My mailbox is always a little sparse this time of year, and what little I’m finding there in this typical season of wither are releases that won’t be seeing daylight until early 2010 — I’ve already received some March releases and e-mails regarding April titles. As I’ve alluded to previously, with the bulimically thin release sheets of December, I’ve decided to go back to the teetering piles of discs in the Bunker to find a few things that deserved attention months ago and failed to get it due to time or circumstance.
So begins the first of four postings intended to give a little love to a handful of releases from earlier in the year that deserve it and that will also bridge the gap until the industry starts cranking out new releases in early January. Forward, into the past …
Back in the late ’70s, Punk was roaring from both American coasts and evolving at a furious pace in the blood-and-spit-soaked petri dish of underground London. In 1977, at the dawn of Punk’s manic rise, England produced one of the oddest and most entertaining bands of the era, one that was only marginally associated with the scene that spawned it.
The members of The Fabulous Poodles assembled with the idea of updating the sounds of the ’50s and ’60s, mixing a love of The Kinks and The Who and a fascination with Doo Wop, Pop and Soul with a thoroughly modern interpretation that placed them squarely in the burgeoning New Wave camp. The Poodles’ first two albums — their eponymous debut in 1977 (produced by Who bassist John Entwistle) and Unsuitable in 1978 — spawned a couple of hits at home and generated enough buzz to get them an American deal with Epic, which compiled the two albums into the 1978 stateside release Mirror Stars. The album became an unlikely sensation, largely based on the band’s boisterous take on “Roll Your Own;” the salaciously unairwavable (for its time) “Tit Photographer Blues,” a song about a lonely skin lensman who only sees the action and is never a part of it; and Kinks-like rocker “Cherchez La Femme.” As a result, The Fabulous Poodles sold more records in the U.S. than The Clash or The Jam in 1978.
The Poodles’ sophomore U.S. album the following year was even better. Expanding on all the musical themes that defined the first two albums — ’50s Pop, ’60s Rock, ’70s perspective — and led by Tony De Meur’s wryly cynical-yet-romantic vocals and skittering guitar, Bobby Valentino’s insistent violin, Richie Robertson’s pulsing bass and Bryn Burrows’ diverse Tin Pan Alley Swing/Big Rock gallop drumming, Think Pink offered something for everyone. The Poodles became even more cinematic, from the sci-fi Pop of “Bionic Man” and dramatic swell of “Suicide Bridge” to the horror thump of “Vampire Rock” and the “Leader of the Pack” update of “Bike Blood.” The pinnacles were the Kinksian pick-up turnaround of “Any Port in a Storm,” the off kilter New Wave blurt of “Pink City Twist” and the Jerry Lee Lewis-fueled guitar-and-piano raver “Anna Rexia,” a song about a girl who just won’t eat (“Like makin’ love to a bag full of spanners…”).
Sadly, there was very little label support for the album, and with little more than a cult following the Poodles broke up in 1980.
In an effort to right this wrong, Sony’s American Beat imprint released Mirror Stars and Think Pink as a twofer back in October. It’s nice to have both albums on a single source and the sound is great, but the package is sorely lacking. No historical notes, no updates, no details of any kind as far as the albums themselves other than songwriting credits. A really fantastic release would have been all three albums across two discs featuring all the songs from the British versions that were never released here.
As it is, it’s great to have Mirror Stars and Think Pink on CD at long last, even if Sony skimped on the details.
Depending on temperament and circumstance, Kicksville could alternately be described as an African Pop band, a Jam/Prog outfit, Adrian Belew at his most Zappaesque or Beefheartian, a collaboration between Peter Gabriel and Natasha Atlas, a full-throttle Metal assault, Tom Waits banging away on a carnival-in-a-tool-shed short story or Ministry after a Clockwork Orange session with the new Phish album. And at some point, any or all of those descriptions fit Kicksville like a brand new black concert T-shirt on the group’s latest full-length, The Singles: Season 2, released back in October.
The band is more conceptual than actual, although there are seven members who ultimately translate the studio work on stage. Kicksville calls itself a collective and claims over 60 “citizens” from around the world who contribute to the whole in significant ways, which might partially explain Kicksville’s wild diversity.
Still, the band’s two main creative spark plugs — Mayor Mike Stehr and Commissioner Conrad St. Clair — are perhaps the most directly responsible for what ends up on Kicksville’s schizophonic albums, so the winding path of the band’s set list is ultimately their skewed call. And what an acid-laced Whitman’s sampler that turns out to be on The Singles: Season 2, with the Residents-meets-Bo Diddley cover of “Who Do You Love?” to the Belew Funk Jam/political rant of “Dumfukistan” to the grinding Ministry-edged thrum of “Krankypants.”
What’s clear after running through a few listens to the ever-shifting strangeness that is The Singles: Season 2 is that few of the aforementioned sonic reference points serve as actual influences and any sounds that can be attributed to Kicksville are among the most fascinatingly original that are being foisted upon an unsuspecting world. Edgard Varese said it, Frank Zappa lived it and Kicksville puts their own twist on it: “The modern day composer refuses to die.”
Richard Lloyd’s story on its own is pretty compelling — his membership as guitarist in Rocket from the Tombs and Television, his solo career, his session work with Matthew Sweet — but the tale Lloyd spins on his latest solo album, The Jamie Neverts Story, is worthy of a movie script. In a nutshell, the teenaged Lloyd met a young man named Velvert Turner who had started an unlikely friendship with Jimi Hendrix around the time that Hendrix moved to New York. Turner and Lloyd became best friends, Hendrix began giving guitar lessons to Turner and Turner imparted his newfound knowledge to Lloyd. The two friends took every opportunity to see Hendrix live and ultimately became a part of the guitarist’s local entourage.
There’s a lot more to it — Lloyd recounts his own abridged version of events in the liner notes to The Jamie Neverts Story — but needless to say, Lloyd’s friendship and interaction with Turner and Hendrix was absolutely vital in his development as a guitarist and perhaps as a person as well. Turner went on to become a pro guitarist also, recording an album with his band, The Velvert Turner Group (featuring future Knack bassist Prescott Niles) in 1972, but was largely a cult figure known more for his connection to Hendrix than his own work. Lloyd’s career attained a much higher profile, but he maintained his friendship with Turner until his death nine years ago.
The Jamie Neverts Story (Jamie Neverts is a name Lloyd and Turner devised so they could talk about Hendrix surreptitiously in front of their friends) is Lloyd’s way of paying forward his friendship with both Turner and Hendrix, to whom the album is dedicated. The album is a tribute to Hendrix, with Lloyd offering up his take on 10 songs by the master.
The album might have been better served if Lloyd had injected a little more of himself into the proceedings rather than laying down relatively straightforward readings of these well-worn tracks. But to hear Richard Lloyd channeling the spirit of Jimi Hendrix is still pretty interesting. Perhaps another angle would have been to make the album a dual tribute with, say, five Hendrix tracks and an equal number of Turner’s songs — it would have been great to hear Lloyd stretch out on Turner’s “Strangely Neww” and “Madonna (of the Seven Sons).”
But that’s not how Lloyd played it. While his guitar technique is beyond reproach and obviously shows aspects of his own musical personality, Lloyd’s vocals on the Hendrix songs are considerably stiffer and less supple than the originals. At the same time, it’s hard to argue with the passion and sincerity with which Lloyd approaches the music on The Jamie Neverts Story, so these criticisms are minor points.
The album also reintroduces Turner to a largely clueless world. Seek out his album — there are two different mixes, one more guitar-oriented, and both are excellent — and enjoy a long forgotten treasure.
A little over two years ago, life looked great for Chicago’s oh my god. The duo — bassist/vocalist Billy O’Neill and keyboardist Ig, augmented live by a rotating cast of drummers and (occasionally) guitarists — was gearing up for a quick Midwestern tour to preview the imminent release of their fifth full-length, Fools Want Noise. On their way to a gig in Cincinnati at Northside’s Gypsy Hut, a drunk driver hit the band’s van head-on, killing herself and causing very serious injuries to the band members, requiring months of physical therapy and delaying the release of Noise for over a year. The tumult continued during the writing process for their next album, when Ig’s wife was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and O’Neill and his wife separated.
Oh my god finally got back to a better state of being with the late September release of their sixth full-length, The Night Undoes the Work of the Day, and a highly-anticipated fall tour. The band brought guitar back to their sonic fold on Noise, with the addition of former Darediablo six-stringer Jake Garcia, and the trend continues with Matt Lenny and Jim Tullio providing guitar on Night.
OMG’s recent travails have clearly made O’Neill and Ig a little more contemplative in their songwriting and execution, as the walls of distorted Deep Purple/ELP organ, while still present on “Baby There’s Nothin’ Wrong” and “I Don’t Think It’s So Funny,” have given way to a gentler and more reflective Pop aesthetic. There are moments on Night (the gorgeously melancholy of “My Own Adventure,” the little epic “My Prayer,” the winsome closure of “Strangers on a Train”) when Ig pounds the keys with the Pop authority of Donald Fagen and Bruce Hornsby, while O’Neill sings with soulful power and palpable heartbreak.
When they combine the two directions on the gauntlet-throwing “I Dare You to Love Me,” the effect is even more jarring and heart-wrenching, but perhaps Night’s most unexpected moment is OMG’s careening roller coaster cover of The Fixx’s “One Thing Leads to Another.” Given all the upheaval that has afflicted oh my god over the past couple of years, the mere presence of The Night Undoes the Work of the Day is fairly amazing. That the band has been able to find a way to detect beauty and wisdom in the midst of it all and translate it into their music is nothing short of miraculous.