Friday, September 7, 2012

Joe Jackson "Night & Day" (A&M - 1982)

It's a Saturday night, you're going out, though you have no specific plans. The city awaits, anything and everything can happen. So, you need a cocktail and a little music to prepare for the evening. I would suggest Joe Jackson's, New York-inspired Night and Day, backed with a traditional martini made with Hendrick's gin. This is a completely foolproof plan. Even if you're one of those people who do not like gin, (and I've met more than a few of you wrongheaded nut-jobs), Hendrick's will change your mind. If you're one of those people who think that a martini is something colored pink and flavored like ice cream and has the consistency of a milkshake and perhaps comes with a miniature umbrella, then I cannot help you. I refuse to help you. You are living in a sad, alternate, idiotic universe, in which food and drink are named for the vessel they are served in, rather than for their own substance and form. For shame.

I believe I bought this record at a Cambridge Goodwill, probably for a dollar. I definitely bought it because it contains the song "Steppin' Out," which is a song I've been fairly obsessed with since first hearing it when I was a 7-year old kid, living a typical life in the suburbs, completely unaware of what a night out in The City encompassed, yet greatly intrigued. The album cover is clean and simple, the cartoon skyline of New York making the theme rather clear. The drawing of Joe Jackson at his piano projects a bit of a 20's feel, and is somewhat reminiscent of Al Hirschfeld. The inside gatefold contains all of the lyrics and liner notes, something which I always appreciate. There is also the time-honored "band in the studio with all of their instruments" photo. This is much preferable to: "band looking menacing and/or bored while standing in front of a wall," or "band looking wistful while standing on a rooftop," or "band looking stupid and/or pretentious, posing with the respective instruments they play." The latter is always tough on drummers, who must pose with drumsticks in hand, as if they are never without them, perhaps even sleeping with them clutched ever so tightly, dreaming of one day starting their own bands, finally being allowed to unleash their well-meaning, yet horrifyingly awful musical visions on an unsuspecting world. Just keep the beat, okay, Johnny?

Before I place the needle down, I take a sip of the martini. I'm no mixologist, but I make a perfectly palatable cocktail. As the drink is mostly just chilled Hendrick's gin in a glass with olives, it basically makes itself. I do use a half a shot of vermouth, shaken with the 2 shots of gin and some ice, and it most definitely adds a distinctive flavor. Distinctively bitter and unappealing, yet distinctive nonetheless. I should probably leave it out altogether, going forward. I could always switch it out in favor of olive juice. Hmmm.... Okay! Side one, entitled "Night Side." I see where they're going with this. "Another World" starts us off, drums and percussion first. There is a Latin theme with the rhythm section which will extend throughout the record. The vocals are minimal, the lyrics basically about being lost and bummed out but then meeting new people in a new place and everything starting to look up. There is an infectiously catchy instrumental melody which follows the chorus. It's a nice opener, a good representation of what's to come. It segues without break or pause into "Chinatown," an odd and quirky song, with silly off-the-cuff lyrics detailing experiences walking through the title-inspiring area of town. Eh, not really remarkable. Besides, Thin Lizzy already wrote the definitive song on that subject. We now segue into "T.V. Age," and it seems that all songs will flow from one into the next, sort of like how the events of an evening out on the town seem to blur into one another. This third track is an off-kilter, humorous send-up of the then newly popular cable television, and how it's keeping people indoors, glued to the tube. The reference to HBO is still relevant, thirty years later, only now it's their original programming that suck us (me) in, rather than the movies. The sarcastic nature, and music itself, seem to take a page from earlier Joe Jackson records, like Look Sharp! "Target" follows, with some crazy meringue or calypso beat and cliched lyrics about the dangers of the city. I know what's next, and so I can bear up and sit through this otherwise forgettable tune. It begins to fade and a disco beat arises, soon joined by an appropriately disco-styled bass line. Then the signature, complicated jazz chords burst forth from the piano and a nostalgic smile crosses my face. Incidentally, I have the sheet music for this and failed miserably at attempting to play it, (my lack of piano skills notwithstanding). Anyway, I absolutely love this song, and not just because it transports me back to that indescribable state of childhood wonder and fascination, but because it's a damn fine tune. It's at once catchy, fun, serious, inspirational, foreboding, eerie, and perfect. It's in a category all its own. It's got a great xylophone part. It has always conveyed to me the mysterious, narcotic aura that Manhattan exudes. I never seem to tire of it.

You're now stumbling home from the bar, the night was fantastic but you can't quite remember why, the sun is beginning to come up, a fact that is both alarming and hilarious, you want a greasy breakfast and perhaps a nightcap or two before finally yielding to the need for sleep. This is the "Day Side." The subject matter is of a more serious nature and the songs no longer flow from one into another. It's time to face up to responsibilities. "Breaking Us in Two," the other, more minor hit from the album, gets right into it and reminds me a bit of "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" It's about trying to end a miserable relationship but encountering resistance from the other. Such a fun topic! The cool outro part makes up for the questionable and dated synth section in the middle. "Cancer" sees a return to the Latin rhythms, and with lines like, "everything gives you cancer, there's no cure, there's no answer," you know you're in for a good time. Actually, I really like this song. It sucks you in with its odd timing and dour melodies. It's the highlight of the side. "Real Men," sounds like nothing else on the record, and isn't terribly interesting musically, but it's notable for giving a nod to the city's gay scene of the time and is lyrically ambitious. "A Slow Song" finishes up the album, and the title is neither sarcastic nor enigmatic. It's kind of a lullaby for two drunken and tired lovers, draped around each other and barely able to keep their eyes open, shuffling slowly and fighting off the inevitable sleep. I'm actually falling asleep before the song ends. Sleep. Wake up. Coffee. Night time. Cue up "Steppin' Out."

Friday, August 24, 2012

Sebadoh - "4 Song CD" (Domino - 1994)

What could possibly pair better than some slapped-together tunes recorded mostly on a 4-track cassette machine and some beer I made myself in my basement? Nothing, that's what! Hell, some of these songs even feature some better-known recordings being manipulated and accompanied with odd noise, and my beer that I "made" came in a kit. I think there's a connection there, maybe not. I don't recall exactly when or where I bought this record, but it was a while ago, and it was most likely at Newbury Comics. Don't be fooled by the ironic album title, there are more than four songs and there is no cd involved whatsoever. The beer is from the Mr. Beer company, and this particular batch is in the style of an English Brown Ale. My friends and I used to think that the crappy Meister Brau we drank translated to Mr. Beer. My friends and I were idiots, as evidenced by the crappy beer we drank too much of all the time.

This is my fourth attempt at brewing my own beer, and I must say, the results are far better than any of the previous batches. The beer is a bit sweet, but not overly so, has a decent body and color, and much less of the odd aftertaste I've grown accustomed to my homebrews having. The simplicity of the process, at least when using this particular kit, was surprising to me. It's not much more complicated than cooking up a box of macaroni and cheese. I was more diligent with sanitizing all bottles and equipment this time around, and also more patient with the process, so that's probably why the end result was much improved. Beer! From the cellar!

On to the record: we'll start, as usual, with the cover. Could be found photography, like the kind featured in this wonderful website and magazine. It could also very likely be a childhood photo of one or more of the band members themselves. Singer, guitarist, and occasional bassist, Lou Barlow is certainly not averse to this, as his one-year-old, naked self is the subject of the cover of the '94 full-length, Bakesale.

The first "song" on side one is called "Mor Backlash," and consists mostly of layered, manipulated samples, notably the chorus from Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love," mixed with some spacy noises and record skips. I suppose it's an interesting introduction, it's over before you know it. The second song, "Rebound," is the real standout track on the record and is also featured on Bakesale. (video below) Its got all of the hallmarks of the 90's indie sound: jangling yet still aggressive guitars, awesome vocal hooks, heavy and distorted bass providing counter-melody, good stuff! It's an excellent pop tune with raw personality and no soul-sucking slick coating. "Not a Friend," is vintage Lou Barlow, an acoustic guitar, and a 4-track. This is a more stripped-down version than the one which appears on the aforementioned full-length. It's a mournful and self-deprecating tune, with layered, soft vocals, and features some accordion-sounding instrument towards the end. It could actually be an accordion, I'm really not certain. Might be a recorder. It is not a saxophone, that is for sure. "Careful," a Jason Lowenstein number, has an odd, stilted rhythm, catchy and plaintive vocal lines, and relies heavily upon the bass to steer it along. The band recently reunited for a tour and I was fortunate enough to catch the Middle East show. "Careful" was one of the highlights of the night. I was extremely jealous of how everyone in the band, though older than I am, have managed to hang on to their hair. I have not been as fortunate. But I digress, here's a video:

The second side is much more sporadic and chaotic. "Foreground" kicks it off with a complete cacophony of strange, disjointed noise. There is a piano in there, some bass notes, you can hear a voice say, "Let's work on that ballad again," and then it's over. "Naimi" has an odd circus-like feel and continues in the "mash a bunch of instruments together without any sort of central theme or idea," vein. Could work for a film soundtrack... perhaps to a movie written, shot, and directed by a parallel universe Helen Keller, constantly drunk and devouring sausage and wholly unconcerned with those around her. I'd fucking see that flick. Anyway, next up is the instrumental, "40203." It has an evil, plodding feel, with simple bass and guitar working melodies with and against each other. It has a sort of Cure ala Pornography vibe. Towards the end it gets nice and drony. I like it. I like it so much, I used parts of it in the soundtrack I came up with for my friend's play, "Charlotte the Destroyer." But enough about me, let's talk about you! Or we could just move on to "Mystery Man." This Lou Barlow song also appears on the full length, but in a much evolved version. It has a similar feel to "Not a Friend," slow-moving, quiet and melancholic vocals, creepy acoustic guitars... it's the closest side two has to a highlight. "Drumstick Jungle" is more chaos and noise and general madness. The finale comes in the way of "Lime Kiln." It starts off with a pleasant bass line and vocal melody, then takes a sharp turn and picks up a bit of speed. It nearly morphs into a completely different song. Sounds like a mix of potential ideas looking for a home. Before the needle returns home we're treated to what has to be a sample from some found VHS tape or something, horrible 80's infomercial muzak, with an overly cheery girl asserting, "A lot of people think I'm from Chicago... I'm not, I'm from North Dakota!" Good night!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The B-52's - "s/t" (Warner Bros. - 1979)

Are you in the mood for an absurdist beach party? You soon will be. I am going to be pairing the wonderfully kitschy fun of the B-52's first record with a couple of summery Harpoon offerings. Why? Well, it is summer, and the premier track on the record features a ton of references to sea creatures, and harpoons have been known to be used to hunt such things, and so there's somewhat of a nautical theme going on here... Oh, just quiet down and drink up and listen. To be fair, a more suitable pairing would have been some sort of crazy tropical, fruity, rum-based concoction adorned with miniature umbrellas and plastic mermaids and served in some ridiculous glassware, (like those featured in one of my all-time favorite Kids in the Hall skits), but alas... what's done is done.

I opt for the Bohemian Pilsner for side one. Mostly because I prefer the Summer Ale and therefore wanted to save it for last. I'm not necessarily a huge fan of the Pilsner style of beer, but this particular one is very drinkable. It has an enticingly sweet aroma and a good amount of flavor. Its lightness and almost complete lack of any aftertaste make it a good beer for a hot summer day.

I have to make note of the utterly perfect simplicity of the album cover, designed by London artist, Tony Wright. It says everything you need to know about this band. Their sense of aesthetic and style is matched incredibly well by their sense of humor. I love the solid yellow background. I love that there is absolutely nothing in the imagery to even hint at the time period this was released into, (the disco-infused late 70's). I'll admit it does fit in with some other post-punk offerings of the time, but it definitely stands out as unique. In fact, the band themselves seemed to like it so much they utilized a very similar template for their second album. If memory serves me, I purchased this for around $5 at the long-since-closed Hi-Fi records, which had its home on Centre Street in Jamaica Plan, MA.

The album opens with what sounds like a cross between a submarine and an alien telegraph operator, tapping out frantic and ultimately meaningless Morse code. Soon, the signature guitar riff creeps in, sounding like a sped-up version of the Peter Gunn Theme, and "Planet Claire" is up and running. Several of the album's major themes are evident within: absurd and seemingly made-up-on-the-spot, spoken-rather-than-sung vocals; surf guitars; kitschy references to 50's culture; and let's not forget the Farfisa organ. From what we can gather from Fred Schneider's distinctive rambling, this so-called Planet Claire is known for having "pink air," for being devoid of the concept of death, and for being inhabited by people with no heads. Okay! The second track, (my personal favorite), is the upbeat and punkish "52 Girls." It begins with a short drum intro and quickly gets down to business with some great guitar and catchy, fun vocals. It makes me want to get up and dance, and I fucking hate dancing. In keeping with the band's penchant for listing off things, this song features a sort of roll call of girl's names, starting off with band member's Kate and Cindy. "These are the girls of the U.S.A., can you name them today?" I'm probably going to need a bit more time than that. "Dance This Mess Around," is sort of an insane, threatening plea for a dance partner. Slow and creepy, with lines delivered in utter desperation such as, "Why don't you dance with me, I'm not no Limburger!" The song eventually builds up in intensity and fulfills the listing quota with Fred naming a variety of dances, including "The Shy Tuna." I imagine that would be performed scrunched up in a corner, slowly rocking yourself with your head between your knees and not making eye contact with anyone. Last up is the song they would be best known for, (at least until "Love Shack" was released). "Rock Lobster" is a surf-inspired, atomic beach party dosed with LSD. It is fun. It is crazy. It has some serious cowbell. It is far, far too long, yet I don't want it any other way. Name one other damn song in the entire world that manages to get the word, "narwhal" into it. I dare you. (Video below is a shortened, yet still awesome version).

Ahh, finally on to the Summer Ale. Perfectly pleasant and refreshing. Not too sweet, not too light. And now on to side two. As much as I enjoy this record, I have to admit that the second side pales in comparison to the first. "Lava" starts it off, a slower number, and somewhat forgettable. There is a volcano theme, as you might have surmised. "There is a Moon in the Sky (Called the Moon)" is easily one of my favorite song titles ever, and picks up the pace left in the wake of the tepid opener. The $20,000 Pyramid-style listing of related things continues with Things You Might Find In Outer Space. Let's take a moment to appreciate the greatest game show theme song ever written:

Look, I know it eventually became the $100,000 Pyramid and started out as the $10,000 Pyramid, but it will always be the 20 to me. Okay, back to side two. "Hero Worship" departs a bit from the surf kitsch and sort of gives a hint at what the band will sound like a decade later. It's a more straight-forward tune, and has some interesting and fun guitar interplay. "6060-842" brings back the crazy and features some prominent wood block action, if you're into that sort of thing. A short song about a number written on a bathroom wall which turns out to be disconnected. How I hate when that happens. The album finishes with an inexplicable and very forgettable cover of the song often sung by a Sinatra or two, "Downtown." Lackluster. I think I'll put on "52 Girls" again. That's the stuff!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Boston - "s/t" (CBS - 1976)

One of the best things about getting older is that you grow less and less concerned with what's "cool," and what is not. One day, you get out of bed and your back groans and you notice that a few more of your hairs have gone gray, and you don't mind because at least they're still there, (for now), and you flip on the radio, (because you're old and you still listen to it), and some overplayed schlocky relic from the 70's comes clunking out, and instead of furiously changing the station you find yourself joyously singing along, and without a trace of ironic sarcasm. Ladies and gentlemen, the first Boston album! While sitting back and giving this a spin, I'll be sipping a Cape Codder, inspired by the group's reference to Hyannis in "Rock and Roll Band." I know when I think of hotbeds of rock music, Hyannis just leaps right to mind.

I picked up this copy some years back at a used record store in Philadelphia. The owner had a box of mostly 70's classic rock near the front door with a sign on it advertising: FREE. I asked him to be sure, and he disdainfully said, "Yes, please take that crap out of here." OKAY! I am not averse to free crap, musically speaking of course, so I snagged this, as well as a few Zeppelin albums and most likely some Foreigner or Bad Company and went on my way, happy to have relieved this poor soul from the crushing burden of possessing a handful of oft-played rock albums.

The drink is a bit on the sweet side for my taste, especially considering I'm using some "diet" cranberry juice someone left in my refrigerator. The vodka is Sobieski, because it's cheap and on-hand. There should be a lime wedge in there as well, but I'm all out. Better suited to hot-weather, outdoor day-drinking, the Cape Codder falls a little flat in the current situation.

Before we get into the music, we simply must discuss this ridiculous, (and awesome), album cover. The cartoonish drawing depicts a number of enormous and identical spaceships fleeing an exploding planet Earth. The ships carry domed cities, and the one in the foreground is labelled, "Boston." I'm a bit perturbed that not one of the buildings within the domed Boston bears any resemblance to any familiar building. Yes, I know that this dramatic rendering of the end of the world seems to be far into the future, but still... couldn't hurt to include the Custom House Tower, or even the much-maligned Pru. What any of this madness has to do with the band, the music, or any of the lyrics within, I have no clue. The back cover features a curiously apologetic blurb describing how the band came about, beneath a stoic band photo. Drummer Sib Hashian, dead center, sports some of the most amazing hair in the history of rock and roll.

And so, on an album packed with hits, (every single song on here is a staple of classic rock radio), we begin with the best-known of the lot. "More Than a Feeling" eases in with some unassuming acoustic guitar and lyrics appropriately enough about listening to an old, "familiar song." Then it kicks right in with the classic riff and super-catchy chorus, replete with glorious handclaps! The riff is undeniably similar to another well-known hit song, acknowledged here by Nirvana. All of the elements associated with the band's signature sound are evident in abundance on this first track: pristine production; soaring, layered guitar; over-saturated and impossibly high-pitched vocals. All things considered, it's an undeniably fun song, regardless of how many listens your local classic rock station, (or your drunk Uncle Charlie), have subjected you to. Next up is "Peace of Mind," a tune you may not recognize by name but you have almost certainly heard before. For such an enduring hit, it's actually fairly unremarkable. More of the same, but nowhere near as infectious as the first track. The third offering begins with an instrumental titled, "Foreplay," which guitarist and mastermind of the group, Tom Scholz, had written years earlier while a student at M.I.T. This bit is heavily laden with some serious 70's organ action. At one time it might have seemed pretty cool, but now just sounds extremely dated. At least the drummer gets to have a little fun, up to this point being relegated to laying back and letting the vocals and guitar have the spotlight. As it transitions into "Long Time," some spacey noises and futuristic sound effects can be heard, evoking the images on the album cover. It all comes together! Then the second part starts off with a short guitar solo, and we're into the final number on the side. A better song than the last, more of the same hilarious and generic rock lyrics, and another appearance of my beloved handclaps, hot times! The song carries on a bit longer than it seemingly needs to, but just as I'm ready to cut it short, the fade-out begins.

Taking the cake for worst, (and therefore possibly best), lyrics on the album is the first song of side two, "Rock and Roll Band." They say to write about what you know, and so I suppose if you're in a rock band then it would make sense to write a song about being in a rock band. Yet, there's something so hilariously stupid about that. Or maybe it's perfectly awesome. I just don't know. Oh, and the song also includes fake crowd noise, plugged in at appropriate moments. Stupid? Awesome? Yes! And there's this genius line too, "Play, play, play, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah." Eat your fucking heart out, Walt Whitman! Next up is my personal favorite, "Smokin'," the song that first turned me around from hating all this schlock to actually liking it. Very derivative rock guitar riff, yet still somehow perfect and awesome. I like the song enough to forgive the long and wildly unnecessary organ/guitar break. I like the song enough to overlook its sad lack of handclaps. I like the song and I can't even begin to explain why. It just goes really well with an ice-cold can of beer. Why the heck am I drinking this fruity vodka mediocrity? Anyway, next up is "Hitch a Ride," a melancholic ode to getting the fuck out of town. Very laid-back tune, some interesting drum parts. It almost sounds like the drummer is overplaying in protest, a passive-aggressive complaint issued forth with unnecessary fills and overcomplicated snare work. Works for me. After a long instrumental outro with a nice guitar part, we get into probably the least-memorable song on the record, "Something About You." It has the same feel as everything else, but without any real hook or particular character. It's just there, and then it's over. The last song picks it back up a bit. "Let Me Take You Home Tonight," has a bit of an Allman Brothers thing going on, sort of a bluesy rave-up. The arrangement is less conventional and far more interesting than anything else on the record. It's a good choice to end with, and goes out on an energetic note.

In then end, I should have probably paired this with some cold, domestic, generic beer. Seems to be the perfect fit for all classic rock of this ilk. Live and learn, and enjoy the handclaps.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Black Flag - "Damaged" (SST - 1981)

Here's a pairing I'm just sure you'll find irresistible! We've got the classic first full-length release from Black Flag, 1981's "Damaged," backed with an ice-cold forty ounce bottle of Colt 45. Having just seen guitarist Greg Ginn perform his trance-like electro musings a few nights ago at a bar in Cambridge, I wanted to revisit his roots as one of the most influential punk guitarists of that era. The Colt 45 was inspired by the Black Flag interview (below) from the 1981 Penelope Spheeris film, "The Decline of Western Civilization," during which bassist Chuck Dukowski can be seen enjoying one.

I only just picked up this copy a few years ago at some chain music store near Times Square. I happened to wander in and notice that they actually had a selection of vinyl, (huzzah!), and that most of it was discounted to $5, (double huzzah!!). I love the simple aesthetic of the cover design, very simply and accurately hinting at the music contained within. It's notable in being a rare piece of Black Flag imagery not drawn up by Ginn's brother, artist Raymond Pettibon, iconic logo and "bars" aside.

I can't remember the last time I tossed down some Colt 45, likely in a desperate moment of youthful boredom. Like most malt liquor, it is best consumed near freezing and as quickly as possible. The initial taste is surprisingly sweet and inoffensive, but then the aftertaste barges in and smacks you around a little, putting you in your place. This is not a beverage for the weak of heart, it takes fortitude. Especially when nearing the end, at which point the warm dregs more resemble something you might expel from your body, rather than intentionally take in. It fits well with Damaged though, an angry beverage for an angry album!

The record opens with one of its strongest, most enduring tracks. "Rise Above" begins with a descending guitar riff accompanied by drums, quickly shifting gears towards angry, sing-along defiance: "We are tired of your abuse, try to stop us it's no use!" I take an eager swig of malt liquor and prepare to take on all comers. I also can't hear this song and not be reminded of this scene from the greatest television show ever to only survive one season. The next song, "Spray Paint," is fast and furious and before you can begin to wrap your head around the angry cacophony it's over. A newer version of "Six Pack," which had previously been released on a 7-inch earlier in the year with guitarist Dez Cadena singing, is up third. This one is a tad slower, and of course has Henry Rollins on vocals, but otherwise is very similar to the earlier incarnation. A humorous send-up of the macho drunken slob spending all his money on beer, it has a somewhat more conventional song structure and eternally memorable bass intro. "What I See" is slower and heavily bass-driven, with Rollins delivering spoken word vocals, enigmatically declaring, "I want to live, I wish I was dead." Next up is probably the most well-known song from the record, the catchy and satirical, "TV Party." Later recordings of the song would appear in the movie Repo Man as well as a music video. It is easy to sing along with and always gets a chuckle out of me, plus it has hand-claps!!! "Thirsty and Miserable" continues the angry, driving thread along and features an excellent instrumental section which is quintessential Ginn guitar. "Police Story" sums up the band's thoughts on their dealings with The Law perfectly: "They hate us, we hate them, we can't win." Side one comes to a close with the classic, "Gimme Gimme Gimme," a song which had been kicking around since the early days, when Keith Morris barked out the vocals.

I flip the record over and assess the Colt 45 situation. Good progress has been made and it looks like I may be able to outrun the dregs. Side two starts off with one of my favorites, "Depression." It begins with some hellacious guitar noise and feedback and then erupts into controlled chaos. These dudes are really bummed out, and they're insanely pissed about it! "Room 13" is a bit darker sounding than the rest of the album, and sticks out as being a bit of an odder song. "Damaged II" lurches forth with more anger, more noisy guitar, more manic drums, and of course, more frustrated depression. The Dukowski penned, "No More" begins slowly, with an eerie lone bass note, being struck with increased frequency and intensity, until a little over a minute into the song when it explodes into a frenzy of guitar and Rollins' growling paranoia. And as quick as it comes in, it's over. Clocking in at just under two minutes, "Padded Cell" shrieks to life with a repeated chorus of, "Maniac!", and then stumbles to a muddled close. "Life of Pain" is a hint at the more metal-sounding guitar which Ginn will gravitate to as the band makes its way through the 80's. Evil and dissonant dueling guitar mixed with Rollins' raspy spoken word-style vocals. Finally, the album succumbs to its own brooding, horrible, depressed state, and devolves into the trudging sludge-fest that is, "Damaged I." At nearly four minutes, it is easily the longest statement on the record. Rollins introduces himself, "My name is Henry, and you're dealing with me now," then the song spews forth a relentless, noisy, and sickeningly slow aural assault over which Rollins takes out any innumerable aggressions. This song is not here to make friends or win anybody over. This song says, "Oh, you didn't like that? Well how about some of this!" Yes, please.

And so thoroughly drained, and thankfully finished with the Colt 45, I take off the headphones and seek solace in a bit of silence.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Men At Work - "Cargo" (Columbia - 1983)

Well, here we are, and no better place to start than with the first LP I ever owned, a Christmas present back in 1983. I had requested it based on my love of the video for "It's a Mistake", which prominently featured Eagle Force action figures, which I was fairly obsessed with at the time. Who could resist, with sweet characters named Goldie Hawk and General Mamba! For beverage accompaniment, I've got a Saranac Session IPA for side one, and a Hefeweizen for side two. I've opted for these particular beers because they happened to be in my refrigerator and it's after eleven p.m., and if you live in Massachusetts you know what that means. Lazy? Sure. Sue me. 

Settling into a rickety old chair which belonged to my father's Aunt Clare, I set the needle down and take a sip of the IPA. It has a somewhat subtle flavor for what it is and isn't too heavy on the hops. Underwhelming but certainly drinkable. Much lighter body than your typical IPA and little to no aftertaste. All in all I don't believe I'd seek to purchase a six-pack of these, but seeing as they're only available in specialty mix-packs, (at least to my knowledge), it's not an option anyway. 

Before we get into the music, let's take a gander at the album cover. As an 8-year-old, the cartoon artwork and abundance of detail to peruse was highly appealing. Now it strikes me as somewhat silly and ill-fitting to the music within. Though I suppose it works as a nice contrast to the mostly serious and dour nature of the lyrics and overall mood of the album. The back cover, (not pictured), is a drawing of the island from afar as viewed through a pair of binoculars, the songs listed below. Neither offensive nor memorable. 

The first song opens with the sound of a church bell and footsteps, and then with the introduction of some upbeat guitar and quirky synthesizer we're into the story of "Dr. Heckyll and Mr. Jive", a decently catchy tune that you quickly forget about as soon as you get into the second track. "Overkill", by far the group's best song of their short career, opens with the late Greg Ham's iconic saxophone and immediately exudes a beautifully pensive and ponderous atmosphere. The lyrics deal mainly with insomnia brought on by obsessive and relentless worry over relatively small issues, and I know I've had my bouts with that sort of nonsense. On the whole, the song is perfectly put together and despite, or perhaps even because of its somber tone, an eternally enjoyable listen that has withstood the test of time, whereas much of the album is a victim of the whims of its time period. The song would enjoy a rebirth in the early 2000's when the group's singer, Colin Hay performed an acoustic version on the television comedy series, "Scrubs." The third track is only notable for being sung, as well as written by the guitarist Ron Strykert. It's an innocuous throw-away about a father telling his son to, "Settle Down." Hence, the track title. Next up we have "Upstairs in My House", a collaborative effort between Hay and Strykert with a fairly catchy chorus and rather puzzling lyrics. Your guess as to what it's about is as good as mine. Rounding out side one is an overlooked gem, one of my favorites on the record, "No Sign of Yesterday." It has a haunting, slow, plodding feel and features that wonderfully dense 80's synth sound. The theme is of dealing with loss, trying to move on. No new ground covered to be sure, but it hardly matters. As it fades out amidst some affected vocal riffing and guitar/sax interplay, I take a last sip of IPA and uncap the hefeweizen. 

The Hefeweizen is a much appreciated improvement on the IPA. A really nice blend of spices and refreshingly sweet without overdoing it. A slight under-taste but better than your average Hefeweizen. I would definitely recommend it, particularly for a hot day, or for the second side of Men at Work's sophomore release. 

Side two kicks off with the song which spurred me to spend a precious Christmas gift-request on this album. "It's a Mistake" features a sort of morose, languid ska riff and anti-war lyrics, complete with the requisite 80's reference to Ronald Reagan. Definitely inspired by the wave of nuclear paranoia which permeated that time. I can remember having nightmares about "the bomb." Such a terrifying feeling to know that you and everyone and everything you hold dear can be obliterated at the mere push of a button. But I digress... Despite the song's melancholic aura, it's a wonderfully catchy and excellent tune. So much so that my first band opted to cover, or rather mangle it during a few early performances. In hindsight this was a regrettable decision. Unfortunately the album heads downhill from here, mostly filler and unmemorable schlock. The fourth track, "I Like To" stands out for being sung by keyboardist and saxophone man, Greg Ham, as well as for having by far the fastest tempo of anything else on the album. If you had fallen asleep somewhere in the morass of side two this might have jostled you awake. The final tune, "No Restrictions" is also peppy and somewhat upbeat and features some fun guitar meanderings, but ultimately pales in comparison to the album's standout tracks, "Overkill" and "It's a Mistake." The needle returns to its housing, the last sip of Hefeweizen is drained, and I bid you goodnight.