Sunday, April 26, 2009

2007 Album Reviews: B

(As published in the Times of Acadiana unless otherwise noted…)

Badfinger: Badfinger (Collector’s Choice)--This penultimate effort from the former Apple band’s original lineup came and went in 1974, adding no hits and, with the disco “Matted Spam,” some confusion to their increasingly anachronistic agrarian power-pop. Fans familiar only with their pre-’74 compilations, however, will want to add “I Miss You,” “My Heart Goes Out to You,” and “Lonely You” to whatever music they use to commemorate Pete Ham’s suicide. Rating: Three hung juries out of five.

Badfinger: Wish You Were Here (Collector’s Choice)--At first I thought that the songs comprising this doomed quartet’s swan song sounded like Beatles outtakes. Then I noticed I wasn’t enjoying them as much as I enjoy Beatles outtakes. So I guess Badfinger outtakes is more like it: all the razzle and half the dazzle. Rating: Two-and-a-half flipped birds out of five.

Barnes & Barnes: Voohaba (Collector’s Choice)—Barnes & Barnes were Robert Haimer and Bill Mumy (the by-then grown-up actor who’d played Will Robinson on Lost in Space and whose solo recordings have recently received a boost from Mumy’s appearances on the Coast to Coast AM radio show). When Rhino first released this album in America’s bicentennial year, the duo was already well known to fans of Dr. Demento, the novelty-spinning DJ whose nationally syndicated program had made underground hits of their “Fish Heads” and “Boogie Woogie Amputee,” both included on this reissue in not one but two versions. Like the Residents (plus a sense of humor) or Devo (minus the beat), Barnes & Barnes took absurdity not only as a starting point but also as a given, then went as far with it as their electronic keyboards, cartoon singing, and bad taste would allow. They didn’t always get far, and when their destination was mere silliness (“Clip Clop [Ode to Equus],” “Three Drunk Newts”), the distance they covered was downright miniscule. But when they stuck with the universals--ex-girlfriends (“I Hope She Dies”), P.E. class (“High School Gym”), the Beatles (“Please Please Me”), adolescent awkwardness (“I Gotta Get a Fake I.D.”), death (“When You Die”)--they got further than you’d expect and probably further than they intended. And although they were as uncomfortable with sex as the Residents and Devo were, they were not above being obsessed with (and funny about) it (“The Lumanian Love Song,” “Cemetery Girls,” “High Heels and Cheese,” “Neanderthal Love,” “Voyeur,” “Party in My Pants”). Rating: Three-and-a-half ignobles & ignobles out of five.

Beatnik Beatch: Beatnik Beatch (Noble Rot)--If you remember this album, first released on Atlantic Records in 1987 and notable mainly for it’s eventually spawning Jellyfish, you’ve a better memory than I do. Funny, albums this quirky and catchy usually got coverage in Rolling Stone, Musician, or Creem, issues of which I seldom missed in those days. Anyway, the slick brightness of the sound, which tends to make the drums sound a tad too sharp, dates the production, but the hooks, rhythms, and vocals, which were more overtly audience-engaging than those of the self-consciously hip pop typical of the time, justify Noble Rot’s excavation. Favorite self-consciously hip couplet: “Hit the road, Jack / Kerouac.” Rating: Three-and-a-half miss(ter)spellings out of five.

Luc Beauséjour: Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier Book I (Naxos)--Bach’s own subtitle of this momentously influential contrapuntal masterpiece reads in part: “[P]reludes and fugues in all tones and semitones, in the major as well as the minor modes, for the benefit and use of musical youth desirous of knowledge as well as those who are already advanced in this study. For their especial diversion….” As performed by the Canadian harpsichordist Beausé jour (the harpsichord’s being one of several keyboard, or “clavier,” instruments Bach could’ve had in mind), this 285-year-old composition shimmers afresh, each note a crystalline window less into the past than into eternity. Rating: Five especial diversions out of five.

Sarah Blasko: What the Sea Wants, the Sea Will Have (Low Altitude)--She’s trying to be Tori Amos and failing just enough--or maybe succeeding just enough at channeling Terre Roche at her breathiest through Laurie Anderson at her poppiest and achieving an electronica-kissed, light-as-air delicacy you don’t have to be “sensitive” to love (or at least like).

Blue Oyster Cult: Spectres (Expanded Edition) (Columbia/Legacy)—Agents of Fortune is still the place to start with this band, which was always too eclectic for its own good, but this follow-up deserves the remastered, bonus-track-enhanced thirtieth-anniversary treatment if any slightly above-average ’70s album does. “Godzilla,” which commingled cartoon metal with a sci-fi/horror theme every bit as smashingly as Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein,” is still the high point, and, because it’s the lead track, Spectres does go downhill from there. But not precipitously--“Golden Age of Leather” is almost as fun (and funny), and the music into which the rest of the album levels off is almost as catchy. True, by concluding with another sci-fi/horror novelty song (“Nosferatu”), the original format made more conceptual sense, but this version’s ending with the previously unreleased (and completely straight-faced) cover of the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” makes sense too, if only by proving how good at being too eclectic for its own good this band could be. Rating: Three-and-a-half Red Lobster restaurants out of five.

Bratz: Fashion Pixiez (Universal)—The composers: Matthew Gerrard and Robbie Nevil. The singers: anonymous more-sugar-than-spice girls. And if you snub them just because they call one song “It’s a Girl Thing,” you’ll miss out on the fun crunch resulting from their high-gloss melding of loud drums and louder guitars. “We’re Gonna Rock” and “I Got Your Back” could almost pass for Joan Jett, “Who Dunnit” for Dick Tracey-era Madonna, “Ready to Roll” for the bubble-glam of Gary Glitter’s twisted fantasies. Unlike last year’s Forever Diamondz, Fashion Pixiez contains no killer covers, and the relentlessly “positive” lyrics are a drag. But if professional duty requires me to wallow in uplift, better these pizzazzy legatees of Josie and the Pussycats (and Christina Aguilera and Gwen Stefani) than High School Musical or Rascal Flatts. Rating: Three-and-a-half not-that-badly drawn girls out of five.

Breaks Co-Op: The Sound Inside (Astralwersks)— This pleasant but unremarkable follow-up to a hip-hop-meets-electronica album that’s now ten years old finds Hamish Clark and Zane Lowe, the latter of whom has made his recent living as a media personality in England, adding singer Andy Lovegrove en route to crafting a version of what Peter Gabriel might concoct were he to mellow out with David Gilmour and a drum machine. That the usual comparison has been to Crosby, Stills and Nash only goes to show that many critics mistakenly believe that all lovingly strummed acoustic guitars and three-part vocal harmonies are created equal. But, frankly, if only for sheer euphony and non-pseudo-political non-stupidity, these songs beat anything recorded by CSN in the last twenty years. They do not, however, beat recordings by CSN&Y from that same period. There’s nothing, in other words, as lively as “American Dream” to disrupt the overridingly trance-like vibe. Too bad. Rating: Two-and-a-half sandmen out of five.

Bright Eyes: Cassadaga (Saddle Creek)--The album begins with a blend of what sounds like a monologue by a paranormal radio host about the spiritualist virtues of Cassadaga, Fla., and a moody Conor Oberst rumination a la Roger Waters-era Pink Floyd, aural bombast included. Only Oberst never sounds pretentious--no mean accomplishment for someone as intelligent (and as aware of his intelligence) as he apparently is. That he keeps himself reigned in and gainfully distracted with standard ruses like stylistic and tempos shifts, female background vocals (albeit ones that sound channeled in from early Georges Moustaki and Leonard Cohen albums if not the beyond) only makes Oberst a talented mortal. What puts him on the brink of something more is his wit. Sloppy end rhyme and all, “I had a lengthy discussion about The Power of Myth / with a post-modern author who didn’t exist” beats several pages’ worth of Sufjan Stevens. Not that Oberst isn’t wordy, just that, except for mistakenly calling himself “nauseous” (sickening) when he means “nauseated” (sickened), he makes his words count. And those who get bored with the songs (even the initially mesmerizing “If the Brakeman Turns My Way” levels out after awhile) can amuse themselves by sliding the “spectral decoder” over the inner and outer cover and actually viewing the graphics. Rating: Four Ouija boards out of five.

Marc Broussard: S.O.S.: Save Our Soul (Vanguard)--Rarely if ever has a talented up-and-comer followed a well-received debut with an album of covers, so whether Broussard’s doing so represents an irrepressible need to pay tribute to his roots or a lack of anything to say, S.O.S. is a gutsy move. It’s also the most solid album of second-hand soul since Toots Hibbert’s very solid 1989 Toots in Memphis, with which it shares Al Green’s “Love and Happiness.” That Hibbert had been performing for as long as Broussard has been alive when he made Memphis (and that he had Sly and Robbie in the rhythm section) accounted for his album’s quality. What accounts for Broussard’s, the song he wrote included? Talent plus love and happiness plus New Orleans, sort of. (He makes a fine Pointer Brother.) And although “Respect Yourself” sounds stupider all the time, Broussard’s goes a long way toward erasing the memory of Bruce Willis’s. Rating: Four serious moonlightings out of five.

James Brown: The Singles Volume 2, 1960-1963 (Hip-O Select)--Marvel as “chitlin’ circuit” soul takes two steps forward, one step back, and so on, in its claiming of post-Elvis turf; as sixteen of these twenty singles (the B-sides of which are also included) make Billboard’s pop and-or black charts; as Brown’s still-developing gift for making excitingly cross-fertilized music takes a backseat to his versatile, almost too-passionately sweet singing. Rating: Three-and-a-half hit men of soul out of five.

Jerry Butler: The Ice Man Cometh/Ice on Ice (Collector’s Choice)--If you didn’t already know “Only the Strong Survive” or its strong fellow survivors “Moody Woman,” and “What’s the Use of Breaking Up?,” you’d be hard pressed to tell the hits from the filler, which, given this twofer’s vintage ( ’68-’69), makes it precious history indeed. Rating: Three-and-a-half tips of the ’berg out of five.

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