Hello, my treacherous friends. Welcome back, or just plain welcome if this is your first visit here. I only got through nine titles this week, and two of them were singles, so it’s a bit of a shorter column today, but I had a couple of On This Day articles this week, so if you’re starved for record reviews, just skip back a couple entries.
Another reason for the shorter list is that while I am listening to every CD I own, I’m not writing about every CD I own – specifically, in the past week, I listened to Best Of collections from Wings and Hank Williams, the latter a two-disc set. Both were excellent collections but that’s expected from a Greatest Hits compilation and I’m willing to bet that you already know if you like Hank & Paul and you don’t need my opinion on the matter. And I listened to a classical album from Laserlight Digital. It wasn’t very good quality, but I don’t know nearly enough about classical music to try to write about it intelligently.
Enough preface – have some Retro Record Reviews:
Count To Infinity, 2001 – Exploding Plastic Inevitable
Alas, this obscurity isn’t on Spotify. A few weeks ago, the one other album by Count To Infinity shuffled it’s way to the top of my stacks (HMTF 1.14). In 2000 he styled the name as Count 2 Infinity, and I was impressed enough with the first album that I sought out this follow up from the following year.
I’ll say that it lives up to expectations – no better, no worse. Given how much I enjoyed the first disc, meeting expectations is a considerable feat. After an avant garde electronic “Introduction,” we’re treated to a fairly rote take on VU’s “Sunday Morning.” It’s the lesser of the two covers on the album, the second being the more stylistically appropriate take on Flock Of Seagulls’ “Space Age Love Song,” presented here as a disco/techno club powerhouse.
In my review of the first C2I album, I made the comparison to Pet Shop Boys and that holds true here. The excellent single “Popism” sounds just like one of Chris & Neil’s anthems and if someone had played it for me and told me it was a mid-90s PSB outtake, I’d have had no reason to think otherwise. This leads into “Edie Magick” which, if anything, sounds more like Pet Shop Boys than “Popism” does. “China Blue” could be an homage to Erasure with synthesized strings and a vocal performance that makes a valiant attempt at soaring like Andy Bell’s.
Count To Infinity is not without his own sound and style but he does tend to wear his influences on his synth-colored sleeve. His sound, however, is one that had passed by at that point in popular music history. While EDM has certain immutable commonalities from one era to the next, the production choices on this disc are of a decidedly ‘90s bent while being released at the dawn of the new millennium. I think it sounds great, but I can imagine it sounded instantly dated when it was released.
“Plastichead” veers toward trip-hop but then decides on a trippy sound-collage that never really resolves. “Lily, The World Is Vile” has a title like something off of Bowie’s Outside but sonically sounds like a Brian Wilson & Moby collaboration. And the second half of the disc is decidedly less pop-oriented and takes on a trippy, experimental flavor on cuts like “Moon Child Returns” with its pads and processed vocals.
If some of my comments here sound derisive or derogatory, they’re not meant to. Comparing a little-known act to well-established musicians is an easy shorthand; likewise, saying “90s synth-pop” conjures a specific sound that should be fairly relatable to any reader of a certain age. The fact is, I enjoyed the first Count 2 Infinity disc enough to seek out the second, and I like this one just as much.
Luscious Jackson, 1996 – Fever In Fever Out
The opening cut on this album, “Naked Eye,” was the band’s only charting single. Despite the lack of commercial success, I recall Luscious Jackson having something of a cult following in the ‘90s even if I never ended up hearing any of their music. I must say, if I only had that one single from which to judge, I’d say that following was well-deserved and much more – it is a super-catchy pop-rap hybrid that I’ve heard few others do as well. I could draw comparisons to Cibo Matto, G. Love, or Northern State but while they might all fall loosely under that pop-rap sub-genre none of them really sound alike.
The second track on the album, “Don’t Look Back” puts forth a sweet, laid back, dream-pop vibe over an eight-note loop and a tambourine. The album title comes from “Mood Swing,” the third song, a low-key, softly crooned rap backed by synthetic vibraphone and jazzy drumming. The album changes style from song to song, “Under My Skin” being a Breeders-like indie-pop song with fuzzy guitar and seething vocals, “One Thing” offering up a groovy funkability with its bongos and bass.
For some reason I had, over the past couple of decades, gotten into my head that Luscious Jackson sounded something like The Donnas, but that was so far wide of the mark that I’m now wondering how that notion ever came to be. The Donnas has a raw, punkrockesque vibe while Luscious Jackson has a much more polished sound, almost a neo-lounge feel to a lot of the songs on this disc.
It’s always funny, in the course of listening to stacks and stacks of CDs to come across a disc by a band that’s been around for 25 or 30 years and really connect with the music even if I’ve never heard it before. Discovering The Beautiful South was like that last week, as was hearing The Smithereens for the first time last year. I’ll add Luscious Jackson to the list – I really dig the sound of this album and I’m looking forward to hearing more by them.
Forty Foot Echo, 2003 – Forty Foot Echo
With the exception of one song here, the four-and-a-half minute closer “Beside Me,” every song on the self-titled Forty Foot Echo debut comes in under four minutes. They feel much longer – and this is both a good and a not-as-good thing. The band packs a ton of sound into each track, anguished vocals over loud guitars and pounding drums. There’s also quite a bit of the quiet-loud-quiet dynamic going on with certain songs so they seem to stretch on longer when there are five or six distinct segments to the track. I also have to say that the songs seem longer than they are because they aren’t particularly interesting.
Musically, the songs are fine – loud riff-happy guitars and aggressive drums, all recorded for maximum impact. But then you get the laboring vocals stacked on top of all of that, saying boring, trite stuff like l, “You’re my sickness / You’re my weakness / You’re my peace of mind…” and it’s all just so generic that I tune it all out. Nothing offensive in the lyrics or atonal in the music, but those things would actually be welcomed as a change from this by-the-numbers recitation.
It’s well-established that this kind of turn-of-the-century hard rock isn’t really my forte (with a few surprising exceptions) and I think this album probably isn’t even as good as, say, Siamese Dream (HMTFv2.01) or Purple (HMTFv1.04), so there’s not much I can say to recommend it. It had a couple singles, but I don’t recognize either of them. In the end, I will forget all about Forty Foot Echo as soon as the last note strikes and I move on to the next disc.
Gerald Levert, 2002 – The G Spot
Okay, before I get into this album, I have to address a couple things, namely that title and the album cover. Look, I have never been accused of being a prude, but come on. There’s no subtlety or seduction or even cleverness in naming your album The G Spot just because your first name starts with that particular letter. And that album cover is some straight-up Ohio Players shit – a lithe and lovely woman, barely dressed, back arched in sexual anticipation – and then that image juxtaposed as its own mirror image so it appears this young lady is about to engage in auto-69. Again, not a prude, but aren’t we supposed to be a little more aware of this sort of thing in the new millennium? Of the two, I think it’s the title that I find more grating.
I can’t decide what I think of the music. It is primarily unadorned R&B with only a couple of songs featuring guest stars. Mystikal spits a few bars on opener “Too Much Room” but I think his rap might be the best part of the song. “Wilding Me Out” has a great vocal hook that reminds me of P.M. Dawn in the best possible way. “Funny” is a great single and “The Top Of My Head” features a sweet falsetto from Mr. Levert and deserves a spot on your Baby Makin’ Music playlist.
Meanwhile, the title track – yes, there’s a song called “The G Spot” – is excruciating, with the vocal chorus crooning, “Welcome to my lair…” which just serves to ramp up the creepiness by a factor of ten. And then he starts to, graphically and clumsily, describe what he’d like to do with his partner before the bridge where we are treated to the sounds of – there’s no real delicate way to say this – Gerald Levert fucking, only with no female accompaniment, so who knows what we’re really supposed to be imagining during this interminable interlude. This song is awful… and goes out with Gerald speaking over an acoustic guitar, his final words being, “You got me screaming like a little girl,” which can’t be good for anyone. It’s hilarious.
Highlights on the second half of the disc include “Raindrops” and “Your Smile,” the latter being my favorite track on the disc with its string section and doo-wop harmonies. Overall, though, this record is a pretty uneven affair. There are a handful of great cuts but they are offset by mediocre or outright bad numbers that drag down the overall listenability of the disc.
Wyclef Jean, 1997 – Gone Till November
This is the only song by Wyclef Jean that I know well, and I dig it. When I found the remix single on CD for a couple bucks, I figured I’d check it out.
The disc leads with “Gone Till November (The Makin’ Runs Remix)” which is a lot different than the album version with which I’m familiar. I’m used to remixes fleshing out the original with some bonus beats, maybe an extended instrumental break added in, something to keep the dancers on the floor. Hip-hop remixes seem to be a different beast, with additional “guest stars” brought in and whole new verses added to the song. Such is the case here; where the original was a semi-tragic ghetto ballad, the remix featuring R. Kelly, Canibus, and Khadejia Bass is a darker drugs’n’death rap with just the Wyclef Jean chorus remaining partially intact.
The single’s b-side is “No Airplay,” a pre-BLM indictment of police brutality and racial profiling. Wyclef raps competently over a minimalist backing track. It’s not bad but doesn’t offer any real solutions apart from “If you want peace, make Wyclef chief of police.” In all fairness, no one has come up with a better solution in the 20 years since.
After a couple obligatory instrumental versions, the disc closes with “Gone Till November (Pop Version)” which varies slightly from the original album version. I definitely prefer this to the remix which opens the disc, and it’s great to revisit an old single after a couple of years.
Various, 1998 – Hear. Here.
I don’t do a lot of reviews of compilations – I skipped a “Best of” this week from both Wings and Hank Williams – but this 1998 sampler from V2 records and local indie record store chain Newbury Comics was prime for a once over.
It starts with “Sun Beats Down,” a charming piano-laden piece of McCartneyesque pop from The High Llamas. I’ve heard of the band but never heard anything from them. This one track has me curious to learn more.
Addict offers up the hard rock, post-grunge, loud-quiet-loud of “Monster Side.” It’s one of those songs that, on paper, I should hate, but which ends up with the proper combination of ingredients to make for an enjoyable dish.
We get a powerful cover of Neil Young’s “Old Man” by N’Dea Davenport that brings a little soul and hints of funk to a classic rock standard. Chocolate Genius track “Half A Man” features those anguished grungy vocals I dislike, but then The Love Babies show up with the raucous and creepy “Explore” and make everything weirdly right again.
“A Waste Of Things To Come” is a hard rock onslaught by One Minute Silence that sounds like Rage Against The Machine, Metallica, and Limp Bizkit had a baby together and they named it Awesome. “Wish We Never Met” is a sweetly romantic Sheryl Crow clone from Kathleen Wilhoite and it’s much better than it has any right to be.
“Red” by 12 Rods is a very decent piece of sonic urgency. Mandalay takes a late-90s-Madonna-meets-Portishead approach on the gauzy and atmospheric “This Life” and the song is every bit as amazing as that description makes it sound. Stereophonics adhere to their typical bratty post-punk on “Local Boy In The Photograph,” with predictable results. The disc ends with Richard Davies and his oddly titled “Confederate Cheerio Call,” a mellow, semi-folk, mostly acoustic number that walks more than rocks, strolls more than rolls, but still finds its way through a pleasant five-and-a-half minutes.
This sort of sampler used to be where I found 90% of my new music in the pre-internet days and it is always a treat to stumble on one I’ve never heard before when I’m cruising the thrifts. They’re not all exquisitely curated, but the good ones far outweigh the bad, and they’re still turning me on to new bands.
Tori Amos, 1996 – Hey Jupiter
I’ve recently become a Tori Amos fan and you can track that conversion through a series of reviews on this site (HMTFv1.04 & HMTFv1.12). It wasn’t through any special effort on my part – I ended up with a few of her CDs through my normal channels and found, much to my surprise, that I actually like her music now, whereas in my twenties, maybe not so much.
I’ve also got a love of singles in CD format, so I grabbed her Hey Jupiter single when I found it at the local thrifty. More like an EP at five songs, the lead track is listed as “Hey Jupiter (The Dakota Version).” I don’t know the original version, but Wikipedia had a decent write up on the differences.
The rest of the disc is live tracks, including versions of “Sugar,” “Honey” (an outtake from Under The Pink), “Professional Widow” (with which this EP shares its cover art), and a cover of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” Despite my recent fandom, I am not familiar enough with any of these songs to recognize them (except the last one). “Sugar” and “Honey” are very good. The Merry Widow Version of “Professional Widow” gets a bit unwieldy, although it beautifully shows off how powerful Tori’s voice is. And “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” is an excellent cover version but nearly gets derailed by some dickhead in the audience shouting during the early portion of the performance.
I don’t see myself revisiting this disc very often, but I did slide three of the cuts into my Live playlist in iTunes so they may come up from time to time.
10,000 Maniacs, 1990 – Hope Chest
I wasn’t ever a big fan of this band. They had a couple good tunes from their first two records, but I didn’t follow them into the new decade. This record doesn’t make a strong case that I should have. It was released in 1990 but is compiled from earlier releases that predate their 80s radio successes.
First off, the instrumentation on the opening song, “Planned Obsolescence” is so obnoxious that I nearly skip it. There is some weird, wobbly note that keeps coming and going throughout the song and it is so distracting that I can’t even pay attention to Natalie Merchant’s lyrics. It is followed by the reggae inflections of “The Latin One” which also features some wobbly-sounding guitar. I’m not digging it.
Fortunately, from these inauspicious beginnings, the record moves forward into the Maniacs’ signature inoffensive soft rock. This is much more tolerable but it’s not lighting any fires, either. There’s a return to reggae for “National Education Week,” but it’s not as excruciating as the earlier example.
This is clearly a document from an act that still hadn’t found their artistic identity – or maybe their commercial identity. It’s got some good moments, like “Orange” and “Grey Victory,” but overall it’s too uneven to be enjoyable.
Toby Keith, 1999 – How Do You Like Me Now?!
I haven’t always been a country music fan and longtime readers will have noticed that I’m still pretty critical of a fair deal of crappy pop music masquerading as country. In 2011, Toby Keith had a massive crossover hit with the unapologetically idiotic “Red Solo Cup.” I love that song, so I was looking forward to checking out this earlier release when it came up in my stacks.
It’s definitely more conventionally “country” than “Red Solo Cup.” It’s not bad but it’s not great either. The title track – and #1 single – “How Do You Like Me Now?!” is the sort of loser-made-good story we’ve all heard a bunch of times, perhaps most recently from Imagine Dragons and Post Malone. “New Orleans” is maybe the best track on the album, a lovely story-song about starting over and facing down demons; it highlights Toby Keith’s vocal chops over organ and drums.
“Country Comes To Town” is a honky-tonk rocker that is tons of fun. Conversely, “Heart To Heart” is a sappy love song about his wife and son that doesn’t bring anything to the table. “Die With Your Boots On” gets back to proper shit-kickin’ music.
Unexpectedly, the country ballads far outnumber the uptempo tracks on this record. And though I mentioned the mid-tempo “New Orleans” as a favorite, the truth is that most of the slow numbers just don’t hold my interest. Unfortunately, this keeps the album from achieving any sort of momentum and by the end it feels like it just peters out rather than going out with a bang.
That’s all I’ve got for you this week. Frankly, with a couple of exceptions, it was an underwhelming week in music reviews – not just the smaller-than-usual number of albums, but in my overall enthusiasm for what I was hearing. I’m hoping to do better next week.
As always, thank you for reading!
Please click the follow button and, if you enjoy what you’re reading, like and share it with a friend. As always, leave a comment and let me know what you agree on and what I screwed up.
Until next time, keep those discs spinning.