Two decades ago, new albums from Methods of Mayhem, Ani DiFranco, Joel Plaskett 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):
Methods Of Mayhem
Methods Of Mayhem
“Hello, this is the operator with a collect call from the L.A. County jail from Tommy,” says the voice at the top of Tommy Lee’s new solo album Methods Of Mayhem. “Will you accept the charges?”
You’ve gotta give Tommy full marks for his sense of humour. After all, the erstwhile Mötley Crüe drummer has had a tumultuous couple of years: paparazzi punchouts, spousal abuse charges, restraining orders, jail terms, a near-divorce, inadvertent porn stardom, and last but not least, his defection from his band. But does he try and sweep it all under the rug or pretend like it never happened? Nosirree, boy. On the contrary; he takes all this adversity and angst that’s obviously been burning inside him for the last while and unleashes it here in the form of Methods Of Mayhem, a surprisingly impressive, thundering new rap-metal solo project that shows there is life after Girls, Girls, Girls. And just to show there’s no hard feelings, he kicks it off with that self-effacing sample of him phoning collect from the crowbar motel.
Not that Tommy doesn’t have a few more pointed words for some other folks — like, say, the media. “I don’t deny I’m in the public eye, but it seems like 24-7 I’m being watched by a spy,” he complains in Anger Management, a blistering screed against the tabloids and talk shows, set to a thunderous, Korn-style backbeat. “They’re not news reporters, they’re full of bulls— and lies / They make s— up because there’s no s— to find.” More often, thankfully, he’s able to see the humour in his predicament. Funky first single Get Naked, for instance, takes a steamy jab at the success of his infamous honeymoon video with wife Pamela Anderson: “Seventy-seven million dollars made from watching me cum under the sun on my vacation,” he says in disbelief. “I ain’t getting paid to entertain your bridal showers / Rockin’ my porno tape for hours and hours.” Another track, Narcotic, features a sample of the drug-test hotline Tommy has to call daily as part of his probation.
In addition to all that good humour, Lee displays some seriously impressive musicianship. MoM is a fiery, rockin’ affair, thanks in no small part to his expertise on the kit. Tommy has long been one of the heaviest hitters in the business, and his powerhouse style and syncopated pummelling give these tracks an authentic thump and drive lacking in most hip-hop outfits and rap-metal acts. Surprisingly, he also acquits himself pretty admirably on guitar. Several of these tracks feature riffs that Mick Mars or Rob Zombie would be proud to call their own. And while Tommy isn’t much of a singer — as the poppy chorus to New Skin makes clear — he’s smart enough to know when to mix his voice lower, when to surround himself with guest vocalists like Snoop Dogg, Lil’ Kim, George Clinton, Fred Durst, Kid Rock and Wu-Tang Clan’s U-God, and when to shut up altogether and jam with Crystal Method on some jerky, propulsive electronica.
Bottom line: Accept the charges.
To The Teeth
Rock stars used to have a work ethic — back in the ’60s, The Beatles (and plenty of their contemporaries) put out an LP every six months, and even in the ’70s, Elton John (among others) issued more than one album per year. Ani DiFranco has topped ’em both: To The Teeth is her third CD of ’99 after Up Up Up Up Up and a collaboration with folk icon Utah Phillips. Thankfully, there’s plenty of quality to go with the quantity. This outstanding and eclectic disc begins with something old — just Ani and her acoustic guitar on the anti-gun call-to-arms of the title opener. Then, it switches to something new — four tracks of Ani as a one-riot grrrl band, playing all the instruments. Between, she tinkers with trip-folk tracks, lays down some soulful grooves with the help of saxman Maceo Parker and The Artist Formerly Known as Prince and even tries on Rickie Lee Jones’ bohemian beret for size. Looks like Ani has a thing for hat tricks.
After a few years of hibernation and a lo-fi home-recorded disc last year, former Stone Roses leader Ian Brown has returned to full-fledged recording with Golden Greats — and it’s an apt title. During his time away, Brown’s fallen under the spell of acid house and electronica; these tracks boast the cheeky production, stream-of-consciousness arrangements and cybernetic ambience of a good Chemical Brothers track. But at their heart, they’re still pop songs, built on solid hooks and boasting the grandeur and snot of the best Roses tunes. Looks like you can take the lad out of Brit-rock, but you can’t take the Brit-rock out of the lad.
In Need Of Medical Attention
Talk about eerily prophetic — barely a month after releasing this solo album, Thrush Hermit singer Joel Plaskett had to bow out of the band’s farewell tour due to undisclosed serious health problems. However, the vocalist says this rustic, introspective offering’s medical title and theme were inspired by the recent death of his grandfather, a doctor. Either way, it’s a touchingly personal affair, eschewing Thrush Hermit’s riff-rock power for solemn, downtempo ballads that ruminate on love, death and loss with a magnificent, unvarnished beauty that suggests John Lennon, Wilco and Randy Newman. It’s a bittersweet pill that holds the cure for what ails you.
Guns N’ Roses
Live Era ’87 – ’93
Ian Dury may have popularized the phrase Sex And Drugs And Rock ’N’ Roll, but L.A. sleaze-metal kings Guns N’ Roses truly personified it. And perhaps even perfected the formula, as this two-CD live set clearly illustrates. These 22 tunes recorded over seven years could — and in many cases, did — serve as a virtual template for hair-metal bands who tried in vain to duplicate Axl Rose’s alley-cat screech, Slash’s crash-and-burn guitar riffs and their Marlboro-and-Jack Daniel’s-fuelled odes to drugs (Mr. Brownstone), sex (Pretty Tied Up), death (Used To Love Her) and decadence (Welcome To The Jungle). Rock ’n’ roll may never be this unrepentantly trashy again. Pity.
Sheryl Crow And Friends
Live From Central Park
Sheryl Crow’s powerful voice and sunny California pop make for fine studio albums and plenty of hit singles, but judging by this uneven set, they don’t translate very well to the stage — at least not to an outdoor stage on a rainy day in New York’s Central Park. Luckily, the album is by Crow and Friends — and I’m not talking Phoebe and Chandler here. When Crow is joined by Stevie Nicks for Gold Dust Woman or Chrissie Hynde for If It Makes You Happy, your ears perk up — and when she all but turns the reins over to Keith Richards for Happy and to Eric Clapton for White Room, the album kicks into high gear. On her own she seems in over her head, but Crow gets by with a lot of help from her friends.
A Tribe Called Quest
One step forward and one look back. That’s what you get on this pair of discs from Q-Tip and hip-hop innovators A Tribe Called Quest, who disbanded earlier this year. Like De La Soul, ATCQ blended mad skills with a kooky joy and exuberance missing from most of the stone-faced gangsta wannabes. Anthology pulls together the best tracks from their five- album catalog, including the Lou Reed-sample groove of Can I Kick It? and I Left My Wallet In El Segundo, whose jazzy Latin guitar line taught Sugar Ray how to Fly. But while ATCQ is gone, leader Q-Tip keeps their playful spirit alive on his first solo joint. With a smooth effortlessness, Tip lines up bouncy beats, quirky samples and funky melodies to shoulder his nerdishly nasal voice and laissez-faire delivery. Just like his hit single says, it’s a Vivrant Thing.
Sunny Day Real Estate
This Seattle foursome became a Rock ’N’ Roll Jeopardy answer when Dave Grohl swiped its rhythm section for his original Foo Fighters. Which is not to suggest that Sunny Day Real Estate lives in the Foos’ shadow. Although, come to think of it, SDRE’s enigmatic leader Jeremy Enigk does have a somewhat overcast outlook; his introspective tunes are clad in chiming, post-grunge guitars, but the way they wear their heart on their sleeve more closely resembles Built To Spill. All that power and passion are in full effect on this 11-track outing recorded at a Portland gig earlier this year. But if there’s one drawback, it’s the band’s impeccable musical precision, which drains some of the juice from these songs; real emotion shouldn’t sound so rehearsed. Leave that sort of professionalism to the Foos, dude.
Kiss My Arp
Andrea Parker is a techno composer, a classical cellist and has a collection of 3,000 sound effects records. Somehow, she seamlessly combines all three disparate passions into one of the most magnificent debuts of the year — the exquisite and utterly unique Kiss My Arp. Look no further than the second track, Clutching At Straws, one of the best songs I’ve heard in ages: A tensely elegant classic movement that could be the score to a European drama — until it gracefully evolves into a trancy trip-hop groove worthy of Portishead. It’s just one of several sophisticated hybrids here that grab you by the ears and refuse to let go. Like a plate-spinner, Parker balances tremendous classical technique with a flair for luxuriant, ambient grooves and a keen sense of experimentation. And in their midst, she finds the missing link between sci-fi film scores, thriller movie soundtracks and relaxation tapes. A must-have.
Dead Letter Chorus
Like a lot of bands, London’s Llama Farmers have a fuzzbox — and they’re not afraid to use it. Indeed, their distortion pedal is practically a fifth member of the band, helping them lay down guitar lines as thick and furry as shag carpets or giving their four-chord alt-rock numbers the angry buzz of a swarm of bees. Fortunately, unlike a lot of bands, the Farmers know that man cannot live on distortion alone. Beneath all that dirt, there are clean, melancholy sentiments and off-kilter pop melodies that suggest a collaboration between Hüsker Dü, Pavement and The Pixies — three other bands that also knew how to use a fuzzbox.
George Washington may be the father of his country, but George Clinton is the father of the P-Funk nation. And Bay Area duo Blackalicious — rapper The Gift Of The Gab and groove merchant Chief Xcel — are his latest musical offspring. Actually, judging by this debut disc, this may be one of those times when the sons surpass the father; along with the original Funkadelic’s warm vibe, anything-goes adventurousness and jazzy, acid-drenched soul, the duo kicks it up a notch with liberal doses of deft turntablism and sampling, Afrocentric positivism and spectacular vernacular. All that’s missing is Bootsy’s rubber bass. George should be beaming with pride — or green with envy.
Decks, EFX & 909
Electronica and techno artists are often referred to as sonic sculptors — but on Windsor DJ Richie (Plastikman) Hawtin’s latest, he’s more like some dementedly brilliant bricklayer. Taking 38 separate cuts by a host of artists, Hawtin stacks the tracks side by side, end to end, and one atop the other — sometimes three and four deep — to craft giant blocks of groove that form a seamless, solid wall of sound and rhythm. Like that isn’t enough of a feat, he deftly tweaks the volume and EQ levels to create momentum, build tension and switch gears throughout the hour-long piece, even adding the occasional skip and scratch just to remind you he’s still there. The mix album to end all mix albums.
Ian Svenonius is on a mission from God — and Satan. Not to mention The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, James Brown and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, too. And on his Washington, D.C. quartet’s sixth album Save Yourself, he preaches the gospel according to all of them. While the band cranks out choogling blues-punk beats and soulful, gospel-tinged melodies, Svenonius works the mic like a one-man sex machine, squealing, yelping and moaning more than the Purple One on Viagra. He’s so sexy he can make a line like, “I’ll be your trapezoid, baby,” sound like an obscene phone call — to say nothing of a lyric such as, “Baby, if you’ve got any feelings, hold me in your child-bearing hips.” Sure, he wants to save your soul — but after all, you can’t have salvation without sin.
She’s So Control
In the neophyte criminal science of geographic profiling, experts use the location patterns of crime sprees to figure out where the perps live. Well, if they turned that expertise toward music and spun this CD, I bet they could pinpoint Sub Debs’ home turf faster than a cop can wolf a cruller. Wanna play detective? Here are the clues: They’re a trio. Two (the bassist and guitarist) are female. Their 30-minute CD has 14 tracks of spunky grrrl-pop with choppy chords, charmingly ragged harmonies and cute lyrics about picture phones, no good men and German love songs. OK, time’s up. If you said the Pacific Northwest, not bad. If you said Washington, even better. But if you’ve been paying attention, your final answer could only be Olympia. You just earned yourself a jelly buster, officer.
Man On The Moon
The upcoming Andy Kaufman biopic takes its title from R.E.M.’s song, so it’s only fitting that Michael Stipe and co. take centre stage on this soundtrack. Along with rock and orchestral versions of the title track, the band contributes two new songs: the jangly ballad The Great Beyond, a sort of musical sequel to Moon; and This Friendly World, a shiny, happy ditty featuring Stipe trading lines with Jim Carrey in character as Kaufman (and lounge lizard alter-ego Tony Clifton). A few tracks from the real Andy and plenty of movie dialogue help bring Kaufman to life — if he’s really dead, that is.
Normally, bands write songs and put out records. Then, maybe, they get people to remix them. Chicago trance-rock outfit Frontier upsets that apple cart big-time on this experimental EP. Instead of following the traditional route, the trio recorded live in the studio last spring, then culled samples from their work and gave them to various engineers to assemble into songs however they saw fit. The five resulting pieces — which range from post-industrial and gothy to ambient and dubby — blur the line between live and Memorex, construction and improvisation, collaboration and individuality. Which makes Suture sort of like a really cool science project, along with a really intriguing disc.
DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid
Avant-garde turntablist and sound manipuator DJ Spooky — aka That Subliminal Kid — is the last person you’d expect to hear remixed. With his abstract, sometimes surreal approach, it’s almost the equivalent of repainting a Picasso. Nevertheless, on this 36-minute EP Spooky enlists a cadre of artists — from reggae outfit Dub Pistols to Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore and My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields — to slice and dice Rekonstruction and Peace In Zaire from his 1998 CD Riddim Warfare. Spread between new snippets and vignettes from Spooky, the remixes are as varied as the artists behind them: Shields’ is spacy, Moore’s is noisy, the Pistols’ is skanky. They may just be repainting an old master, but at least they add a few colours of their own.