Dramarama – Stuck In Wonderamaland

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 2)

By the way, this is yet another album I bought twice. The attention created by “Anything, Anything (I’ll Give You)” persuaded the band to move to California. They quickly recorded the prophetically-titled Box Office Bomb, which suffered from weak songs (with a couple of standout tracks, including “It’s Still Warm” and “Out In the Rain”). The band seemed stuck – big in the LA region but not making gains anywhere. After disastrous French tour, the band broke up for a bit and then regrouped to record Stuck In Wonderamaland. If the feeling of displacement and lack of success was getting to John Easdale at the time of the second album, then during the recording of Wonderamaland he was experiencing full-fledged disillusionment. Nonetheless, the recording sessions produced a ton of extra material, which the band packaged for a release in Europe – Looking Through – under the name of the Bent-Backed Tulips.

What I Think of This Album

A surprisingly subdued disc, so much so that you could be forgiven for thinking this was the sound of Dramarama giving up. I suspect part of the problem is the production, which sort of neuters the band, but in general, the material is slower and lacking in energy.

Three tracks nonetheless achieve classic Dramarama status:  the frantic “Last Cigarette,” which approximates the desperate energy of “Anything, Anything (I’ll Give You)” and on which the entire band seems to come to life; the bitter and defeated “No Regrets,” offering up some live wire guitar; and “70’s TV,” on which John Easdale grimly acknowledges the impact of that art form on his life. Throw in the fine deep cut of “Try” – very Beatles-esque – and you have the foundation for a strong album.

Almost as good is “Lullabye,” which adds color to the mostly drab surroundings with some jangle and an energetic vocal. And finally, probably the band’s best cover is here in the form of Mott the Hoople’s  “I Wish I Was Your Mother,” whose sentiments and origin nicely dovetail with Dramarama’s bewildered exhaustion.

The rest is problematic. “Pumps On a Hill” lasts less than a minute and doesn’t make much impression. “Fireplace, Pool, & Air Conditioning” might have worked better on a different album, surrounded by more uptempo songs, but here it’s lost amid similarly slow, dour numbers, like piano ballad “It’s Hardly Enough.” Not belonging anywhere is “Would You Like,” on which Easdale abandons singing and just babbles into the mic. “Wonderamaland” is very dreary (and I’m not sure how I feel about the soul-ish middle eight, which sits awkwardly between the mopey, droney parts). Needless to say, the reprise at the end of the album (now titled “Stuck In Wonderamaland”) was ill-advised. The band benefits from the help of high school buddy Tommy T. and thanks Ian Hunter (Mott the Hoople) in the difficult-to-read liner notes.

The Best Thing About This Album

I really like the Mott the Hoople cover.

Release Date

April, 1989

The Cover Art

Sort of hippie/trippy, which is a weird aesthetic for this group, and I don’t care for the washed out colors, which, intentionally or not, compliment the tepid sound of the album.

The Cure – Disintegration

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 4)

This album came out when I was a junior in high school, but I did not acquire a copy of it, for reasons that are lost to me, until I was a sophomore in college. It is technically of the ‘80s, but I associate it powerfully with the ‘90s. I think it wasn’t until freshman year that I really fell in love with it. How I got it was that I traded my roommate Jason a copy of the Ocean Blue’s Cerulean for it. Best trade I ever made (I did eventually repurchase Cerulean, many years later).

What I Think of This Album

I think everyone agrees that this is the Cure’s masterpiece, and how could one not? Lush keyboards dominate and slow tempos oppress, with many songs clocking in over six minutes, all the better to take in the majesty unfolding around you. Each song is an entire galaxy, bursting with stars and held together by gravity, and all are part of a discernible universe. This is the Cure on a scale never before attempted nor perhaps even dreamed – the album is an epic, not only in stature but in construction and scope. It may have been born of Robert Smith’s depression and LSD use, but my god, it was worth it.

Opener “Plainsong” (named after a genre of religious chants going back to the early days of Christianity) is effectively the album in miniature, bursting into existence via a Big Bang of keyboards after an agonizing delay of several seconds of quiet wind chimes – where once there was nothing, now there is this. The plodding rhythm knocks you over and holds you down, while the keyboards cascade around your prone form, and Smith’s ghostly vocals swirl above, underneath, and through you. “I think it’s dark.” Yeah, no shit. It is black as the heavens and just as imposing. Immediately following, with a graceful pivot, is the rueful, deeply romantic (dare I say, Gothic) “Pictures of You,” which benefits from Simon Gallup’s lulling and sorrowful bass part and the insistent guitar line from Porl Thompson, before Smith’s poignant lyrics enter. While not as verdant as “Plainsong,” the relatively more breathable second track is clearly of a piece with the opener. Unlike The Head On the Door and Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, here the Cure are exploring different facets of the same dark emerald, avoiding anything that does not correspond to what has already come before in the preceding songs. Those albums were about breadth – this one is about depth.

“Closedown” is a gigantic piece that is arguably the best song on the album, with gorgeous keyboards (note the angelic harmonies), almost manic drumming from Boris Williams, and a thick bass that offsets a delicate guitar part; Smith offers up maybe twenty words’ worth of lyrics, with the devastating closing line “If only I could fill my heart with love.” That appears to be what happens, in fact, on hit “Lovesong,” which is as straightforward as the title indicates. This is a love song, without irony or shading, and if the lyrics might be a bit too on the nose, the band delivers a triumphant performance, led by Gallup’s bass and Smith and new member Roger O’Donnell’s keyboards (including faux-strings and a sort of accordion/harmonium sound). The sinister, almost-gritty rhythm of “Last Dance” is the perfect backdrop to Smith’s exploration of the death of a relationship. Things take a nightmarish turn on the horror movie influenced “Lullaby,” which may be an allegory for drug abuse or child abuse or insert-your-abuse-here, or it might just be a creepy story of a spiderman who sticks his tongue in your eyes and makes you feel like you’re “being eaten by a thousand million shivering furry holes;” what is beyond doubt is that Smith’s whispered vocals, the chilly shards of guitar, Gallup’s unrelenting bass, and the grandiose fake strings expertly frame this disturbing tale. I will admit that this is the one song that sort of feels out of place on this album. Driving, punishing “Fascination Street” finds the band once again nailing the bleak groove – this album is arguably Simon Gallup’s peak (though he has done amazing work on many Cure albums) – and the atmospherics, arrangement and production all come together in a stunning mix. Approaching the classic Cure sound, “Prayers for Rain” is a somber dirge, with heavy, medieval tapestries of keyboards, gilded with guitar filigree, trapping the listener in a thick maze and taunting them with Smith’s half-crazed vocals (“I suffocate / I breathe in dirt . . . . You fracture me / Your hands on me”).

Strap in for almost ten minutes of “The Same Deep Water As You,” which is the equivalent of being slowly and methodically beaten to death with foot-thick manuscripts wielded by a circle of morose monks. This is arguably the weakest song of the collection. That it is followed by a contender for strongest song may be no accident. The title track is an eight-minute juggernaut that obliterates everything in its path, fueled by William’s powerful drumming, a chugging sequencer line, and Smith’s increasingly desperate, impassioned vocals. He sounds like he’s in agony and I am right there with him. You can feel the band losing themselves in “Homesick,” an elegiac number that creates a dour momentum; Smith’s vocals seem gratuitous, as the music does all the work the song requires. “Untitled” sounds almost bright by contrast, and while Williams again hits hard and hits often, the pervading sense is one of gentleness, aided by Smith’s soft spoken vocals.

This may not be the Cure album people like best, and it may lead some listeners to indulge in lazy generalities about what the Cure are and what their music sounds like, but this is the most enduring, substantial, titanic record the band ever made. Kudos to Smith and David Allen for the production. Notes:  “Last Dance” and “Homesick” are described as bonus tracks on my CD because they were not included on the original vinyl pressings, but they are on the vinyl reissues. Lol Tolhurst was credited with “other instruments” but apparently was so deep into alcohol abuse that he did not actually contribute to the recording, and was in fact fired afterwards, with O’Donnell taking his place. Disintegration has sold over 2,000,000 copies in the U.S.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Plainsong” may be the best opening track I’ve ever heard.

Release Date

May, 1989

The Cover Art

Hmmmmm. I think the floral theme communicates the lush sound of the album, and, also, the somewhat claustrophobic feel of the art is appropriate. Smith’s face hovering amidst all that, well, I don’t think that’s necessary.

The Vulgar Boatmen – You and Your Sister

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 1)

It’s literally impossible to discuss the Vulgar Boatmen without strolling through their bizarre history. Dale Lawrence was a musician and college student in Indianapolis and Bloomington; Robert Ray was a graduate student (several years Lawrence’s senior) at Indiana University. Lawrence enrolled in a class taught by Ray and they hit it off, musically. Ray moved to Gainesville, Florida in 1979 to continue his academic career (he is the chair of the film studies department at the University of Florida, a published author, and also has a law degree), and Lawrence remained in Indiana, playing with his own band. They stayed in touch. Two UF students – Walter Salas-Humara (future Silos leader) and Cary Crane – formed the Vulgar Boatmen. Ray eventually joined, offering up songs that he and Lawrence collaborated on by mail. Regular mail – this is the early ‘80s, remember. Soon, Lawrence’s Indiana crew was playing the same songs that Ray’s Florida band was playing. They decided they were all, or both, the Vulgar Boatmen. The Florida contingent became the studio band, and the Indiana collective was the touring band, with some bleeding over at the boundaries, and Lawrence and Ray remained the joint main creative force.

What I Think of This Album

Yay, more songs that make me sad! Love it. Sincerely, I do love it. The songs here are evocative and misty, suggesting more than declaring, and often revolving around incomprehension, longing, and the desire for closure that we can never achieve. Other times the song titles tell you all you need to know:  “Decision By the Airport” is obviously not about upgrading to business class, and “The Street Where You Live” shocks no one when it ends with “Tell me who do you love? / Who do you love?”

“Mary Jane” chugs along nicely, and there is a chiming jangle that permeates “You and Your Sister,” which gets by on a lyrical economy that is all the more impressive for being more than sufficient to get the point across (“There is a dance this week at quarter to nine / I wouldn’t mind if you go with somebody . . . We can walk down to my house right on the corner / We can talk late in the dark in my front yard”). “Margaret Says” is more oblique but even more wonderful, with a fine vocal performance by . . . someone. The liner notes offer little in the way of useful information. The fact that the fourth song (the slow, fine “Katie”) is the third to feature a woman’s name in the title is telling.

Arpeggiated “Drive Somewhere” is arguably the album highlight, all sunsets and asphalt, tentative and propulsive at the same time. The lack of a way forward in “Change the World All Around” is palpable and moving. There are welcome pedal steel accents to cinematic (like, Jim Jarmusch cinematic) “Decision By the Airport.”

There is a slight soul feel to “Fallen Down,” lacking only horns and a time machine for it to have come out of the Stax studio, while “Hold Me Tight” is a ‘50s-style ballad. “Cry Real Tears” is likewise a throwback to Ray’s childhood in Memphis (his father, a doctor, once treated Elvis). None of these three tracks is anything special – the first half of the album is what you should focus on – but things end on a high note with the languid and dusky “The Street Where You Live.”

The band’s sound has a lot in common with the more pastoral side of the Feelies, lacking any of their nervous energy. Honestly, Tom Petty would have had hits with most of these songs. The presentation is unassuming and direct. I will say, though, that the recording is not great. You definitely need to turn this up to hear, and the vocals could be higher in the mix. The Lawrence-Ray partnership is responsible for most of the dozen songs here, with only one tune lacking involvement by either (which is easily the weakest song on display).

The Best Thing About This Album

“Drive Somewhere” transports me to another place.

Release Date

1989

The Cover Art

So much of this works. The fonts are outstanding, and I like the color palette. If the photo box had just contained the woman and the car, it would’ve been a winner. The addition of the cropped color photo of a guitarist on stage ruins it. It looks messy and lacking in confidence.

Lloyd Cole and the Commotions – 1984-1989

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 2)

I came to this backwards, having first learned of Lloyd Cole as a solo artist, whose work I didn’t find particularly special. I think I got this roughly in the same period as Rattlesnakes (finding either was not easy), and I am glad I did. I definitely prefer Cole from his early days, though I would be willing to relisten to some of the solo stuff. Cole has worked with Robert Quine (Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Lou Reed, Matthew Sweet) and Fred Maher (Lou Reed, Matthew Sweet, Scritti Politi, Luna). Most of the Commotions ended up playing with Cole on his solo albums. Bassist Lawrence Donegan went on to become a journalist and author, including the golf journalist for The Guardian. As it turns out, Cole is reportedly an accomplished golfer, having grown up on the Glasgow Golf Club, where both his parents worked.

What I Think of This Album

Lloyd Cole is pretentious as fuck. Fortunately, he has at least three things going for him to balance things out:  his songs are incredibly tuneful; he has the benefit of a skilled band, particularly guitarist Neil Clark; and he seems to traffic much more in irony than earnestness (though this could just be my own wishful thinking).

Cole and his band released three albums from 1984-1987, and this compilation democratically selects four tracks from each, with the bonus of B-sides “You Will Never Be No Good” and “Her Last Fling.”

I’ve already addressed the Rattlesnakes tracks in that post. The reward is that the others are basically just as good. The Easy Pieces tracks are more keyboard-and-strings heavy and definitely glossier than the earlier material, but the songwriting and Cole’s performances are excellent. The melody of “Brand New Friend” equals anything on Rattlesnakes, and while the faux-gospel backing vocals are distracting, the fact remains that this is a great song.

Similarly, the tune in “Cut Me Down” is wonderful, and Clark does a fine job with the chiming guitar part. And “Lost Weekend” is brilliant, marrying lyrics that border on self-pity to a sardonic delivery and lively melody, with a stellar jangly guitar line from Clark. This song does seem to borrow quite a bit from Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger.”

There is a delicate grace to “Mr. Malcontent,” with a fine vocal from Cole (though the keyboard intro is def weird). “My Bag” hearkens back to the guitar-dominant sound of the debut, though with a funky-soul edge (don’t worry, it works). “Jennifer She Said” has a great chorus and lush strings.

Gary Barnacle (the Clash) played brass on Easy Pieces, produced by Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley. Meanwhile, Ian Stanley of Tears for Fears produced the Mainstream songs.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Lost Weekend” is pretty funny and sounds great.

Release Date

June, 1989

The Cover Art

Some of this works, some of it doesn’t. I dig the ribbon and the small font. The shot is nice, too, and while the colors are fine, I think the whole thing is too washed out. This makes me think of the Go-Betweens song “Draining the Pool for You.”

Close Lobsters – Headache Rhetoric

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 2)

I suppose this was the sort of thing I would have had to asked a store to special order back in the day, which means I would have had to have known it even existed first. Thank god for the internet. Whatever you may want, you can find it – it may not be cheap, but it will probably be available. I can’t even think of the number of albums I’ve been able to listen to only because of the web.

What I Think of This Album

This is a noticeably darker album than the debut. The guitars aren’t heavier, but they are a bit thicker and less sprightly. The melodies are still there, of course, as is the energy, but it all seems a bit . . . not cheerful. The band seems like they are troubled instead of having fun.

The song titles – “Got Apprehension”; “My Days Are Numbered”; “Gutache”; and “Knee Trembler” – don’t do much to elevate the mood. Neither do lyrics like “I’m so happy I could slit my wrist / . . . This is where the universe ends / . . . This is where the whole world crumbles.” But it remains a very good – possibly excellent, if given time – album.

The guitar solo towards the end of “Gut Apprehension” is fantastic, and “Gulp” comes close to sounding like the more carefree work on the first album. “Knee Trembler,” for all its dark imagery, is thrilling and tuneful, and “Lovely Little Swan” ends up being near-anthemic. There are times where the sound reminds me of the Hoodoo Gurus.

Production duties were in the hands of Phil Vinall (Auteurs, Aztec Camera, Elastica, Gene)

The Best Thing About This Album

“Gulp”

Release Date

1989

The Cover Art

Very difficult to make out; gloomy and morose and just weird. Is that Edgar Allen Poe?

The Coasters – Greatest Hits

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

The Coasters were an offshoot of the Robins. The classic lineup (1957-?) included Carl Gardner, Billy Guy, Cornell Gunter, and Will Jones. There is a fifth Coaster on the album cover, but no information here about who is who. I like doo wop. Which is a little odd, because I generally hate a capella performance, but not surprising given my love of the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean and other harmony-rich bands.

What I Think of This Album

Vocal groups are tricky to judge, as they basically never wrote their own material, so you’re left to fall back on their performance. But it can be difficult to separate that out.

Certainly, the brilliantly comedic songs by Jerry Leiber (lyrics) and Mike Stoller (music) play a substantial role in my appreciation for this record. And that’s to say nothing of the sax performances from King Curtis (I assume, as the liner notes are nonexistent). On the other hand, would I want to hear “Charlie Brown” as sung by Ray Stevens? No. I would not. The doo wop harmonizing is key to the enjoyment.

This is a bare-bones collection that nonetheless does not leave me wanting more. Obviously, “Yakety Yak” and “Charlie Brown” are must-haves, and there is a lot to like about “Poison Ivy,” “I’m a Hog For You” (the curlicue guitar lick is perfect), and “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart” (one of only two songs here not written by Leiber and Stoller). Worth mentioning again are the backing musical performances.

King Curtis was stabbed to death in 1971, and Gunter was murdered in 1990, while Gardner, Guy, and Jones all passed naturally.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Yakety Yak,” which not only paints a picture of teenage frustration, but also features the classic saxophone part (the model for future Benny Hill accompaniment “Yakety Sax”) from King Curtis.

Release Date

1989

The Cover Art

The red and green have a holiday overtone to them that throws me. I don’t understand why the colors alternate on the text that way. Band portraits are boring.

The Church – Of Skins and Heart

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

A massively underrated band that nonetheless should have probably stopped recording many albums ago, the Church had as strong a run in the 80s (into the 90s) as any other band I can think of. I thought Marty Willson-Piper was one of the coolest human beings alive, and I was saddened to read that the band continued without him. I have never seen the Church live, and I refuse to at this point if Willson-Piper isn’t playing. One of the few Australian bands I listen to, also (not because I have anything against Australians, I’m just saying that’s how things have worked out).

What I Think of This Album

This is an odd early document, not really representative of the Church, but with some great songs and big hints of what they would become. Neither Liverpool transplant Marty Willson-Piper nor Peter Koppes has fully come into their own as guitarists, and Steve Kilbey’s songwriting is patchy; too, the band hasn’t adopted the elements of psychedelia they would be known for yet.

Even so, poppy “For A Moment We’re Strangers” is not far from classic Church, with a psychedelic vocal echo effect, some chiming riffs, and Kilbey’s smoky, mysterious vocals. The outstanding, drama-filled “The Unguarded Moment” is arguably the album standout, with its propulsive beat, multiple thrilling guitar parts, excellent harmony vocals, and bewildering lyrics. I really hate the drum fill at :55 that Nick Ward throws in. Kilbey co-wrote this song with Michelle Parker, his spouse at the time, but you wouldn’t know that from the liner notes. “Don’t Open the Door to Strangers” is an excellent piano ballad (with a sighing guitar part) that I can’t help thinking the Cars would’ve taken to the top of the charts; the Church never sounded like this again. Those are the undeniable highlights.

“Chrome Injury” is almost power-pop, and quite good (though it falters at points), with a spiraling guitar part and handclaps (!). “Bel-Air” is also enjoyable, though it sounds a little conventional. “Is This Where You Live” starts to approximate later Church – almost eight minutes of exploration – but the melody is lacking.

After that, things are not great. There is a post-punk feel to “Memories in Future Tense,” a sound the band returned to a few times over the next couple of albums but then dropped for good. Meanwhile, “She Never Said” is sort of a dark new wave track – like very early Talking Heads if they all had been bitten by a Redback spider. There are winning moments to “Fighter Pilot . . . Korean War” but the union between the melodic part and the artsy, moody, self-conscious part doesn’t work at all.

This album was released in 1981 in Australia. It was then released in the US in 1982 under the title The Church, with resequenced songs, tracks removed, and other tracks added from the “Too Fast For You” single (with new drummer Richard Ploog). Arista then rereleased the original album – with the “Fast” tracks appended – in 1989; this is the version I own. As it happens, “Too Fast For You” is fantastic, with a more typical Church sound in the vocal melody and guitars. The remaining songs from the single are fine but nothing special – the band was still finding its way.

This album was produced in part by Bob Clearmountain (mixer of Springsteen, the Stones, the Pretenders, Roxy Music, the Clash, and the Cure singles and albums).

The Best Thing About This Album

The best songs here are basically of equal quality. I guess “The Unguarded Moment,” but honestly, not with any passion because it means I am NOT choosing “For a Moment We’re Strangers” or “Don’t Open the Door to Strangers,” or, if you count it, “Too Fast For You.”

Release Date

April, 1981 (Australia); 1989 (proper US release)

The Cover Art

Meh. I don’t love it, but I don’t hate it. I take that back . . . I hate the all lowercase.

Camper Van Beethoven – Key Lime Pie

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 3)

I don’t remember if I got into Camper before or after I got into Cracker. Probably after. Either way, I really appreciate David Lowery’s sense of humor, though I always felt that Cracker was much more his vehicle than CVB. Still, I think Camper Van Beethoven is amazing. If they had stuck around, they could have been a great American band in the way that very few others could. Which isn’t to say that they are not a great American band – I just mean they could have, maybe, become icons, like a cooler NRBQ or more Anglo Los Lobos or more eclectic and less self-satisfied Blasters or more focused and tuneful Grateful Dead. Their ability to combine sounds – particularly those with a particular stars and stripes and blue jeans heritage – was unparalleled. They ignored blues and soul, but otherwise were able to weave together the various strands of the American musical diaspora AND also marry them to ethnic influences. That they did so with a smile and a smirk, taping “kick me” signs onto everyone’s back, was a bonus.

What I Think of This Album

There is a foreboding gloom to this album, which is unusual for a band that normally came across as a group of merry pranksters. The snarky liner notes do not hint at the bleakness within, nor does the bright cover art. But things were clearly amiss, as Jonathan Segel was gone by the time of recording, and the band broke up shortly after this release. It’s hard to believe only four years separate this from Telephone Free Landslide Victory.

Standout track “Jack Ruby” is emblematic of the album, with a dense, claustrophobic sound, and a dangerous lead courtesy of guitarist Greg Lisher, a sawing violin part from guest Don Lax, declarative snare drum hits, and tight backing harmonies. Lowery’s lyrics are evocative, deftly painting a picture of the unstable criminal:  “He seems like the kind of man / Who beats his horses” and “He’s a friend of that cloven-hooved gangster, the devil.” Another gem is “Sweethearts,” in which Lowery deconstructs Ronald Reagan with deceptive sweetness, describing a man completely out of touch with the real world (“‘Cause he’s always living back in Dixon / Stuck in 1949 / And we’re all sitting at the fountain, at the five-and-dime / ‘Cause he’s living in some B-movie / The lines they are so clearly drawn / In black and white life is so easy”).

The socio-political commentary continues on the humorous “When I Win the Lottery,” narrated by the step-father to Cracker’s “Mr. Wrong,” who knows exactly who he is and who he isn’t; after plainly recounting his checkered past, he observes “Never run a flag up a pole / Like Mr. Red, White, and Blue down the road / But I never called myself a hero for killing a known Communist.” The violin work on this track is superb. Tension remains the dominant theme on the coiled, dark “(I Was Born In a) Laundromat,” with more whip-stinging work from Lisher and pounding drums; this could easily be a Cracker song. “Borderline” provides a little break, a gentle but still grey country-ska number.

“The Light From a Cake” is a disturbing waltz, with some schizophrenic violin work and Lowery admitting:  “I am waiting for the heaviness in the air to break / And reveal some small relevant truth.” There is almost a martial feel to the odd “June,” a bizarro take on the seasons and love – “There is nothing in this world more bitter than spring.” The extended coda features yet more unsettling violin explorations from Lax. “All Her Favorite Fruit” is a ripe yet sad fantasy, with a moving and heartfelt vocal from Lowery and sweet tones from Lax.

The album admittedly loses steam towards the end. “Flowers” seems a bit pedestrian. “The Humid Press of Days” sounds a lot like “Jack Ruby,” with a similar plodding feel and the same sing-speak from Lowery. Odd. The cover of the Status Quo’s “Pictures of Matchstick Men” is fine, but seems like an unusual choice. Morgan Fichter ended up being Segel’s replacement on violin, but she only played on this song and “Flowers,” though she sang harmony on several tracks. The album ends with the suicidal meandering of “Come On Darkness.” There are two instrumentals:  the discordant “Opening Theme” and slight “Interlude.”

Davey Faragher (Cracker) once again sings backup, and Band organist Garth Hudson contributes, too. The producer was Dennis Herring for the second album in a row.

The Best Thing About This Album

“All Her Favorite Fruit” is pretty and sad.

Release Date

September, 1989

The Cover Art

Another winner from Bruce Licher. The colors are excellent, and I dig the composition. The blurry shot is cool, as is the ghostly background image.

The Wedding Present – Bizarro

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 2)

The Wedding Present is the rare band who changed up their sound a lot and I stuck with them. Part of it was just the overriding strength of David Gedge’s songwriting, but also, the fact is each evolution just worked for me (with the shift at Watusi being by far the least successful). Jangly guitars turning into thick distorted guitars, sometimes with piston-fired strumming and sometimes with just sheets of texture – that’s going to get me every time. I should note that one path I did not follow the band down was an early compilation album – sandwiched between George Best and this one – of Ukrainian folk songs, sung in Ukrainian (by guest vocalist Len Liggins).

What I Think of This Album

This is a largely transitional album that nonetheless succeeds on its own merits; the fact that you can listen to it in light of successor Seamonsters and hear where that album’s dark, dense sounds came from is just gravy for us rock nerds. On Bizarro, the band swaps some jangle for distortion and remove all restraints from drummer Simon Smith, and, while they still mostly play at amphetamine speeds, they explore dynamics and texture a little, and the songs start to stretch out more than they did on George Best. And if anything, Gedge’s voice has gotten gruffer, as he spits out lyrics over the now louder songs.

The US version of the album is a bit of a mess sequentially, inserting a Steve Albini re-recording of “Brassneck” and its four B-sides right before the final track. Still, those extra songs are well worth the confusion. The original version of “Brassneck” kicks things off with a thrilling, chrome-plated, descending riff and then Smith starts battering his kit while Gedge lays into his subject (“I just decided I don’t trust you anymore”) before relenting in the most humiliating way (“If you don’t object / Keep writing to me / Just don’t forget / You ever knew me”); the song takes some room to breathe around the three minute mark and the ensuing tom rolls as it gathers steam again are the foot stomps of the Greek god of indie. The appropriately named “Crushed” follows, with Smith unleashing another thunderstorm with his sticks; there aren’t any credits on my album but I believe Amelia Fletcher (Talulah Gosh, Heavenly) is singing harmony here. The relatively delicate “No” finds the band doing a bit more guitar exploration than usual, with a lengthy and driving instrumental section. “Thanks” is a bit of a throwback to the early days, as far as Gedge’s vocals and the melody go, though with the newly adopted tougher guitar sound.

JFK, Jacqueline Bouvier, Aristotle Onassis, and Lee Harvey Oswald appear to populate the odd “Kennedy,” which for all the head-scratching the lyrics generate, is still a hell of a song, with a blur of strums, pneumatic-drill drumming, and a great, menacing bass riff. The lengthy jam is a lethal snowstorm of guitar lines and relentless drum pounding. The band adopts a very VU-inspired drone approach on “What Have I Said Now?” – another track that almost could have come from George Best – with Gedge unsuccessfully trying to explain his wandering eye (“I’m not being unfair / Okay I am, but who cares?”); again, there is a cool, lengthy instrumental portion. “Granadaland” is nothing special – not bad but not memorable either. “Bewitched” definitely points to the slower songs that were coming on Seamonsters, all coiled aggression and the occasional laceration by barbed guitars; the dynamics on this track are really impressive and add a welcome dimension to the Wedding Present’s sound. Even more eye-opening, though, is the over-nine-minute masterstroke of “Take Me!,” on which Gedge can barely be heard but the only lyrics that matter are “Take me, I’m yours / We may never have this chance again.” As for the music, the band whips up a steel wool maelstrom that leaves broken-heart-shaped gouges in the freshly shorn landscape.

The Albini-produced tracks are pretty great (and again, significant because they led to the eventual perfect collaboration on Seamonsters). His version of “Brassneck” has a rawer guitar sound, and the drums are way high in the mix; I prefer it to the original. “Box Elder, MO” is a cover of a song by then-unknown Pavement. And “Don’t Talk, Just Kiss” is another stunner, with its urgent message, shifting rhythms, and excellent lead guitar; Gedge’s lyrics are predictably outrageous (“Look, if you really loved him / I don’t think you’d be here now” . . . “Everybody lies about this / don’t talk, just kiss”). For any other band, this album might have been a career high point, but the Wedding Present wasn’t done yet. Sometimes overlooked, this is an amazing recording.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Take Me!” is fucking amazing.

Release Date

October 1989

The Cover Art

Yes! Mysterious, violent, angsty, ugly, and raw. This is the perfect art for this album.

David Byrne – Rei Momo

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

It took me a while to figure out I was not into the Talking Heads, even as I could point to several songs of theirs that I liked (this is sometimes known – to me – as Bob Mould Syndrome); I tend to prefer very early Talking Heads, but even then, neither consistently nor deeply. Thus, it is a mystery why I ended up with David Byrne’s first post-Talking Heads solo release, but maybe not so much of a mystery why I like it.

What I Think of This Album

David Byrne lovingly explores Latin music on this album, which features collaborations with several Latin American superstars, including Celia Cruz, Willie Colon, percussionist Milton Cardona, and Johnny Pacheco. Was I concerned about the possibility of this being an exploitative project? You bet! Do I think it is? No. First, this actually seems pretty light on the Byrne and heavy on the authentic Latin sounds. That is, this doesn’t sound like the whitewashing and co-opting of culture. Second, it helps that Byrne identifies his partners by name and also the genre of each song. These are signs of respect and admiration, and an honest recitation of what’s happening on the album. Third, Byrne established the Luaka Bop label, which has been releasing and promoting world music since 1988, so I’m not inclined to see Rei Momo as mere tourism.

With that aside, the songs are delightful. Over 15 tracks, Byrne and his giant cast of musicians celebrate genres from cumbia to merengue to charanga to salsa to mapeyé and several others. This is a vibrant and joyous album; everyone seems like they’re having an absolute blast. “Independence Day” is fantastic; the bright horns and dizzying percussion of “Make Believe Mambo” are amazing, as is the piano by Paquito Pastor. The dual accordions (one played by Jamie Fearnley of the Pogues) of yearning “The Call of the Wild” carry the song, only to be upstaged by the countermelody of the backing chorus.

“Dirty Old Town” could easily have been a Talking Heads song – this is the number that Byrne dominates the most, with a familiar vocal melody. “The Rose Tattoo” is as dark and moody as it is intricate, with another outstanding choral part, and some impressive work on the cuatro by Yomo Toro. Celia Cruz’s vocals are a long time coming in “Loco De Amor” but when they finally arrive they cut through like a laser – if only there were more of them (Byrne should have ceded more of the spotlight on this one). Cheap Trick will have to give up the rights to the name “The Dream Police” in recognition of the superior, smoothly gliding cha cha chá number here. “Good and Evil” is a mesmerizing rumba, boomy in its low end with piercing strings and sinister horns, as well as another piano showcase for Pastor. This album is an overlooked gem.

Rei Momo translates to King of the Carnival in Portuguese (with “momo” deriving from the Greek god of satire and mockery). Fellow Latin music enthusiast Kirsty MacColl sings backup on several songs (and her husband, Steve Lillywhite produced).

The Best Thing About This Album

Probably “Call of the Wild” but “Good and Evil” is a close second. In fact, with only a few exceptions, any song on the album could win this crown.

Release Date

October, 1989

The Cover Art

This is fairly disturbing, with Byrne’s face overlaid by a lattice of what might be cardiac tissue? The colors are also off-putting.

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