple – short, sweet and filled with powerful guitars with the closing “Sunfowers” epitomizing all that is special about this band. Skipping deftly over psychedelia, this is power pop at its most essential with a gorgeous Beach Boys middle eighth that shows that the Mockers can be ‘clever’ when they want to – all down to the right timing! A great testimony to the power of pop! (B)
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First released by Copper Records
in 1997, this debut disc has not lost any of its vitality (or relevance) with
its Who/Move/Cheap Trick inspired powerpop (with emphasis, need I stress, on
POWER). With The Shazam’s current cult-like popularity (especially in the UK)
riding on the sharp Godspeed the Shazam album and the innovative Rev 9
EP, this re-issue makes perfect sense.
Vibrant and melodically resilient tracks like “Let’s Away,” “Oh No!,” “Megaphone,” “Hooray for Me,” “Engine Red” and “C’mon Girl” make this a great value for money release. What’s more, to whet the appetite of fans, the bonus of the ebullient “Everything,” the plain funny “I Hate That Song” (a variant from that found on the Nashpop compilation), the simply Beatlesque “Out of the Blue” and the anthemic “Generation Zzzz” (which to these ears uncannily recalls Adam Schlesinger’s “That Thing You Do” in parts) are included to turn The Shazam somewhat into an essential addition to every powerpop fan’s library. (A)
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What Becomes Before
Here come the ‘post-rock’
references again! Forget it! Billy Mahonie (a London BAND consisting of Kevin
Penney, Howard Monk, Hywell Dinsdale & Gavin Baker) is competent enough in
its musical context without the burden of an arbitrary ‘label.’ After all,
sustaining interest with 14 instrumental songs is another matter altogether but
Billy Mahonie pulls it off with style and craft. What Becomes Before is a
melting pot of post-modern sonic techniques as varied as jazz-funk (“Dusseldorf”),
pastoral folk (“False Calm”), atonal dirge (“The Day Without End”),
hypnotic drone (“Bres Lore”) & dark punk (“Nacho Steals from Work”).
Clearly, the discerning listener will be able to divine the stimulus provided by the work of Can, Gang of Four, Jethro Tull, Mogwai, Joy Division, New Order, 23 Skidoo and Tortoise. However, on tracks like the distinctive “Keeper’s Drive” and metallic “Terylene” the band sets its own agenda succinctly. Obviously, it’s not exactly pop, but its great music nonetheless. For the adventurous souls out there, this one’s for you. (B)
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Yes Indeed, the B-Sides, Quite
You know that the B-Sides is a band with tongue
firmly in cheek when this debut full-length is sub-titled The Best of the
B-Sides! More so when the liner notes inform us that Yes Indeed is
actually a collection of tracks taken from the NEXT FOUR ALBUMS – as yet
unrecorded! Hilarious! Well and good but what about the music?
Let’s just say that the self-deprecating reference to ‘geek rock’ does no favors to this inventive band. Eclectic to a fault, the B-Sides are able to swing from poignancy (“Such a Sad Song”) to drama (“I Wore It Till It Broke…”), jump from humorous punk (“The One”) to crisp powerpop (“Megan”) and move from cinematic fun (“Bigger than Jared”) to oddball craft (“Japan”) over the course of this compact and concise work. No mean feat. (B)
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Some Tranquil Devices
A combination of 70s cock rock
with a Doors fixation flecked with discernible strands of British post-punk
sensibilities may sound like a really bad idea on paper but translated onto this
seven track CD, Singapore band Fuzzbox makes this unlikely proposition totally
The opening numbers provide ample evidence of Fuzzbox’s inherent quality. The resounding “Thrown” comes across like King’s X at times with it’s emotional delivery and hard-edged approach whilst the pleasing “Losing Sleep” develops the post-modern indie aesthetic into a compelling experience.
The rest of Some Tranquil Devices maintains this fragile balance between metal & alt. rock agendas – compromising the impact of neither but never veering out of the middle path. A competent effort that merits closer examination. (B)
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Beat Up Henry
Familiar tunes, even more so
with the chord progressions are doubts that dog Boss Gremlin’s 32 minute long
debut somewhat. Heck, you might even accuse Boss Gremlin of being formulaic but
let me just say this – DON”T DISS IT IF IT WORKS!!!
From the jubilant opener “Down in It,” Boss Gremlin cut loose with charging guitars and shoot-from-the-hip tunes that take no prisoners. ‘What do you have to lose?’ indeed. Fans of the Ramones, Husker Du and the Replacements will enjoy the sludgy “Back and Forth,” grungy “Big Shot,” pretty “Take Down,” punky “Luv B4,” gritty “Sinking” and ragged “Underneath.” Give me genuine articles like Boss Gremlin over well-heeled overhyped charlatans like the Strokes anytime. (B)
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Finn & Friends
As I listened to Neil Finn belt out his most famous song - "Don't Dream It's Over" - the popular Crowded House debut, I couldn't help but feel nostalgic for the time (the 1980s!) when a fabulous tune like that would also be a top ten charting single. Since then, Finn has released several albums with Crowded House and is now a respected solo artist in his own right. This respect is obvious when you glance through the names of the musicians who backed him in this concert. Brother Tim, Johnny Marr, Ed O'Brien & Phil Selway (Radiohead's rhythm section), Lisa Germano and Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam). Finn, to his credit, casts the net wide for material beyond his two solo records to include several Split Enz ("Stuff and Nonsense"/"I See Red"), Crowded House ("Weather With You") and Finn ("Paradise") songs in this enjoyable set and even covering The Smiths' "There is a Light." One for the fans no doubt but lovers of well crafted sophisticated pop will not regret picking this up. Better yet, check out the Crowded House retrospective Recurring Dream. (C)
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attraction of Echoes is that unlike previous compilations A Collection of Great Dance Songs and Works, a fair bit of thought and reasoning has gone into this
package. Longtime Pink Floyd engineer (and co-producer of The Wall) James Guthrie has taken the list of songs agreed upon by
Waters, Wright, Gilmour & Mason and has chosen not to sequence them in a
chronological manner. Rather, in order to make Echoes more than merely the sum of its individual tracks, Guthrie
seems to have suggested a pattern in his track sequencing, whatever it may be.
Thus material from wildly different eras of the Floyd canon appear side by side
to reveal either synchronistic consistency or crushing irrelevance.
Fans hoping for unreleased material will be disappointed as only "When the Tigers Broke Free" (from the aborted The Wall Movie Soundtrack) is finally given a digital release.
So is Echoes worth all the effort and hullabaloo? Well, yes and no. For fans, the choice of tracks and sequencing decisions will be debated and fussed over but ultimately enjoyed BUT new listeners will probably be no closer to discovering what the big deal is/was. However, as yet another opportunity for the record labels to push product with the Pink Floyd brand name, Echoes will be a resounding success. (C)
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After the Moment Has Passed
Rich McCulley’s earnest interpretation of 70s pop-rock delivers fairly pleasing results. Especially if you love the work of Peter Frampton, Steve Miller, Tom Petty and to a lesser extent, the Eagles. McCulley’s main asset is his sublime guitar work which is at once, well arranged, harmonic and serpentine. There is no denying that in songs like the dynamic “Free World” and “Anyone,” McCulley is able to produce knockout melodic guitar rock. However, there are moments where McCulley’s limited vocal range and lack of musical variations drag the high points somewhat. But overall, the good outweighs the ‘not-so-good’ with McCulley displaying the potential to progress further. He may do well to work on his vocals and maybe inject a little spice into his arrangements. At the moment, this album sounds like a fine solo effort from the sidesman of a great band. (C)
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Blue Television Windows
A Cheap Trick aesthetic
permeates this well-crafted album. Million Yen effectively applies pop
sensibilities to metal approaches topped with synthesized riffs which also
recall the halcyon days of the Cars. Which I suppose suggests the 1980s but in a
good way! Tons of enjoyable moments here, no doubt, Million Yen are more than
adept at wringing the maximum out of their lusty guitars without every inch of
melodic fervor intact. “Chemical Drip” sets the agenda, which is strenuously
maintained by “One Last Rush,” where Andy Gerber is in fine voice followed
by the fluid drilled pop assault “Velveteen.” Meanwhile, the tunes found on
“Poor Little Rich Kid” sustains the album’s focus well, similarly with the
title track’s flanged disorientation. “Too Late for You” provides stamina
with familiar strains whilst “Superficial Things” pumps along relentlessly,
“Summer Girl applies psychedelic touches and “Television Window Blues”
completes the title tracks’ original promise.
For pop fans who love their music sweet and hard. (C)
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New Pop City
New Pop City
is a BIG powerpop record in the grand tradition of such 70s greats as the
Raspberries, the Hollies and Badfinger. From the quintessential guitar technique
(that IS a Rickenbacker draped on the Statue of Liberty, after all!) to the
exquisite vocal harmony, Phamous Phaces is never ambiguous about their
intentions and objectives. Yes, it’s THAT easy but it’s perfect when it’s
done right. The opening “Denmark” is a shining example of all that powerpop
can be. The kind of Byrdsy majesty you thought only Jeremy Morris was capable of
nowadays also finds its way into great tracks like “She Won’t Have It” and
“Kristen Did It” with magic changes that will take your breath away!
Definite Beatlesque tendencies are evident on the driving rhythm attack of
“Volcano Mouth” whilst “What’s Wrong” betrays a slight inclination
towards Southern Rock blues! The band’s faithful cover of that Badfinger hit
“Come & Get It” gives the game away somewhat but hey, no surprise,
Power pop fans, what are you waiting for? (C)
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