Category Archives: vinyl

The Rubinoos • The CBS Tapes [CD, LP]

Every once in awhile a release comes along that makes me yearn for the “carefree” days of my youth… When Mike C. and I decided to start our own band, aged 14, hardly knowing how to play our instruments – let alone knowing, for instance, that you needed a separate amplifier for the microphones. You know, just because bass player Jerry P.’s old Ampeg bass amp had 4 inputs on it didn’t mean that you could plug his bass, my guitar, and two high impedance mics (thank you, Radio Shack) into it and get anything decent-sounding. Before the internet – youngsters, listen up! – you either had to have older brothers who could show you the ropes, or you had to hope to catch enough of your favorite band’s one song on Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert to see what their set-up looked like. And that didn’t mean you were gonna understand just what was going on up there onstage. There were no websites where you could find the information, let alone any old fashioned books that had it. You just had to figure it out yourself.

THE RUBINOOS’ The CBS Tapes is a 1976 warts ’n’ all set that the very young band ran through one afternoon while getting ready to record their debut, eponymous album (released in ’77 on Beserkely). It wasn’t exactly their first band (for most of ’em) but they were very young, and the enthusiasm – as well as their advanced chops – really shows. Clearly not expecting that this recording was ever going to be anything except “hey boys, why don’t you run through a bunch of songs and get a feel for playing together in the studio,” the Rubinoos are hamming it up, playing goofy covers, some of their own tunes, and generally just having a great time, making goofy announcements “to the crowd” between songs and just making each other laugh. Just like band practice used to be before we decided we ought to try and get a bit serious.

Recorded at CBS Studios in San Francisco by producer/engineer Glen Kolotkin, it was basically a “let the tape roll” affair, with no overdubs, second takes or anything like that. Like the way we’d stuff a blank cassette into the Realistic tape recorder (thanks again, Radio Shack!) and just run through everything we thought we could get all the way through. Here, The Rubinoos – later to be exalted as princes of power pop – open with their own “All Excited” and then plow straight on into The Archies’ “Sugar Sugar,” a definite guilty pleasure for many of us and an obvious but great choice in ironic covers. But don’t think that’s it, ’cause later in the set we get treated to a real sarcastic but sincere version of The DeFranco Family’s big one, “Heartbeat – It’s a Love Beat.” Yes, and I will admit to having bought this 7″ as an eleven year old. This version certainly rocks WAY harder than that, as do their two Beatles covers, “She Loves You” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Despite the guys’ lighthearted jokes and youthful cursing, the band really do like the “corny” covers they’re doing. You can tell because they deliver the same exuberance when doing their own songs, like the punky “I Want Her So Bad” and the unclear-what-its-title-means “Nooshna Kavolta.” Before the tape ends you get treated to King Curtis, The Ventures, The Meters and Jonathan Richman (“Government Center”). None of the songs are played perfect. But all of them are delivered so well and with so much glee that you just wish you’d been there sitting on the studio’s overstuffed, over-used sofa sucking on a Pepsi and just diggin’ what The Rubinoos were puttin’ down.

And to think this is the first record by them I’ve ever owned! Man, I gotta get to work on building up my Rubinoos collection. – Marsh Gooch

5/5 (YepRoc YEP-2788, 2021)

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Record Store Day 2021, Part 2 [Vinyl]

Here are a few more RSD purchases we’ve felt the need to dissect. Please note that none of this was free – getting review copies just ain’t what it used to be! So, working from Z backwards…

THE ZOMBIES – Oddities & Extras (Varese Vintage VSD00020-05) – It’s hard to tell what songs have been on what Zombies compilations. Basically, they only released two actual albums, Begin Here and Odessey and Oracle, so everything else has likely been encountered either on the stellar 4CD Zombie Heaven box set from 1999 or on one of the countless comps that have made the rounds ever since a number of us decided that the band belonged in the same echelon as The Beatles, Stones, Kinks, Who et. al. I’m pretty familiar with just about all of the baker’s dozen songs here on Oddities & Extras, but being a near-completist I needed to add this to the collection. It’s a pleasant enough platter, especially with “She Does Everything for Me,” “Just Out of Reach” and the cover of “Goin’ Out of My Head,” but I can’t help feeling this may be surplus to my Zombies needs.

SUPER FURRY ANIMALS – Ice Hockey Hair EP (BMG CAT491EP) – A 4-song EP, pressed on unnecessarily 180-gram vinyl, this one also feels a little surplus… to my SFA needs, that is. Gotta say, though, that “Ice Hockey Hair” is a classic in the lush, semi- Britpop vein that the Furries embraced. Of the other three tracks, “Smokin’” is also good, “Let’s Quit Smoking” is a different arrangement of the former (basically), and “Mu-Tron” may just be an excuse for one of the SFA guitarists to use his so-named guitar effects pedal. Being a 12″ (as opposed to a full-on LP), this one is likely to stay shelved for awhile. Not because the song isn’t any good, but because it also appears on the “greatest hits” album, Songbook (The Singles, Vol. 1).

THE KINKS – Percy (BMG CAT488LP) – I’m kinda scratching my head on this one… I get that any album from the Lola-era Kinks is worth reissuing, but why – oh why?! – did they make it a picture disc? This isn’t a typical album from the band, being a soundtrack to a seldom seen 1971 comedy film, with some instrumentals, a “Lola” blues jam and the like, so maybe they decided to have a little fun with it. I mean, one side of the picture disc is a closeup of the image on the front cover, as in, the cartoon man’s groin covered by a big leaf. (The other side is the full cover image.) To be fair, this pic disc is pressed on extra thick vinyl so it actually sounds pretty good. And let’s not forget: This isn’t exactly a proper Kinks album, so you’re not likely to take Percy for a spin very often. It’ll probably stand up to the half dozen plays you’re likely to give it. The textured cover is a nice touch (replicating the original), too.

THE FLAMING LIPS – The Soft Bulletin Companion (Warner 093624885016) – With most of the tracks “Soft Bulletin outtakes, stereo versions of Zaireeka tracks and unreleased songs from the era,” this Companion – a 2LP vinyl representation of a 1999 promo CD – is nice in a humble kind of way. Granted, these days I find myself mimicking Wayne Coyne’s high-pitched, practically falsetto singing voice (“when you got that spider bite on your arm”), but there are some good songs here, and I am very much a fan of this era of the Lips. So, its presentation is fitting: as if it were a generic white album cover, with black and white stickers slapped on the front and back, a coffee stain here, a pen mark there; the colored vinyl itself is silver and the labels are of the “promo copy” variety. There’s scant info about the tracks themselves, but I have faith that most Flaming Lips fans will be aware of their pedigree. The cover of Skip Spence’s “Little Hands” is certainly more tolerable (even pleasant) than the songwriter’s own version. – Marsh Gooch

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Record Store Day 2021, Part 1 [Vinyl]

I picked up nearly two handfuls of vinyl for Record Store Day 2021 (first drop) and decided to “review” them, in a pair of parts, based on my initial impressions. It’s a fact that many of the items we pick up for RSD get played once and then filed away, likely to never be pulled from the shelf again. That’ll be great for resale one day – maybe – but it’s certainly not the way you wanna tie up your record money if you can help it. On the other hand, some gems only come to reveal their beauty further on down the road, so… I don’t know… Ah, let’s just get going.

TOM PETTY & THE HEARTBREAKERS – Angel Dream (Warner Records 093624882312) – Sort of a companion to last year’s Wildflowers extravaganza, Angel Dream is a “reimagining” of the songs Petty and crew did for the movie, She’s the One. I don’t know if anyone remembers the movie (I don’t) but the songs are memorable. In some ways they share a lot of the vibe of Wildflowers, kind of laid back, but there’s a lightheartedness with these tunes that doesn’t surface in the others, quite likely due to the fact that they were written to accompany a film. I wouldn’t hold this one up to Petty’s greatest albums (Wildflowers is one), but it’s got a charm to it that’s hard to deny. Together with Wildflowers and Finding Wallflowers (a 2LP set of Disc 4 of last year’s heaping helping of Tom’s hospitality), Angel Dream is one purchase you would listen to again.

ELTON JOHN – Regimental Sgt. Zippo (Rocket/UMe RSDRSZ2021) – This one’s really out of left field! Yeah, if you’re trying to guess by the album cover, you’re right: it’s a psychedelic EJ album that was never released. Recorded in early 1968 at DJM Studio in London (home of Elton’s record label in the UK), it’s Elton and Bernie Taupin in their salad days, taking a break from trying to find their own voice and instead working up some groovy, of-the-moment (but now fairly aged) psych-pop. Surprisingly, the arrangements are much more fleshed out than I was expecting, sounding very much like a serious attempt to write an album’s worth of tunes good enough to release. And they are/were! Why this wasn’t put out until now is a good question, and probably even Sir Elton doesn’t quite remember. But at this point in his career – and after most of these songs made their debut on last year’s Jewel Box set – it makes sense to put out a vinyl relic of what Elton & Bernie were spending their time on while still wearing creative short pants. The songs are certainly on the derivative side but they’re fun to listen to, making Sgt. Zippo a nice one to reach for when you’re in the mood for something different. And I like the play on Elton’s given name, too.

TOOTS & THE MAYTALS – Funky Kingston (Get On Down/Island GET54103-LP) – This is one of the greatest reggae albums of the ’70s, even if this particular configuration isn’t the same as its original Jamaican counterpart. Funky Kingston, as it has been since its first international release, is mostly that original issue, with a few tracks brought over from another album and “Pressure Drop” ported over from a ’69 single. Whether or not you consider this a proper album or a compilation, you can’t dispute that this may have been Toots’ peak as an artist. I would’ve liked them to do a 2LP set containing the original Funky, with the extra tracks they swapped in from In the Dark, and whatever else would’ve made sense. But, I guess for that there’s always my Very Best Of… CD, not to mention a host of other compilations still available.

FLAMIN’ GROOVIES – I’ll Have A… Bucket of Brains (Parlophone 0190295104139) – It may have gotten its name from an obscure Welsh beer, but this record’s got the Groovies’ best known song on it, “Shake Some Action,” a stone cold klassic that you should crank anytime you get a chance. This little 10″ mini LP, “The Original 1972 Rockfield Recordings for U.A.,” contains seven songs the San Francisco band did with nascent producer Dave Edmunds for the UK wing of United Artists. UA released a couple of the band’s rock ’n’ roll singles at the time but they were (at least in hindsight) doomed to fail, being released during Britain’s glam rock craze. Yet “Shake Some Action” eventually became a touchstone of power pop and more bands have been influenced by it than probably even know it. Here, Bucket of Brains provides the single version and the original recording at its slightly slower speed (in a 1995 mix) that reveals more of what makes it so damn good. Plus, there’s a killer version of “Tallahassee Lassie” (crushes Freddy Cannon’s original like a grape!) and their other klassic cruncher, “Slow Death.” This was only available as a UK CD (and under a couple of other names in other countries) mostly in the mid ’90s. As a 10″ it is the perfect vinyl artefact. If this doesn’t help you bust out at full speed, then I don’t know what you need… to make it alright! – Marsh Gooch

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Mumps • Rock & Roll This, Rock & Roll That: Best Case Scenario, You’ve Got Mumps [CD, LP]

What kinda band do you get when you mix (more or less) equal parts Sparks, Bowie, New York Dolls, Skafish and Dickies? Before you answer that, let me just say that I am aware that many will accuse me of committing the oldest “lazy rock journalist” cliché in the book by starting this review that way, and that I honestly don’t care.* Answer: MUMPS. Rock & Roll This, Rock & Roll That: Best Case Scenario, You’ve Got Mumps is the third compilation of tracks by the band, and considering I had barely heard of them before word of this comp got to me, you could say “third time’s a charm” in terms of me finally giving this group a spin. That is, if you’re prone to carelessly uttering clichés…

Well, what we have in the case of the Mumps is a mid ’70s New York rock band that came up via the CBGBs scene, made up of a handful of guys who got together in Mrs. Loud’s equal opportunity garage and took a shot at creating their own kind of music. Their lead singer, Lance Loud, had come out as gay on national television in 1973 during an episode of the PBS documentary series, An American Family. (This was before people got paid to appear on “reality TV” and pretty unheard of at the time, kids.) At the same time he was starting a band, sometimes called Loud, which eventually morphed into Mumps. There’s a lot of interesting history and plenty of great anecdotes about their exploits in the liner notes here, but suffice to say that though the band was clearly one of the better bands on the scene, they are – today – certainly way less known than Talking Heads, Ramones, Blondie, Television, et. al. Regardless of their actual popularity, Mumps deserves to be heard.

As you may remember from the opening of this review (oh, so long ago), they mix rock, punk, musical theater and more in a Rocky Horror Picture Show meets new wave combo that must have been pretty cool to witness in-person. In fact, it’s likely that the songs here that seem a bit over-the-top in the drama sweepstakes were probably quite exciting on stage. Think of Queen, if that band were more lighthearted, yet socially-conscious and a little less polished. Or maybe Sparks without the brother. (You pick which one…) With lyrics like “I wish I could’ve seen your face before the accident” – just one of the severely smart-assed variety – you can bet that these guys, or at least Lance Loud, were probably the clowns in their class. And if you weren’t of the “I’d like to punch that guy in the face” persuasion then you probably would’ve dug having any of the Mumps in at least your most-boring junior high period. The LP version of Rock & Roll This… is a 14-track affair, while the CD adds 9 more (all very worthwhile), including two never-before-released Loud tracks. Releases like this ought to give you reassurance that, just when you think you’ve heard every band you should have, there’s always the likelihood of you catching something as bad – and by that, I mean good – as the Mumps. – Marsh Gooch

4/5 (Omnivore OVCD-417, 2021)

* What kind of rock critic do you get when you mix equal parts “I don’t care what you think” and “I sincerely hope you think I’m a genius”? (Picture me using both hands to point back at myself) THIS GUY!

 

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Alex Chilton & Hi Rhythm Section • Boogie Shoes: Live on Beale Street [CD, LP]

Chillin’ to Chilton… what could be more enjoyable as late spring heads into summer? I nearly forgot about this one – it slipped down between the seat and the transmission hump and sat there for over a month before I thought, “Isn’t that new ALEX CHILTON & HI RHYTHM SECTION thing coming out soon?” Sure enough, it’s out now. Boogie Shoes: Live on Beale Street is the kind of short ’n’ snappy one-set show that you want to listen to over and over again. Chilton and his one-off backing band – made up of some of Memphis’s most esteemed musicians – got together for one benefit show in 1999 and luckily someone had the forethought to record it for future enjoyment.

Fact is, Chilton and band had not one rehearsal prior to this performance and you’d never notice it: these guys are the right amount of tight for a live set, never mechanical, yet never too loosey goosey either. The ten songs range from covers of Little Richard and Chuck Berry to Jimmy Reed, The Supremes and even K.C. & The Sunshine Band (the title track). With no missteps in song choice, this ten-song, 45 minute disc keeps the boogie factor high and the “ugh” factor to a bare minimum. Sure, I’d have brought the guitar up in the mix some. I might have asked “Hubie” Mitchell to use some more authentic sounding keyboard sounds (the organ’s not as organic as I’d like it). Maybe I would have had the guys play “Lucille” a whole step lower, as it’s just about out of Alex’s range. Finally, I’d wish that closer “Trying to Live My Life Without You” didn’t have to be faded out so early. But remember: I’m a critic. I’m supposed to point out the things that stand out, good and bad. Or in this case, neither good nor bad just noticeable. But what’s most noticeable is the fun vibe of this set. Besides the obvious good vibes people got from performing at or attending a benefit concert for Memphis promoter Fred Ford, a good time must’ve been had by all if the sound of this release is any indication. And at this late date, in this particular context, what it sounds like and whether any of us would listen to it more than once is of utmost importance.

When two disparate legends come together it’s not necessarily gonna be a success. But – at least this one time – getting rocker Chilton and Hi Records’ ace rhythm and horn sections to don their boogie shoes together was as close to a perfect fit as you could ask for. – Marsh Gooch

3.5/5 (Omnivore Recordings OVCD-420, 2021)

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Paul & Linda McCartney • RAM (50th Anniversary Half-Speed Master) [LP]

Not necessarily one of Macca’s best-known or best-selling albums, 1971’s RAM by PAUL & LINDA McCARTNEY is a critics favorite for reasons that aren’t always clear. This new reissue – a limited edition half-speed mastered pressing – may just be the best-sounding version of it that any of us with limited resources are ever gonna get, assuming we don’t own a mint original UK or German pressing. I don’t. I mean, I DO have more copies of this album than anyone in their right mind would have, but guys like me aren’t really in our right minds in the first place, so…

It was Paul’s second solo outing, barely a year after The Beatles officially broke up and not long after his first record, McCartney. Both were subject to lots of criticism, true, but when you look back to that time period every Beatles solo record was panned by a majority of reviewers who stupidly hoped/expected the Fab Four’s records without each other would be as good as the ones they did together. Plastic Ono Band: Panned. All Things Must Pass: Pass. Sentimental Journey? Please. Of course, we know now that all three of those albums – yes, even Ringo’s! – are classics if not at least pretty damn good for a drummer. (Ha ha!) Anyway, as tempting as it is to go into what makes RAM so great – you know, “gritty,” “unpolished but charming,” “inventive,” “‘Smile Away’ is awesome and I don’t care how silly it is or what you think” – I feel like if you’re reading this you probably already have a real good clue.

This album, like most of Macca’s, has been reissued near-countless times so it’s gotta either be one of your favorites or you’re a Beatles completist who buys every single reissue you can get your hands on. I’m – believe it or not, friends and family – somewhere in between. I do have multiple vinyl copies of this one: an original US issue on Apple with a mislabeled side 2 (sounds dismal), the 2012 2LP version on Hear Music that sounds very nice, the later Capitol reissue on see-through yellow vinyl that was supposedly pressed from the same master as the Hear Music release, and this brand new half-speed master. Oh yeah, and the awesome 2012 mono reissue (it was actually released to radio stations in ’71 as a promotional copy in a dedicated [not fold-down stereo] mono mix). Not counting that mono copy, this RAM is hands-down the best one I’ve heard. Just like the McCartney half-speed master that came out last year, this one just kills in every way. Things are clearer, the fuzz bass is wild ’n’ woolly like it oughta be, McCartney’s vocals growl or croon when they should, the strings on “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” and “The Back Seat of My Car” sound lusher than ever, and the acoustic guitars throughout glimmer like ripples on the water on a lovely spring day. (Did I just write that?!) Not only that, but there are backing vocals I’ve never really heard as clearly as they are here, and the lead vocals sometimes linger at the end of a line where you didn’t know they actually did. I probably know RAM better than every McCartney album save Band on the Run and Venus and Mars (I’ll take those half-speed masters toot-suite!) and I can tell you that this version beats not only the superb 1993 DCC Compact Classics gold CD, but the 2012 Archive Series version, too.

So, to wrap this up: If you can get a hold of one of these RAMs without having to go to epic lengths to do so, do it. You read this far; you should need no further convincing. Ram on! – Marsh Gooch

5/5 (Capitol/UMe 00602435577234, 2021)

Here’s a pretty good description of how half-speed mastering can make for a better record. (And no, you don’t have to play the record at half speed!)

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Elvis Costello & The Attractions • Armed Forces [Super Deluxe Edition]

Here’s the ELVIS COSTELLO & THE ATTRACTIONS’ big box set I’d been waiting for. From the guy who I originally panned when reviewing his first two albums for my junior high school “newspaper,” Armed Forces – the 1979 album has passed its 40th birthday – still stands as a monumental new wave LP. In fact, calling it new wave almost denigrates it. The fact of the matter is, many record labels were looking for acts with that “edgy,” “sharp,” “barbed” sound after EC and his Attractions dropped this bombshell on the ears of those who were searching for something beyond the usual rock.

Dubbed “The Complete Armed Forces,” this behemoth includes LPs, EPs, 7″ singles and booklets galore in a large clamshell box adorned with the original US album cover on the outside (which was actually on the inside of the UK/European versions) and the UK/European front cover on the inside (which was on the back of the US version), all of which was designed by the magnificent Barney Bubbles. The 12″ assortment includes the original Armed Forces in a 13-track version that incorporates both the US and UK track listings (in the very cool origami-like unfolding cover of the foreign versions), a Live at Hollywood High and Beyond album (half of the tracks that appeared on a 2010 CD of the entire concert but considerably more than the three that appeared on the 7″ EP included with the original album), and a blistering ’79 concert recorded at the Pink Pop Festival in the Netherlands. EP-wise – all 10″ vinyl – you get an 8-song volume called Sketches for Emotional Fascism (most of which have appeared on previous Costello releases), a 6-song concert recorded in Australia (Riot at the Regent, quite good but too short!), and a 4-songer called Christmas in the Dominion which is also way too short. The singles feature original artwork for three 7″ releases, but the B-sides aren’t always the same as on the originals (except on one where it is!). Maddening! And the sleeve for “Accidents Will Happen,” which was originally cleverly printed inside-out (as in, “accidents will happen!”), is printed right-side-out, which at least gives you the chance to see what the whole thing looked like without having to take the sleeve apart. As for the “booklets galore,” these are all designed to look like old comic books, pulp fiction novels and other pre-1979 printed materials, with insides that include Elvis’s notes on the songs and their geneses, his handwritten lyrics as they appeared in his notebooks, etc., and all the credits for this humongous undertaking. In all, it’s a shitload of Costello music and ephemera that is going to be way too much for most people but not enough for many of the rest of us.

I think, in all, this “complete” Armed Forces is pretty fabulous. The sound quality is the best yet for the core album (my opinion, even better than the MoFi pressing) and the live concerts sound brilliant. I do wish the Riot at the Regent and Christmas in the Dominion records contained the complete concerts (future marketing opportunities!), but I can handle those coming out separately later on. This box itself is awfully expensive ($200 for the black vinyl version, $260 for the color vinyl) but is likely to come down in price. And if it’s just the music you want, you can find that available as high resolution downloads online. But if you like your box sets in the extravagant variety (not exactly punk rock, but, hey, whatever) then this is one you should have in your armory. – Marsh Gooch

4.5/5 (UMe B0031761-01, 2020)

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Bonnie Hayes with the Wild Combo • Good Clean Fun [LP]

The following review first appeared in my old music blog, Skratchdisc, some years ago. To preface this repost, BONNIE HAYES with the WILD COMBO’s Good Clean Fun has been reissued by Blixa Sounds in an expanded CD package with the original album, a 6-song EP, an early Hayes group’s single and some great new notes by Bonnie herself. The mastering job is nice ’n’ peppy, allowing this poppy early ’80s new wave classic to shine on into the 2020s. Here’s what I said a few years ago when I found a used copy in my local vinyl emporium.

Once again, on one of my weekly “just lookin’” ventures, I found a couple of great deals. The first one was a Mobile Fidelity half-speed master of a VERY PROMINENT ’70S ROCK ALBUM (name withheld to protect me from those who might make fun), which had a real used cover but the record was PERFECT. And it was only 99¢! The second was what this review’s about, Bonnie Hayes with the Wild Combo’s 1982 new wave gem, Good Clean Fun.

I first ran into this record during my rookie year as a college radio DJ at Seattle’s legendary KCMU. (It is now the world-renowned KEXP, but don’t get me started…!) My freshman year at the University of Washington, 1981/82 was a year that was beyond compare for yours truly. During the summer of ’81 a friend told me about this low-watt radio station where they played all kinds of “weird new wave”—this is where I first heard The B-52’s, XTC, Devo, you name it. I tuned in the station whenever it would come in (at that time it was only 10 watts), and upon my first week of school at the UW, I promptly went to the station to find out what it was all about. It was then that I learned that almost anyone could get a show, and met a slew of like minded students (like my buds Mike Fuller and Andy Taylor, for two) who enjoyed DJing and playing whatever records you wanted. I got my first show in November (a Friday night from 11 pm to 2 am), and eventually this puny little station became a major part of my life. I discovered more great music in the initial years of DJing there than I have in all the years since! Sometime in 1982 Slash Records, the Los Angeles-based punk rock label, put out Bonnie Hayes’s LP, and we played the hell out of it. Sure, some of the jocks thought it was pretty lightweight, and if you have no history with the girl groups of the ’60s, you might, too, but this record really was good clean fun. And this from the label that had already put out X’s first two albums, The Dream Syndicate and The Gun Club! Slash had punk cred like no one else.

Well, anyway, this is about as pure an ’80s new wave record as you can get, with percolating organs and crunchy guitars and a nice female voice singing of “Shelly’s Boyfriend,” “Girls Like Me,” and “Raylene.” And to think I went decades without this record, yesterday I found it in the 99¢ bin! Sleeve in good shape, record looked good. And like the record mentioned way above, it turned out to be in great shape. So, here’s to Bonnie Hayes and her Wild Combo allowing me to relive some memories nearly 30 years old. I’ll have to check out what she’s up to now... – Marsh Gooch

4/5 (Blixa Sounds ETA 859, 2020) (bonniehayes.com)

 

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Richard Hell & The Voidoids • Destiny Street Complete [2CD/2LP]

Way back in 1982 I was a nineteen year old college student discovering punk and new wave via my college radio station, KCMU. Yes, MTV was a factor in my alt-rock education, but to a much lesser degree. At the University of Washington’s student-run 90.3 FM (atop the Communications Building in room 304), we had the run of all the records in its library. It had decades’ worth of rock ’n’ roll, but what I was most attracted to was the current records coming out that were in the station’s daily rotation. One of them was RICHARD HELL & THE VOIDOIDSDestiny Street, the 1982 sophomore release from the once member and co-founder of Television. On the covers of KCMU’s records were stickers for the DJs to scribble their comments, and if I remember right, more than one of the older jocks had written “not as good as Blank Generation” as their sentence-fragment review; naturally I had to dig that one up and decide for myself. Between the title track and “Love Comes in Spurts,” I think I did like Blank better. But Destiny Street wasn’t too shabby, either.

I tended to gravitate, at least early on, to songs with kooky titles, so things like “The Kid with the Replaceable Head” and “Lowest Common Dominator” were my initial faves. These were tunes propelled by twangy, angular/staccato guitars, a pretty funky bass and fairly straight ahead drums. I don’t remember if, at the time, I was bothered by Richard Hell’s out-of-tune, subtle caterwauling or not – I was probably too unschooled to notice it much and it likely was hidden by what I thought was just a highly unique vocal delivery. (It was years before I noticed, for instance, how flat my beloved Elvis Costello sings, so…) Anyway, the band’s semi-punk, semi-new wave sound was fairly new to me, and the couple of ’60s garage covers on the album weren’t in my radar yet (“I Gotta Move” and yes, even “I Can Only Give You Everything”), but the record was pretty dang cool regardless of what I did or didn’t know then.

Today, Richard Hell isn’t someone I’d choose all that often to listen to – I am a much bigger fan of Television – but I can appreciate various aspects of what he and his Voidoids put down. When you pick up this reissue of Destiny Street you’re gonna get FOUR different versions of the album. First, the original from ’82, then a 2009 version entitled Destiny Street Repaired that uses the original’s basic tracks but features re-recorded guitar solos and new lead vocals. Version three – Destiny Street Remixed – is a brand new mix of the original (from the 24-track tapes), and finally a selection of demos of most of the songs that were destined for Destiny Street. Why so many versions? I guess the answer to that would have to be, for lack of a better answer, why not?! I can think of a couple reasons, actually. Hell has apparently always disliked the way the original album turned out, so in 2009 he drafted Bill Frisell and Marc Ribot to add some guitar parts (original Voioids guitarists Robert Quine and Naux had passed away). That might have been the final version of the record, but then, just last year the original multitracks for 3/4 of the album turned up and so Richard, not satisfied with version two either, set about remixing the original tracks with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Nick Zinner. After listening to these three different versions three times I don’t find enough difference or improvement in the “repairs” or remixes to really warrant all this fuss. (I will say that Remixed seems to put Hell’s vocals more up front in the mix, which doesn’t exactly improve the album…)

BUT… I DO find that Destiny Street, regardless of which version I’m listening to, is a much better album than I remember and I’m really enjoying it. I like the Clash-style guitars in opener “The Kid with the Replaceable Head” (a la “Capitol Radio Two,” though those electrics are toned down enough in the later versions that you don’t quite notice the resemblance), I like “Ignore That Door” with its souped-up Steppenwolf vibe, and I like the title track and its spoken word narration.

So if Richard Hell wants to go to all this trouble after all these years to redo his band’s swan song release, and a reputable record label wants to put it out as a deluxe 2CD set (or just the Remixed portion as a single LP) AND it rekindles the Voidoids’ flame, I guess I can go along with it. I mean, you know when Hell and his honchos were running this concept up the flagpole they must have been considering what I, Marsh Gooch, would think about the enterprise. Psych. – Marsh Gooch

3/5 (Omnivore Recordings OVCD-410, 2021)

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The Gun Club • Miami [LP, CD]

THE GUN CLUB is primarily remembered for their incendiary debut album, Fire of Love, a psychobilly/roots rock/punk classic that introduced the world to vocalist Jeffrey Lee Pierce. Their sophomore release, Miami, came out in 1982 on Blondie’s Chris Stein’s Animal Records label and has just been reissued by Blixa Sounds.

Continuing in the same vein as their introductory platter, Miami was, in many ways, the quintessential ’80s American indie rock release. With Ward Dotson’s twangy rhythm guitar leading the unadorned but solid bass and drums of Rob Ritter and Terry Graham, The Gun Club’s sound was at the root of two then upcoming indie rock camps: the twangy Americana guitar rock of R.E.M., Guadalcanal Diary, et. al., and the cowpunk/voodoo vibe of The Cramps, Tex & The Horseheads and the like. Leader/singer Pierce – “Elvis, Jim Morrison and Iggy Pop all rolled up into one” (says Dotson in a recent interview) – was a big fan of the blues and other American music but wasn’t exactly the greatest candidate for carrying the torch. At least, on paper. But in the studio and on stage, he conjured his influences into a compelling, raw, unschooled vocal style that would make you forget, if indeed you knew, that he was really a “guy that lives with his mom in Reseda” (Dotson again).

That first album, Fire of Love, was one of Slash Records’ earliest releases (on their Ruby subsidiary) and was a good seller for the label. But it wasn’t long before Pierce had burned a lot of bridges, both personal and professional, with his difficult personality and questionable antics. By the time they recorded Miami they had signed to a new record label that was backed by a larger label (Animal was distributed by Chrysalis Records). Unlike the crisp, raw sound of their debut, this album – produced by Stein – has a slightly muffled sound that doesn’t jump out of the speakers quite the way Fire of Love did. Still, its songs flicker and burn in a similar fashion. “Devil in the Woods” and “John Hardy” stand out as tunes that could’ve been on the Slash release, while opener “Carry Home” and the cover of CCR’s “Run Through the Jungle” are less psycho and closer to that generic college radio sound that many of us still have stuck somewhere in our heads. Overall, though, in hindsight Miami is just a notch less-great than its classic predecessor.

Blixa Sounds’ 2CD and 2LP reissues include the original Miami on disc one and that album’s demos on disc two. (The compact disc version adds an additional handful of songs demoed for Miami but eventually released on The Gun Club’s next album, The Las Vegas Story.) The CD package contains interesting liner notes, skeletal credits and only a few small photos (there is no actual booklet included in the six-panel digipak; I’m not sure if you get more in the 2LP configuration), but the sound is punchy despite the subtle high end. Regardless, it’s great to have Miami restored to availability after so many years of obscurity. We may not have Jeffrey Lee Pierce around anymore, but his band/spawn continues on. – Marsh Gooch

3/5 (Blixa Sounds ETA 843, 2020)

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