BATTLE OF THE BLANDS

It’s an international power-trio showdown! From Wales, the young men in Stereophonics bring to the table their new album, Just Enough Education to Perform (V2). The challenger? Three dopes from southern California who call themselves Blink-182. You may have seen them running around naked on MTV. Who’s the better band? Let’s find out…

The three young Welshmen in Stereophonics have been around since the late 90s, and have found their brand of Manic Street Preachers-style arena rock to be very palatable to UK ears. Frontman Kelly Jones sounds like Rod the Mod at 2 in the morning after a pack of Dunhills; the music is capable midtempo rawk, crashing riffs sharing space with quiet moments. Throughout their 3-album career, they have been a singles machine, cranking out fist-pumping, pal-hugging numbers with the efficiency of The Army Corps of Engineers. Just Enough Education to Perform (V2), their latest album, is a misstep on the level of Howard The Duck.

Stereophonics are kind of like the UK Blink-182: Three good-lookin’ kids who bash out anthems just serviceable enough to justify their garrulous tour riders. But while Blink has stuck to the same sophomoric pop-punk formula since the band’s inception, Stereophonics – most notably principal songwriter Jones – have decided to become ah-tists, mate. Maybe that’s why their new album stinks like blue cheese.

Blink-182 has never apologized for their utter lack of originality. Their mantra seems to be, “if it ain’t broke, copy it.” “What’s My Age Again?,” the head-rush lead single from 1999’s Enema of the State, is like hearing Tommy Tutone on speed. Who can blame them? “867-5309” was a great song. Blink-182 have since released a string of well-received, completely serviceable rockers that retain the band’s So-Cal, skate punk sense of humor while still selling millions of records. It’s Joke-Punk for the masses, and those boys’re getting away with murder.

Since their appearance on the pop culture radar screen, Blink-182 have gone on to rekease a live album chronicling their recent world tour. I’m sure it’s very nice. Most likely, when a new studio album surfaces, it’ll be more of the same sugar-punk that the trio has become rich playing. And if there’s a “We Didn’t Start The Fire”-esque history ballad in the bunch, I’ll wear a barrel. After all, these are the guys who rhymed “would never make it” with “can’t drive naked.” But Stereophonics? Well, let’s just say Kelly Jones might have been spending some time towing the line on the Downeaster Alexis.

J.E.E.P.‘s “Have A Nice Day” is the kind of decade-per-verse historical rock crapola that no one besides Don McLean has any right to perform. Here, as Jones yaps about Kennedy and The Moon and whatever else, he and his band end up sounding like a Jesus Jones cover band doing their modern rock take on “Right Here, Right Now.” Unfortunately, “Have A Nice Day” typifies what’s wrong with Stereophonics’ new material. With his lyrics, Jones is trying way too hard to be lyrical, man, and you know, make people think about shit, you know? And I really don’t think that’s a good avenue for three young guys from Wales to travel down. The group’s Performance & Cocktails (V2) LP from 1999 struck a balance between boozing, cigarette-smoking rave-ups (“Roll Up And Shine”) and Brit-pop ballads (“Just Looking”). There was no pretense. Songs were about girls, drinking, and drinking with girls, with plenty of influence from Faces and AC/DC. Unfortunately, the bland rock of J.E.E.P. keeps putting shitty Mike & The Mechanics songs in my head. “Can you hear me? Can you hear me runnin’…?”

The band’s new material is probably just up to snuff enough to sell a few tickets to their gigs on the annual UK festival circuit. Even though J.E.E.P’s mediocrity will stink up the joint, “classics” like “Thousand Trees” or “Local Boy In The Photograph” (both from 1997’s Word Gets Around) can carry a crowd. Even when Canadian-Rock-sounding tripe is spilling out of his mouth, Jones’ roughshod voice is still cool, and very Rock and Roll. So that’s something. But he and his mates should really take a page from Mark, Tom and Travis of Blink-182: Less cock, more rock! Crank up the amps, order a round of pints for the lads, and leave the proselytizing and message songs to Billy fucking Joel.

JTL

Fortune & Maltese Leave No Stoned Unturned

Check out the brilliant video for garage rock legends, Fortune & Maltese’s song, “Leave No Stoned Unturned,” directed by Hollywood heartthrob Martijn Veltman. After you watch it, you can rank it from 1 to 10. This one’s an 11.

Video: Fortune and Maltese – “Leave No Stone Unturned”

Leave No Stone Unturned – Fortune and Maltese

[Video embedded 2010. -ed.]

WHO’S AFRAID OF ELENI MANDELL?

Eleni Mandell

Martyr’s, 4/17

WHO’S AFRAID OF ELENI MANDELL?

Me.

Imagine the punk rock offspring of Tea Leoni and Corin Tucker, raised in LA on a diet of PJ Harvey, Tom Waits, and Nina Simone and you’re getting close to what Los Angeles-based singer Eleni Mandell brings to the table. Oh, and did I mention she’s like a lion tamer, whipping her charges with cat-and-nine-tails barbs as hot as the Mojave sun and just as sexy as a desert sunset?

Tuesday night at Martyr’s, Mandell owned the crowd, and only with the power of her voice, solitary acoustic guitar, and sheer presence. With her dark eyes like rubies peering out into the club, Mandell brought to life her dusty, musky tales of love, lust, and the 2K1 human condition.

Her smoky delivery and she-devil lyrics bring to mind the sultry-like-a-fox erotica of a PJ Harvey, but Eleni Mandell is not simply the American version. There isn’t the same rage in her sound. “Too Bad About You” brings together a pretty Lulu/ Brenda Lee vocal with summers-day plucking and a sidelong, knowing glare that keeps the guys guessing. “My Bradbury dreams won’t keep me from seeing the truth,” she sings. “You should have come with me. Too bad about you.” It’s Sci Fi, LA, and lovelorn cock-tease wrapped up in a fish taco package too tough and too dusty for even the shady-eyed fool at the end of the bar who thinks, “Yeah, she digs me.” Watch out boy, she’ll chew you up.

On Thrill (Zedtone), her second album, “Too Bad About You” is followed by “1970 Red Chevelle,” which lets you know that this girl sees right through the big engine posturing of the lost souls driving through the LA night. On Thrill (as well as Wishbone , her self-released 1999 debut), Mandell fleshes out her song stories w/ touches of marimba, percussion, and bass. But the albums retain her live set’s dusky feel, like a mirage shimmering off a desert highway on an all-night drive to Los Angeles and all the potential (for love and loss) that that city harbors beneath its smog.

At times on Tuesday, the vibe was almost cabaret-like, as Mandell’s offhanded sashaying behind her worn acoustic guitar melded with beautiful vocal key changes. Quiet to loud to throaty to sexy all in one measure. The crowd stood silent, enraptured. (Whispered to the barkeep) “I’ll take a Miller High Life, please…” Something needs to cool this room down.

Mandell’s vocals remind me a lot of Paula Frazer, another west coast chanteuse with the ability to move between notes with sultry fluidity. Frazer’s work with her band Tarnation always seemed to be drenched in the light of a distant fire. Both women’s voices conjure plenty of imagery: speakeasy flappers; backroom deals; Americana murder ballads; and the Moulin Rouge on a more wild night. The fact that Eleni Mandell can bring all of this out with only her voice and a guitar proves the ability that left her audience’s collective jaw scraping the floor Tuesday night at Martyr’s.

JTL

Some will never get it

Check this out, the latest idiocy from a company long known for such: “Buick is introducing a new divisional tag line in upcoming television work that breaks this week for the Century. The line ‘It’s All Good’ closes the new spot and begins to appear in print advertising for all Buick brands.”

Yep, you read that right, the new Buick slogan is “It’s all good.” As Pat asked: What’s the dillyo? Was “It’s the shiznit” already taken? Do we get to look forward to cupholders sized just right for a 40? (Eazy, may his soul rest in peace, would be happy— no longer would he be freezin’ his balls.) But really, are we supposed to think that Buick and its HNIC Tiger (the whitest Black man on the planet) are down with the Hip Hop Nation? Will we see the new Buick “G” replace the venerable moniker “GS”?

Is this not the ultimate example of a corporation copping street ‘tude to hawk crap that has nothing to do with the true spirit of that which its marketing usurps? How could it get worse?

At least the fools who fall for Volkswagen’s mixes and are tooling around in new Jettas are driving decent cars.

The Prophecy: Black Sabbath and the American Economy

You must read this brilliant article about the connection between Sabbath’s album, Heaven and Hell, and its effects on twenty years of economic history. It’s hysterical. Here’s a taste:

I began to realize the hidden message behind this record. It wasn’t drug use, violence or satan-worship, as many protective mothers would have you believe. Instead, I found a prophecy for American Economic health and development that spanned two decades, from the album’s release in 1980 through the year 2000.

The author goes on to explicate snippets of lyrics from various songs on the album and explain their true, albeit hidden meaning.

Written by Me seems like a pretty great idea for a web site. Anyone can publish their writing there, and writers can get even get paid in online coupons if what they post gets a lot of hits. Power to the people. And listen closely to Black Sabbath. Don’t say you weren’t warned…

Record Shopping with Phil: Rummaging through Rock’s Lost and Found

Stephen Stills’ “Illegal Stills” and “An Evening with Teegarden and VanWinkle”

I am unemployed. That means I have a lot of time on my hands and aside from sending out resumes and cover letters and searching through the countless crap jobs our floundering economy offers, I also shop for records. I have two quaint and excellent record stores in my neighborhood. There’s Laurie’s Universe of sound just around the corner, smack in the middle of Lincoln Square and there’s The Record Round Up on Montrose, just a few blocks away. Laurie’s has somewhat punk/indie rock leanings, while the Record Round Up appropriately focuses on folk and country with a smattering of rock.

The other day I wandered down to the Record Round Up as I was needing a walk on such a fine spring day. I love the Round Up. It is the perfect local record shop with an affable guy behind the counter who NEVER asks me more than once how I’m doing or if I’m looking for something specific. This guy knows my kind. He is my kind and knows damn well that that I am doing just fine and that I am NOT looking for anything specific.

The place is a veritable junk store with books, old photographs, cowboy shirts and, of course, thousands of moldy records. I almost always find something in this store. This week I bought two records: Steven Stills’ “Illegal Stills” and “An Evening at Home with Teegarden and VanWinkle”

I love Stephen Stills. I love his voice, I love his guitar playing (from the 70s. Anything else must go, but that’s another article). I also love early 70s country rock, the kind you hear from Gram Parsons, the Stones’ “Sticky Fingers” or even on CSNY’s “Country Girl.” The cover of Illegal Stills is promising. It’s a Mason jar with a label featuring Still’s goofy mug peering out from under a cowboy hat. It declares itself to be “Hill Country’s Best” and 33 ½ proof! I’m a bit of a drunk and ready to down this jar o’ shine just as quickly as I can get home. Turns out this potato mash juice is bunk and warm to boot! It unfortunately possesses the elements of Still’s music that I hate: ultra clean production and instantly forgettable melodies. It’s a bust.

Record number two fares better—much better. I found it buried way back in a stack on the floor. These are the records that don’t even get a spot in the racks. But that’s where I find my gems. I found The Tough Guys soundtrack featuring the fantastic and often sampled “Hung Up on My Baby” in the forgotten pile. I also found Stephen Stills’ Live album recorded in 1975—one side Electric, one side acoustic just like his hero Neil Young—which led me to the above purchase.

I almost skipped over Teegarden and VanWinkle, but something about the name rang a bell. This is a live album recorded in I’m guessing the early to mid 1970s (there’s no copyright date or other dating information) at the Red Carpet in Detroit. Sab and Gary can tell you all about the Detroit scene both past and present, that’s not what drew me to this album. Upon investigating the inner sleeve of this gatefold beauty I spied a familiar name. It seems An Evening with Teegarden and VanWinkle was produced by James Cassily: father of longtime friend and fellow band mate Josh C. Rogers. Cassily was also once the producer for my own Vantrells. We’d gotten in plenty of dust ups over production and what was appropriate and what wasn’t. He must have wondered who I thought I was. Cassily had worked with Detroit legends including Seger. I’d heard plenty about Teegarden and VanWinkle and was now about to hear the majesty that is Jim Cassily.

The album is good. Not great, but not bad. It’s good. In fact I like it quite a bit. It’s introduced by the very young voice of Herr Cassily, which immediately brought a smile to my face, and launches into a groovy medium tempo blues jam called “Today I left for the big city.” It’s kind of a mix between the working class blues-based jams of Detroit’s past and the soul marathons of Geno Washington. I love it. It’s getting’ high music. It’s slow summer days. It’s my home of Michigan. It’s my old drummer’s dad!

Record shopping is tedious work. It takes patience and a keen eye. But the rewards are fantastic. You can find stinkers and records you bought simply for the cover which will bloat your collection and cause a severe dilemma come moving day. But sometimes you find gems and sometimes you find the perfect segue from Hazel Adkins to P-Funk and sometimes you find an old friend. The dusty, musty stacks of records hidden away in your local vinyl shop are just like the boxes of fuzzy mittens and dank hats hidden under the counter at the bus station. Dig around and you might find a size that fits just right and you can’t beat the price.

Madonna: Drowning in a Sea of Bombast

Kevin Costner seemed to be on top of the movie world. Handsome. Charming. Known to be the dead guy in the tuxedo that Lawrence Kasdan left on the cutting room floor at the start of The Big Chill. He was on a roll.

Then came a day in late July 1995. Waterworld was released. And arguably Costner’s career, if not entirely submerged, at least became all wet.

Which was brought to mind by the name of the tour that has been announced by an individual “[W]idely considered amongst the greatest performers in modern musical history,” a tour that “promises to be the most extravagant stage spectacle” of this extravagant spectacle’s career. As the news release, from which those quotes are extracted, breathlessly announces in the headline: “Superstar’s Back on Stage After 8 Year Absence.” Yes, we’re talking about Madonna.

The name of the tour (and why do tours have names?): The Drowned World Tour.

It “promises to be an ecstatic celebration of artistry and technology.” Sort of sounds like what Costner had been up to, too.

(BTW, Sab: The Palace, August 25. And for you in the Great City, United Center, the 28th.)

Lester Bangs Does Brownsville Station

Posted another Bangs review in the Features section. This one is a review of Ann Arbor’s Brownsville Station and their album, A Night on the Town. It’s from the July 6, 1972 issue of Rolling Stone. Dig it.

Continue reading Lester Bangs Does Brownsville Station

VW: Very White

There’s an oddity sitting in my CD player right now. It’s a promotional CD from Volkswagen that they give you when you buy a new car. I snagged it out of a press evaluation car because I figured it might have some decent tunes on it, you know, stuff from their commercials: “Mr. Roboto” or that Da-Dah-Dah-Dah song. Or some cool mainstream techno like Daft Punk or Chemical Bros. Well, no dice; with the exception of a yet another cover of The Smiths’ “How Soon is Now” (soon to rival even “Yesterday” as the most covered song of all time), it pretty much sucks. But I’m not surprised, and that’s not what this piece is about because no one needs to read my explanation of why the Bare Naked Ladies blow. You already know that. (Unless, of course, you’re the type of person who discovered the bad club music of Submarine by buying a Passat, in which case you’re just pathetic and the point herein will be lost on you.)

(Okay, while I’m being parenthetical I’ve got to admit to liking that one Bare Naked Ladies song about the old apartment, but that’s just because I’m always a sucker for any song about heartache. Yeah, I know that makes me pathetic, but all anyone has to do is sing “I want her/him back” or “And I miss her/him/you/etc.” and I’m hooked. Call it Hank Williams syndrome. But, I digress.)

So my issue is not with the music on the CD sucking, as much as what the music on the CD reflects what VW thinks about its customers. Now I’m not naive enough to think that my local dealership is going to hook me up with the new Outkast disc or give me my choice between the International Submarine Band and P-Funk’s greatest hits. But a disc that’s entirely full of forgettable white pop toe tappers that one might hear on any corporate “alternative” radio station is unconscionable. Do the dumb fucks in Auburn Hills (VW of America, Hamlin Rd., 48326) really think that their customer base is as cookie-cutter homogenous as that? Or do they just really want the customer base to be that way? Is there not enough room on the sampler for a single hip-hop track or one pop-ified country crossover? What about a nice easy listening smooth jazz cut? I mean, the disc could still be as banal and inoffensive and awful, but at least try for a little more variety!

I’ve got no problem with VW’s cars. I’ve got no problem with VW’s advertising. But the marketing fool who put together this compilation for them needs to be kicked repeatedly.

I once owned an Oldsmobile, given to me by my grandmother appropriately enough. And with it came a sampler cassette (yes, this was pre-CD) that contained music that Olds, correctly, figured its customers might like to listen to. And it was good; this coming from someone who, at age 21, was a good 34 years too young to be part of the Olds demographic. Sure, I didn’t like all of the music on it, but there was enough variety (even some classical cuts—those being the ones that I used to fast forward through) to keep it interesting. And yes, it was lacking the heavy metal and the rap that I was into at the time, but I recall there was one catchy R&B song and a nice female country crooner whose name escapes me, but whose song did make it onto a few of my mix tapes from the era.

The point is that diversity is good. It spreads ideas and styles and creates understanding. And it might even help you sell a few more cars.

Hanson: It’s Just Good

It sounds like the Hanson boys are getting hip on us now. Check out this quote from an article on rollingstone.com: “There’s more reckless abandon on this record,” says Taylor [Hanson]. “A sense that we’re not gonna over-think things. I wanna leave space for people to hear the parts, the grit of the guitar or the driving rhythms. Not to say it’s not gonna be tight and that the songs won’t be pop . . . I love writing songs with that hook, that’s what I enjoy, like every Big Star song. But I want people to feel it. I want people to instantaneously be drawn in and go, ‘I don’t know why I like it. I don’t care if it’s Hanson or Black Sabbath, it’s just good.'”

Could their next album be good? They’re working with Matthew Sweet on a song. Who knows?

Rock and roll can change your life.