March 19, 2014
HISTORY OF MUSIC #12: Men at Work Pt. 2 - Cargo

The following review appeared in a slightly different form as a cassette review at Reglar Wiglar Magazine.

MEN AT WORK

Cargo

(CBS) 1983

Business as Usual was a monster hit for these Aussie lads at the beginning of the 1980s. They won a Grammy in 1982 for “Best New Artist” (aka The Kiss of Death) and it was all down hill from there. There was Cargo though. I was a Men at Work fan in ‘82 and ‘83. After Queen, they were probably my favorite band in junior high school. “Down Under” was a favorite among my Dungeons & Dragons playing friends. How that song ties into role playing games, I couldn’t tell you, but it did. The “Down Under” single, backed with “Crazy”, was one of the first forty-fives I ever bought.  In my 7th grade homeroom class (taught by Mrs. Popp, no lie), we got to bring in records every Friday to play for the class. We only got one side. I brought in “Down Under” but spun the b-side instead. You could hear “Down Under” on the radio 24 times a day, but I wanted to turn some heads onto the other sounds of Men at Work—a hipster DJ in the making!

Cargo saw four singles released. “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” is a decent enough tune. It’s not on par with any of the hits of its Business predecessor, but it was good enough to warrant release as a single. “Overkill,” “It’s a Mistake” and “High Wire” were the other three. Again, not the same caliber of stuff that made Business resonate with the public or made the cash registers ring, but the best of a batch of mediocre stuff nevertheless. The rest of Cargo is pretty forgettable and signaled the end of the Men’s career as hit makers.

Cargo would be followed by Two Hearts in ‘85. That album was met with the critical and commercial disappointment it almost surely deserved.

Discography:

Business As Usual(CBS) 1982

Cargo(CBS) 1983 

Two Hearts (Sony) 1985

It’s a Mistake (Kiosk) 1997

Brazil (Columbia) 1998

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February 28, 2014
Jesse Reklaw’s Graphic Memoir Couch Tag

COUCH TAG by Jesse Reklaw [Fantagraphics] Couch Tag is a new graphic memoir from the artist Jesse Reklaw, his first. While this may be Jesse’s debut in this format, this is hardly his first contribution to the world of comics. Jesse has been drawing and self-publishing comics for several decades. His strip, Slow Wave, in […]

February 23, 2014
HISTORY OF MUSIC #10: The Ramones - Too Tough to Die

THE RAMONES

Too Tough to Die

(Sire) 1984

Not the greatest Ramones record ever ever, but really, have they ever made a bad one? With the Ramones you have to embrace their faults, idiosyncracies, and quirks and love them wart hogs and all. Considering the personalities and disorders at play in the band, any release seems like a miracle in hindsight. Plus, we got Tommy Ramone back in his spot at the controls, so there’s that. While most of the tunes on Too Tough to Die won’t have you jumping to your feet, shaking your fist in a beat-on-the-brat kinda way, it does have its moments. Like “Wart Hog,” for example—a Dee Dee punk rock gem with a very infectious chorus. This was Dee Dee’s answer to the hardcore of the day, but he just couldn’t help making it a catchy tune. “Endless Vacation” is another Dee Dee attempt to play hardcore which succeeds in the brainless and tunelessness a lot of hardcore aspired to in the mid 80s. In fact, Too Tough to Die is a mostly Dee Dee affair with the bass player contributing nine out of thirteen tracks. Non Dee Dee songs like “Chasing the Night,” and “Howling at the Moon (Sha-La-La)” are classic 60s ala Ramones pop songs. There are some throwaways sure, like “Planet Earth 1988” (still four years away at this point), and “Danger Zone,” a forgettable if not forgivable bland rock attempt. All in all, Too Tough to Die is a return to form and remains a solid brick in the house that the Ramones built.

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February 22, 2014
HISTORY OF MUSIC #9: THE POLICE - SYNCHRONICITY

THE POLICE
The fifth studio album from The Police was a monster seller in all formats. Synchronicity, (pretentiously titled after a book which name-checks a term coined by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung) turned these three blonds from super stars into super duper stars. The synchronicity concept—whereby two seemingly unrelated events occur simultaneously for some purpose—seemed to be a theme connecting the songs on this album. I guess. Maybe not. Ask Sting. The only evidence of this theory seems to be the two pretentiously-titled tracks “Synchronicity I” and “Synchronicity II”. In keeping with the theme as well, I suppose, are the two seemingly unrelated events of Copeland’s “Miss Gradenko” and Summer’s almost-unlistenable “Mother,” both lumped together on side A along with songs about dinosaurs, God and biscuit-taking and the aforementioned Synchronicitys. The B side delivers the goods though giving us no less than three hit songs as well as a song about desert tea drinking.

Synchronicity
would become The Police’s biggest selling album and their last. What do you expect? These guys were on a nonstop, whirlwind touring and recording schedule and the end was bound to come sooner or later. Allegedly, Copeland and Sting came to blows during the recording. Copeland obviously didn’t punch Sting hard enough because he was able to carry on and release such pretentiously-titled future albums like The Dream of the Blue Turtles becoming a world music and tantric dork.
A lot of critics (aka nerds) like to get bunched undies when bands featuring mostly white people incorporate different styles of the music of nonwhite people into their own. This of course, ignores the fact that very little music played on this planet in the 80s or today was created in a vacuum and the origin of rock music, should they take the time to remember, was a multicultural hodgepodge of country and blues. While this fact should make them want to give up writing and actually try to enjoy music like most humans, nothing will deter them from trying to kill everyone’s buzz one band at a time. (Vampire Weekend is a recent example of how this pointless argument resurfaces every few years.) They must have been relieved then when Sting opted to forgo the reggae and island rhythms of records past in favor of the more experimental approach of throwing horns at everything.

The question is whether Synchronicity deserves a place on such a high pedestal. Maybe yes, but mainly for the cultural impact it had on us back then. I will say, I was down with the Synchro in 7th grade like I was down with Thriller and Business as Usual. I rolled with the trends back then. Listening to this record many decades later, however, and after becoming a fan of earlier Police records like the pretentiously-titled Outlandos d’Amour and Reggatta de Blanc, this record is certainly not as exciting as those first efforts. Sure, it delivered the hits in spades, but it’s a dark record and kind of a bummer to listen to and nobody wants to spend that much time in Sting’s head anyway. Not even Sting.

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February 22, 2014
HISTORY OF MUSIC #8: HUEY LEWIS OVERVIEW BY AMERICAN PSYCHO, PATRICK BATEMAN

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"Do you like Huey Lewis & The News? Their early work was a little too ‘new-wave’ for my taste, but when Sports came out in ‘83, I think they really came into their own - both commercially and artistically. The whole album has a clear, crisp sound, and a new sheen of consummate professionalism that really gives the songs a big boost. He’s been compared to Elvis Costello, but I think Huey has a far more bitter, cynical sense of humor. In ‘87, Huey released this, Fore, their most accomplished album. I think their undisputed masterpiece is ‘Hip To Be Square’, a song so catchy most people probably don’t listen to the lyrics - but they should! Because it’s not just about the pleasures of conformity, and the importance of trends, it’s also a personal statement about the band itself! Hey Paul!”—Patrick Bateman, American Psycho
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February 22, 2014
HISTORY OF MUSIC #7: GENESIS OVERVIEW BY AMERICAN PSYCHO, PATRICK BATEMAN

GENESIS
Invisible Touch
[Atlantic]

“Do you like Phil Collins? I’ve been a big Genesis fan ever since the release of their 1980 album, Duke. Before that, I really didn’t understand any of their work. Too artsy, too intellectual. It was on Duke where, uh, Phil Collins’ presence became more apparent. I think Invisible Touch was the group’s undisputed masterpiece. It’s an epic meditation on intangibility. At the same time, it deepens and enriches the meaning of the preceding three albums. Christy, take off your robe.

Listen to the brilliant ensemble playing of Banks, Collins and Rutherford. You can practically hear every nuance of every instrument. Sabrina, remove your dress. In terms of lyrical craftsmanship, the sheer songwriting, this album hits a new peak of professionalism. Sabrina, why don’t you, uh, dance a little. Take the lyrics to “Land of Confusion”. In this song, Phil Collins addresses the problems of abusive political authority. “In Too Deep” is the most moving pop song of the 1980s, about monogamy and commitment. The song is extremely uplifting. Their lyrics are as positive and affirmative as, uh, anything I’ve heard in rock. Christy, get down on your knees so Sabrina can see your asshole. Phil Collins’ solo career seems to be more commercial and therefore more satisfying, in a narrower way. Especially songs like “In the Air Tonight” and, uh, “Against All Odds”. Sabrina, don’t just stare at it, eat it. But I also think Phil Collins works best within the confines of the group, than as a solo artist, and I stress the word artist. This is “Sussudio”, a great, great song, a personal favorite.”—Patrick Bateman, American Psycho


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February 16, 2014
HISTORY OF MUSIC #6: ASIA

I’m probably going to catch a lot of heat from Asia fans for this blog post (just kidding, there are no living Asia fans), but we need to be honest with ourselves. History is important to our future and understanding the mistakes we’ve made in the past will only make us stronger as we move forward as a civilization.
With an all-star line-up culled from some of the best prog rock units to wank their way out of the 70s and into the 80s (King Crimson, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Yes), Asia almost seemed like an anachronism in the musical landscape of the early 1980s. In 1982 the record buying public had a wolf-like hunger for the edgy, new wave stylings of your Billy Idols, your Polices, your Adam Ants, your Duran Duranseses and the rebellious rock and roll of your Stray Cats, your Pretenders and your The Clash.
All this mattered not to fans of generic music who were in for a delightful treat when Asia dropped their eponymous debut album in 1982. The lead-off track, “Heat of the Moment” became a monster hit for the group and ensured the album best selling status in the States. By duplicating, then watering down the formula that had worked so well for them on their first album, Asia managed to fart out two more albums into the musical mainstream; 1983’s stunningly bland, Alpha and 1985’s, even worse, Astra. The group disbanded soon after.
Inexplicably, Asia reformed in the early 90s and began recording studio albums again (Aqua, 1992; Aria, 1994; and Arena, 1996) and they are still alive and well in this very century playing live shows all over the world, so bully for them. For me though, the beauty of Asia is that they managed to take everything I’ve ever hated about music and encapsualte it into tidy little packages with album art by Roger Dean. In fact, musical merits aside, Roger Dean is the singular saving grace of the band, just like he was for Yes as the designer of that band’s logo and the creator of the Fragile album cover, among others.
In a historical sense, the grandiose, overly-produced arrangements and the pedestrian lyrics and themes of Asia, for me, best represents a decade that reveled in—nay, embraced excessive progressive cheesiness. I once knew an otherwise hip local DJ who would incorporate “Heat of the Moment” into his set. He did so without a trace of irony and with a straight face no less. He has since moved (presumably with his Asia records) to Brooklyn where they probably have Asia listening parties every night… as well they should.

February 16, 2014
HISTORY OF MUSIC #5: PAT BENATAR - CRIMES OF PASSION

PAT BENATAR
Crimes of Passion
(Chrysalis) 1980


How come guitarists aren’t named Scott St. Cloud Sheets anymore? It’s a damn shame. Anyway, speaking of Scott St. Cloud Sheets, if you bought this Pat Benatar record in 1980, you got a pretty decent guitar rock record that bordered on pop but was quite a distance from any kinda synthy new wave shit. No, it’s not the Pretenders—it’s actually closer to Blondie (but not so cloyingly cute and clever as that band had become by the start of the 80s). And it had some hits too with “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” and “Treat Me Right”. The best track on the album though, is the Kate Bush-penned “Wuthering Heights”.

In summation, I hereby find Crimes of Passion, guilty of compelling guitar work and good—if not completely original songwriting. My life-long (up to this point) opinion of Pat Benatar as some sort of manufactured “tuff girl” lite rocker has been forever changed.

DISCOGRAPHY:

In the Heat of the Night (Chrysalis) 1979
Crimes of Passion (Chrysalis) 1980
Precious Time (Chrysalis) 1981
Get Nervous (Chrysalis) 1982 

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February 9, 2014
HISTORY OF MUSIC #4: GUNS AND ROSES - GNR LIES

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GUNS AND ROSES

GNR Lies

(Geffen) 1988

In the late 80s and early 90s, Guns and Roses were the biggest band in the world. And they weren’t whinny little twits like Billy Corgan either. They were nasty, dirty, drunken, drugged out, impolite rock stars. They could also be clownish buffoons and in Axl’s case, a gigantic, megalomaniac a-hole. In 1988 however, they were still getting a pass.

When G ‘N’ R Lies came out in 1988, it sold 10 million copies. That’s pretty good for a bad record. Perhaps bad is a bit strong, but it certainly was no Appetite for Destruction. And it shouldn’t be treated as a legitimate full-length release either, seeing how it was a cobbled-together place holder to placate fans and make some dough while GNR toured the world placating fans and making dough.

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Axle then.

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Axl wow.

The G Side (presumably the Guns side) of GNR Lies features the four tracks that comprised the 1986 EP, Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide. The sad truth about Live Like a Suicide (we’ll dispense with the ?!*@ from here on out because it’s silly and makes no sense) is that it was NOT recorded live like a suicide. It is in fact a studio recording with crowd noise dubbed in. This hardly mattered to fans in 1988 and is awesome now as a testament to how ridiculous GNR could be. “Reckless Life” and “Nice Boys” are similar hard-driving odes to the degenerate lifestyle espoused by these hard-edged glam rockers. “Move to the City” features a horn section and hits on a theme young Axl would return to countless times: a hick from the sticks moves to the big city a.k.a. The Jungle. “This is a song about your fucking mother” announces Axl at the start of the Steven Tyler penned tune, “Mama Kin”, which closes out Side G. The fictitious crowd especially enjoys this number. They must be Aerosmith fans—hell, for all we know this crowd noise was taken from an Aerosmith show! Wouldn’t that be ironical?

Then there’s the R side (for Roses). This shows that the band can lay it down acoustically (hard rockers with a tender side) as is evidenced on the drippy “Patience”— Axl at his cartoonish best. Things turn ugly (or hilarious depending on your perspective on murder) with “Used to Love Her”—not the first murder ballad ever written but certainly guaranteed to cause controversy. The second track is a pointless, acoustic version of “You’re Crazy” from the Appetite record and then the coup de grace: “One in a Million.” Axl lets his red neck shine brightly on a return to the hick-in-the-city theme. In this piece, Axl calls out “immigrants and faggots” for not making sense to him, what with the different languages and all. “It’s all Greek to me,” Axl observes with a bit of ironic wit not seen in a GNR song since “Turn around bitch I got a use for you” on “It’s So Easy” in ‘87. Axl also advises “police and niggers” to get away from him as he will not be needing any gold chains at this point in time. For complete lyrics to this tune, maybe you could ask John Rocker. I’m sure he has them burned into his frontal lobe if not tattooed on his ass.

Rolling Stone gave GNR Lies four out of five stars in their 1989 review, citing the release as proof of GNR’s sustainability and calling ‘One In a Million’ a “beautiful ballad” with Axl’s homophobic and anti-immigrant spiel “tempered with something that sounds oddly like compassion.” Yes, Axl Rose may be a complete tool, but Rolling Stone built the tool box.

DISCOGRAPHY:

Appetite For Destruction (Geffen) 1987

G N R Lies (Geffen) 1988

Use Your Illusion 1 (Geffen) 1991

Use Your Illusion 2 (Geffen) 1991

The Spaghetti Incident? (Geffen) 1993

Chinese Democracy (Geffen) 2008

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February 8, 2014
COMICS REVIEW: Celebrated Summer

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CELEBRATED SUMMER

Charles Forsman [Fantagraphics]

Music is fixed in time like our memories. We all have those songs or records and bands that seem to belong—not to a certain time in history, but to a very specific time in our lives. These memories can be especially powerful when they represent a tumultuous or painful part of our lives. They have lasting power over us. They’re hardwired.

Charles Forsman’s graphic novel, Celebrated Summer, is one long memory triggered by music expressed in visual art. It represents an aching feeling of nostalgia for a part of life that sucked to live through the first time but somehow seems like a better place to visit than the present. The transition from adolescence to adulthood, where everything is up in the air, seems innocent in retrospect only because of the complete lack of understanding of what could happen next or even what’s possible. That’s where Celebrated Summer is set. The soundtrack would undoubtedly be Zen Arcade, New Day Rising or any Hüsker Dü or punk rock record of the mid 1980s. The book’s title comes from a song off New Day Rising; the cover features a colored pencil wash in homage to Zen Arcade, a record that many disaffected teens of the The Eighties latched onto for comfort or escape or both.

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Not much happens over the course of sixty or so pages. The story opens in a bedroom somewhere in rural, or maybe suburban Pennsylvania, possibly New Jersey. It’s the summer between the end of high school and the beginning of whatever happens next. The room is littered with the detritus of a teenaged life dedicated to skate boards and punk rock (Hüsker Dü appears again scrawled on the wall above the bed). The two protagonists, Wolf and Mike examine a blotter of acid on the floor in front of them. “I think we should drop two each,” Mike decides, and so they do. Then there’s a ride to the beach with a stop to get gas and smokes. There’s some time spent people watching on the boardwalk and in a video arcade. Wolf tries to call his grandmother at one point but she doesn’t pick up the phone. He’s worried that she’ll worry, but he’s not worried enough try again. Wolf is overweight and self-conscious. He looks like a tripped-out Charlie Brown, full of the same anxieties and with nonexistent parents. Mike is more confident.

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The imagery is important. Micro scenes of nature and the bits and blips of the video screens at the arcade get intense, drug-assisted focus. Buildings shimmer as Mike’s boxy VW Rabbit drives by them. There’s a reoccurring image of a circle, heavy with symbolism in any context, but also happens to be prominently featured on The Germ’s album What We Do Is Secret—an iconic image in punk rock that’s hard to miss. Forsman has a clean drawing style. He creates simple lines that don’t weigh down his panels. This works especially well in his panoramic views of both city and open country spaces. If music is the space between the notes, then Forsman’s art is the space between the lines.

On the journey home, Mike, still tripping, asks a cop for directions. Later Wolf is passively confronted by his grandmother for staying out too late. Later he goes with his grandmother to buy shoes at the mall and visits Mike who is taking a break from his job at the food court. At the end of this flashback down memory lane, in the present, Wolf admits to lying awake at night, “strangled by nostalgia”. He misses those days so “carelessly passed”. It’s kind of a bitter sweet bummer in the end, but it’s definitely worth the trip—Chris Auman

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