Tag Archives: 5 Stars (of 5)

Roxy Music – The Complete Studio Recordings 1972-1982

Roxy MusicThe Complete Studio Recordings 1972-1982 (Virgin)

A few years ago, I named Bryan Ferry’s Olympia release as worthy enough to receive the Roxy Music moniker. The argument went that the Roxy personnel all took part in its creation (including Brian Eno) so why not just used the brand name?

I had a chance to review that brand recently, thanks to the newly issued Roxy Music box set, The Complete Studio Recordings 1972 – 1982. And while I still would have no trouble with calling Olympia a Roxy Music album, the new box set has provided me with a renewed appreciation of why Ferry decided to leave well enough alone, because what they accomplished during their 8 studio records is already better than “well enough.”

The Complete Studio Recordings 1972 – 1982 is a ten-disc collection of those eight records, with the additional two housing the band’s debut single (“Virginia Plain” may be worth the price of admission alone), their b-sides, and the endless mixes on all of the Avalon singles.

Since we’ve already seen Roxy Music’s catalog reissued with the allure of remastered mixes, and since The Thrill Of It All had already served as a boxed compendium, why would anyone need to revisit the band in another career overview?

For me, it was a matter of simple mathematics. Having not gotten beyond a well worn, first generation cd of Avalon (that after a well-worn vinyl version from the friends at Columbia House) and some equally hissy copies of a few other titles, I knew that I’d eventually need to find a home for every single Roxy release. The new box set is priced low enough to hit everything at once.

That sticker price gets every release the full reproduction gatefold sleeves and, perhaps more importantly considering our trend on the loudness wars, a tinker-free release of the original recordings themselves.

This set represents the original mixes–for better or worse in some cases–with no hint of additional compression or heavy-handed eq’ing. That’s important when dealing with a band like Roxy Music, who seemed completely focused on their attention to detail.

“For worse” would be the awful mix that hindered the debut, to the point where Bryan Ferry himself wanted to redo the entire album for years after, because of the record’s unforgiving mix. They got better–as in remarkably better–on the follow-up For Your Pleasure, which finds Ferry exerting his dominance over Eno in the band’s arrangements.

In fact, For Your Pleasure not only shows the band to continue to grow without the aid of Eno’s input, it also finds them growing better as his role diminished. For Your Pleasure secures the band’s place in history even as their sophomore offering, and it’s just one of many discoveries that I found from The Complete Studio Recordings.

There’s two other must have releases, featured in their original and intended mixes that are, without question, deserving of everyone’s record collection: Siren and Avalon. Each effort shows the band in periods of enviable growth and brimming confidence. All three records taken in once again show a band perfectly adaptable at reinventing themselves, seemingly without sounding as if they were even setting out to do exactly that. They stumble into the career building moments with such ease that it makes the entire Eno departure feel like a necessary decision that allowed the band to become as great as they were.

But the real treat with The Complete Studio Recordings is re-examining Roxy Music’s other records, which pale only because that aforementioned trio of essential records shine so brightly.

I remembered being drawn to Country Life as a teenager, most assuredly for its risqué cover and confirmation of Bryan Ferry’s prowess as a ladies man. I am now drawn to it entirely from its content inside. It is a collection of consistent growth, finding the band very comfortable with their fashion and abilities as musicians. This is the sound of a band working hard at their craft, while donning a business casual clothing sense during the rehearsal time.

By Manifesto! the band is acting the part of royal statesmen while Flesh + Blood–a personal favorite that’s much maligned by others outside of the Roxy faithful–begins to show signs of a new subgenre, one whose name doesn’t even exist.

I understand the complaints of how Flesh + Blood is nothing more than a tepid return from a lengthy (by 1980 standards) hiatus, but for me it sounds like a victory lab before unleashing what would become the band’s signature opus, Avalon.

Avalon benefits the most from the 2012 remastering as it leaves the record’s rich texture and subtle dynamics in tact, a rare feat during a time when most re-issues are met with a tradition of remixing records of some note to cater to the thin fidelity of today’s earbud generation.

The Complete Studio Recordings 1972 – 1982 hints at a much different era. It reflects a time when bands were given a wide birth in order to grow and develop. It also demonstrates how this freedom can actually lend itself to fostering an environment where a band can become great on its own, through natural selection and just plain old stubbornness.

It is a necessary document of the band’s legacy and consistency, one that’s needed not only out of the duty that’s created from their influence, but for the sheer enjoyment of listening to a band grow, develop, and become great.

What makes it such a requirement is how it shows that Roxy Music managed to do that not just once or twice, but for at least three of titles included with this collection. And to be able to achieve this in the span of a decade makes this box set not only complete, but completely essential.

Spiritualized – Sweet Heart Sweet Light

SpiritualizedSweet Heart Sweet Light (Fat Possum)

Within the first measures of Spiritualized’s eighth album, head Spaceman Jason Pierce continues his journey away from the minimalist leanings that he’s examined for the last pair of records, and back to the orchestrated grandeur of his revered back catalog.

While all of that may sound like a reprise of his past--which it most definitely is--what’s completely unexpected is the perfect balance that Pierce and company find between the grand stage and two-bedroom apartment. The one where the second bedroom houses all of the pawnshop gear and magnetic tape instead of a rent-contributing roommate.

A Theremin enters into the mix about thirty seconds into Sweet Heart Sweet Light, signaling that after nearly ten years of stripping down the mix, Pierce seems like fashioning up something big for this release. By the end of the record, even the traces of a musical saw seem perfectly fitting and admirably well thought out.

It’s not only one of the best albums you’ll hear all year, it ranks as one of the best in Pierce’s already impressive catalog. Entering his third decade in rock music, Pierce has packed Sweet Heart Sweet Light with beautifully simple arrangements with a sharper bite to his lyrics, some that see a somewhat compelling return to the misery that his distinctive monotone voice can wrap itself around so organically.

By the end of “Hey Jane,” the first song on the eleven track release, the band has already delivered a late career utter masterpiece of a song, complete with an inspired “Hey Jude” coda that gives the album its title.

He’s lifting a bit from his Spacemen 3 past on “Get What You Deserve,” but then, about four minutes into the track, the stereo begins to separate into a wider channel, leaving the main vocal track barking up the middle. By the fifth minute, everything is overcome with guitar distortion and vintage effect pedals while beautiful strings surround the outer ear.

By the end of the song, you’ve forgotten all about the clever allusions to the Spaceman’s past and begin caring about what is in store for us next in his future.

Quite simply, it’s a perfect blend of Pierce’s roots and the unbridled ambition of his revered late 90’s period.

When you get to “I Am What I Am,” with its Sunday go to meetin’ gospel chorus bouncing over Pierce’s deadpanned delivery, it becomes clear that there really isn’t a dud to be found on Sweet Heart Sweet Light. There’s just plenty of additional evidence what some of us have considered for some time now: that Jason Pierce is one the genre’s most vital contributors and to be able to continue to release records like this-clearly equipped for greatness and longevity-then we owe it to him to acknowledge how sweet it is to still have him around.

Video: Spiritualized – “Hey Jane”

Spiritualized, Hey Jane

Video: Spiritualized – “Little Girl”

Spiritualized - "Little Girl" (Official Video)

Japandroids – Celebration Rock

JapandroidsCelebration Rock (Polyvinyl)

The most frustrating thing about Japandroids is that there is barely a hint of complexity, and within the first minute or so of any random song of theirs–be it from Post Nothing or their new sophomore effort Celebration Rock–you’ll have these guys completely figured out. Distorted guitars, driving drums, anthemic chorus, and repeat. There should be no reason within the band’s recorded grooves to cause much of an internal commotion.

Yet here I am, trying to put that surprise outburst to words, struggling to find the appropriate weight of just how good Japandroids second album is, particularly since this tasty apple doesn’t fall that far from the branches of their debut.

It’s better than Post Nothing because it’s a step further. Each song sounds epic enough that the fact they’re a duo doesn’t even enter the equation. They all tend to get louder the farther into the song you get and with each increase, the listener tends to get even more worked up. By the end of Celebration Rock, I had an uncontrollable urge to look for their tour schedule. Because if they can stir up that kind of adrenaline rush, sitting complacently on my couch, then being in the same room of other devotes would most certainly feel revolutionary.

It’s also better because they’re older. Droids Brian Smith (guitar) and David Prowse (drums) are getting ready to hit thirty soon, but they’ve thankfully seen what’s coming with their encroaching middle age and have decided to enter it kicking and screaming. Lucky for us, Celebration Rock lets us live vicariously through that realization, and best of all they’ve made the chord structures easy enough for all of us to learn.

Wanna know their trick? Great songs. Japandroids not only subscribe to the less is more formula in terms of membership, they’ve trimmed the fat so much that the record is a blast–both literally and figuratively–clocking in at a mere thirty-five minutes in Celebration Rock’s eight songs.

Celebration Rock marks the very rare occasion when the middle-age contrarians knee deep in their own nostalgic fog can co-mingle with the dwindling youth who still think rock and roll is worth a damn. It’s an exuberant reminder of the genre’s strength, particularly when it’s fueled with nothing more than a pair of young men with full hearts, a few drinks and some instruments to help translate their angst.

MP3: Japandroids – “The House That Heaven Built” (Via Epitonic)

The Smiths – Complete

It’s impossible for me to separate The Smiths’ music from my strong personal connection to it. The Smiths were the first band that truly connected me with a world outside of where I had been before. From art, to humor, to the morose, to loneliness and isolation, the music touched me.

I came to find the Smiths in my early teens after a very major car accident in which I fractured my hip, pelvis, wrist (in two places) and had severe nerve damage down my leg. I was in the hospital for a month and a half in traction, unable to move my leg…stationary, idle, and in unbelievable amounts of pain. I had two major surgeries during that time. After the hospital, I had difficulty walking for years, lots of pain, and felt very self-conscious of being different and having different experiences than my friends. It was impossible to feel connected.

Before the accident, I mainly listened to Top 40: Prince, Van Halen (DLR era, thank you sweet baby Jesus), and other mainstream music. Post accident that music didn’t speak to me any longer. I can’t remember how I came across their music…probably 120 Minutes, Rolling Stone (remember when that was a good magazine?), or Spin (ditto), but when I did it hit me like a lightning rod, mainlining directly into the nerve center of where I was and how I was feeling. The Smiths are a touchstone band for me, marking a period of growth, understanding and exploration of music that still envelops my life today (and always will).

Rhino’s new box set includes all eight digitally remastered Smiths albums, including the four studio albums, the three compilations (Hatful of Hollow, The World Won’t Listen, and Louder Than Bombs), as well as the live album, Rank. The remastered music is pristine and the songs timeless.

A deluxe edition includes both CD and vinyl all 25 of The Smiths’ singles on 7” vinyl, art prints, a poster, and a DVD. These are individually numbered and limited to 4,000 worldwide.

It lacks extra vault offerings that remain unavailable due to well publicized differences on just about everything between band members, which disappoints. However, if you haven’t discovered the Smiths, now is a great time to dive in. If you are a fellow rabid fan and haven’t upgraded to the far superior sound of the releases this year, you won’t be disappointed.

How did you first connect with music?

[Editorial note: The “Complete” title is misleading since the set is missing a handful of officially released b-sides, notably “Wonderful Woman” and some live stuff.]

  

Josh T. Pearson – Last Of The Country Gentlemen

Josh T. Pearson - Last Of The Country GentlemenJosh T. PearsonLast Of The Country Gentlemen (Mute)

How do you grade a perfect album? More to the point, how do you review an album so remarkable that its perfection will ultimately turn most listeners off?

And here is something else that will blow your mind: Most of the people who end up disliking Last Of The Country Gentlemen after they’ve heard it still won’t be able to pan it very much, because that would be like piling more agony on a guy that sounds like he’s just had the worst day of his entire life.

Continue reading Josh T. Pearson – Last Of The Country Gentlemen