Author Archives: Michael H. Little

Graded on a Curve:
The Felice Brothers,
From Dreams to Dust

On their recent release From Dreams to Dust, The Felice Brothers commit apostasy by setting themselves apart from the Americana pack (a term I heartily loathe) and bravely join the modern age. Gone are washboard and fiddle; James Felice’s accordion stays mostly in the background. The band no longer records in a converted chicken coop in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York, and singer/songwriter/frontman Felice is no longer looking over his shoulder at fellow Catskill legends The Band.

On Dreams to Dust he commits that greatest of Americana sins–he says to hell with the Dust Bowl and sings about Marcel Proust, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and Friedrich Hegel instead. Why, he even tosses in Jean-Claude Van Damme and AC/DC baseball caps.

The increasing sophistication of Felice’s subject matter corresponds to the band’s more contemporary sound, and will no doubt alienate purists who love the band for old-timey tunes like “Run Chicken Run” and “Frankie’s Gun.” Some of their new songs are streamlined and bottom heavy, and you won’t hear then being played on a honky tonk jukebox or your local folk festival. I can practically hear the same people who booed Bob Dylan at Newport screaming “Sell outs!”

LP opener “Jazz on the Autobahn” is the most blatant offender. A tale of the Apocalypse framed in a story about a sheriff on the run with a woman named Helen, the music owes no debt to Pete Seeger and his mighty axe. And Felice (the best poet working in music today) paints a vivid picture. “This is what the apocalypse will look like,” sings Helen, “a tornado with human eyes” marked by “a sundown of the human heart.” She tells the sheriff it:

“Won’t look like those old frescoes, man, I don’t think so
There will be no angels with swords, man, I don’t think so
No jubilant beings in the sky above, man, I don’t think so
And it won’t look like those old movies neither
There will be no drag racing through the bombed-out streets neither.”

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Graded on the Curve: Joan Jett,
Bad Reputation

Celebrating Joan Jett, born on this day in 1958.Ed.

Joan Jett’s 1979 debut LP is one of rock music’s most joyful readymades–an utterly endearing romp through rock history from hoary old standards (“Wooly Bully”) to bubblegum pop to Gary Glitter to the buzzsaw sound of the Ramones, Bad Reputation is a veritable vinyl jukebox you’ll never get tired of tossing dimes into.

On Bad Reputation–original title Joan Jett--the runaway Runaway dares to wear her heart on her sleeve by pledging allegiance to the songs that made her who she is; this is Joan Jett’s Self Portrait, and with the exception of her too-stiff-by-half take on the Isley Brothers’ “Shout,” she does her personal canon proud. Not only does she prove she’s the true successor to Gary Glitter (and by association her glam role model Suzi Quatro), she demonstrates conclusively that she’s her own gurl by contributing a couple of songs that (with the exception of the punk-tinged title track) blend seamlessly in with their esteemed company.

Jett (the Blackhearts were still in the future) chose her producers wisely. Top guys Kenny Laguna and Ritchie Cordell (Sex Pistols Steve Jones and Paul Cook also lent a hand) were both proud Super K Productions alumni working under immortal bubblegum producers Jerry Kasenetz and Jeffrey Katz, and they brought their many years of throwaway pop songcraft to the table. Remember that version of Led Zep’s “Stairway to Heaven” set to the lyrics of the theme song from Gilligan’s Island? You can thank Laguna for it. And Cordell is the guy who bequeathed us both “I Think We’re Alone Now” and “Mony Mony.”

I could go into all kinds of philosophical digressions about Jett’s reactionary backwards-looking worldview but I’m too busy bashing my head to her positively infectious takes on Glitter classics “Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)” and “Doing Alright with the Boys.” Jett hangs on to that big, bad Glitter sound (dig that tribal thump thump thump!) but takes both songs to Glamtastic new heights by making Glitter (no wallflower for sure) sound positively enervated; she doesn’t sing ‘em, she shouts ‘em, bringing an unprecedented amount of bad attitude to the table. Message to Glam Rock: You’re not dead until Joan Jett says you are!

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Graded on a Curve: Motörhead, No sleep ‘til Hammersmith

Remembering Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor, born on this day in 1954.Ed.

On which the late metal minimalist/ genius/ proud-to-be-a-lummox Lemmy Kilmister delivers the hard rock goods live in a couple of halls not including London’s Hammersmith Odeon. No sleep ‘til Hammersmith features Motörhead at their ferocious and pummeling best, and is the perfect corrective to the lyrical excesses, grand themes, and emphasis on musical virtuosity that characterized much of the metal then popular.

With the able assistance of “Fast” Eddie Clarke on guitar and backing vocals and Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor on drums, Lemmy bangs out some tunes (most of them of unfashionably short length and unfashionably fast tempos), announces in DIY fashion that Motörhead is its own damn road crew, and demonstrates that his very hoarse bark has real bite.

Kilmister possessed not a whit of glamor and about as much charm, but that’s exactly what made him so lovable; he wasn’t good looking, his tonsils hardly made the little girls swoon, and when push came to shove he was the perfect antithesis of, say, Robert Plant. “No Class” is addressed to (or so I suspect) some anonymous groupie hanger-on, but Lemmy would no doubt have agreed it applied to him as well; he had about as much class as your average lorry driver, and never pretended to have better manners than your average lorry driver.

In short, you could relate to Lemmy Kilmister. He sang about all of the things you cared about, and said fuck it to the darkest depths of Mordor. He was a creature of the road and of the tedium and excesses that entailed, didn’t give a shit about Xanadu or hobbits, and didn’t want to write the next “Stairway to Heaven” either. He was down to earth, didn’t look like he placed a very high premium on personal hygiene, and probably would have come in handy in a bar fight. He’s as close as English music has ever come to producing an outlaw country musician.

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Graded on a Curve:
Pulp,
This Is Hardcore

Celebrating Jarvis Cocker’s 58th birthday yesterday.Ed.

Some albums give off light; others suck it up like a black hole. They’re so dark you’d need Diogenes’ lantern to negotiate their lightless depths. Such an album is Pulp’s 1998 release This Is Hardcore, one of the most unremittingly bleak LPs this side of Lou Reed’s Überbummer Berlin. The brainchild of Jarvis Cocker, jaded romantic in search of purification through immersion in the squalid, This Is Hardcore is a joyless (but always melodic) diagnosis of the human condition, and the diagnosis isn’t good.

You’ve got the Fear, says Cocker, because you’re taking too many drugs, and you equate sex not with love but with pornography, and you fail your young and are terrified of growing old. And there aren’t enough kicks or kink out there to save you; and even the man who does right is dissatisfied.

Cocker is the same fellow who 3 years earlier had written “Sorted for E’s & Wizz,” which eviscerated rave culture and reduced it to a lost soul who’s seriously lost the plot: “And this hollow feeling grows and grows and grows and grows/And you want to phone your mother and say/’Mother, I can never come home again/Cos I seem to have left an important part of my brain somewhere/Somewhere in a field in Hampshire.'” A nattering nabob of negativity he may have been, but no one else of Cocker’s time–which was marked by a rebirth of pride in the culture of the UK–wrote so cogently and forthrightly about the “hollow feeling” at the core of Cool Britannia.

Pulp was formed in 1978, but it wasn’t until 1995’s Different Class–with its hits “Common People,” “Mis-Shapes,” “Disco 2000,” and “Something Changed”–that the band became bona fide rock stars and reluctant members of the Britpop movement. And while Different Class was chock full of class-conscious satire and dark sarcasm, it sounded upbeat; “Sorted for E’s & Wizz” may well be the cheeriest-sounding song ever written about the down side of a drug culture, while “Common People,” as sarcastic a song as any ever written, is also perky and upbeat sounding.

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Graded on a Curve: Jim Morrison and The Doors, An American Prayer

There’s a game I like to play. It’s called “Who’s the worse poet, Jim Morrison or Patti Smith?” Morrison generally wins by a nose. Like Patti Smith, the late Mr. Morrison viewed himself as a visionary in the grand tradition of 19th Century French poète maudit Arthur Rimbaud, but the duo’s sum contribution to poetry consists of a few decent song lyrics and some very bad books of poetry.

So why don’t I give the nod to Morrison? He wrote “L.A. Woman” for one. And he possessed a sense of humor. “Some of the worst mistakes in my life were haircuts” is a great one-liner, as is “Actually I don’t remember being born, it must have happened during one of my black outs.” So far as I know Smith hasn’t delivered a legitimate quip in her life—she’s far too busy taking herself seriously.

All of which brings us to 1978’s disgraceful American Prayer, which I doubt Morrison would have found amusing. What you get for your wasted money is shit and shinola without the shinola. American Prayer is a dog’s breakfast comprised in part of short (and purposeless) fragments of Morrison spouting off at live shows and “collages” melding well-known Doors’ songs to scraps of Morrison’s verse.

But what you mostly get are tracks on which the surviving Doors add after-the-fact musical accompaniment to Morrison’s poetic detritus. Most of said music is mediocre jazz fusion along the lines of later Steely Dan, although you also get tastes of bad funk and (believe it or not) disco.

American Prayer includes examples of Morrison at his poetic worst. There are too many examples to cite in full, but let’s start with “Lament,” with its lines “Guitar player/Ancient wise satyr/Sing your ode to my cock.” Equally awful is the title track’s “Cling to cunts & cocks of despair/We got our vision by clap/Columbus’s groin got filled with green death.”

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Graded on a Curve:
The Rolling Stones,
Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out:
The Rolling Stones in Concert

1970’s live Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out is the first Rolling Stones album I ever heard. It was 1974, I was just an impressionable kid, but even so I remember thinking Get Yer Yawn-Yawn’s Out would make a better title. Afterwards I asked my older brother what all the hoopla was about, and he replied that Mick Jagger used to be Satan in the flesh but he’d become an old fart and Alice Cooper had taken his pitchfork. He then recommended that I file the album under D for Decrepit and buy a copy of Billion Dollar Babies. I was inclined to agree. I didn’t catch a whiff of brimstone as Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out was playing, and “Midnight Rambler” in particular struck me as being about as demonic as tapioca. If these were The Rolling Stones, I’d stick with Elton John.

My problem with Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out goes beyond its bogus Satanism. It lacks energy and fire; if Mick and Keith are both elegantly thin, their bloated cover of Chuck Berry’s “Little Queenie” isn’t. “Stray Cat Blues” should be alley cat quick—instead it’s a spayed “look at what the Stones dragged in” proposition. “Honky Tonk Women” has a ham-fisted feel, and to make matters worse the cowbell is MIA. Missing! The cowbell makes the damn song.

The Stones turn “Midnight Rambler” into a Saucy Jack mini-musical and kill the song’s momentum during the histrionic and tedious psychodrama that is Act II. The band slows to a crawl, stops playing altogether, then works its way back to a crawl—that “rambler” in the song’s title is all too appropriate.

Somewhat better is show opener “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” although to be honest the part I like most is when Jagger says, “I think I busted a button on my trousers, hope they don’t fall down. You don’t want my trousers to fall down, do you?” I once dated a woman who’d previously gone out with Engelbert Humperdinck (only two degrees of separation from the world’s greatest entertainer!) and she swore up and down he’d said the exact same thing the one time she saw him live.

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Graded on a Curve,
Drive-By Truckers,
American Band

Celebrating Mike Cooley, born on this day in 1966.Ed.

Hot damn, I loves me some Drive-By Truckers. Anybody who’s ever seen ‘em knows they put on a kick-ass live show, and anybody who’s ever heard 2001’s Southern Rock Opera knows that it’s one of the most ambitious and brilliant concept albums ever recorded, period. And it includes one of the best love songs ever written to rock’n’roll, “Let There Be Rock,” which covers all the bases from Molly Hatchet to Bon Scott to Lynyrd Skynyrd and “The Boys Are Back in Town,” to say nothing of freaking out on acid at a Blue Oyster Cult concert, an event that I include on my own rock’n’roll resume.

Since then they’ve continued to release strong album after strong album, and this despite personnel changes including the defections of both the multi-talented Jason Isbell and Shonna Tucker, she of the amazing voice. And have I mentioned they have impeccable taste in covers? Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Kiss, Tom T. Hall—why, they even cover Warren Zevon’s fiery “Play It All Night Long” and beat him, no sweat piss jizz or blood about it, at his own game.

Drive-By Truckers have always written smart songs, and many of them have been protest songs, on everything from the ruthless machinations of rapacious corporations to the murders of those four little black girls in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing by the KKK in 1963 to the still very much alive specter of hate-monger George Wallace, but on their newly released LP American Band they go all out, tackling such hot button issues as police shootings of young black men, school massacres, and gun control in general.

Hardly what one would expect from a bunch of southern boys who sound very much like southern boys, but then again it was Lynyrd Skynyrd, those paragons of the Confederate flag-waving southland (and the chief characters in the cast of Southern Rock Opera) who had the chutzpah to condemn Saturday night specials. And who sang “Boo! Boo!” in reference to segretionist Alabama governor George Wallace while they were at it.

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Graded on a Curve: America,
History: America’s Greatest Hits

Celebrating Jerry Beckley on his 69th birthday yesterday.Ed.

America gets a bum rap. I’m not talking, mind you, about the United States of America, which gets all the bad press it deserves. No, I’m talking about seventies soft-rock superstars America, the folkie trio who gave us “A Horse with No Name,” which Randy Newman famously dismissed as being “about a kid who thinks he’s taken acid.”

Personally, what has always pissed me off about the song is the band’s claim that the horse has no name. That’s balderdash. Of course the horse has a name. It may not be Trigger or Mr. Ed or Black Beauty, but it’s something. Vocalist Dewey Bunnell was probably just too lazy to ask the horse its name. “I’m Conway,” the horse would have replied. Or, “I’m Luther, good to meet ya.” Of course the horse could have offered Dewey his name. But a horse has its dignity.

But I have not come to pile on. If it’s easy to mock the gentle folk rock strains of Bunnell, Gerry Buckley, and Dan Peek, it’s just as easy to like them. You just have to let go. You know, take a walk on the mild side. The truth is I liked—and still like—America more than any of their soft rock contemporaries, even the ones with “artistic credibility.” Which is my way of saying I’ll take them over Crosby, Stills & Nash any day.

And I’m here today to urge you to run to the nearest record store to pick up a copy of the band’s 1975 compilation, History: America’s Greatest Hits. The LP has 12 songs, only 2 of which (“Muskrat Love,” “Woman Tonight) suck. And that’s a bargain at any price.

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Graded on a Curve:
Pussy Galore,
Sampler

To fully comprehend the superstars of sleaze Pussy Galore you must listen to their 1986 homage to/destruction of the Rolling Stones’ 1972 masterpiece Exile on Main Street. Sloppy to the point of incoherence, their cassette-only desecration is guaranteed to either inspire disgust or disdain in just about everybody but people who enjoy half-assed first takes, a lack of interest in how to play much less tune musical instruments, and piss-taking in general. Pussy Galore brought a breath of fresh stench to the Capitol City music scene in the mid-1980s, which was then in the grips of the New Puritanism of the straightedge crowd. When it came to filthy morals, Pussy Galore were Caligula.

Folks talk about bands that didn’t set a premium on musical competence, but Pussy Galore went out of their way to set the musical bar so low a turtle could jump it. Their studio LPs make The Stooges’ “Loose” sound like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. When it comes to instrumental mastery, they made Sid Vicious sound like Jaco Pastorius.

But the degenerates who attended their shows loved them for it, although it should be kept in mind that said fans were of the sort who wrote off The Cramps as slick professionals playing ho-hum retro-rockabilly. I’ve heard Pussy Galore described as a garage band but that’s bullshit—set them down in a garage and they’d torch it. I’ve also heard them described as noise rock band, but in my universe noise rock is produced only by bands in the Midwest who would never be caught dead living in New York City.

1998’s live Sampler is a dirtball classic—the sound is sloppy, the needle stays in the red, the fuzz levels make the Stones’ Exile on Main Street sound like a two million dollar production, and Jon Spencer’s vocals seem to be coming through a $25 guitar amp somebody tossed out a fourth-floor window. And Neil Hagerty’s lead guitar makes Ron Asheton’s sound crystal clear.

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Graded on a Curve:
Slade,
Slade Alive!

Celebrating Don Powell on his 75th birthday.Ed.

You can forget all about Kiss Alive! because Slade’s Slade Alive! is the real thing–a gut-bucket blast of pure rock ‘n’ roll energy from the poorest spellers in the history of music. This 1972 studio live affair captures this band of Wolverhampton rowdies at their rawest, and the spirit of raucous fun is contagious.

This baby was released before Slade reached full maturity and here’s how you can tell–there isn’t a single spelling error on it. And here’s another way you can tell–four of its seven cuts are covers, and the other three you probably don’t know.

The foursome’s subsequent release, 1972’s Slayed?, cemented the band’s reputation as Top of the Pops hit makers, but on Slade Alive! they established their bona fides as a formidable live act–one that pitted musical brutalism against vocalist Noddy Holder’s formidable tonsils and crowd-rousing charisma.

Slade gets filed under “Glam,” but theirs was an awkward fit. They looked ridiculous in their glitter clobber–like a bunch of roofers playing dress up–and unlike most of their Glam contemporaries appealed directly to England’s working stiffs.

Their proto-Oi! placed pints above androgyny, and their audiences did the same. When Noddy Holder says, “All the drunken louts can shout anything they like” he’s talking to the entire crowd, and not just a couple of unruly yobs.

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Graded on a Curve:
Paul Williams, Evergreens: The Best
of the A&M Years

It is the fate of some singer/songwriters to be the worst interpreters of their own work. Burt Bacharach springs to mind. Ditto Hoyt “Joy to the World” Axton and Jimmy “MacArthur Park” Webb. Kris Kristofferson falls into this category—unlike Webb and Axton he’s instantly recognizable for his rugged good looks and ragged voice, but few prefer his versions of “Me and Bobby McGee” and “Sunday Morning Coming Down” and “Help Me Through the Night” to those of Janis Joplin and Johnny Cash.

The premiere example of the phenomenon, however, is Paul Williams. Williams may have written immortal songs like the Carpenters’ “We’ve Only Just Begun,” “I Won’t Last a Day Without You,” and “Rainy Days and Mondays” (amongst others) as well as hits by Three Dog Night, Barbra Streisand, Anne Murray, and Helen Reddy, but his own versions have never made a dent in the public consciousness. Even his take on “Rainbow Connection” is overshadowed by the one sung by Kermit the Frog.

Fairly or not, Williams’ failure to make a name for himself singing his own songs has much to do with the fact that he’s one of the most unprepossessing singers to ever take the stage. One is tempted to use the word gnome, but while he’s short (five feet, two inches) he isn’t ugly—just odd looking. If anything, he’s cuddly. You want to pick him up and squeeze him. It hardly matters he can sing and has great material—he simply doesn’t belong beneath stage lights. Williams is the Anti-Kris. He can sing but looks a lot like a Hobbit–Kristofferson looks like a rock star but can hardly hold a tune.

William’s presence in the public eye was limited largely to his many TV appearances—a joke appearance on The Tonight Show here, parts on The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Hollywood Squares and The Muppet Show there. For most he wasn’t a pop songwriter of genius—he was the Muppets guy.

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Graded on a Curve:
The Pretenders,
Learning to Crawl

Celebrating Chrissie Hynde on her 70th.Ed.

A couple of days ago, I found myself doing something I haven’t done (no exaggeration) in years: dancing. I dervished about the apartment all by myself, like a lunatic, with the cat looking on from the safety of the bed, wide-eyed with eminent peril. I could tell the poor puss was thinking, “What the devil is he doing?” So I cried, “Listening to The Pretenders, you hairy little fool! And dancing!”

I would not call The Pretenders a great band, per se. A very, very good band, sure. Chrissie Hynde is an excellent songwriter, and has one of the most distinctive voices in rock. Unfortunately, like Badfinger, The Pretenders are just as famous for their tragically high mortality rate as they are for their music. During the 2-year hiatus between 1981’s Pretenders II and 1983’s Learning to Crawl, Hynde saw two band mates, guitarist James Honeyman-Scott and bassist Pete Farndon, die drug-related deaths. Technically Farndon was no longer a Pretender—Hynde fired him shortly before he died—but still. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde on the subject of orphans, to lose one band member is bad luck—to lose two, sheer carelessness.

Hynde, an Akron, Ohio native, formed The Pretenders in 1978 in London, England, where she was working as a journo for NME and at SEX, the legendary fashion boutique of Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood. She received a record contract on the strength of a demo recorded with a three-piece band including Phil Taylor of Motörhead, then hired a permanent group including Honeyman-Scott, Farndon, and drummer Martin Chambers.

The Pretenders’ first two albums included several hits; unfortunately, while the band was making its bones musically, it members were dropping like flies. By 1983’s Learning to Crawl 50 percent of the original group was dead, leaving just Hynde (lead vocals, rhythm guitar, and harmonica) and Chambers. But rather than throwing in the towel, Hynde hired Robbie McIntosh on lead guitar and backing vocals and Malcolm Foster on bass and backing vocals.

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Graded on a Curve: Spooky Tooth,
Spooky Two

Celebrating Mike Harrison, born on this day in 1945.Ed.

Spooky Tooth: I don’t know exactly how to start this review of Spooky Two, except by saying that Spooky Tooth has always, at least in my mind, been in a dead heat with Foghat as funniest band name ever when stoned. For the longest time I didn’t know much more than that about them, other than that they featured Gary Wright, the genius who gave us the great “Dream Weaver,” on organ and vocals. Oh, and they also featured Luther Grosvenor, who would go on to change his name to Ariel Bender and play guitar for Mott the Hoople.

I always suspected them of progressive transgressions, but hey—I was wrong, at least on 1969’s Spooky Two. No neo-classical rigmarole for these guys; some gussied up vocal hoohah, yes, but you never get the idea listening to them that they think they’re slumming by playing rock’n’roll and not Modest Mussorgsky. True, they were keyboard heavy, a frequent indicator of prog proclivities, but both Wright and Mike Harrison utilized their keyboards to rock, not to roll up into a little ball in embarrassment they weren’t Wagner.

I have only one two real reasons to dislike them, the first of which is the guy who sings the high notes in the horribly titled (what a cliché!) heavy metal epic “Evil Woman,” which was written by Larry Weiss, the same guy who gave us the great “Rhinestone Cowboy.” I have never heard anything like those stratospheric vocals, and I will literally pay never to hear them again. They make TV commercial superstar Lil’ Sweet sound like a baritone.

Which is a pity, because the song is a long and cool demonstration both of the band’s keyboards and guitar chops. Oh, and the second reason? The Wright-penned “Lost in My Dream,” a subpar Procol Harum song which evolves from something barely listenable to a pretentious nightmare that builds and builds, with vocals being piled on vocals while the singer goes on about how “somewhere in the frost in the sea of my mind waits my destiny.” Dude, that’s not frost; that’s Foghat! And I don’t know about you, but I fear the Dream Weaver is not far off.

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Graded on a Curve: Coldplay,
Live in Buenos Aires

All of my closest friends—amongst whose number I count legendary toughwoman champion Shannon Hall, Dutch Heavyweight Boxing Champion Martijn “Vuisten van Staal” de Vries, notorious East End London gangsters Ronnie and Reggie Kray, and Stewie my cat—simply can’t comprehend my love for Coldplay. They think I’m soft. They think I bathe in violets. In short, they hold me in contempt, and aren’t afraid to let me know it. The other day I tried to put A Rush of Blood to the Head on the stereo only to get swatted by Stewie. Did I say swatted? Make that punched in the face.

But I don’t care. So what if Coldplay’s testosterone levels are less than zero? They’ve given us more rousing anthems per square inch of vinyl than Bruce Springsteen. And if you don’t believe me pick up a copy of 2018’s Live in Buenos Aires. Virtually every track is a sing-along aided and abetted by frontman Chris Martin, and that’s the LP’s only drawback—you find yourself wishing the audience would shut its collective trap and let charismatic Coldplay frontman Chris Martin go about his business in peace.

Fortunately, the crowd at the show in Buenos Aires are in perfect sync; they may well be the largest collection of backing vocalists in history, and if they couldn’t hold a tune the album would flat-out unlistenable. Fortunately, Martin doesn’t bring them on stage to sing, although he does hand over lead vocal duties to drummer Will Champion on “In My Place.”

But back to the wimp issue. There’s no denying Coldplay may be the gushiest band in the world. I’m hard pressed to think of a group with a higher romance quotient. It helps to be a blubbering sentimentalist to enjoy their music. Ask a Coldplay fan to name the band’s most romantic song and they’ll invariably reply, “All of them.” What does this say about me? Just that while I pretend to be a callous guy who thinks Killdozer’s “Free Love in Amsterdam” is the epitome of a great love song, in reality I’m a blubbering sentimentalist.

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Graded on a Curve:
The Jam,
In the City

Celebrating Bruce Foxton who turned 66 yesterday.Ed.

In the year punk broke, 1977, The Jam carried with them a whiff of a year far past, namely 1965. Paul Weller brought punk’s jacked-up velocity and coiled tension to the band’s debut LP, In the City, but the LP is also steeped in the spirit of Pete Townshend and The Who.

Call the Jam Mod revivalists, then, but make no mistake–the music on In the City is most definitely punk. No Mod ever took enough leapers to keep such a frenetic, breakneck pace. Paul Weller sounds a lot like Elvis Costello, but unlike Elvis he never slows things down–you won’t find a “Watching the Detectives” on In the City, much less an “Alison.” The song “Slow Down,” appropriately enough, goes by in a sonic blur.

Weller’s Who fetish wasn’t the only thing that set The Jam apart from the punk pack. They eschewed safety pins for tailored suits, said no thanks to anarchy in the U.K. and Clash/Mekons-style left-wing polemics, and even tossed in some conventional lyrics about, you know, girls and stuff.

And then there’s Weller’s voice. Rotten’s savage snarl, studied put-on or not, was pure punk, the barbaric yawp of a street-smart yob whose idea of a good time was ripping the antenna off your car. Weller sounds like a full-grown man.

Paradoxically, it was Weller’s backwards-looking glance to the days of “My Generation” that helped make The Jam something so defiantly, brazenly new. His “back to the future shtick” bears ripe fruit. “Art School” opens just like a Who song–for three seconds or so you’re sure the next thing you’ll hear is Roger Daltrey. But The Jam then proceeds to kick into hyperdrive, and you’re rocketed from yesterday to tomorrow in a rocket fuel flash.

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  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


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