Volume 10 already – more than 10 weeks into the new format. I feel it’s going well. At any rate, I’m having fun. Short list this week, as I was busy with real-life things. Only seven titles, but most of them are pretty good. Let’s get to it.
White Zombie, 1996 – Supersexy, Swingin’ Sounds
Nothing fires up your morning like a little White Zombie. This remix compilation reminds me of all the reasons I like this band while at the same time, it struggles to deliver the goods.
Remixes are not without their place, and I’m sure many of these sounded great on Industrial Night at the discotheque. But removed from that environment – and listened to at more modest volumes – these mixes lose something. “More Human Than Human” is still great. “Blur The Technicolor” sounds like a Ministry tribute (in the best way possible). “Grease Paint And Monkey Brains” retains its almost palpable menace.
So I’m not saying that these tracks are unlistenable or even unenjoyable. But while the best remixes should enhance the original in some way, these often seem to add elements to the source material that somehow detract from what made the songs so excellent in the first place.
I listen to bands like White Zombie for their pure energy and raw power. When those elements get distilled down to repetitive phrases – whether musical phrases or vocal phrases – the end result loses some of that urgency.
And while it may sound like I’m slagging this off, the record gets high marks from me. There is plenty to enjoy on this disc, but I’d take the album versions over the remixes any day of the week.
Heavy D & The Boyz, 1994 – Nuttin’ But Love
The first cut on this disc is more than five minutes long and is set up like a string of answering machine messages with a long list of hip-hop luminaries leaving a voicemail saying why they love Heavy. I don’t get this – I already bought the album; I don’t need a bunch of rappers telling me why I should love the guy whose album I just bought.
Admittedly, they have a point. This is Heavy D. And while the production on this mid-90s album has been updated for the new decade, the rhyme and flow of the original Mr. Big Stuff are still in full effect. Singles like the title cut and “Black Coffee” shine alongside should’ve-been-singles like booty mover “This Is Your Night.” Heavy proves himself adept at the slow jam, too, with the “Got Me Waiting” remix providing a little baby-making music.
Heavy & The Boyz excel at making their album sound like a party. And it’s a family-friendly party, at that – no cursing, misogyny, or violence on this record. Even the hit “Sex Wit U” is about getting to know the object of his desire. “Spend A Little Time On Top” gets a little racy, but still nothing you couldn’t play on Top 40 radio; it would also make for a great dance floor grinder.
Twenty-five years on and this music hasn’t lost a step. Listening to this album today for the first time it’s easy to see why the old-timers say that today’s rappers suck. As with all generalizations, there are exceptions, of course, but I can’t think of anyone out there now who’s doing what Heavy was doing back then.
Wreckx-N-Effect, 1992 – Hard Or Smooth
“Rump Shaker” is sort of the whole reason for this record, a single so huge it eclipsed all of the other good work done on this album, similar to “The Humpty Dance” or “I’m Too Sexy,” massive hits that completely overshadowed the LPs from which they were released, even though they came from great albums.
Run-on sentences aside, there’s a lot to like about WnE’s sophomore effort. And while “Rump Shaker” might be the reason to buy the record, the crew provides plenty of reasons to listen to the album. They keep the tempo and energy high, making this a fun and feel-good record through-and-through.
They play thug on a couple tracks and try to play sexy on a couple others. Those attempts might have flown in 1992 but now both postures have been done better by others and these throwback efforts are more amusing than anything else.
The album is best when it maintains a straight party vibe, which it does most of the time. And almost thirty years on, these beats are still enough to keep the rumps shakin’.
Grover Washington, 1980 – Winelight
I hate to be dismissive, but this comes off as elevator music to me. Grover Washington is obviously a proficient sax player, but there’s no real soul or emotion in this music. The opening title cut is just so much sonic wallpaper. It would go great with a bottle of white zinfandel.
I like a lot of jazz – Miles, Coltrane, Mingus – but I’m not feeling anything from this album. This was released at the tail end of the disco era and there is some faint attempt at funk here and there and Marcus Miller’s bass is often the highlight of any given song. The rest seems a bit by-the-numbers with no real inspiration behind it.
I’m the first to admit that I’m not a musician and they could very well be doing things that I don’t hear or have the knowledge to pick up on. That said, I just know some of those other jazz musicians I mentioned are doing things I can’t understand but that’s exactly what draws me into their music. So maybe that’s why this doesn’t appeal to me – maybe everything is on the surface without any real depth and I prefer jazz to be challenging.
I’ll cop to digging AM radio soft rock classic “Just The Two Of Us” featuring and co-written by the inimitable Bill Withers. As the sole vocal track in this disc, it’s a welcome respite from the tepid sludge that comprises the rest of the music.
I’ve always said, white zinfandel is wine for people who don’t like wine. I recommend opening a bottle, lighting a scented candle, and putting on this album, which is jazz for people who don’t like jazz.
Various, 1990 – Red Hot + Blue
The first of the Red Hot series of benefit discs released in the latter part of the last century, this collection of Cole Porter covers was released to benefit AIDS sufferers. It was an enormous success.
While opener “I’ve Got U Under My Skin” is leveraged as a horrible bit of wordplay, Neneh Cherry’s hip-hop remake is an interesting take. Highlights include Sinéad O’Connor’s angelic take on “You Do Something To Me” and Fine Young Cannibals surprisingly jazzy take on “Love For Sale.”
Iggy Pop & Debbie Harry team up for a suitably rockin’ remake of “Well Did You Evah!” and The Pogues join Kirsty MacColl to tear through a medley of “Miss Otis Regrets/Just One Of Those Things.” David Byrne gets weird on “Don’t Fence Me In.” Likewise, Tom Waits on “It’s All Right With Me.”
Lés Negresses Vertes do a wonderfully campy “I Love Paris.” Annie Lennox and k.d. lang are typically excellent playing the role of chanteuse, as are Jody Watley and Lisa Stansfield. Thompson Twins and Erasure add a bit of electronica to the mix. And Aztec Camera closes out the program with a hear-wrenching “Do I Love You.”
Overall, an excellent collection and greater than the sum of its parts. There are a few numbers that aren’t quite my bag, but that’s to be expected. It’s clear that everyone involved brought their A-game, reverent with the source material, but not afraid to make it their own. Strongly recommended.
Super Doppler, 2019 – Super Doppler
I find it tricky to write about my favorite bands without coming off as sycophantic. That’s an issue I’m running into with Super Doppler’s eponymous sophomore effort.
I’ve been a fan since they were Major & The Monbacks and they had a horn section. Two-plus albums in (there was also an M&tM album and EP, as well as a Super Secret Singles EP from early 2018), they’ve pared down to a five-piece made up of two pairs of brothers and multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Harry Slater.
The heavy Beatles influence has (not entirely) dissipated since 2017’s Moonlight Anthems. This year’s model finds them still deeply entrenched in psychedelia, but with respectful nods toward southern rock on a handful of tracks, including preview single “Missed The Runway.”
“You Don’t Love Me” brings to mind ‘60s girl-group harmonies. “You Bring Me Down” is this album’s “Lucy In The Sky.” “Someone Is Watching You” features a lead vocal modeled after McCartney’s best. (I’m hoping that “Danny (Is A Nice Guy)” shows up on the inevitable Super Doppler Super Deluxe release.)
This album has an instant-classic feel about it. Between the vocal harmonies throughout, the arrangements, and the songwriting, you’ll swear you’ve heard at least some of these songs before. And it’s not that they’re copying styles, because they don’t really sound like anyone else. But they know how to appropriate the best tricks of the trade from decades of musicians and combine them into something uniquely their own.
This was a digital release for five or six weeks before I got my CD last week, so I’ve been champing at the bit to post about this album. Get out and get a copy – you can thank me later.
Various, 1990 – Wild At Heart Soundtrack
It’s been decades since I saw this movie and I don’t remember the soundtrack, so this is a fresh experience. I feel like this is the album that “broke” Chris Isaak. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but I don’t remember hearing of him before “Wicked Game” was used in this movie. Still a fantastic song and one of the many highlights here.
The Angelo Badalamenti tracks are as good as anticipated. Classics like “Be-Bop-A-Lula,” “Baby Please Don’t Go,” and “Smoke Rings” add familiar flavor to the whole mix. Blues giant Koko Taylor lays it down smooth and smoky on “Up In Flames.”
And finally, the Nic Cage covers of Elvis hits “Love Me” and “Love Me Tender” are great. It’s hard to remember the Nic Cage from 30 years ago, before all the terrible role choices and memes… before the internet. He treats these covers lovingly and with reverence, doing a more than serviceable job with both.
Now I’m of a mind to revisit the film, as well, since I remember almost nothing about it. In the meantime, the soundtrack will have to hold me over.
I’m headed into the last vacation week of the summer, so I don’t know how much of that will be devoted to listening to CDs – it might be a couple of weeks before Volume 11 hits the shelves. In the meantime, thanks for reading, and I welcome all of your comments below. And as always, keep those discs spinning.