The Fastbacks – Answer the Phone, Dummy

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

I saw either the Young Fresh Fellows or the Minus 5 (it can be hard to tell them apart) some years back and it was the first time I got to see Kurt Bloch play guitar live. So it was to my great disappointment that, now that I live in the PNW and have increased my chances of seeing Bloch performances, I learned that he has taken over the drum throne for the YFF and has relinquished guitar duties.

What I Think of This Album

There is nothing wrong with this Sub Pop album, and there is a lot right with it. But it doesn’t really cohere very well, and it somehow ends up being less than the sum of its parts. Every traditional element is there, including a lengthy and impressive cast of drummers, to say nothing of guest vocals from the late great Kim Shattuck (the Muffs) and the very evil Ken Stringfellow (though no one knew it then, I guess), but – and it is shocking to say this about a band that is so fun and lively – it all lacks personality. That said, it is definitely worth a listen and individual songs will win you over.

Bloch delivers another set of excellent songs, including dynamic “Back to Nowhere,” the galloping but despondent “I’m Cold,” “On Your Hands,” surprisingly sophisticated and power-poppy “Meet the Author,” and “On the Wall.” Lulu Gargiulo and Kim Warnick sing with enthusiasm and acid-tinged sweetness, and making their critical contributions on guitar and bass. And Bloch’s guitar work shines once again, sometimes intricate and pretty and other times blistering and raw; the workout on “Went for a Swim” is particularly impressive and the chunky riffing on “I Found the Star” will get your head bopping.

If I am being honest, wonderful Kim Shattuck does not really add much to “Old Address of the Unknown.”

Six different individuals split time behind the kit:  Nate Johnson and Rusty Willoughby from Flop; Dan Peters of Mudhoney; Mike Musberger on loan courtesy of the Posies; Jason Finn (Presidents of the United States of America); and John Moen, later of the Decembrists.

The Best Thing About This Album

Bloch’s songwriting

Release Date

1994

The Cover Art

This ungainly collage does nothing for me, though I am somewhat intrigued by the tropical-colored telephone handset. So I guess it does something for me.

Jackie Deshannon – What the World Needs Now . . . Jackie DeShannon: The Definitive Collection

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

It’s a goddamn travesty that Jackie DeShannon is not an icon, role model, and superstar. By the time her family moved to Aurora and then Batavia, Illinois, young Sharon Lee Myers had already been singing on the radio and had hosted her own radio show. She left high school early and began her career in earnest (and under various stage names), eventually catching the attention of Eddie Cochran, who introduced her to Sharon Sheely, with whom Myers began a songwriting partnership. She signed to Liberty and recorded a bunch of songs, with not much success. Still, she opened for the Beatles in 1964. Much more rewarding was her songwriting career. She wrote hits for Brenda Lee and Marianne Faithful, her songs were recorded by the Byrds and the Searchers, and she composed with Jimmy Page and Randy Newman. She also co-wrote “Bette Davis Eyes,” just one of the roughly 600 songs she wrote in her career.

What I Think of This Album

It should go without saying that The Definitive Collection is not definitive, as it is missing, at a minimum, DeShannon’s “Bette Davis Eyes.” In fact, this collection is limited in scope to the songs DeShannon recorded for Liberty, though the track listing is ample at 28 songs, many of them previously unreleased.

The generous liner notes manage to leave out critical information, such as who played on the tracks (a who’s who ranging from the Byrds to Jimmy Page to Dr. John to Barry White), though some of this is explained in the narrative even as it is missing from the credits, and I wish the track selection was more heavily skewed towards DeShannon’s own songs instead of her versions of others’ material. Its easy to ignore these shortcomings, though, because it’s an eye-opening collection.

What is most striking is the wide range of styles DeShannon worked in. She did girl-group type stuff, was a folk-rock pioneer, trafficked in the singer/songwriter genre, excelled at blue-eyed soul, and interpreted Hal David and Burt Bachrach material with ease. What follows is the appreciation of her own songwriting talents, which again, really should have been the focus of the album. Finally, there comes the realization that DeShannon was a woman ahead of her time, doing things that unfortunately women were not permitted or encouraged to do in the ‘60s.

Of the 28 tracks, 17 are DeShannon compositions (in whole or in part), leaving 11 interpretive songs. My favorite original – which I admit I already owned, via the excellent One Kiss Can Lead to Another: Girl Group Sounds Lost and Found box set – is “Should I Cry,” a witty and affecting song of heartbreak with a killer vocal. Also, the demo version of “Splendor In the Grass” (later covered by the Ladybug Transistor) has a superb melody and features the Byrds as the backing band (also on vocals). While Irma Thomas’s version of “Breakaway” is better known, DeShannon’s original is not to be missed. Incidentally, Thomas’s version was a B-side, was spelled “Break-A-Way,” and is also on that Girl Group Sounds box set.

DeShannon’s biggest original hit for herself was 1969’s “Put a Little Love In Your Heart,” which has a Dusty In Memphis feel and is undeniably good. “When You Walk In the Room” was understandably a hit for the Searchers and decades later, for Pam Tillis; Springsteen has covered this live. “Dream Boy” has a surprisingly tough guitar sound, courtesy of Jimmy Page. A more noteworthy Page collaboration is “Don’t Turn Your Back On Me,” also with an intriguing guitar part, straight up rock drums, and a fantastic melody, with DeShannon laying down a perfect vocal. A demo version of “It Shines On You Too” is beautiful and beguiling.

Marianne Faithful had a hit with “Come and Stay With Me,” though I find little about this tune I care for. Beyond this, tracks like “I Remember the Boy” (also with Page on guitar), “You Won’t Forget Me,” “Love Will Find a Way,” and “Hellos and Goodbyes” are waiting to be discovered. As for songs she interpreted, her version of “Needles & Pins” (a Jack Nitzsche/ Sonny Bono composition, though DeShannon claims she was also involved) should’ve been a bigger hit for her (as it was for the Searchers a year later). The Ramones covered this, too.

She delivers more girl group goodness with “Heaven Is Being With You” (a Gerry Goffin/Carole King/Cynthia Weil song). Her biggest hit ever was “What the World Needs Now,” though I frankly don’t care for Bachrach/David songs. That said, “Lifetime of Loneliness” is pretty good, but it’s also fairly atypical of the stuff those two created. “For Granted” is sweeping and dramatic – maybe a little overproduced with those backing vocals – but still pretty good.

Rock trivia nerds will love that DeShannon recorded a Warren Zevon song – “500 Miles From Yesterday” – in 1966, long before he rose to popularity. Honestly, the song is just okay. Those same students of history may already know that DeShannon’s recording of “The Weight” (claimed by Robbie Robertson, but disputed by Levon Helm) was the first single release of that song. Dr. John plays the piano on this excellent track, and Barry White contributes backing vocals. Some of the pop stuff here could’ve been cut, as it drags things down, but regardless, this is a fantastic collection.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Splendor In the Grass” is a great fucking song.

Release Date

January, 1994

The Cover Art

This is adapted from the cover of 1967’s For You, with a different banner up top. I like the Imperial/Liberty Records box in the upper left.

The Dentists – Behind the Door I Keep the Universe

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

I live for albums like this. Albums that no one really knows about by bands that no one has ever heard of, and which just happen to be full of great songs. For unknown reasons, this is not available on Spotify (yet) but there are several copies available on Discogs.

What I Think of This Album

The Dentists albums are difficult to find. There were only four studio albums, and I think just the last two were released in the U.S. The final album is shockingly bad, sounding nothing like the Dentists at all. I’ve heard compilations which assemble the songs that were on the first two albums, and at the time at least, I thought those songs were just okay. But I’ve never tracked down the proper studio debut and sophomore release. So when I say this is the best Dentists studio album, I don’t really know what I’m talking about. Regardless, this is a highly melodic, guitar-pop album with fantastic vocals.

“Space Man” is a killer tune with an impressive arrangement and nice stop-start break; the harmonies, the guitar, and the joyous delivery are all wonderful. The band can do ballads, too, as “Sorry Is Not Enough” proves, with a sympathetic vocal from Mick Murphy and another well-thought out construction. “In Orbit” marries together a hypnotic bass line, chiming guitars, a niggling lead line, some sweet “ba ba”s, and Murphy’s sharp voice.

There are a few meatier tracks with a slightly heavier sound, but it’s not like this is Motorhead or anything; it’s just that the excellent shape-shifting “Faces On Stone” and slashing “This Is Not My Flag” rock a little harder than their neighbors. There is a slight Smiths feel in the quiet rhythm guitar on “A Smile Like Oil On Water,” and “Gas” sneaks up on you after an unassuming start.

“Brittle Sin and Flowers” approaches anthemic status, with a very pretty melody and fine vocal. Murphy’s voice is pushed to the front of the spindly but energetic “Apple Beast,” with a breakbeat drum pattern in the verses. The drum style is recycled on “Water for a Man On Fire,” which is in any event a good song. The closing ballad “The Waiter” is lovely, with a phenomenal guitar solo.

The Best Thing About This Album

Probably “Space Man,” but there are several other contenders.

Release Date

January, 1994

The Cover Art

I believe drummer Rob Grigg is the cover model, upon whose pate various trinkets have been affixed. Silly, but not awful.

The Undertones – Hypnotised

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

At one point, I owned all four original Undertones albums. The Sin of Pride, which some people rate as the best Undertones album, is at a minimum a well-done Motown pastiche, but honestly, Feargal Sharkey does not have the voice for soul. I haven’t yet relistened to Positive Touch. I should probably also check out early That Petrol Emotion.

What I Think of This Album

The Undertones might have mocked themselves and the music press simultaneously with lead track “More Songs About Chocolate and Girls” (which acknowledges “It’s not so easy knowing they’ll be heard / A lot less time but a lot more care”), but that was ultimately a fakeout. Hypnotised is not a retread of the debut – that would have been a sucker’s move, because the refreshing excitement of The Undertones could not have been duplicated. Rather, the band has evolved into an excellent power-pop outfit.

They branch out a bit musically this time, with many songs that would have seemed out of place on the first album. The title track, for instance, is darker and instead of pop-punk is more like pop-postpunk (imagine Howard Devoto fronting The Rezillos), and the automaton backing vocals and tense guitar on “Boys Will Be Boys” show that the band could adopt a colder, more taut aesthetic.

I swear that “See That Girl” has a Herman’s Hermits influence, but at any rate features some unexpected acoustic guitar work and lyrics that suggested concerns beyond candy and girls (“I wake up screaming in the middle of something wrong”). “The Way Girls Talk” is a vulnerable piece that Morrissey undoubtedly studied in his youth, with a neat little guitar riff, and the band gets even sadder on gentle, ‘60’s influenced “Wednesday Week.” There is a glammy stomp behind driving “Hard Luck,” and “Tearproof” may have been the most musically complex song they had attempted to date.

Granted, “Whizz Kids” and the fantastic “Nine Times Out of Ten” are throwbacks, as is the hilarious “My Perfect Cousin,” but serial killer-themed (and somehow, thoroughly enjoyable) “There Goes Norman” is something entirely new. The cover of “Under the Boardwalk” starts out sounding like a horrible mistake, but Feargal Sharkey pulls off a miracle and ends up doing a creditable job. Another great Undertones album, and this time with even more democratic songwriting contributions.

My Rykodisc reissue gifts five additional tracks, including showstopper single “You’ve Got My Number (Why Don’t You Use It?),” and some B-sides (with ‘50’s flavored rave-up “I Told You So” being the best of the bunch).

There is also a slight possibility that “More Songs About Chocolate and Girls” was a nod to the Talking Heads’ More Songs About Buildings and Food.

Roger Béchirian sat in the producer’s chair again.

The Best Thing About This Album

“There Goes Norman” is as catchy as it is disturbing.

Release Date

April, 1980 (original); 1994 (reissue)

The Cover Art

This is so incredibly stupid that I really like it. This is the band’s rhythm section at a restaurant in New York. The fucking lobster bibs. Hahahahahahaha.

The Undertones – The Undertones

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

The best ever Irish band is found in the “U” section of my (and anyone’s) collection. That band is the Undertones. Formed in Derry, Northern Ireland, in 1974, the band revolved around the Brothers O’Neill (John and Damian) and vibrato-master Feargal Sharkey on vocals, and specialized in fizzy punk-pop, though they expanded their sound on future albums. Upon breaking up in 1983, the O’Neills formed That Petrol Emotion. A reformed but Sharkey-less Undertones released two more albums in the 2000s.

What I Think of This Album

This may be the most fun album I own. Its vibrant, energetic, catchy as fuck, and perfectly, utterly, fundamentally teenage. The band infused their fast, three chord songs with joy, but somehow avoided being either a novelty or cutesy; their teenage outlook was more Ramones than Violent Femmes, avoiding raw angst or moody brooding and focusing on the dual rush of hormones and junk food. Admittedly, their music was not at all threatening and arguably less interesting for it, but by leaning into speed, melody, and light crunch, the band brought jubilation and ebullience to a punk scene that was (understandably and righteously) angrier and more confrontational. Honestly, if you can listen to any five songs chosen at random from this album and not smile, you are a pod person.

“Teenage Kicks” is an obvious classic, with Buzzcocks guitars, timelessly relatable lyrics about lustful urges, and a simple but effective melody. Many other songs are basically just as good. “Get Over You” is an odd but irresistible song of devotion, with rampaging drums and sweet harmonies. The Beach Boys via the Ramones are the inspiration for the speedy “Here Comes the Summer,” with a delightful keyboard line, and while “Girls Don’t Like It” may have a confused set of lyrics (though the meaning of “Leading us on / Telling us no / Making us stop instead of letting us go / But what else can you do if the girls don’t like it?” is clear enough), the music is a blast.

The band never runs out of energy or ideas, whether its the questionable rush of “Family Entertainment” (is this about incest?); the spiky “True Confessions,” the almost-girl-group “(She’s A) Runaround,” or the suicide song “Jimmy Jimmy,” as drummer Billy Doherty pounds away and the O’Neills frantically strum, and Sharkey billy-goats his way through each song.

John O’Neill was the primary songwriter, but Doherty contributed two tracks while Damian O’Neill provided one, and a few were collaborations between the O’Neills and bassist Michael Bradley.

The album’s release history is complicated. It was first released in May, 1979, and rereleased about five months later. The rerelease not only added the singles “Teenage Kicks” and “Get Over You,” but also swapped in a single version of “Here Comes the Summer” for the album version (at the time of original release, the single version did not yet exist), and also added “Casbah Rock.” The cover art was also redone.

Complicated, but it gets worse. I have the Rykodisc reissue from 1994, which appends seven bonus tracks. It also, apparently, replaces the rerecorded version of “True Confessions” used on the original release and rerelease with the very first version of the song from the pre-album Teenage Kicks EP. The word is that the two versions are very different. I have no way of knowing if this is true (well, I could do the research, but short of that, I mean). One of the extra tracks, the silly “Mars Bar” contains a sly reference to Bowie and his song “Life On Mars.” Most of the bonus material is strong, with “One Way Love,” “Emergency Cases,” and “Top Twenty” being standouts.

Roger Béchirian (Trash Can Sinatras, Nick Lowe) produced.

The Best Thing About This Album

The sheer exuberance of the music.

Release Date

May, 1979 (original); October, 1979 (reissue); 1994 (Rykodisc reissue)

The Cover Art

So much work with this album. The reissue album cover is an elevated shot of the band and some Buzzcocks-like graphics and colors (it reminds me of “A Different Kind of Tension,” released one month earlier). It’s pretty boring. The original was a muted shot of the band sitting on a stone wall, with a bizarre but interesting composition and a nice green color for the font.

Velvet Crush – Teenage Symphonies to God

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

This is yet another album I’ve purchased twice. The first time, I bought it around the time of its release date, and I believe I sold it not long thereafter because it was “too country.” Just in case you were wondering if there was any time in my life when I wasn’t a complete fucking idiot.

What I Think of This Album

Velvet Crush delivers a more mature and organic sophomore album, and any loss in exuberance (arguable, anyway) is more than made up for by the excellent musicianship. Needless to say, all the usual signifiers remain in place, from the Brian Wilson-derived album title to the Gene Clark cover to Paul Chastain’s Hofner bass (or similar knockoff) to the choice of Mitch Easter (Let’s Active) as producer.

Still officially a trio, the band benefits from the unexplained contributions of Greg Leisz (pedal/lap steel, obviously), Stephen Duffy (the Lilac Time, Duran Duran), Mike Deneen (producer of Fountains of Wayne, Aimee Mann, and Letters to Cleo), Wes Lachot (who has also worked with Flat Duo Jets – a band that featured former Let’s Active member Sara Romweber), Lynn Blakey (a touring member of Let’s Active, and the subject of the Replacements’ “Left of the Dial”), John Chumbris (who played with Blakey in Glory Fountain and on a Peter Holsapple/Chris Stamey (dBs) album), and Easter.

I am particularly interested in who played the guitar leads, as Matthew Sweet is not present this time, and the leads are still quite excellent. In addition, the band provides their usual stellar vocals, Ric Menck’s unflappable drumming, and tons of melody. The guitar leads on sighing but tough “Hold Me Up” are matched only by the wonderful backing vocals. A squalling guitar kicks off frustration-fueled “My Blank Pages.” The band follows its credible cover of weepy “Why Not Your Baby” with its own strong and swirly country-rock effort, “Time Wraps Around You.” I am not sure about the sequencing of those two songs back-to-back, especially with the very slow ballad (and unnecessary) “#10” and the additional laid back country-rock of “Faster Days” (co-written with Duffy) coming so soon after, but that’s the only complaint. The cover of Matthew Sweet’s “Something’s Gotta Give” gets the band back on more solid power-pop footing. The absence of serotonin on bleak “This Life Is Killing Me” is more than made up for with a surplus of adrenaline; this rocker could’ve easily come from the debut. “Weird Summer” is a jangly lite-psych love song with fantastic drumming from Ric Menck, and “Star Trip” is basically the American version of a Teenage Fanclub song (I approve!). At the close, Velvet Crush bestows its most fully realized country-rock song in “Keep On Lingerin’.” Jeffrey Borchardt by this time had dropped the “Underhill” and reverted to his birth name. The back cover shows all three members performing in denim jackets . . . which is weird.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Hold Me Up,” but any number of the songs could’ve gone here.

Release Date

July, 1994

The Cover Art

Yes! The drawing (reminiscent of a children’s book illustrator I can’t remember) is carefree and lighthearted. I like the “stereo” et. al in the ribbon at the top, and I appreciate the band members’ names being listed, too. The drawing is by the excellently-named Edwin Fotheringham, who has done work for Dylan, Mudhoney, Elvis Costello, and Flop.

Velocity Girl – ¡Simpatico!

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

This band should call up memories of my high school friend Meetul and my college friend Ben. Instead, it evokes thoughts of a woman I was very into, who once texted me that she had heard Velocity Girl recently and it reminded her of me. I was on a high for the rest of the day . . . because I have no self-esteem and rely on other people to make me feel good. As it turned out, she much later progressed to saying other, more significant things, in person and at moments of great vulnerability and intimacy, that made me feel even better, before revealing just how little I meant to her with the text message equivalent of a form letter, which itself contained additional untruths. To make matters worse, this is not the only music that I associate with her. FML.

What I Think of This Album

Velocity Girl released three albums. No one knows or cares about the third one and everyone loves the first. This is the second, and as far as I am concerned, the best one. Copacetic was ill-served by an emphasis on noise over songwriting, and frankly, Sarah Shannon’s voice sounded thin and weak. The band tightens things up considerably on ¡Simpatico!, at the expense of some of the shoegaze sonics of the first album. Shannon sounds stronger and confident, there are more and better melodies, and guitarist Archie Moore (Black Tambourine) contributes vocals, adding some variety and color to the songs. I suppose some credit has to go to producer John Porter (the Alarm, Billy Bragg, the Smiths).

There is a pleasant fuzziness to “Sorry Again,” which benefits from Moore’s backing vocals. And “There’s Only One Thing Left to Do” boasts a melody the band would’ve buried in pointless noise on the debut, much like the very fine “Drug Girls.” The duet on “I Can’t Stop Smiling” approaches twee pop, with engaging and enjoyable results, including its herky-jerky chorus. Shannon has probably never sung better than she does on the muscular “The All-Consumer” (though honestly, Moore does not do a great job on this one). The band explores a darker sound on the verses of “Rubble,” which it intriguingly and effectively contrasts with brighter sections, before moving to a churning conclusion. The album loses steam a little past the halfway mark – (“Hey You, Get Off My Moon” asks too much of Shannon) – but Velocity Girl reasserts itself with the tough (relatively speaking), Moore-helmed “What You Left Behind” and brief but atmospheric instrumental “Wake Up, I’m Leaving.”

They thank Black Tamourine’s Pam Berry, Belly, Sloan, Small Factory, Stereolab, Superchunk, Mike Schulman (also a Black Tambourine alum and head of Slumberland), Tiger Trap, Velvet Crush, and Bob Weston. This is one of the few Sub Pop releases I own.

Band trivia:  the original vocalist was Bridget Cross, who went on to join Unrest. Drummer Jim Spellman became a correspondent for CNN. The band, which came out of College Park, Maryland in 1989, was named after the classic Primal Scream song (written back when Jim Beattie (Adventures In Stereo) was in the band). Guitarist Brian Nelson was also in Black Tambourine.

The Best Thing About This Album

While a drummer who becomes an international television journalist is difficult to ignore, I think “Drug Girls” deserves more attention.

Release Date

June, 1994

The Cover Art

Terrible. The title font looks awful, the shapes are vaguely disturbing, and the colors are unappealing. Amateurish all around.

Why Popstars Can’t Dance

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

This is the first compilation I’ve had to address here. It re-raises questions of organization, which I had not previously answered in consistent fashion. Some compilations I had organized by the name of the issuing party (like my Mojo magazine comps, or the Parasol label’s Sweet Sixteen albums). But I also had the Victoria Williams charity album Sweet Relief under the “S”’s, by virtue of its title, and also the Creation comp The Patron Saints of Teenage was filed under “P.” The problem is I don’t really know these albums by their titles. I am more apt to think about “that ska comp from Mojo.” Pushed to make a decision, I think alphabetically by title makes the most sense – and if that forces me to learn the titles, then that’s fine.

What I Think of This Album

I really like the Slumberland label, though I have to say I find this compilation from 1994 a little disappointing. It’s fine, and there is some good (and rare) stuff here, but it doesn’t blow me away like I expected it to. I am not really sure why I keep this – I guess I just like that it’s a document of the scene from the early ‘90s, even if it’s not terribly compelling. There are twelve artists represented, eleven with two songs apiece and poor Jane Pow with just one track. The album is also almost evenly split between American and British acts.

Honeybunch was a Rhode Island band featuring future members of the Magnetic Fields (Claudia Gonson) and Velvet Crush (Jeffrey Underhill/Borchardt). Their offerings are just okay, frankly, but sort of skimp on the melody and with limp tempos. I don’t know anything about the Artisans, who hail from England. “Start Again” is decent, sounding like a mash-up of Heavenly and Velocity Girl. But the gem here is the violin-powered “Tolerance.” Rocketship is a band from Sacramento, or at least in 1994 they were; thereafter, it was basically a vehicle for the work of founder Dustin Reske. An organ, backing “ooohs” and a charming melody bring out the best of “Your New Boyfriend,” though the lengthy, hazy “Like a Dream” suffers from the overbearing organ sounds. The Steamkings have a history back to 1986, but again, this was a new band for me. “Darkest Star” is a ton of fun, refreshing and bright, with some nice guitar work thrown in at the end. “Sad About You,” however, just plods along, and coming so soon after the similarly tedious “Like a Dream,” really hurts the album. Stereolab is the biggest name on the comp; they had roots in the leftist indie band McCarthy. I’ve never been into Stereolab, but “John Cage Bubblegum” is enjoyable, and “Eloge d’Eros” is very cool.

Lorelei is another mystery band, hailing from Arlington, Virginia. “Stop What You’re Doing” is a busy but well-arranged little tune that could’ve used a stronger vocalist singing a better melody; this is 80% of a very good song. The same thin vocals (as well as a too-loud drum sound) plague “Float My Bed,” which is otherwise a decent noise-pop number. Like Slumberland founder (and member of Black Tambourine) Mike Schulman, the Ropers are from Maryland circa 1991, and its main members also spent time in the Lilys. I hope “Blue Sunday” is a New Order joke, but even if not, it’s still a pretty good song. The dark, dense, oceanic “Drive” is a wonderful shoegaze showcase. Singer-songwriter Linda Smith is another discovery. She sounds a bit like Tanya Donnelly (Throwing Muses, Breeders, Belly), breathily cooing over the brittle “The Real Miss Charlotte”; her whispered counting on the track is a highlight. “There’s Nothing You Can Do About It” is a series of short, sharp guitar shocks that could’ve used more effort.

Glo-Worm is the band that Black Tambourine vocalist Pam Berry formed in 1993. They do a winsome turn on the pretty and lush “Stars Above.” There is nothing about “Tilt-A-Whirl” that is deserving of that title, and I find the melody to be quite unpleasant. The story is that Schulman asked San Jose band Silver to change its name quickly, and they came up with Jupiter Sun. Which is definitely a worse name. But “Headlight Beam Reaction” is a fuzzy yet delicate delight, with some surprising and welcome sound effects coming out of the blue as the song winds down. It sounds like we arrive in the middle of “Violet Intertwine,” which reminds me a lot of Ride (due mostly to the backing vocals and powerful drumming) with a daintier guitar sound. Six-piece band Jane Pow is from England with a birth date in 1988, and their sole offering “Reorganize” is what would’ve happened if second-album Stone Roses got really drunk, stole a keyboard, and tried to rewrite “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone.” Not a fan. At one point, I owned a Boyracer album. They came out of Leeds in 1990, and are fairly well-known in the indie-pop world. Neither of their contributions is anything special, though “Speedtrap” is at least listenable.

The Best Thing About This Album

I am choosing the Ropers over Stereolab. Each provided two good songs (Jupiter Sun arguably did too but such is life) but the Ropers get the nod because I hadn’t heard of them before.

Release Date

October, 1994

The Cover Art

It’s neither good nor bad, much like the album itself. I don’t really understand the title (the explanation in the booklet provides the unsatisfactory answer “because guilty feet have got no rhythm”). The color scheme is also mediocre. 

Chainsaw Kittens – Pop Heiress

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

It’s a good sign when you have a hard time determining which of a band’s records is their best. Sometimes, the choice is obvious:  Revolver is clearly the best Beatles album; Exile is undeniably the top Stones platter; The Queen Is Dead is the Smiths’ unchallenged masterpiece; and the Cure never topped Disintegration. All four of the Chainsaw Kittens albums I own are very strong, and each provides a different experience. Gun to my head, I’d have to say this is the most consistent, best sounding, and most fun of the Kittens’ work.

What I Think of This Album

The third proper Kittens album opens with some reassuring guitar noise, a cascade of drums, and an otherworldly yooooooooowwwwwwwl from Tyson Meade. Apparently a holdover from the Mark Metzger days, “Sore On the Floor” is part of the last, furious gasp of the old Kittens. Most of the rest of the album is quieter in comparison, with a much greater emphasis on melody, careful and clever arrangements, glossy production, and refined glam-pop sound. This album should have been HUGE in the post-Nirvana era. I don’t fucking get it, but I am so wrong about so many things, I can’t expect anything different. Whatever – I love this album.

What fascinates me is how the band managed to arrive at this point. The three releases after Violent Religion – two EPs (High In High School and Angel On the Range) and an intervening sophomore album, Flipped Out in Singapore – did not really hint at this direction, and if anything, suggested a path involving more volume and less melody. I don’t actually care for any of those efforts, though there are some good songs, of course.

Pop Heiress, though, is a cross-dressing horse of a completely different color. The pop of the title shines on “Loneliest China Place,” its crunchy dynamics augmented by organ figures, a banjo, and giddy handclaps, with Trent Bell doing a wonderful job on guitar (the flanged outro is amazing). The band pummels its way through the glitzy “Pop Heiress Dies,” with a killer lead guitar line, pumping bass, and dramatic vocals from Meade. Rushing “Silver Millionaire” is relatively light-hearted, but no less a delectable pop nugget for it, with Meade glamming it up like sequins are about to be banned from the thrift shop.

The equal parts gritty and shiny “Media Star Hymn” rides Bell’s guitar lines and Meade’s emphatic, impassioned vocals to a higher plane – “astonish me,” indeed. Elsewhere, “I Ride Free” is a fun and campy T. Rex pastiche. “Justine Finds Heaven” stomps around in platform boots; Meade, of course, delivers another excellent vocal performance here. “Burn You Down” is, like “Sore,” reminiscent of the early days, with Meade sacrificing his vocal cords while Bell leads the band through thrilling sonic maneuvers (the gong is pretty funny). The same is true of “Closet Song,” but the songwriting is much more refined on these harder tracks than it was on Violent Religion, with better musicianship as well.

There are three slower songs, mostly very successful. “Dive Into the Sea” relies on a shark-like distorted lead part from Bell, guest piano and cello, and a typically theatrical performance from Meade. On the other hand, “Soldier On My Shoulder,” is the only stumble, a spare acoustic ballad that doesn’t go anywhere. And lengthy, languorous closer “We’re Like” is like bathing in syrup – a slow, memorable experience that leaves you transformed and speechless. Meade, it almost doesn’t need to be said again, dominates with his vocals on this stunning piece.

The band thanks Magnapop and Flop (I think – they use abbreviations) in the liner notes.

The Best Thing About This Album

While Meade’s voice is an amazing thing, and the melodies here are first-rate, I am going to give props to Trent Bell’s guitar work.

Release Date

March, 1994

The Cover Art

I don’t get the continued interest in Patty Hearst, but I do appreciate how the band adapted the SLA’s logo by adding claws to it. I like the color scheme and photo-negative-ish appearance.

The Wedding Present – Watusi

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 7)

This was the start of the end for me with the Wedding Present. David Gedge was now the only original member left (though, critically, Simon Smith was still behind the kit) and the band’s sound evolved yet again. They managed one more worthwhile release after this before Gedge turned his attention to Cinerama, before eventually reviving the Wedding Present name. I listened to some of those post-Cinerama albums but the magic was gone.

What I Think of This Album

Watusi was another left turn for the band – a successful one and almost as satisfying as the developments from George Best through Seamonsters. It still sounds like the Wedding Present, as Gedge’s voice is unmistakable and his lyrical concerns are constant, but credit the band for taking a style and making it work for them. This time, there is more space in the arrangements, so while Smith still bashes away and the familiar distorted sound envelops most of the guitars, the songs feel lighter.

The Weddoes cycle through time signature and feel shifts on the herky-jerky “So Long, Baby,” with Gedge sounding sardonic and spent. “Click Click” benefits from Heather Lewis’s (Beat Happening) background vocals, as Gedge gleefully details his obsession. The Wedding Present gives us their most joyous song ever in the delightful “Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah,” with producer Steve Fisk’s (who has worked with the Screaming Trees, Nirvana, the Afghan Whigs, and the Reverend Horton Heat) organ adding an element of absurdity. Rhythm is king again on the stop/start and enjoyable “Let Him Have It.” If “Gazebo” had been slathered in distortion and feedback and girded by louder drums, it could have easily fit on “Seamonsters.” The only really duff track here is “Shake It,” on which bassist Darrin Belk sings lead – it’s very weird to hear someone other than Gedge sing a Wedding Present song, and I am unsure why Belk was given this opportunity, which he does not do much with. There is an unusual delicacy to “Spangle,” with organ and rim clicks; this is the hidden highlight of the album. The juddering “It’s a Gas” doesn’t work quite as well. The spindly, rotating “Swimming Pools, Movie Stars” is excellent, however, with a great dive-bombing lead guitar part and an outstanding vocal from Gedge. The acoustic “Big Rat” (um, wut?) also packs a surprise, with a trombone part from Greg Powers, as Gedge sort of apologizes for an affair. Gedge tries on a falsetto on the Velvets-inspired “Catwoman;” the strumming drone the band kicks up – in two different forms, with some excellent dissonance starting at around 5:30 – is pleasantly mesmerizing and over too soon at just over seven minutes. If you ever wanted to hear what the Wedding Present cosplaying as the Ventures would sound like, well, you can find out on “Hot Pants.” This album has the most ridiculous song titles of any Wedding Present offering.

Potpourri:  Carrie Akre of Hammerbox and Goodness also contributes vocals on a couple of tracks. Fisk had been in instrumental band Pell Mell, whom the Wedding Present covered on the Singles 1989-1991 collection, and has recorded with the Halo Benders.

The Best Thing About This Album

A lot to choose from here, but I am going with “Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah” for its irresistible exuberance.

Release Date

September 1994

The Cover Art

Very. Cool. It doesn’t seem like a Wedding Present cover, but it’s watermelon charms work on me. I dig the new logo, the blurred minimalist boombox, and the font for the title. The graphic design credit is simply “Legend” with a photography credit for Peter Thorpe. This is a particularly shitty quality image, but the best one I could dig up.

Proudly powered by WordPress | Theme: Baskerville 2 by Anders Noren.

Up ↑