blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
And it's finger popping.
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Coming off the rocking success of "Eat To The Beat," Blondie hit 1980 ready to do whatever struck their fancy. The result, "AutoAmerican,' was a hodgepodge of styles, everything from disco, rap, rock, cabaret, a surprisingly well done showtune from "Camelot," even reggae. The album starts of eclectically enough, with the mostly instrumental drone of "Europa," which ends with Debbie Harry robotically speaking about phase gridlock and being left on your rims. Getting that out of their systems quickly enough, "AutoAmerican" breaks into a disco groove with "Live It Up," which seemed, in comparison the such monsters as "Heart Of Glass" and "Call Me," a bit tepid.

Which sets the tone for much of "AutoAmerican." Blondie was so all over the map that many of the songs kind of pale in comparison to other songs from earlier albums. The hits off the album itself show those flaws in sharp relief. The number one "The Tide Is High" (a cover of a Jamaican band called The Paragons) took reggae and used Harry's breathless vocal to make a striking pop song that stuck to the roof of your brain like the best of their singles. Then there was the truly unique "Rapture," in which a mostly underground and novelty form of music suddenly found itself at number one. It could easily be the first rap/rock crossover single. and still holds up remarkably well after over three decades.

One of the things missing from "AutoAmerican" was the rock. There's nothing here to compare to the explosive "Dreaming" or the muscle of "The Hardest Part" from just one album back. There are a couple tries, like the wild abandon in "Walk Like Me" and the horn driven "Go Through It." It also shows up on the bonus tracks, where the extended version of the number one "Call Me" blows away many of "AutoAmerican's" weaker moments. Harry was at Force 10 against Giorgio Morodor's Eurodisco pumping pulse. Which means that the best of the album are the singles, one of which is a bonus track. It didn't much matter at this point as the band was beginning to splinter (Frank Infante had to sue to be on the album) and the limp "The Hunter" would quietly close this chapter on Blondie. (They've made a couple of very strong reunion albums, including "No Exit" and "Panic Of Girls" in the new century, however.)



   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Getting up in Morrissey's Business
4 Out Of 5 Stars

After setting the record straight with his "Autobiography," Morrissey turns up the guitars and waxes lyrically in the way only he can. "World Peace is None Of Your Business." He's still railing away about apathy, vegetarianism, and unrequited love, It may also be his most guitar heavy album since the classic "Your Arsenal." Longtime cohort Boz Booher is given chords to crunch and leads to distort all across "World Peace," yet Morrissey leaves room for castanets and accordion (an outright solo on "Earth is The Lonliest Planet" and underpinnings of "The Bullfighter Dies," another pro-animal rights screed).

This is a fun album, because Moz sounds like he's having fun singing. Only on "I Am Not A Man" does he come off as strident, but it's very much a statement of purpose than any song he's done in quite awhile. Howling against jocks, meat eaters and those who'd destroy the planet, it also clocks in at nearly eight minutes, the longest song on "World Peace." Many of the songs are vintage Morrissey, like "Staircase At The University," (in which a despondent student kills herself over the admonishments of a disciplinarian father and snobbish boyfriend while a flamenco guitar solos away) and "Kiss Me A Lot," which add a touch of jangle pop to the album.

If you want to herald his return (it's been five years since "Years Of Refusal"), go ahead. But for those of us who thrill to a lyric like:

World peace is none of your business.
Police will stun you with their stun guns
Or they'll disable you with tasers.
That's what government's for,
Oh, you poor little fool.

Then this will feel like the Morrissey many of us have come to know and love.



   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
I bear more grudges than lonely high court judges (remastered version review)
5 Out Of 5 Stars

After the glitter bomb that was "Your Arsenal," Morrissey decided to slow the pace a bit. "Vauxhall and I" was a much more languid and consistently paced album than any other solo albums. In fact, the guitars frequently hide in the background to allow more more Morrissey's ironic and witty lyrics to come to the fore. This was also one of Morrissey's most successful American albums, even managing to have a scrape of the top 40 with the single " The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get."

Just because the tempo had slowed down, that certainly didn't mean that Morrissey was showing any signs of mellowing out. His literate wit and self depreciating personality frequently shine through. He even dips a toe into progressive rock with a whispered "Lifeguard Sleeping, Girl Drowning." His literary references, be they "Billy Budd" or the World War II denial of the "Lazy Sunbathers," again offer proof that the 80s had a few wordsmiths as clever as Morrissey was. This 20th anniversary edition of "Vauxhall and I" reminds us just how potent Morrissey is at his very best.

The bonus live concert from the period shows just how reinvigorated Morrissey was at the time of this album. Energetic and buoyant, the guitars that had been relegated to the background moved to the foreground. Morrisey gives a delicious, more playful reading to a variety of songs, giving "Billy Budd" more force and making "The More You Ignore Me" into jangle pop. It's a fine complement to "Vauxhall and I's" seemingly mature attitude. The remastering itself is one of those that actually highlights passages you may have missed in the original version. As such this nearly flawless album has a version that is a must own.



   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
It's a Steal
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Having suddenly discovered what success tasted like, The Motels were more than willing to re-mine the same vein. "Little Robbers" kicked off just like its predecessor; "Where Do We Go From Here" is all but carbon copied from All Four One's "Mission of Mercy." But where "Only The Lonely" was the breakthrough ballad, this time, "Suddenly Last Summer" was the stunner and upped the ante of that first hit. Much like The Police's "Every Breath You Take," "Suddenly Last Summer" was a pitch perfect slice of radio pop. Martha Davis' sultry vocals work their magic on the hook-laden melody. It deservedly became The Motels' second (and final) top 10 hit.

The album also knocked off a second solid single with "Remember The Nights." Problem was, after the singles, "Little Robbers" was not as solid as "All Four One." There was even a groaner with "Isle of You," and some generic AOR stuff that hasn't held up so well. The best of the album can be found on The Essential Collection, much like their final album, Shock. Some really good stuff here, with Martha Davis remaining one of the 80's more charismatic female vocalists.

As for the remaster, like many of the Culture Factory re-issues, it leans toward loud and over-compressed. So if you have that old One-Way reissue from the early 2000's, don't let go of it just yet.



     
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Checking In at The Five Star Motels
5 Out of 5 Stars

It is one of those stories that became all too prevalent in the 80's; decent band is forced to compromise for mega-success. Martha Davis and The Motels suddenly found themselves on the brink of stardom, and their record company didn't like the album they had prepared. An ultimatum was issued - go back into the studio with a producer of Capitol's choosing and his session hacks for a redo or no deal. The band swallowed hard (and nearly disintegrated). Val Garay (who had worked on the original sessions) delivered the keyboard dominated new sessions and "All Four One" was the result.

The final album treads a very fine line between arena rock and the edgy, arty new-wave the first two Motels albums were focused on. Only "Art Fails" and "Apocalypso" (the original album titles) sound like they came from that period. But the polished up Motels also brought lead singer Martha Davis into an even sharper focus, making the torchy "Only The Lonely" into the band's signature hit. The other two radio draws here; "Mission of Mercy" and "Take The L," pulled down radio play and established not only the Motels, but the crossover sound of safe New Wave. As such, "All Four One" is a classic album from the early 80's, helping to usher in a new sound.

There were also a pair of surprises here. Martha turned jazzy for the haunting "Change Your Mind," a major departure for The Motels' albums. The second was the inclusion of an obscure but controversial Carole King/Gerry Goffin song that Phil Spector produced for The Crystals, "He Hit Me and It Felt Like a Kiss." An ambiguously angry song about relationship abuse (or a cheeky ode to SM, take your pick), the original song was released as a single and subsequently blacklisted from radio. It makes its selection as a cover on "All Four One" all the odder, seeing as the band was fighting Capitol to record an album that would be commercially more viable than the "Apocalypso" sessions had yielded. As such, it was pretty much a backhand to the suits and helped The Motels maintain a semblance of edge.

Granted, the sudden success made the band all the more eager to stay safe (Little Robbers is almost a carbon copy of this and even cleaner). However, there are still plenty of reasons to like "All Four One." The remaster will drive audiophiles nuts as the compression really flattens and over compresses the percussion in particular, but I'm glad just to finally have this CD back in my library.



   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Last Year's Model
2 Out Of 5 Stars

The 1987 swan song of the original Cars lineup delivered this album after their high watermark of "Heartbeat City" and after members had been establishing solo careers. That "Door To Door" sounds uninspired and not crackling with the imaginative songs that previous Cars albums did can be blamed on the separations or just the fatigue of being highly successful, but the material just doesn't measure up to previous standards. It makes "Door to Door" the Edsel of The Car's original six albums.

It's not for a lack of trying. The lead single "You Are The Girl" has all the trademarks of a cool Cars song; there are jangly synths from Greg Hawkes and the typical disjointed and enigmatic lyric from Ric Ocasek. The opening song, "Leave Or Stay" also promises better things, but the album starts falling apart afterwards. There aren't many memorable melodies or snap to the pop, making it even more noteworthy that two of the songs on "Door To Door" predate the 1978 debut ("Leave or Stay" and "Ta Ta Wayo Wayo"). Inspiration just wasn't coming. "Strap Me In" is the best of the rest, but "Door To Door" did not age well, the way other Cars albums have.


    
blackleatherbookshelf: (Santa Brough)
Pitching for the Tantrums
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Possessed with a duo of knock out lead vocalists, Fitz and The Tantrums are the latest band to wear there 80's retro heart on their collective sleeves. But where amny of these retor bands are obsessed with laptops and old Roland synths, Fitz and Company push in a more soul-oriented direction. It moves them a notch above their contemporaries, thanks to bandleader Michael "Fitz" Fitzpatrick and soul belter Noelle Scaggs, When the two of them start mixing it up as they do on "Break The Walls" and the neo-soul of "6AM," "More Then Just a Dream" sounds like few other bands out there.

There's also, as earlier described, a few 80's ringers, and they both happen to be the singles. "Out Of My League" and "Spark" mark their wannabe new waver turf with a big pile of hooks, but they're pedestrian to when the band gets to cooking. They have another secret weapon in multi-instrumentalist James King, who wields a wicked sax on a few of the songs ("6AM," and "The Walker" and is, in my opinion, underutilized here.

From what I understand, Fitz and The Tantrums also have a killer live show, and if they'd up more of the soulful content in their song performances on record, they'd have a killer CD. Still, the songcraft here is first rate, and even the name of the band is a throwback. "More Than Just A Dream" snaps and crackles and comes in on the short end of derivative...lose the too common production and they will be dynamite.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Santa Brough)
Some of them want to be abused
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Coming out of a somewhat obscure new wave band called The Tourists, Dave Stewart took to his band of synthesizers and stole away Annie Lennox to sing atop his chilly architectural constructs. Annie, possessed with the natural soul presence of a diva, breathed life into these compositions like few other synth bands, and when you added a knock out video for the title track, "Sweet Dreams" became a huge hit and made Eurythmics a sensation. Their 1983 sophomore album is a rarity of the period, a synth-pop disc that has held up surprisingly well.

Only Alison Moyet and Yaz came close to matching the ice and fire dynamics of Dave and Annie. Stewart had enough skills as both an instrumentalist and producer that he could make Annie exude the warmth that his songs didn't naturally evoke. So when Annie invokes a sarcastic kiss-off on "I Could Give You a Mirror," she manages to be a cool customer and at the same time she burns off her ex (it's also interesting to note that she and Stewart were ex lovers). Then there's the classic single, pulsing with energy and Annie's soulful voice, followed soon after by "Love Is a Stranger." As chilly as the new wave arrangements may have been, Stewart knew his way around a good hook. Annie could also be very soulful, to the point where the remake of Isaac Hayes' "Wrap It Up" comes off less ironic than you would expect.

"Sweet Dreams" lags a little bit in its final couple of songs, but what comes before more than makes up for it. Annie would become an even more expressive a singer as the band began running up hits, but "Sweet Dreams" is as good a calling card as they came in the MTV era.

As for the bonus cuts, the remixes are OK. The B-Sides are experimental but not worth a second listen, and the best of the bunch is a solid take on Lou Reed's "Satellite Of Love."


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Gunpowder and Roses
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Bridging the worlds between Beatlesque power pop and Who worshiping British Invasion rock, The Smitherrens looked like they were the next great rock and roll hope to spring from the wilds of NJ. With a string of powerful and dark jangle-pop singles, it sounded like they'd make good on that promise. They also brought in other instruments (vibes on "Blue Period" featuring Go Go Belinda Carlilse) and strings on their highest charting pop hit, "Too Much Passion." "Blown To Smithereens" is one of those great compilations; a CD filled with what sounds like classic singles from a band that only charted two, and they peaked in the low 30's.

When Dennis Diken (drums), Jim Babjak (guitar), Mike Mesaros (bass) and Pat DiNizio (vocal, guitar) had their attack down, they literally did a blow-up of rock radio. "Blood and Roses" may be one of the darkest hits to straddle college radio and contemporary radio, When they found their way to a major label (Capitol), they got the promotional muscle to drive "Green Thoughts" to gold status "Smithereens 11" brought them a pop single in "A Girl Like You" and their highest charting album. In addition, you'll find DiNizio powering his way through should be classics like "Blood and Roses" (in my opinion, a masterpiece of the 80's), "Behind The Wall of Sleep" about getting a girl with "hair like Jeannie Shrimpton back in 1965" who "stood just like Bill Wyman," and a decent back to the barband roots joyous cover of "Time Won't Let Me."

Guitarist Babjack could fire off great solos, like on "Behind a Wall Of Sleep" and "Blood and Roses," with the band keeping rock steady behind him. The camaraderie put some other bands to shame, and they sounded like a band of brothers. "Blown To Smithereens" packs 16 songs onto its shiny CD, and there's nary a dud in the batch. They should have been megastars.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
This is a Public Service Announcement...With Guitars!
5 Out of 5 Stars

Way back when, some muckity muck in the CBS Records Promo Department had the brilliant idea to slap a sticker across covers of the new Clash double LP that read "The Only Band That Matters." Even if the rest of the artists on the CBS roster might have been wondering a hearty WTF were they, chopped liver moment, but in 1979, The Clash actually felt like they could be that band. The band that all the hopes and dreams of rock and roll prophets whispered about in dark rooms when they quietly mused to themselves that a savior would be born unto them, bearing loud electric guitars, politically savvy lyrics and swagger that would never end. In 1979, it really felt like The Clash just might be that band. Hence, the 5 stars for The Singles.

But we all know how those kind of dreams end up. When Joe Strummer and Paul Simonon kicked Mick Jones out of the band and recorded "Cut The Crap," the world suddenly gave a collective yawn, and the general consensus to "Cut The Crap" was somebody, please pull the plug. But from 1979 to 1985, The Clash charged forth with revolutionary single after single often attached to stunning albums. If you don't have "London Calling," stop reading this review and order it now. They may not have been the best singers or the most proficient musicians, but that didn't stop them from playing fast, loud and even early on, playing with reggae and other influences than their punk roots might suggest.

So while you get the fury of "Clash City Rockers," you have the single "White Man in Hammersmith Palais," backing up the guitar roar with a reggae tune...both from their ferocious debut. Even more incredible is just how fast The Clash got better at what they were doing. The big riff of "London Calling" was matched by the almost soulful "Train In Vain" (their US breakthrough single). They were also going deeper into other musical forms, soon cutting rap-influenced songs like "The Magnificent Seven" and "This Is Radio Clash." Even as bloated as "Sandinista" was, the singles "Hitsville UK" and the politically charged "The Call Up" could blow you over.

It's interesting that their final, absolute American breakout was arriving as the band was beginning to fracture; "Combat Rock" delivered the remarkable "Rock The Casbah" and the big guitar attack of "Should I Stay or Should I Go." The album cover itself had the band on train tracks, quite literally at a crossroads. But even after splintering, they still could pull one more ace out of "Cut The Crap," the lovely and ironic "This Is England." Then it was over, except for side projects (Big Audio Dynamite being the most successful). But for the 20 singles collected on this The Singles, the final song sums it up. These were "Groovy Times" indeed.


     
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
A great collection of 90's singles!
4 Out Of 5 Stars

This entry into the budget priced "Icon" series features the same track listing as No Doubt's "Singles Collection - 1992 - 2003." So if you already have that set, you can pass on buying this CD and from reading the accompanying review. Otherwise, read on, gentle rocker.

Remember around 1996 and 1997, the period of the great third wave ska revival? All these southern California bands that were aping two-tone bands from the eighties - like Reel Big Fish and Save Ferris? Like most trends, it was over pretty fast. But it was also the breakthrough of "Tragic Kingdom" by No Doubt. And while the ska influenced pop of "Spiderwebs" and "Just A Girl" may have been the initial attention getters, it was the ballad that took them to the top of the charts. "Don't Speak" was a perfect slice of teenage heartbreak and sounded sweet on the radio. Quite frankly, I wasn't expecting them to go much farther after that.

Was I wrong there! While I have yet to really enjoy any of No Doubt's full length albums, their singles were guilty pleasures on the radio. So while the other one hit wonders from the same period faded away, it was No Doubt that continued to grow and create. In many ways, Gwen Stefani reminds me a lot of that other great girl rock band icon, Debbie Harry. Where No Doubt is undoubtedly a band (like Blondie), it is their front person on whom the attention is primarily focused. And like Blondie, No Doubt kept their punky ethos intact while exploring other sounds (dancehall, new wave, etc.). It made for such sublime singles like "Hella Good" and the inescapable "Hey Baby."

The inclusion of the newly recorded version of Talk Talk's "It's My Life" is a perfect match for No Doubt. It utilizes the band's melding of sounds to a pouty song that's tailor made for Gwen's voice. It puts a strong crown on No Doubt's first decade, and with the Grammy for "Underneath It All," and the successful comeback of "Push and Shove," my guess is there will be plenty of material for the inevitable second Icon of hits.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Soft selling Soft Cell
3 Out 5 Stars

David Ball and Mark Almond came from the school of synthesizer does that came of age in the 80's. That was a category that encompassed everything from the avant-garde Suicide to the easy listening of Naked Eyes. Soft Cell, on that sliding scale was closet to Suicide than any of the others, as Almond's sleazy vocal delivery and Ball's penchant for gothic keys made Soft Cell on of the darker sounding bands of the time.

As the first track on this "20th Century Masters" set, if they'd just made their cover of "Tainted Love" a hit and quit there, they'd have a spot in the history books. But they couldn't stop there. Adding camp to the creepy, they made a dance single of the hit by attaching a breathy cover of the Supremes' hit "Where Did Our Love Go?" of top of it. They may have been trolling the gutter for some of their original songs (like "Sex Dwarf" and Memorabilia"), but they also did so with a wink. It was all a façade, but a really fun one. Thus, with the aforementioned songs, you get another cover attempt at a hit ("What!"), the sweet "Say Hello Wave Goodbye" which was ironic enough that David Grey did a cover if it. Or the controversial "Numbers," which was banned on the BBC for its depiction of gay hustlers.

Ball pretty much went underground when the duo split, but Almond still cuts the occasional solo disc, and they're often very good. The sound here is better than the original albums, and since all most of folks want is "Tainted Love," this is all the Soft Cell you'll likely need.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
I've Got a Picture Here on My Wall
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Coming from the New Romantic movement that also pushed Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet into the pop charts, the Thompson Twins started life as an anarchist-pop band (once numbering up to 8 members and often inviting the audience onstage to play instruments). While this all-in approach made for good press and cult status, it didn't do much by way of selling albums. It was only when leader Tom Bailey shed most of the group, kept Joe Leeway and brought on girlfriend Allannah Currie did the Thompson Twins, now a trio, began to gel.

The UK caught on first, as the synth-pop dance hit "In The Name Of Love" became a hot and made waves in US clubs. The LP of ("Quick Step and) Side Kicks" also contained the single "Lies." Both were good singles, but were pretty much indistinguishable from most of the new wave of the time. The CD must have been held in high esteem by the band, as 5 songs from it appear here. But they got better fast and "Into The Gap" featured better songs and tighter arrangements. Bailey took the lead as a soulful singer, and "Hold Me Now" became the Twins' first international smash. "Into The Gap" was a watershed for Thompson Twins, as the dance single "Doctor Doctor," the Middle eastern vibe of the title song and the dramatically uplifting "You Bring Me Up" all became hits. Of 16 songs on this CD, 5 are from "In The Gap."

The Twins wasted no time on the follow-up, "Here's To Future Days." The powerful "Lay Your Hands On Me" and the fun "King for a Day" both cracked the top ten, and gospel inspired "Lay Your Hands On Me" could be "Hold Me Now's" equal as the Twins' best single. These were also co-produced by long-time collaborator, the late Alex Sadkin, Bailey, and the then super hot producer Nile Rogers. Critics were also beginning to take notice, as Bailey began to spread his duties around. Three singles from "Future Dream" make it to this CD.

The Thompson Twins began to expand their reach, with the title song to the Tom Hanks/Jackie Gleason dud "Nothing In Common" took the band outside their comfort zone. Bailey also began writing and producing for others, notably writing "I Want That Man" for Debbie Harry. However, the group wasn't changing their sound all that much and the next LP, "Close To The Bone" found Leeway out and only landing "Get That Love" into the top 40. The other song to represent the disc, "Long Goodbye," frankly, sounded tired. They did record two more albums for Warner Brothers to little or no notice.

The Thompson Twins' "Greatest Hits" is a pretty cool reminder of what just a couple of poppy art students could do with a few synths and decent melodies. Stack it with your Thomas Dolby, ABC and Howard Jones best of CDs.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Feel the energy
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Showing nothing if not incredible resilience, Pet Shop Boys continue their third decade with "Electric," an album pointed directly at arty dance floors. Coming of the mostly down-tempo chill of "Elysium," "Electric" should thrill old fans who weren't quite sure what to make of the more introspective point of view on that particular disc. Forget that for now. Spinning with the electronic chill of producer Stuart Price (who helped Madonna mine this same field) and the always dry wit of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, they just keep the beat pumping and toss in reminders of past glories and all-night parties to come.

So when you hear reminders of earlier songs in the likes of "Love Is A Bourgeois Construct" while Tennant sardonically tells an ex that he's "Talking tough and feeling bitter," you know that the Boys are feeling old juices flowing. Even more so, there isn't a slow-down number here. This could almost be mistaken for one of the "Disco" series of albums in that the pace never lets up. I do miss that moment of reflection that many other Pet Shop Boys albums would sneak in, like "Happiness is an Option" (from "Nightlife") or "To Speak is a Sin" (from "Very"), which always felt like a moment of deeper thought slipped in between the moments of ecstatic dancing.

Where "Electric" makes up for that in a stunning manner is the album's cover song, "The Last To Die." Maybe back in the "Born In The USA" days, when Springsteen's singles were remodeled into dance mixes would this seem possible, but The Pet Shop Boys take a protest song about the Irag/Afghanistan wars and whip it up as a dance anthem. It is the most subversive thing on the entire album and proof that Neil and Chris have not forsaken the brilliant irony that made classic albums like "Very," "Actually" and "Behavior" (to this day, "Being Boring" can bring a tear) on an album that all but dares you to get on your feet.

"Electric" is something of a triumph. It became the Pet Shop Boys' highest American charting album in nearly twenty years (hitting #26, with "Very" coming in at #20, and their last album, "Elysium" peaking at #44), and only three other albums charting higher in their whole discography. They've never really gone away, but when you get hit with the line in "Vocal," exuberantly proclaiming "everything about tonight feels right and so young," it's enough to make you glad that they've stuck to their guns for so long.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Abyssmal
1 Out Of 5 Stars

After waiting years, all while clutching my old vinyl and long out of print double CD in my unrelenting grasp, I was really excited that the long awaited digital release of The Producers' two Portrait/CBS albums would be an upgrade to my valued treasures. My LP copy of "You Make The Heat" was signed by the band after I saw them in a small theater in Central PA, where "She Sheila" became a major requested hit.

But this. This is wretched. It's beyond wretched. It's an insult to The Producers and the fans that have anxiously been waiting for "You Make The Heat" and were unable to acquire it any other way. How bad is it? There's digital distortion and drop-outs all over the cursed thing. In the worst violation of a great new-wave classic, "Dear John" sounds like someone took an old, sun baked cassette off a hot dashboard after the car stereo had mangled it and creased up the tape, then posted the results here. I'm not exaggerating. It's that staggeringly awful. One can only hope that someone at CBS or the maybe even band themselves (although my guess is that CBS screwed them out of creative approval long ago) comes in, deletes this demolishment of a terrific album, and replaces "You Make The Heat" with the respect and remastering it deserves.

It pains me to say, but avoid this at all costs. As to The Producers themselves, I'm sorry that, once again, CBS made hash out of your work.

Get a good download of "She Sheila" here.

Addendum: I got an e-mail from the official The Producers' Facebook Community Page informing me that, as I suggested, the band has no control over what CBS does with these albums.



   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
What We All Like
3 Out Of 5 Stars


They may not have been the most original of the skinny-tie bands of the era, but when it came to pure hi-intensity energy, few could beat the 1980 debut album by Detroit's The Romantics. Fusing bar-band guitar fury with power-pop, this album contained the now classic "What I Like About You." While it may not have broken the top 40 for The Romantics themselves, it's become something of a sports-staduim and TV commercial staple.

This was The Romantics' original lineup of singer/guitarist Wally Palmar, singer/drummer Jimmy Marinos, guitarist Mike Skill, and bassist Richie Cole. (Skill would exit after the second album.) This was an album that reveled in the period's quick and dirty recording methods, as the album took a mere three weeks. It made the sound quality a bit spotty, like the way the harmonica overwhelms the audio in "What I Like About You" or the flatness of the drums overall. Still, that couldn't hold back the energy of "When I Look Into Your Eyes" or a cover of Ray Davies' "She's Got Everything." Red leather suits and all, "The Romantics" remains one of the better calling cards in the American New Wave movement.

There are, however, some problems with the Culture Factory re-issue that are frustrating (and drop my rating from an A to a C). At the end of "What I Like About You" and "She's Got Everything," there's a digital hiccup of some sort that repeats a fraction of the second of the song's ending. I therefore can only recommend The Romantics to collectors and completists.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Surf With Me
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Barely out of High School when they got their record deal, Pennsylvania youngsters The Ocean Blue released their 1989 debut in a period when it looked like Central PA might be the next big fertile ground for finding new bands. (After the likes of Live and The Innocence Mission, and a few others.) Their debut was a teenaged dream of loving The Smiths, Echo and The Bunneymen, and a whole bunch of British bands that fed into a glorious shimmering batch of songs.

Kicking of with a mesmerizing guitar figure on "Between Something And Nothing," singer/guitarist David Schelzel wraps his dreamlike voice around the atmospheric synthesizers of Steve Lau, setting up the CD for a series of songs that follow the same roadmap. The other alt-hit from this album, "Drifting Falling," opens with a very Roxy sounding sax line, and a vaporous melody. There are plenty of other dream-pop contenders to be found among the enigmatic song titles and the Morrissey cop "Frigid Winter Days," which is the only problem I ever had with this album.

The Ocean Blue would become more than the sum of their influences of their sophomore album, "Cerulean." However, for lovers of that period when edginess and prettiness walked hand in hand, "The Ocean Blue" stays as listenable today as when these young men first issued it at the turn of a decade.



   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
The 80's Called...
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Ryan Merchant and Sebu Simonian, as Capital Cities, have decided that the best music ever made was done by all those synth-pop duos and bands that jumped out of the early eighties to create massively hooky singles with just a couple of keyboards and maybe a few added guests on the side. When they get it right, as they do on the earworm single "Safe and Sound," they rival the best of them. "In A Tidal Wave Of Mystery" works hard to maintain that level of infectiousness, and succeeds more often than not.

The bulk of "Mystery" bubbles with hooky synth-lines and danceable beats, while having a go at sunshine grooves. When a song about valuing your stereo more than your furniture winds into the disc ("I Sold My Bed But Not My Stereo" - what a great title), you get that Capital Cities are more into having fun than trying to say anything of import. Their one big experiment, "Farrah Fawcett Hair," playfully interjects samples from National Public Radio, a couple of verses via Andre 3000, and then drops a dubstep break in the middle. There's no denying the happy vibe of "Love Away" or "Patience Gets Us Nowhere Fast" as well.

I guess this is the current vogue as, even as I think of early Depeche Mide, OMD or Naked Eyes while listening to "In A Tidal Wave of Mystery," I also can't help but be reminded of more recent offerings from Phoenix, Passion Pit or the debut from MGMT. With those kind of comparisons in mind, "In A Tidal Wave of Mystery" is hardly mysterious at all. It's an enjoyable debut CD, with hopes that Merchant and Simonian can keep the good vibrations coming on future efforts.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Everything's Bigger in Texas,
3 Out Of 5 Stars


Led by the belting voice of Sharleen Spiteri, this Scottish foursome took their love of Ry Cooder (they took their name from their love of Cooder's "Paris, Texas" soundtrack) western style guitar and a penchant for writing big, bold songs, and made "Southside" the closest album they had to an American success. I saw them in 1990 at Philadelphia's legendary Trocadero and became an instant fan. (Sharleen even signed my CD.) One listen to the enigmatic "I Don't Want a Lover" and you'll wonder why these folks couldn't break it big. They were huge in Europe, enough so that you can find a full greatest hits CD.

"Southide" has several good tracks on it, like "Tell Me Why" and "Faith." Imagine the Cowboy Jinkies trying to mate with Simple Minds or U2, and you'll get a feel for what Texas was trying to accomplish. But it was the guitar of Ally McErlaine that help set Texas apart from most other bands (listen to the way he slides his notes on the instrumental title track). Or perhaps the mock-Edge guitar introduction to "Fool For Love." "Southside" may not be a great album, but it does show that Texas deserved better than their American obscurity.


   




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Waves Crashing
4 Out Of 5 Stars

After hiding out for nearly a decade, The Ocean Blue make a confident comeback on "Ultramarine." As impressionistic and dreamy as ever, they make the kind of lush new wave pop that carries its weight on memorable melodies. Given that the band debuted their first album just months after the members graduated high school, it says a lot that the only real change in the band's sound is that lead singer David Schelzel's voice has matured and deepened a little, and he's a much stronger singer than the teenager who first trotted out songs like "Ballerina Out Of Control" way back in the 80's. Heck, he even sounds a little like Paul Simon on "New York 6AM."

Don't expect that to mean "Ultramarine" will have a cover of "Bridge Over Troubled Water." There are still more references to The Smiths and Echo and The Bunnymen (or at their most artsy, Cocteau Twins). Schelzel favors jangle guitars wafting over airy synthesizers while casting about his poetic lyrics. It's just that he's become better at them. "Ultramarine" is actually a better album than "See" and maybe even on a par with "Cerulean." The band seems to know, and revel in the past as they sing "drifting, fall again, but it's different this time" at the beginning of "Latin Blues." Or when they play a little with more sounds of the moment on "A Rose is a Rose."

Given that The Ocean Blue never received much commercial success outside a fanatical cult (only the debut made the Billboard album charts at a measly #155), "Ultramarine" will likely have limited appeal outside that group of devotees. However, this Hershey Pennsylvania combo have proven that you can take your obscurity and make something positive out of it. For a fan like me (only the CD "See" has ever escaped my CD collection), it's heartening to hear what still sounds like a band in their prime, with further glories possibly to arrive.


     


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