Two decades ago, new albums from Cheap Trick, Sarah McLachlan, Dokken and others were spinning away in my portable CD player. Here’s what I had to say about them back then (with some minor editing):
Music For Hangovers
The veteran rock goofballs’ last tour wins the prize for coolest concept: Cheap Trick did four-night club stands with one night devoted to each of their first four albums, performed in its entirety and in running order. That would have been something to see. And to hear. And it surely would have made for a better live album than Music For Hangovers, which samples selected tracks from the shows. Don’t get me wrong: It’s great to finally get live versions of age-old gems like Hot Love, The Ballad Of T.V. Violence and Taxman, Mr. Thief. And if you think Budokan is the best live album ever recorded, this will probably be a close second. But even though it’s a good — make that damn good — disc, it easily could have (and should have) been more deserving of a toast than this watered-down offering.
Between three Lilith Fair outings, just as many live albums, and tours for her own discs, you’d think even Sarah McLachlan would be sick of her live act. Obviously not, judging by this 66-minute set documenting her Surfacing tour last year. Not that there’s much wrong here; there’s no denying the passion and sheer beauty of songs like Building A Mystery and I Will Remember You, and tracks like Fumbling Towards Ecstasy and Sweet Surrender even rock out in a dreamy sorta way. Still, we’ve heard them all before — and the rest of this ballad-heavy collection just seems like music to light candles and bubble-bathe to. It was a good show, Sarah, but we’ll pass on the encore, thanks.
Erase The Slate
Now here’s a scary concept: The ninth album of vintage ’80s hair metal from a reunited Dokken (except for guitarist George Lynch, replaced by the guy from Winger). Scarier still: They cover the Three Dog Night hit One, souping it up with head-banging guitars, crotch-grabbing vocals and boogie-rock drums. Scariest of all: It’s not half bad. Same goes for the hard-driving, Deep Purplesque title cut and the sleaze-metal of Crazy Mary Goes Round. If they can write a few more tracks like these, ditch the dated power ballads and hang in there until the inevitable ’80s nostalgia craze kicks in, Dokken could make a massive comeback. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
This Is Normal
If you remember this nine-member Icelandic art/music collective at all, it’s likely from their ’97 club hit Polyesterday, a bittersweet lolly of quirky pop exuberance. Well, if that was normal, This Is Normal, their second album, is a whole new ball of wax. This time, the grooves are darker and spacier, the lyrics sleazier and spicier, the effect sultry and soulful instead of bright and bubbly. With its black-ice bass lines, icicle synths and sultry funktronica, This Is Normal is the perfect soundtrack to a sweaty, all-night, um, dance. You may not have remembered them from before, but you won’t forget them now.
Bellavista Terrace: The Best Of
Ah, the ironies of pop. Legendary Aussie new wavers The Go-Betweens toiled in obscurity for years, only to call it quits a decade ago. Now, naturally, their career has never been better. Earlier this year, U.S. label Jetset released their long-lost first recordings to much rejoicing; now comes this long-overdue best-of set. As David Byrne-ish singer Robert Forster admits, that’s Best Of as opposed to Greatest Hits — despite their spry melodies, wry lyrics and romantic acoustic-pop (think early Talking Heads meets late-period Stranglers), none of these 14 tracks ever came within spitting distance of a chart. Still, you never know — if they can just stay broken up, in a few more years The Go-Betweens could be huge.
Phil Collins & Mark Mancina
Me swing into local record store to buy soundtrack for Disney’s new Tarzan ’toon. Me excited, hoping for some good monkey music — maybe Kinks’ Apeman, Stones’ I’m A Monkey, or even Dickies’ You Drive Me Ape (You Big Gorilla). What me get instead? Hairless ape Phil Collins voicing typical Disney movie treacle, full of overblown orchestral pomp and sappy pop sentiment. Even worse, disc more padded than Jane; two and three versions of some songs on same disc. You ever get feeling you been Cheetahed? This Tarzan, he lame.
Notting Hill Soundtrack
This soundtrack for the Julia Roberts–Hugh Grant smoochfest Notting Hill bills itself as “the most romantic soundtrack of the summer.” Translation: Sappy ballads and plenty of ’em. Having said that, I will admit that scattered among the dross — Boyzone, 98°, a Shania Twain remix — are some flecks of gold: Elvis Costello’s tender reading of Charles Aznavour’s She, Bill Withers’ unimpeachable Ain’t No Sunshine, Al Green’s timeless How Can You Mend A Broken Heart and even Spencer Davis’s Gimme Some Lovin’. Program your CD player right and you have half a good album.
Big Daddy Soundtrack
In the same way that Adam Sandler adopts an adorable little moppet in this new summer comedy, a few rock stars take custody of some other artists’ musical offspring in this soundtrack disc. Like Sheryl Crow, who gets all maternal with an acoustic-based take on Guns N’ Roses’ Sweet Child O’ Mine; Everlast, whose hip-hop crew folks around with Neil Young’s Only Love Can Break Your Heart; or Shawn Mullins, who fosters a new version of George Harrison’s What Is Life. Otherwise, this is the typical set of tunes old (If I Can’t Have You, Babe) and new (Mel C’s Ga Ga, Limp Bizkit’s Just Like This). Extra points for including a few gags from the flick between songs.
Maybe it’s pronounced velocity and maybe it’s not, but in any case, the way U.K. trip-pop trio Velocette spell their name makes perfect sense — they’re less concerned with power and more with style. Style in the form of lush synthetic musical beddings for angelic vocalist Sarah Bleach to languidly stretch out upon; style in the form of Phil Spectorish Wall Of Sound backgrounds and Burt Bacharach-style arrangements; style in the form of of-the-moment Portisheady grooves and shimmering melodies. When you get right down to it, style is the substance of Velocette. And while they may not have a lot to say, they sure know the right way to say it.
Eliades Ochoa Y El Cuarteto Patria
The Buena Vista Social Club CD — the Ry Cooder-organized gathering of some of Cuba’s most respected and talented musicians — was easily the biggest world music album in years. Now we’re seeing the spinoff benefit of its success: More Cuban albums than ever on local record racks. Not surprisingly, many of them (including these two) boast some connection to the BVSC. Eliades Ochoa, whose eight-string guitar graced the Buena Vista recordings, finally gets his chance to call the shots on his solo CD Sublime Illusion. It’s a stunner: with a style that can be as delicate as raindrops or as powerful as a torrential storm, Ochoa covers the spectrum of Cuban music — sons and guarachas, torchy tangos and fiery boleros — with help from Cooder, Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo and even blues harmonica star Charlie Musselwhite. Putumayo’s Cuba collection can’t boast that sort of superstar roster, although it does have Ochoa, along with other Social Clubbers such as vocalist Ibrahim Ferrer and percussionist Barbarito Torres. But whatever it lacks in star power it more than makes up for in quality, with 10 tracks of spicy timbales and claves, jazzy big-band beats and Ricky Ricardo rhythms that’ll have you Havana daydreamin’.
The Planet Smashers
Life Of The Party
Being the life of the party in a curling uniform is no mean feat, but Montreal ska vets The Planet Smashers pull it off on their third album — and without resorting to any cheap lampshade-on-the-head antics. Instead, they play it cool. Avoiding the typical herky-jerk and forced franticity of most modern ska, they let old-school Jamaican bluebeat’s tried-and-true flowing rhythms and supple horns provide a solid foundation for their frat-boy lyrical tomfoolery in songs like Super Orgy Porno Party, Surfin’ In Tofino and Kung Fu Master. If you dig California’s Hepcat, invite The Planet Smashers to your next bash.
Here’s something odd: Saskatchewan is the only Canadian province that actually has the word ska in its name — yet it’s the last place you’d expect to find a ska band, let alone one of the country’s premier acts. Well, as usual, the things you’re after always turn up in the last place you’d look. Meet Regina’s Skavenjah, a third-wave nine-piece act whose authentic vibe, bouncy jump and hepped-up horns turn their second CD Little Monsters into one monster groove-a-thon. And if they’re from Regina, imagine how good they’d be if they were from SaSKAtoon.
Maybe my mind is in the gutter, but at first I assumed this title was some obscene piece of gang-slogan graffiti. Turns out it’s the initials to three songs of NYC hardcore quintet H20’s killer third CD. The first of them, Faster Than The World, pretty much sums things up — with the help of producer, Bad Religion axeman (and Epitaph owner) Brett Gurewitz, these boys put the pedal to the metal and blister their way through 19 songs in just over a half-hour. Gurewitz isn’t alone on the guest list: Rancid’s Tim Armstrong, Mighty Mighty Bosstone Dicky Barrett and a who’s who or hardcore pop up amid the machine-gun drums, chrome-plated melodies and mile-a-minute punk anthems. In other words, F.T.T.W. also stands for Full-Throttle Thundering Wail.
Fu Manchu, Nebula and Queens Of The Stone Age have been bogarting the stoner-rock joint for the last few years, but now it’s time to pass it down the line — there’s a new buzz band in town. That would be New York’s Chrome Locust, a rip-snorting power trio featuring two ex-members of D-Generation (including Todd Youth, who’s also done time in Agnostic Front and Murphy’s Law). CL have all the moves down pat: the Black (Sabbath) and Blue (Cheer) metallurgy, the wah-wah boogie-rock vibe, the Stooges’ raw power, the teen-angst lyrics about conspiracies, demons and “playing Asteroids to Paranoid” — and, of course, the fuzzed-out sonic boom of Armageddon. And after that apocalypse, you can bet Chrome Locust will outlast even the cockroaches.
Whistler vocalist Kerry Shaw would make a great movie villainness — she’s the kind of woman that can coo sweet nothings in your ear as she’s planting an ice pick between your shoulder blades. Anyway, that’s the sense I get from her mesmerizing, menacing vocals on the debut disc from this U.K. trio. As guitarist Ian Dench and violist James Topham craft breezy folktronica, Shaw’s sharp wit, sharp tongue and haunting, haunted voice make Garbage’s Shirley Manson seem like Britney Spears. “Every time I wound your pride, are you going to fake a suicide?” she snipes. “Shall I speak like a retard … Then will you understand me?” Hatred never sounded so sweet — just keep her away from that ice pick.
Catch De Vibe
After 20 years together and who-knows-how-many albums, Canada’s long-serving reggae journeymen Messenjah try to catch a new vibe with their latest CD. In addition to their trademark sounds — Jamaican rastaman vibrations, rude boy dancehall riddim, skanky dub — the Ontario quintet incorporates hip-hop flavours, urban soul melodies and electronica samples into its fluid pop reggae. Whether the rub-a-dub purists will take to the R&B crooning is doubtful; but if Messenjah are aiming to expand their fan base beyond the local reggae fest, this could be a step in the right direction.
Ruffhouse Records Greatest Hits
This best-of set from Philly’s high-flying hip-hop label Ruffhouse is like one of those old K-Tel collections: Original hits, original stars. More or less from start to finish, this is a solid-gold set: Cypress Hill classics like How I Could Just Kill A Man and Insane In The Brain, Fugees tracks like Killing Me Softly With His Song, solo tunes from Wyclef Jean (Gone Till November) and even Lauryn Hill’s hit Doo Wop (That Thing). But along with the good, you’ve gotta take the bad: backwards-clad teen-pimp rappers Kris Kross (Jump). If only somebody would kill their song — and it wouldn’t have to be softly.