Paul Simon – Negotiations and Love Songs 1971-1986

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

When I was growing up in the 1980s, Paul Simon had achieved what I always thought of as a puzzling sort of celebrity. For reasons I’ve never discerned, Simon enjoyed popularity in my middle school for a brief but intense period of time. “Cecilia” and “Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard” were particular widespread favorites. Beyond that, Simon was on Saturday Night Live multiple times and was married (and later again involved with) Star Wars icon Carrie Fisher. While his musical career foundered before Graceland, that album made him a superstar, and he was everywhere. Inescapable. Still, I never warmed to him.

What I Think of This Album

Is this a good or bad Paul Simon comp? I have no idea. And the mystery does not keep me up at night. I feel like this gives me what I need, and also a whole lot I don’t. Your mileage may vary. At one point, I owned Simon’s self-titled debut – entirely because I had read that Billy Bragg had based the “I was 21 years when I wrote this song / I’m 22 now but I won’t be for long” lyric from “A New England” on a song on that album but it turns out that is incorrect, as the line is from “Leaves That Are Green” which is on Simon & Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence. The point is that I have some exposure to an actual Paul Simon studio album. Like I said, I feel that this album is sufficient.

This collection gathers 16 tracks from the six albums Simon released from 1971 to 1986. For some reason, that seems like a low output for such a long span, but I suppose he was also busy with other projects. Relatedly, 16 tracks seems like not enough from six albums, unless the albums were shitty. But Graceland by itself could have been basically grafted onto this – it is bewildering that only two of its songs are here when so many other lesser ones are included – so again I have to wonder:  maybe this is a poorly curated album.

On the one hand, this has the famous Simon solo songs that I know I like:  “Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard,” “Kodachrome,” and “Late In the Evening.” And other songs that I was less familiar with and think are fine, like “Mother and Child Reunion” and “Loves Me Like a Rock.”

I always thought the lyric in “Me and Julio” was “the radical grease gonna get me released,” which I frankly think makes more sense – or anyway is better – than “the radical priest.” Whatever. I love the Latin percussion on this (courtesy of Airto Moreira). The use of gospel singers The Dixie Hummingbirds is what elevates “Loves Me Like a Rock.”

“Kodachrome” is phenomenal. Just a great melody with a stellar arrangement (love the drumming, and so well mixed, and the piano part towards the end is eye-opening), and a touch of sociopathy in the lyrics. The other true standout is “Late In the Evening,” with drummer Steve Gadd employing four drumsticks, a fun, compelling lyric, and a great Latin horn part.

I fully admit that “Slip Slidin’ Away” is cheesy – it’s got the Oak Ridge Boys on it – but I swear to God it gets me, clip-clopping into my ear drums. The Graceland tracks are by definition excellent.

But some inclusions confuse me. “Something So Right” seems pretty wrong – snoozer. Same for “St. Judy’s Comet,” I guess written for Simon’s son; on top of being a lullaby, it’s a waste of the Muscle Shoals musicians. “Hearts and Bones” is exactly what I would expect from Paul Simon in 1983, as is the even more pandering “Train In the Distance.”

I understand why “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” is here but I’ve always hated it – it’s nothing but gimmick, and shoddily done (lyrically) at that. Similarly, it’s not surprising to find “Still Crazy After All These Years,” but it’s a ponderous, heavy-handed slog. “Have a Good Time” is a fucking embarrassment, or at least should be. 

There is nothing about “Rene and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After the War” that could in any way burnish Simon’s reputation. If anything, it speaks to two of his great, interrelated weaknesses. One is his refusal to let his talent be what it is and to instead aim for transcendence, only to land on pretension. The other is that Simon often conveys a lack of sincerity, preferring to instead advertise himself as a protean craftsman. Thus, “Magritte” could have been a touching, tender song about an elderly couple strolling past sex shops and dancing in their home to doo wop, but he had to make it a piece of historical fiction and both borrow significance and manufacture sentimentality from Magritte’s stature.

So maybe this a bad collection, or maybe I just don’t like Simon that much.

Random fact:  Cissy Houston sings backup on “Mother and Child Reunion.” 

The Best Thing About This Album

“Late In the Evening”

Release Date

October, 1988

The Cover Art

The shadow from the blinds is the only acceptable thing about this art.

Bob Dylan – The Bootleg Series Vol.4: Bob Dylan Live 1996, The “Royal Albert Hall” Concert

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

So, when I arrived at the Dylan portion of this project, I relistened to this album and (somehow) came away unimpressed and decided I would remove it from my collection. Fast forward about ten months, and I was pet/house-sitting in Seattle and my hosts had a turntable and vinyl collection (they had two turntables/collections, actually, but one was explicitly off-limits, which is a distinction I respected (as in, honored, and also respected, as in thought approvingly of) and among the few albums available to me and that I wanted to listen to was this one. So I put it on. And I came away with a new appreciation. But now I was mistrustful of my own ears and decision-making. So I waited another two months or so and listened to my copy at home again. I am keeping it. Incidentally, I think my original decision came after listening to the acoustic side and not really paying attention to the electric side, as I was probably getting a little Dylan-weary at the time.

What I Think of This Album

This is the renowned concert at which someone in the Manchester crowd yelled “Judas” at Dylan for the sin of going electric, and he responded “ I don’t believe you . . . you’re a liar,” which borders on nonsensical (though the catalyzing accusation is itself a bit off-base – who is the Jesus in this scenario?) And then Dylan commanded his band – which was in actuality, the Band (minus Levon Helm, though they were the Hawks at that time) – to “play it fuckin’ loud” as they launched into “Like a Rolling Stone.”

This is a two disc set, as it should be. How else to properly document the show? The first half of the set (disc one) was acoustic, with Dylan playing solo. The second half of the set (disc two) was Dylan and the Hawks playing electric. Splitting this into two physically distinct records drives home the nature of what the audience experienced. At the same time, it is impossible to ignore the context. There is no way to divorce the myth from the music, and indeed, one listens for the legendary heckle with anticipation as “Ballad of a Thin Man” subsides. And that is the album’s great flaw, no fault of Dylan’s of course:  it is more significant as a record than as a record, even as the electric side provides white-hot versions of already-great songs.  

The first disc finds Dylan in classic folkie form, warmly received by the audience. At this point in 1966, Blonde On Blonde was not available in the U.K., so three of the seven songs of the acoustic set were new to this crowd. What strikes me most about the acoustic portion is the harmonica playing. The runs on “Desolation Row” are pretty great, and they add mournful touches to “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”. More generally, this version of “Visions of Johanna” probably justifies its otherwise indefensible length. “Fourth Time Around” sounds a lot like “Norwegian Wood,” and is speculated to be some sort of mocking response to that song. But side one is not the reason anyone owns this album.

The electric side actually offers a gift apart from the confrontation. Set opener “Tell Me, Momma” is a verifiable rarity, never recorded in the studio and never played live other than on this tour. I don’t know why, because it’s a strong tune; Dylan’s vocal is inspired and the Hawks are tight and play with passion (particularly Robbie Robertson on guitar and Garth Hudson on organ). In fact, the entire second side bridles with energy. Versions of “I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met),” “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down,” and “One Too Many Mornings” are outstanding. You can hear some indistinct heckling and what observers describe a derisive slow clap as Dylan warms up for the third track. Hudson shines and Robertson lays down some nasty lines on “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues.” You can hear more catcalling and extended mock-clapping before “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” kicks in, which is thrillingly delivered.

The audience again gets spicy, growing more agitated as the set progresses, and you can hear them for a fourth time in the space between “One Too Many Mornings” and “Ballad of a Thin Man,” the latter of which’s lyrics translate well to the situation unfolding in the venue. After “Ballad,” it gets strangely quiet. Then comes the infamous denunciation, which garners the approval of the crowd, and there are more shouts, leading to Dylan’s retort, followed by the blistering closing performance of “Like a Rolling Stone.” 

The concert indeed was held at the Manchester Free Trade Hall (also the site of the seminal Sex Pistols concert in 1976), though the album carries the title – now in quotes to reflect the historical inaccuracy – the “Royal Albert Hall” Concert. Not officially released until 1998, bootleg versions of the show had existed since about 1970, and not unreasonably someone got the source show wrong and the name stuck. As if the concert was not historically significant enough, it turns out that shortly after the 1966 tour ended, Dylan was in the motorcycle accident that took him out of the public eye for more than a year, and he would not tour again until 1974.

The reason Levon Helm was not with the Hawks at that time was that he had been taken aback by the negative reaction of U.S. crowds during the autumn 1965 shows and left the tour after a few weeks, choosing instead to work on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Tell Me, Momma” is a great, semi-lost Dylan song.

Release Date

October, 1998

The Cover Art

Ho to the hum.

The Seymores – Treat Her Like a Show Cat

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

Undoubtedly among the more obscure bands whose work I own, the Seymores came out of Richmond, Virginia in the ‘90s, and were not able to capitalize on the alt-rock boom or the support of Cracker’s David Lowery (even though the entire band appeared in a tv commercial for Dockers pants). Main members David Fera and Joe Nio were constants in the Seymores’ short life, which included debut album Piedmont (mixed by Don Fleming) in 1995 and follow-up Show Cat (co-produced by Lowery) in ‘98. Nio is now a marketing and design executive; Fera continued making music under various guises.

What I Think of This Album

The Seymores fit nicely into the Pavement/Sammy/Cracker aesthetic, with songs often employing a snarky, smart sense of humor. This is a nice slice of indie rock that may not change any lives but will be a very enjoyable listen

The circular guitar lead of “The First Lady of Delaware” propels this unusual and funny tale of romantic obsession. In 1998, the governor of Delaware was Tom Carper and his spouse was Martha Ann Stacy, who was in fact, as the song indicates, born in North Carolina; assuming she was close in age to her spouse, she would have been about 50 at the time of the album’s release.

The band indulges in some new wave synth work slightly reminiscent of the Rentals on the propulsive “Personal History.” “Dissolve” sounds like it should have gotten some play time on alternative radio, mixing a tougher sound with a decent melody. Thick opener “Sicker Than You” is another highlight. “Aft to Forward” does the quiet-loud thing pretty well and ably communicates desperation. “Compton” is nicely tuneful.

The moody and tom-heavy “X-ray” is a refreshing change of pace and hints at depths that the band could have plumbed more. Similarly, it takes a little while to get there, but closer “The Buses Are Running” develops into a very pleasant song.

Otherwise, Waffle House hash browns are obliquely referenced (“Scattered, smothered, and covered”) in the somewhat ponderous “$2.75.” The Seymores are capable of getting loud, as they prove on the abrasive “Sublease You.” “Courtin’ Days” sounds like one of Cracker’s more country-adjacent songs. “Sole of Your Shoe” is similar to Pavement’s straightforward moments.

David Lowery guests on unspecified songs and he co-produced with John Morand (who worked on Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven albums).

The Best Thing About This Album

“The First Lady of Delaware” is unique – funny, unexpected, catchy, and memorable.

Release Date

May, 1998

The Cover Art

Boring but also I am consumed by the thought that this is Delaware.

Saturnine – Mid the Green Fields

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

As with the debut, I have no recollection of how I acquired this. The back cover looks to be a little water-damaged, and the front insert is sort of warped as well, so I feel like I rescued my copy from a terrible wet fate. I don’t play this too often, and that is a personal failure that I am going to work on remedying. I don’t have a lot of info on what happened to Saturnine after their respectably long run. Matt Gallaway has a blog and it appears that he has written a couple of novels and is into photography. Jennifer Baron formed the Garment District. Mike Donofrio (like Gallaway) graduated from my law school two years ahead of me and (unlike Gallaway) is practicing in Vermont.

What I Think of This Album

Well, either Saturnine enjoys sabotaging their albums, or they and I have very different ideas of what is “good” music. Just as with Wreck At Pillar Point, they completely fuck up the sequencing here. Opener “Buried Ships” is a bland instrumental that bears zero relationship to the outstanding slate of songs that follows it. Guitarist/singer Matt Gallaway states that he felt this song heralded a new, more refined version of the band. I honestly don’t know what he is talking about. But, it was his band and his song, so . . .  

The rest of Mid the Green Fields is indeed revelatory. It is the work of a much more self-assured band, radiating with intentionality and demonstrating depth and sophistication. I have not yet listened to intervening second album Flags for Unknown Territories, so I can’t tell if the sounds on Mid were a leap or a steady progression from the music on Wreck.

The REM comparisons are arguably inapt this time, and notably, Galloway has much better command of his voice. The band also displays more control over the tempos. While still generally slow, the songs unfold organically and the quartet of Gallaway, Jennifer Baron, Mike Donofrio, and Jim Harwood steer the ship instead of letting it drift. Too, the album benefits from the contributions of Gary Olson (The Ladybug Transistor) on brass and cello from Randy Schloss. Almost every track is a gem – melodic, graceful, assured, emphatic.

Additional contributors are Sasha Bell and Chris Ziter, both of the Essex Green. Bell was also in the Ladybug Transistor for a spell, and Baron was a founding member of that band. Interestingly, Jeff Baron of the Essex Green was likewise a member of The Ladybug Transistor, and it seems like he and Jennifer are siblings.

Olson helped record most of this, but some tracks were recorded in part by Kurt Ralske (Ultra Vivid Scene).

The Best Thing About This Album

That it brings honor to lawyer-musicians everywhere. Go Violets!

Release Date

September, 1998

The Cover Art

I think Gallaway said they took this image from the cover of a classical music album. It’s okay.

Cheap Trick – In Color

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

My theory is that Cheap Trick is the band KISS wanted to be but couldn’t. I say that knowing almost nothing about KISS. I still think it’s a good theory.

What I Think of This Album

While Heaven Tonight is the best Cheap Trick album, In Color is my favorite Cheap Trick album, and probably also their most fun and free-spirited work. Unlike the dark and messy debut, this album views primary songwriter Rick Nielsen’s melodic sensibility as a strength to be emphasized, not some embarrassing feature to be covered up or apologized for. Accordingly, In Color is a heady mix of power pop, glam, and hard rock, all cleanly presented by producer Tom Werman. 

There are at least five great songs on this record. My hot take is that the studio version of “I Want You to Want Me” is a million times better than the live Budokan version. It’s not even close. The original is a nearly perfect pop song, with a pristine guitar tone, some great string bends, a jaunty old-timey piano, an irresistible rhythm, and Brill Building lyrics. And fingersnaps. 

If I’m being honest, “Downed” is a better song than “I Want You To Want Me,” even though I feel more of an affinity for the latter. “Downed” is a darkly glittering power pop song wearing hard rock armor, with some psychedelic flair. Robin Zander interprets a set of lyrics about confusion and hopelessness with a hint of malice. The whole thing is a colorful windmill powered by Nielsen and Tom Petersson’s chord changes.

Bridging the gap between the overt prettiness of “I Want You” and the density of “Downed” is “Southern Girls,” which boasts a first-rate melody, a great beat from Bun E. Carlos, Zander’s impassioned singing, handclaps, a critical piano part, and I think a guitar playing a harmony tone behind Zander’s vocals (though it may be some (artificially?) held out “ooooh”s). Throw in a hard rockin’ bridge and you’ve got an expertly constructed and arranged song.

On par with these three standouts is singalong “Come On, Come On,” which is somehow equally evocative of the ‘50s and the ‘70s, as if Chuck Berry had joined Sweet. The band goes back to basics on the straightforward “Clock Strikes Ten,” which is exciting and loud and just plain a blast to listen to, even if it is kind of dumb.

A couple more tracks are really good, as well. The thunderous “Big Eyes” succeeds because it pairs its heaviness – and sort of metally guitar solo, to say nothing of Zander’s gritty take – with a winning melody. Considering that it lasts not even two minutes, the glammy “Hello There” makes a hell of an impression, setting the tone for the rest of the album with an energetic, melodic, and tough sound.

Nielsen gets a showcase on “You’re All Talk,” which is not much of an actual song. It’s  basically just a bluesy groove over which Nielsen can show off. Frankly, it reminds me of ZZ Top. Similarly, it seems like “So Good to See You” was specifically designed for Zander; regardless, it’s among the weaker songs here. I think “Oh Caroline” doesn’t work at all – this is basically filler, though Zander layers a nice whine onto his voice.

Producer Werman has a long history of working with metal and hard rock bands (Blue Öyster Cult, Motley Crue, Twisted Sister, Molly Hatchet, L.A. Guns), though apparently not without complaints that his results are too polished.

The band supposedly started re-recording In Color with Steve Albini in 1997 and whether the recording was ever completed, it was never officially released.

My reissue adds instrumental B-side “Oh Boy,” two demos, and two live tracks. The demo of “Southern Girls” is less glossy than the final version, and upon hearing it I can understand why some might have preferred that In Color have been more carefree and natural. I can’t fault Werman for adding some sheen, but the rougher version has a lot of charm, too. The demo of “Come On, Come On” leads me to the same conclusion. The live version of “You’re All Talk” is exactly what you’d think it would be. The live version of “Goodnight” is just “Hello There” with different lyrics – silly, but not offensive.

The Best Thing About This Album

The appreciation of and reliance on melody.

Release Date

September, 1977 (original); 1998 (reissue)

The Cover Art

Sigh. Very disappointing. The good-looking band members get a magazine cover shoot, complete with motorcycles, leather jackets and cowboy boots, while the freak and the shlub are hidden on the back cover, upside down for some reason, and, in a final emasculating twist, on bicycles. I do like that Nielsen is wearing a Cubs cap.


The Dixie Cups – The Very Best of the Dixie Cups: Chapel of Love

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

Yay! Another fucking compilation. I have no recollection of how I acquired this, but I know it was a physical purchase in a store, probably out of the budget bin. The Dixie Cups started out in New Orleans around 1963 as the Mel-tones, and consisted of sisters Barbara and Rosa Hawkins, and their cousin Joan Marie Johnson. They wound up in New York and signed to Red Bird Records, the label started by songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Their first song – “Chapel of Love” – was their biggest hit, though “Iko Iko” was popular too, and they carved out a nice career, with some line-up changes in later years. Johnson died in 2016.

What I Think of This Album

If you like girl groups at all, you will enjoy this album. Relatedly, if you like Brill Building songwriting, then you will enjoy this album. Most of the songs here are the work of Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry, but it is unclear who produced any of these tracks (there are at least tenuous connections to Phil Spector but I don’t think he worked on these tracks).

Beyond the obvious, eternal appeal of “Chapel of Love” and the innocent joy of “Iko Iko,” there are several strong tracks included. “People Say” is sweet, with a robust horn section. “Girls Can Tell” is a good song, though I greatly prefer the version by the Crystals (and there is also a version by the Ronettes). “Little Bell” sounds like an attempt to recapture the magic of “Chapel,” which it doesn’t do, but it’s still good.

Better is “You Should Have Seen the Way He Looked At Me,” with a fantastic backing track and lovely harmonies. The disc includes a sassy “I’m Gonna Get You Yet,” with great work from the studio musicians, and the celebratory “Another Boy Like Mine,” featuring some nice saxophone, as well as the busy “Ain’t That Nice.” “All Grown Up” is fairly irresistible, while “No True Love” employs country-ish guitar licks to interesting effect. The rest of the songs here are worth a spin.

The Best Thing About This Album

The production and arrangements.

Release Date

1998

The Cover Art

I wouldn’t call it clever, exactly, but it works, as the designer wisely chose to fully lean into the album title.

Damon & Naomi – Playback Singers

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

I am never sure what to make of couples that make music together, especially when – as with Damon & Naomi – the couple is the entirety of the band. Marriage is hard and being in a band is hard, and I suspect that doing both at the same time with the same person is possibly twice as hard. Kudos to these crazy kids for pulling it off!

What I Think of This Album

This is a massively beautiful album, and an absolute showcase for Naomi Yang. Credit also to Damon Krukowski along with Yang for crafting such ideal sonics, by the looks of it, in their living room.

“Turn of the Century” made me cry, and sure, it’s not the only reason I was crying – I have a lot of problems! – but the point remains. Yang’s lovely voice drifts languidly over slowly strummed guitar and a silken bass part, while subtle sound effects populate the background. “I’ve been known to suffer over you.” True that.

“Eye of The Storm” is notable mostly for what may be a (backwards?) guitar figure (that sounds a bit like a flute), repeated until it enters your soul. The thick, dark thrum of “I’m Yours” only serves to underscore the fragrant vocals from Yang, who sings of otherworldly and timeless devotion. All aspiring bassists – nah, fuck it, all bassists, without qualification – should study “Kinetoscope,” on which Krukowski sings lead against a thatch of acoustic guitar and harmonium.

The band covers a Ghost song (“Awake In a Muddle”) – the first official overture, perhaps, that led to a long-standing professional collaboration. Again, Yang’s high-register bass is a standout. “We’re Not There” is also excellent, though Krukowski’s reedy singing at the apex of his range is not really for me. The Pearls Before Swine cover (“Translucent Carriages”) I can do without; Tom Rapp, the singer-songwriter of PBS, eventually left music and became a civil rights lawyer, before restarting his music career in the ‘90s.

Yet another Sub Pop release.

The Best Thing About This Album

Naomi Yang’s bass and voice.

Release Date

April, 1998

The Cover Art

The design and composition, as well as the colors, are fantastic. This is Yang’s work.

Marshall Crenshaw – The 9 Volt Years (Battery Powered Demos & Curios (1979-198?))

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

Marshall Crenshaw toured with the Bottle Rockets for a period. I think the way it worked is the Bottle Rockets acted as his backing band and then they played their own set. I had a couple of opportunities to see that show but it never worked out, and now the Bottle Rockets have broken up, but really, this is a minor regret in a lifetime of many more, and much more deeply, stupid decisions.

What I Think of This Album

There are multiple reasons to own this album, though whether they withstand scrutiny, individually or collectively, is an open question:  a) the early, scrappy version of “Someday, Someway”; b) the lost song “Run Back to You”; c) the country collaboration between Robert Crenshaw and his future brother-in-law, “She’s Not You”; d) early song “First Love”; e) a thick sounding version of “Something’s Gonna Happen”; f) a superior version of “Rockin’ Around in NYC” (which is still, admittedly, nothing special); and g) the liner notes from Crenshaw. Obviously, this is for fans only, and even then, debatable.

The Best Thing About This Album

I like the demo version of “Someday, Someway.”

Release Date

1998

The Cover Art

I am into the color scheme and the split image. The font could be better. Overall, not bad.

Velvet Crush – Heavy Changes

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

The hierarchy of talent is interesting. Jeffrey Borchardt was the guitarist and lead singer of Honeybunch. But when he got together with Paul Chastain and Ric Menck to form Velvet Crush, he ceded vocalist duties to Chastain. What’s more, all the lead guitar on the debut was handled by Matthew Sweet. So, good enough for Honeybunch, but not for Velvet Crush. What about Matthew Sweet? Well, he famously relied on Robert Quine and Richard Lloyd for guitar duties. So, good enough for Velvet Crush but not good enough for his own releases. Relatedly, Andy Bell – guitarist with Ride – was demoted to bass when he joined Oasis (not that I think of the bass as a lesser instrument, but I am pretty sure guitarists do).

What I Think of This Album

Ironically, the first Velvet Crush album without a self-aggrandizing title is the first Velvet Crush album that is not great. It’s not bad; there are definitely more disappointing Velvet Crush albums. And it could have maybe been a very good album, but the band made some odd choices (including billing themselves this one time as “The Velvet Crush,” possibly the most bewildering of their decisions).

As much as the country-rock of Teenage Symphonies to God was a left turn stylistically, so too is the decision to record an album of rough edges and ridiculous guitar solos. In fact, I sometimes wonder if this was all a joke, because the solos are painfully obtrusive and obnoxious, and they are everywhere; it is very difficult to believe anyone (much less everyone) sincerely believed that the solos complemented the songs. Velvet Crush was a four-piece at this point, picking up guitarist Peter Phillips (Six Finger Satellite, Matthew Sweet), who also joined in on the songwriting. If you strip out the absurd guitar heroics (and also let Menck play in his usual style, and not this harder approach), you would end up with some pretty good songs. I bet the demos of these tracks were more interesting than the final product. That said, the songwriting is a bit weaker than on the previous albums.

The band kicks things off by trying to pummel “Play For Keeps” into submission, even as the harmonies and melody call for a lighter touch; the extended and uninspired solo at the end is FARCICAL. Similarly, the band mistreats “Standing Still” to an almost criminal degree, with another solo that is not just out of place, but also boring. “Fear of Flying” sounds a lot like Sound of Lies-era Jayhawks; it never quite soars but also isn’t weighed down like the other tracks. “Think It Over” is a straight up great tune, adding a touch of the country leanings from Teenage Symphonies, and offering outstanding harmonies and a guitar part that actually involves delicate, jangly arpeggios. “Ever After” isn’t much of a track (though it has its moments), and “Used to Believe” is pedestrian, so it’s not like the tiresome guitar wankery ruins it. “Wake Up” is a throwback to the debut, with some nice production touches. “God Speed” is unusually bluesy, so no thanks there, too. The cover of Buck Owens’s “White Satin Bed” is decent. The band closes (sort of) relatively strongly with the urgent “Live For Now,” with unusually emotive vocals from bassist Paul Chastain. A hidden track “Seen Better Days” is pretty good.

Mitch Easter is back in the producer’s chair, and also helped out with the playing, as did returning guest Wes Lachot and new invitees David Gibbs (Gigolo Aunts) and Greg Humphries (who is probably Greg Humpreys of Dillon Fence, in light of the stylistic connection to Easter’s Let’s Active and the fact that this album was recorded in North Carolina). Phillips died in 2015.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Think It Over” is one of the band’s best songs, hidden on this silly, ill-conceived album.

Release Date

1998

The Cover Art

The white space and the colors of the font are pleasantly retro, as is the always-welcome “stereo” designation. The image is vibrant enough, I guess, but not really appealing.

Cheap Trick – Heaven Tonight

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

Cheap Trick is one of those bands that I wish I liked more than I do. I listened to the debut, and it didn’t stick. I used to own Dream Police, but got rid of it. I have no use for post-Dream Police Cheap Trick at all, and I doubt anyone should, though I’ve been led to believe the Rockford album from 2006 is worth a spin. In Color is pretty great. Cheap Trick came out of Rockford, Illinois around 1973. I could almost believe someone at a record company put this band together:  Robin Zander had pop star looks and a million dollar voice; Rick Nielsen (son of opera singers) was a hot shot guitarist with a wacky image, and a talented songwriter, too; Bun E. Carlos (Brad Carlson), was a dynamic, ambidextrous drummer who, in his early days, toured with Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, and the Shirelles; and Thom Petersson (born Peterson), basically as handsome as Zander and inventor of the 12-string bass. I’m not always into what Cheap Trick does, but they have made a little bit of great music. Apropos of nothing, Nielsen is part owner of Piece Brewery and Pizza in Chicago.

What I Think of This Album

It’s arguable that At Budokan is the only essential Cheap Trick album, but I don’t like having only live versions of songs (and there are a lot of songs on the rerelease that I do not like at all). Heaven Tonight is likely the best Cheap Trick studio album. As any album that contains “Surrender” would have to be.

It is almost impossible to list all the great things about “Surrender”:  Zander’s priceless whine (“Some Indonesian junk that’s going roooooouuuuuuuund” and “Old maids for the waaaaaaaaaar”); the humor in the lyrics (“But Mommy isn’t one of those / I’ve known her all these yeeeeeaaaaaars”); the contemporary reference to KISS; the massive drums; the synth line; the perfectly placed guitar slashes; the tremolo effect on the guitar; the breakthrough “Awaaaaaaaaaaay” that takes us into the euphoric closing minute; the stacked vocals and melodies in the outro.

Another high point is suicide anthem “Auf Weidersehen” – yes, it’s a suicide anthem – in which Zander sounds truly unhinged, unleashing some amazing screams as the song closes, and Peterssen and Nielsen get gritty and dark, with Carlos bashing the shit out of everything in sight. Check out the reference to Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower.” Likewise unsettling is drug anthem “Heaven Tonight,” with Zander again delivering in spades as Nielsen shows off on the mandocello. There are no strings credits (or keyboards either) but clearly these are present on the album – not cool, Cheap Trick.

The darkness continues with the odd but thrilling “Takin’ Me Back,” featuring unusual synth noises and a stellar chorus. The pick slide on the frantic “On Top of the World” is very cool, as is everything else Nielsen does here (especially the divebombs), and Carlos keeps things moving along on this catchy, piano-reliant number, which slides into a technicolor, ELO-aping closing minute. The cover of the Move’s “California Man” is fine – I can take it or leave it. The guitar solo is impressive (and includes a bit from the Move’s “Brontosaurus”). And I do appreciate the handclaps. I always appreciate handclaps. More handclaps, please.

“Stiff Competition” is silly filler, but it sounds great – Zander and Carlos turn in fine performances. Another throwaway is “On the Radio,” but it has a sunny, loose, California vibe that is pretty irresistible. Jumpy “How Are You?” is similar – very slight but not unpleasant, with an amped up chorus that will get you moving, and some creepy string creaks thrown in for no good reason. “High Roller” is just meh, and “Oh Claire” is stupid.

The reissue contains two bonus tracks, both earlier versions of album tracks. The rough version of “Surrender” is notable only for coarser, misogynistic lyrics, and at the end, Zander humorously ad libs the names of the band members (including himself), the producer, the engineer, and others (“Gary’s all right / Robin’s all right / Ricky’s all right . . . “).

The Best Thing About This Album

A very difficult choice: Carlos’s drumming; Zander’s voice; “Auf Wiedersehen”; Nielson’s skill. But obviously, “Surrender” is why you buy this album.

Release Date

April, 1978 (original); 1998 (reissue)

The Cover Art

I find it a little offensive that they put Zander and Petersson on the front cover, and relegated Carlos and Nielsen to the back. It would have been nice for something a little more creative and less cynical (and maybe more respectful of their bandmates).

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