Author Archives: Michael H. Little

Graded on a Curve:
Todd Rundgren,
Something/Anything?

The words “studio genius” get flung about willy-nilly, but Todd Rundgren, the guy who gave us “Hello, It’s Me,” is the real thing. Oh, I know, his prog explorations with Utopia are largely unlistenable, but I would ask you to look at Exhibit A, the 1972 double LP Something/Anything?, as proof of his, er, geniusitude. It was one of the greatest gifts (along with Mott the Hoople’s All the Young Dudes and Rod Stewart’s Every Picture Tells a Story) my older brother bequeathed to me when he took off to see the country in the mid-seventies, and I loved (and played) it to death.

Studio savant that he is, Rundgren recorded three of the LP’s four sides all by himself, and brought in a gaggle of studio musicians, including Rick Derringer, Randy and Mike Brecker, Hunt and Tony Sales, and Ben Keith to record side four. All four sides have titles, which we needn’t worry about, and side four purports to be a “pop operetta,” to which I can only say okay, Todd, it’s your LP. The critic Robert Christgau said of Something/Anything?, “I don’t trust double albums” before changing tracks and saying, “But this has the feel of a pop masterpiece, and feel counts.” He’s right about double albums: some of the tunes on Something/Anything? do nothing for me and have the distinctive smell of filler. That said, there are more than enough timeless tunes on Something/Anything? to justify that other overused word, “masterpiece.”

Stirring ballads (“It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference”), dizzyingly marvelous power pop numbers ala The Raspberries (“Couldn’t I Just Tell You”), flat-out screamers (“Some Folks Is Ever Whiter Than Me”), great horn-driven hard rockers (“Slut”), Steely Dan soundalikes (“Piss Aaron”), utterly sublime pop confections (“Hello, It’s Me,” “I Saw the Light”) and oddball novelty tunes that nevertheless rock (“Wolfman Jack”)—that “anything” in the album’s title is Todd’s way of telling us he can do it all, and does. Why, I didn’t even mention his soulful turns on the piano (“I Went to the Mirror,” “Torch Song”), maniacal metal contraptions (“Little Red Lights,” the big-hooked “Black Maria”), big, bad gospel- AND Steely Dan-tinged tunes (“Dust in the Wind”), ironic Harry Nilsson numbers (the happy-go-lucky sad song, “You Left Me Sore”), and brief lo-fi studio jams (“Overture—My Roots: Money (That’s What I Want)/Messin’ with the Kid”).

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Graded on a Curve:
Van Halen,
1984

Y’know, it turned 35 years old last week. How old do you feel now?Ed.

A couple of years ago the apartment my ex-wife and I lived in suffered a mouse infestation. We tried regular traps and glue traps, but they seemed terribly cruel, so we finally bought some catch-and-release traps. We lived on the third floor, and I got tired of carrying the traps down to the alley to release them. So I thought, why not release them on the balcony, where they’d be free to scamper along the rooftops to safety? So I tried it, but instead of escaping via the rooftops my frightened test mouse shot out of his little prison like a furry little bullet, promptly sailed off the edge of our balcony, and fell screaming (I may have imagined the screaming) to the concrete parking space below.

I’m not sure why—or actually I am—why that mouse never fails to remind me of Van Halen’s great “Jump.” I might as well have been singing, “Jump! Go ahead and jump!” as he plummeted earthwards. But anyway, the point I want to make is not that mice should look before they leap, although they should, but that I love Van Halen’s “Jump”—loved it even during those years when virtually all I listened to were SST bands, and admitting to liking a Van Halen song (at least amongst my crowd) was not so far from confessing to like that Seals and Crofts song about the summer breeze blowing through the jasmine in your mind.

I should add that my love for “Jump” did not extend to Van Halen itself. I had in fact never so much as listened to a Van Halen LP in its entirety, much less owned one. Honestly? I thought they were a band of morons. They dressed like Jose Feliciano was their haberdasher, and it was my considered opinion that Eddie Van Halen was a shameless showboater with his tapping (a technique he didn’t invent); single pickup, single volume knob guitar; and volume swells, or “violining.” Then there was the perpetually mugging David Lee Roth, whom I considered the world’s oldest class clown. (I’ve come to love him over the years for the same reason.) As for bassist Michael Anthony, well, bassist Michael Anthony was just short. Too short. Like midget short. Then there was the drummer, Eddie’s brother, whose name slips my mind (Alex? Alek like Lee Harvey Oswald’s USSR name?) but it hardly matters because who pays attention to the drummer except other drummers anyway?

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Graded on a Curve:
Pere Ubu,
Terminal Tower – An Archival Collection

Here’s a little bit of autobiography for you. In sixth grade English we were individually required to enact, before the class, little vignettes from our favorite books. My favorite book at the time was Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, which recounted the first daring bombing raid on the Japanese Empire by the U.S. Air Force during World War II.

Now I could have picked a lot of scenes from that book, but I was a budding thespian and mentally disturbed to boot, and for reasons of maximum dramatic impact chose to enact the gory leg amputation scene (yes, there’s a gory leg amputation scene). And in so doing I more or less invented performance art in my hometown of Littlestown, Pennsylvania, because my entire performance consisted of me screaming bloody murder.

Based on the horrified silence that ensued, I was expecting an A (if not an Academy Award!) for my performance. Instead my scandalized teacher frog-marched me to the school’s guidance counselor, who did not (I assure you) suggest that I consider a future in acting. Instead he suggested therapy. It simply doesn’t pay to be your grade school’s equivalent of Klaus Kinski.

Anyway, cut to the Rustbelt and Cleveland, Ohio in the mid-1970s, where some highly literate avant-garage rockers inspired by the French “pataphysicist” Alfred “It is one of the great joys of home ownership to fire a pistol in one’s own bedroom” Jarry also turned their attention to Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, in a song that is far less disturbing than my performance.

Pere Ubu, they called themselves, and in addition to essaying “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo” they also wrote a book review in song called “Heart of Darkness” and another song (their best ever!) in which lead singer guy Crocus Behemoth (aka David Thomas) looks for a “Final Solution” to the vexing existential problems of teen acne and getting thrown out of your mom’s house because your pants don’t fit (?).

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Graded on a Curve:
John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins

What a stupendous achievement! It’s not every day–or year or decade or EVER for that matter–that a major artist and former Beatle manages to produce an album so godawful that the best thing you could do for it is drag its mewing caterwaul into the backyard and SHOOT IT, so as to put it out of its misery.

And it’s not every day that, just to rub your nose in the fact that you just got ripped off but good, said Beatle has the unmitigated GALL to wave his dick in your face on the album cover.

That’s what I call chutzpah, folks.

I can only imagine what Beatle John’s loyal fans made of his (and partner Yoko’s) 1969 dive into avant-garde pretentiousness, Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins. I suspect the vast majority of ‘em wanted their money back, along with damages for mental pain and suffering. Remember all those people who burned their Beatles records after John said they were bigger than Jesus? Well, they should have waited.

Because let’s face it; when it comes to dry-humping your audience and leaving an unsightly stain on its dress, Two Virgins is an ever bigger passive-aggressive Fuck You Move than Bob Dylan’s Self-Portrait, which at least had bloody songs on it. And it puts Lou Reed’s feedback-without-the-guitars Fuck You Move Metal Machine Music–which say what you will about it at least gives you an approximate idea of what it might be like to be stuck inside an operating microwave oven for an hour or so–to shame.

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Graded on a Curve:
The Jeff Beck Group,
Beck-Ola

I’ve never been a fan of Jeff Beck. I was indifferent to his work with the Yardbirds, and downright loathed the jazz-rock fusion he pawned off on suckers (yours truly included) in the mid-seventies. My basic feeling is this: tons of talent, too little great music. But there is an exception: 1969’s Beck-Ola, which he recorded with The Jeff Beck Group, which was essentially a supergroup consisting of Beck on guitar, Rod Stewart on vocals, Ronnie Wood on bass, Nicky Hopkins on piano and organ, and Tony Newman on drums.

Beck-Ola is a much better—despite its lack of critical plaudits—LP than the first album recorded by the group, 1968’s Truth. The difference between the two is that Beck decided he wanted to play harder rock, and Beck-Ola, with a few exceptions—for example, the lovely Nicky Hopkins instrumental “Girl From Mill Valley,” on which he shows off both his piano and organ chops—is a much tougher LP than Truth.

What I love so much about this 2-LP lineup is how much it lays down the groundwork for the Faces, which both Stewart and Wood would join after Beck, always an explosive and difficult individual, basically tested their patience too far. As for Beck, he blew it in epic proportions following the breakup of the group, declining an opportunity to join The Rolling Stones in the wake of the death of Brian Jones.

But that’s just history. What Beck-Ola happens to be, in the end run, is a seminal heavy metal album, with Beck demonstrating his chops (along with the rest of the band) on such head-banging heavy cuts as “The Hangman’s Knee” (superb guitar solo, titanic cymbal crashing, we’re talking Led Zep country here); and their hard-charging take on Elvis Presley’s “All Shook Up,” on which Stewart shines and Beck plays some really fucked-up guitar, and I’m talking fucked up in the epic sense. Beck squeezes out notes, plays wild runs, revs up his guitar like a funny car, makes funky scratching noises, and generally makes me concede that, despite my dislike for most of his oeuvre, he is a truly brilliant axe-slinger.

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Graded on a Curve:
David Bowie,
Blackstar

Today we remember David Bowie on what would have been his 72nd birthday with a look back at his final release, Blackstar.Ed.

David Bowie, rock’s most famous and talented changeling, is dead at age 69. I know, I can’t wrap my mind around it either. He played such an influential role in my teen years; if I was driving around in my brother’s Volkswagen Rabbit with my pals Dan, Ben, and Keith, we were no doubt passing a joint and listening to Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Or Aladdin Sane. Or Hunky Dory. Or you get the idea.

Over the years Bowie took on new identities, going from glam rocker to soul man to experimental creator (thanks to the help of one Brian Eno) of expressionistic mood pieces. If he wasn’t setting a trend he was horning in on one, but he always maintained his status as an auteur and avant gardist. I remember it as if it were yesterday the shock I felt when I first heard Young Americans and Station to Station, soul rock moves he made in accordance with his uncanny ability to predict new trends and coldly abandon moribund ones (see glam).

I more or less wrote him off during the “Let’s Dance” period, and stopped listening. And I was appalled by his video with Mick Jagger, in which they fopped about like coked-up poofters to a fey version of “Dancing in the Street.” And let’s not even talk about Tin Machine. Besides, I was too busy listening to the Meat Puppets, the Minutemen, and too many other bands to pay the abominable “Modern Love” Bowie any attention. In short, I resigned my position of a lover of all things Bowie and moved on.

But I’m back, and blown away by his final LP, Blackstar, which long-time Bowie associate Tony Visconti described as a “parting gift” from the Thin White Duke, who fought a secret 18-month long battle with cancer. On Blackstar Bowie openly sings about his imminent death, making it perhaps the famously alienated fall-to-earthling’s most directly honest—and moving—statement of his long career. The LP—released on his birthday, only two days before his death—makes none of the concessions to pop stardom that disaffected me way back when he was singing, “put on your red shoes and dance the blues.” With nothing to lose he lets loose on his experimental side, which is not to say the LP is a difficult listen. It’s anything but.

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Graded on a Curve: Procol Harum,
A Salty Dog

Yar! During my years as a pirate on the high seas, sailing beneath the Jolly Roger and switching my eye patch from one eye to another as the mood struck me, my mates and I had one album we listened to all the time. I’m talking about Procol Harum’s 1969 release A Salty Dog, which made for the perfect soundtrack to those quiet nights when we drank rum until we were stone blind, too blind certainly to find the other LP we had on board, The Instrumental Pirate Songs of Burt Bacharach, which no one wanted to listen to anyway.

A Salty Dog came highly recommended. The famed rock critic Robert Christgau, who served his seven years beneath the mast as our pegboy, gave it a rare A+, and even our finicky parrot, who liked nothing but techno, kept his mouth shut when it was playing. And why not? If the title cut isn’t the best sailor’s tune this side of “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” what is? True, A Salty Dog doesn’t have “A Whiter Shade of Pale” on it, a fact that irked us because although we had the single, our 45 rpm adapter got blown overboard during a typhoon. It even piqued our techno-loving parrot, who liked to demonstrate his displeasure by crowing “House on Pooh Corner” at the top of his lungs. Why we never threw that goddamn bird overboard I’ll never understand.

As for Procol Harum, they’ve gone down in history as a proto-prog band, a fact that horrifies me because I despise progressive rock the way Blackbeard despised whiny plank-walkers. No, to me they’re just a rock band that happened to borrow occasionally from the classics without sounding beholden to them, a trick they pulled off better than any other prog band in history. Gary Brooker handled the bulk of the lead vocals, although guitar savant Robin Trower and keyboardist Matthew Fisher also took their turns. The rhythm section was composed of Dave Knights (who like Fisher would leave shortly after the completion of the album) on bass and B.J. Wilson on percussion. Oh, and the band had its own Bernie Taupin in the form of Keith Reid, who wrote the band’s lyrics.

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Graded on a Curve:
Elton John,
Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy

It took Elton John’s fabulousness a while to catch up to him. Until 1973, in fact, when Sir Elton abandoned the tortured singer-songwriter look (see the cover of 1972’s tres funky Honky Chateau) to reinvent himself as a glorious glam cartoon on the cover of double-LP masterpiece Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.

At which point there was no looking back; on the cover of 1974’s Caribou he’s still a cartoon, but he’s A CARTOON IN REAL LIFE, right down to the tiger fur jacket (unzipped to reveal one very sexy chest pelt) and a pair of pink glasses of the sort I would later wear to disguise the fact that I was perpetually stoned. And just look at those trousers! They come up to his nipples!

And when it comes to fabulous how can you beat “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” which Elton almost didn’t include on the album because, well, let’s let Elton tell it: “That’s a load of crap. You can send it to Engelbert Humperdinck, and if he doesn’t like it, you can give it to Lulu as a demo.”

But if you thought Elton was simply couldn’t get any more Glam along came 1975’s Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, on the cover of which Sir Pudgealot looks like A CARTOON OF A CARTOON, and is even riding a bucking piano like John Travolta in Urban Cowboy across a lurid background thronged with inexplicable beasties straight out of Hieronymus Bosch. When asked about the cover of the LP the human toon would say only, “Took me six years to crochet that.” Which just goes to show that Elton, who once leaped on stage during an Iggy Pop show in a gorilla suit and almost got beat up for his troubles, is a real wild card.

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Graded on a Curve:
Various Artists,
Repo Man: Music from the Original Motion Picture

There was no need to look for the joke with a microscope when the film Repo Man came out of left field in 1984; Alec Cox’s tale of a cynically blasé hardcore kid turned car repossessor who has a spiritual awakening of sorts while riding in a radioactive 1964 Chevy Malibu flying high above the lights of nighttime L.A. was a laugh fest.

But Repo Man did more than just introduce us to Otto, Bud, Miller, and the Rodriguez Brothers; it came along with a nifty little soundtrack album that is every bit as offbeat, hilarious, and ultimately transcendental as the movie itself.

Cox peppers 1984’s Repo Man: Music from the Original Motion Picture with everybody’s L.A.hardcore faves (Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Fear, Suicidal Tendencies, and if you wondering where X is, can you imagine Otto listening to them?), but also throws in a couple of real wild cards in the form of Iggy Pop’s tailor-made “Repo Man,” a trio of absolutely wonderful cuts by the Plugz, and the faux soul howler “Bad Man,” in which Sy Richardson reprises his role as Lite, the baddest and blackest repo man of ‘em all.

Perhaps the strangest thing about this soundtrack to history’s best hardcore movie is how little hardcore music there is on it. But this makes perfect sense when one considers that the hardcore scene is just the film’s starting point–the dead end that sends Otto straight into the unscrupulous arms of the Helping Hand Acceptance Agency and the company of Bud and Miller in the first place.

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Graded on a Curve:
Levon Helm,
Electric Dirt

Talk about your survivors; legendary Band drummer/vocalist Levon Helm was 69 years old when he released 2009’s wonderful (and moving) Electric Dirt, and he packed a whole lot of very hard living (and a near fatal case of throat cancer) into those 69 years.

But this proud son of cotton farmers from Turkey Scratch, Arkansas triumphed over it all, and went out on a valedictory note with a pair of twilight LPs (2007’s Dirt Farmer garnered him a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album in 2008) that did nothing but enhance his status as one of the most distinctive vocalists and drummers of the rock era.

Helm may have run with real slick customers (Bob Dylan and Robbie Robertson, for starters), and he spent his fair share amount of time atop the Big Rock Candy Mountain, but he never lost that rural twang. His singing was equal parts white clay grit, visionary yowl, and sly country swing, and it provided some much needed American coloring to Robbie Robertson’s Canadian songwriting palette–he was the only fella in the Band who could have pulled off “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”

The years that followed the break-up of the Band were no kinder to him than to anybody else in the group; he messed around some, landed a memorable movie role or two, and put together some great touring bands and played his ass off, but his recording career was spotty at best.

Which is what makes the last two LPs he recorded before his death so wonderful. On Dirt Farmer he reached way, way back to explore his folk roots; come Electric Dirt he stretched out and went the funky Americana route, and ended up winning the first ever Grammy Award for Best Americana album for his efforts.

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Graded on a Curve:
Sonic Youth,
Bad Moon Rising

The most shameful moment of my sad existence was not the night I came out of a drunken blackout to discover I’d just challenged an NFL-sized brute from my hometown to a fight, then had to literally beg him to not beat me to a pulp. Nor was it the time I ruined Christmas for my then wife by drinking too much sake, accidentally dropping half a gram of perfectly good powdered cocaine into a wet sink, and knocking over the Christmas tree before unceremoniously passing out.

No–and I still blush with horror to think of it–it was the time I ran into Thurston Moore in a Philadelphia record store, and noticing he was flipping through the John Coltrane albums sidled up next to him like an awe-struck schoolgirl and PRETENDED to know nothing about John Coltrane… just so he would talk to me! And this despite the fact that–get this–I wasn’t even a fan!

That was a personal low indeed, and–just to make things worse–I have often taken out my shame over this deplorable personal episode on poor Thurston and his band. After all, it wasn’t his fault I decided to be such a craven suck-up. He was just trying to be helpful.

With that out of the way, please allow me to say this: I still don’t like Sonic Youth very much. Sure I loved 1988’s epic and sonically streamlined Daydream Nation, but it was a stylistic outlier for the band, so to illustrate my aversion let us turn to an earlier (but also much-lauded) LP, 1985’s Bad Moon Rising.

At first glance, Bad Moon Rising has a lot going for it. Groovy scarecrow with blazing pumpkin head on cover, check. Groovy song titles portending cartoon chaos, anomie, and doom, check. Positively groovy Charles Manson tribute featuring the one and only Lydia Lunch, check! I mean, how can you go wrong?

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Graded on a Curve:
Montrose, Montrose

Nowadays the band Montrose is chiefly remembered as the rock boarding school one Sammy (“I can’t drive 55/With my thumbs stuck in my eyes”) Hagar attended before graduating to a disappointing, if not semi-disastrous, tenure as front man of the post-David Lee Roth Van Halen. How unfair. At their best, namely on their debut 1973 self-titled debut, Montrose rocked balls, kicked ass and took names, and established themselves as perhaps America’s best response to Led Zeppelin. As for Montrose itself, some consider it America’s first true heavy metal LP. Me, I’d go with Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, but that’s beside the point.

Montrose came out of California, where guitarist Ronnie Montrose—who played sessions for Van Morrison (amongst others) and did a stint in The Edgar Winter Group—decided to put his own band together. The finished product included Sammy Hagar on vocals, Bill Church on bass, and Denny Carmassi on drums. Ted Templeman, who played an instrumental role in getting the band signed to Warner Brothers, produced the LP. Unfortunately this turned out to be a mixed blessing as Warners, which made it a practice to push only one LP from each genre at a time, already had the Doobie Brothers (!!!) in the rock slot and Deep Purple in the hard rock slot. Without publicity push from Warners, Montrose got left out in the cold, and only managed to reach the 133 spot on the U.S. Billboard charts.

But you can’t keep a good album down, not forever anyway, and the Montrose LP has received increasing attention over the following years, thanks to its strong songwriting, Montrose’s great guitar work, and Hagar’s hard-hitting vocals. I’ve always found it exceptionally easy to poke fun at Hagar, but on Montrose he proves the joke is on me, by doing things with his vocal chords that are illegal in Mormon Utah. (No, I have no idea what that means either.) In any event, Montrose has received its just desserts, which is more than you can say about Warners’ beloved Doobie Brothers, who deserve to be tied to a large stone and dropped into some deep and very black water.

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Graded on a Curve:
The Police,
Ghost in the Machine

Well, it’s National Just Say Fuck It Day (check your calendar!) and what better time to cobble together a few slapdash comments (you know, in lieu of a real review) about a band I’ve hated since the first time I heard “Roxanne”? So without further ado, here goes!

1. The Irish writer Brendan Behan once quipped, “I have never seen a situation so dismal that a policeman couldn’t make it worse.” Which basically sums up my feelings about this band.

2. The Police’s bread and butter was cultural appropriation. Nothing wrong with that–they were never punks and they had to steal from somebody. I’m listening to 1981’s Ghost in the Machine, and what a sleek machine of cultural appropriation it is! We’re talking an overproduced saloon car with faux reggae seats. And a horn that, instead of honking, plays snazzy jazz horn arrangements.

3. Like most deep spiritual seekers who discover Eastern religion with their penis, the tantric-sex loving Sting has a lot to say about living in the material world. And like most celebrity spiritual types who seek to spread the message of spiritual detachment from the material world, Sting makes me want to seek Vairagya in a cheeseburger.

4. On the very, very reggae (and very, very boring) “One World (Not Three)” Sting sings, “One world is enough for all of us.” I approve the sentiment, I really do, but I would ask that my small parcel of it be sound-proofed.

5. Whenever The Police show up, whether it be at a party or on my car radio, they immediately arrest my fun. And then fail to read it its Miranda rights.

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Graded on a Curve: Soundgarden,
Louder Than Love

Sure, the best and most badass song on Soundgarden’s 1989 LP Louder Than Love (“Hands All Over”) sounds like it was borrowed from The Cult who in turn borrowed it from Led Zeppelin, but who hasn’t fallen in love with a copy of a copy at least once in their life? When these Seattle longhairs appeared on the scene I was convinced they had to signify SOMETHING besides what goes around comes around again, and they do—none of their grunge compatriots did half as good a job at melding Led Zep with pure battering ram noise to create a din that sacrifices such niceties as melody and catchy riffs in favor of sheer sonic bluster.

When push comes to shove Louder Than Love is more than happy to push and shove your ears around, and if it’s a good old-fashioned eardrum pummeling you’re looking for you could certainly do worse. Q magazine named it one of the 50 Heaviest Albums of All Time for good reason. Barbaric riffs of the Jimmy Page variety abound, which is great, but Jimmy Page hooks don’t, which isn’t a good thing at all. Most of these songs just don’t stick with you the way Led Zeppelin songs do, with the remarkable “Hands All Over”—which is perhaps the best Zeppelin rip ever—being the exception. Okay, so the riff that propels “Uncovered” is sticking with me, but that’s because it might as well be a Led Zeppelin riff—put it under the microscope and you’re bound to discover Jimmy Page’s DNA.

Soundgarden’s classic rock influences extend beyond Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, and Company. “Gun” is Black Sabbath heavy, while “Power Trip” reminds me—if nobody else—of the molten psychedelic sludge that Robin Trower was dishing out in the mid-seventies. As for “Loud Love” it sounds like a band whose name is on the tip of my tongue—Mississippi? Lesbian Boy? The Bee Gees? What is obvious from listening to Louder Than Love is that Chris Cornell, Kim Thayil, Matt Cameron, and Hiro Yamamoto spent their formative years sitting around smoking pot and listening to songs that should have been on the Dazed and Confused soundtrack.

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Graded on a Curve:
The Jesus Lizard,
Goat

The Golden Age of American Noise Rock (which this historian situates between the late 1980s and early 1990s) was a grand time to be a pervert. Bands like Cows, Killdozer, Halo of Flies, and the Melvins were spreading clamor, ugliness, and moral depravity across the land, and if you were like me you were as happy as a pig in shit.

Austin, Texas’ The Jesus Lizard were celebrated (and critically acclaimed) mainstays on the noise rock circuit, and they personified all of the best (worst?) aspects of the genre. Outré and outright revolting subject matter? Check. A relentlessly pounding sound designed to make mush of your cerebral cortex? Check. Deranged live performances featuring a psychotic lead singer? Check.

That said, The Jesus Lizard were never my favorites; indeed, I never had much use for ‘em at all. No, I was a Cows and Killdozer guy. The bugle-playing and unhinged live antics of Shannon Selberg set Cows high above the noise rock throng, while Michael Gerald’s demented (and highly literate) storytelling and Mouse Who Roared vocals, which were set atop a deep rototiller groove, made Killdozer the blackly hilarious piece of heavy machinery ever to steamroll human ears.

But The Jesus Lizard have their charms, and they’re on full display on 1991’s Goat. Produced by the ubiquitous Steve Albini, Goat is loud, pummeling, and chockfull of sordid lyrical content that is guaranteed to leave you feeling slightly queasy. Case in point: the run amok “Lady Shoes,” on which David Yow channels unholy voices while telling a simply horrifying tale involving a masturbating daddy, a homicidal maternity ward nurse, and a doctor who takes a shit in his own hand and then applies it as lipstick. It’s a real crack-up.

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  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


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