This song, by Ringo Deathstarr, is from their album COLOUR TRIP (euro-spelling so you know it’s good!):
This song, by Ringo Deathstarr, is from their album COLOUR TRIP (euro-spelling so you know it’s good!):
Check out this awesome song by Gringo Star, off their album COUNT YER LUCKY STARS:
Last night I went on a Magical Mystery Tour deep within the bowels of Spotify. I do this thing I call “band hopping” where I’ll listen to something and then let Spotify recommend something. After I’m done listening to that I let it recommend something to me based on THAT song…pretty soon I’m completely and utterly lost. I wish I could remember what led me to down the weird rabbit-hole of bands named in honor of ex-Beatle Ringo Starr, I bet the trajectory of songs was pretty interesting, but alas…I was in offline mode and my listens were not recorded.
But I digress. The important thing is there are two really awesome rock bands with Ringo-inspired names. The first of these bands that I happened upon was Atlanta-based Gringo Star. What do you think of when you read that name? I bet you think Gringo Star is a Beatles-inspired pop-rock band, right? I know that’s what I was thinking. Turns out Gringo Star is a really cool rock band with some British-invasion influences, but mostly is a bit like the UK’s Supergrass. The band’s latest album COUNT YER LUCKY STARS is a pretty tight collection of rock songs with a lot of “ooh’s” and “ahh’s.”**
The album opener “Shadow” invokes both the aforementioned Supergrass as well as Oasis, Blur, with just a hint of Dr. Dog (great harmonies). The album is full of great songs, but I really like the spanish-influenced “Esmerelda” and the dreamy album-closer “Mexican Coma.” That last song in particular sounds like it could have been a hit in 1966 by song little-know, post-Beatles invasion-era rock band. I can almost see the vinyl copy of “Mexican Coma” by The Mudd Turtles or some such thing. It’s a really nice summer chill-out song, with a super-cool guitar solo. But the song the changed my lust to love was “Got It,” which sounds like an early Kinks single. It’s got a real nice, super-catchy hook that just digs into your brain and won’t let go. Right now “Got It” is near the top of the list of best songs I’ve heard this summer (woah! It’s only June) .
From Gringo Star I ended up listening to a band called Ringo Deathstarr. As far as jokey names go, Ringo Deathstarr beats Gringo Star hands-down. Besides having the proper number of “R’s” in “Starr” the band’s name is also a freaking STAR WARS pun.
Now Ringo Deathstarr is a COMPLETELY different animal. For one thing, their album COLOUR TRIP is more acid/reverb drenched than Gringo Star’s super-crisp rock. Hailing from Texas, Ringo Deathstarr sounds a bit like The Flaming Lips by way of The Cure. The band is a girl-and-guy “shoegaze” band that I have to reluctantly admit to being a sucker for. COLOUR TRIP opens with the spaced out “Imagine Hearts” which is a joyous bit of pop. The album’s best track is “So High,” which sounds how a whacked-out day at the beach feels. The gentle “Other Things” closes the album with bittersweet introspection. It’s the kind of song that’s easy to get lost inside. Some bands exist in space and other create it, and Ringo Deathstarr definitely create their own space–COLOUR TRIP is best enjoyed alone with headphones.
Both bands (and albums) are pretty awesome, and despite sharing similarities in their name they’re pretty far apart sonically. For me, Gringo Star has the better songs and Ringo Deathstarr has the better vibes. Is that a cop-out? I guess, but it’s really like comparing apples to oranges. Check ’em both out and tell me what you think.
**TANGENT: I think that modern music needs more “ooh’s” and “ahh’s.” Go back and listen to music, from all genres, of the last 50 years and you’ll hear a ton of “ooh’s” and “ahh’s.” But with only a few notable exceptions, COUNT YER LUCKY STARS being one of them, I can’t recall very many bands/albums today that use “ooh’s” and “ahh’s.”
I first discovered Canadian Indie-rockers Boxer The Horse last year while browsing eMusic. I really dug their awesome first album WOULD YOU PLEASE, especially the song “Bad Apples” which was one of the best songs I heard last year. I played it countless times (so many times I literally lost count). So as you can imagine I was pretty stoked when I found out that the band released a new album this week. Boxer The Horse is a bit like the films of Wes Anderson–you’ll either dig their somewhat twee-sensibilities or you’ll loath it. Their songs are carefully constructed, literate, and despite having a shiny-pop veneer are often pretty dark.
FRENCH RESIDENCY finds the band improving and growing in just about every sense–the songs are better, the hooks are hookier, and the songs are longer/more fleshed out. One of the things I really like about Boxer The Horse is how diverse their albums sound. They do spooky-indie pop (“Me & Steve McQueen”), straight out rockers (“Rattle Your Cage”), a kind of neo-folk (“Tough Luck”), and punk (“Bridge To The USA”). I think it’s cool that the band does what they want genre/conventions be damned. That said, I can see how this might come across as a bit schizophrenic to some, and might even be considered a weakness for those who need everything carefully slotted into neat categories. Regardless, I find it refreshing and I’m sure this diversity makes them one helluva live act.
The best song on FRENCH RESIDENCY is “Rattle Your Cage.” It’s that awesome brand of hard-charing pop song the radio used to adore when we were kids, it’s shocking how good it is. It reminds me of ROOM ON FIRE-era Strokes (that’s a good thing). I love the hook, the guitars, and the awesome way the song collapses at the end. “Rattle Your Cage” is the sort of song that demands to be played in an arena. On the other end of the spectrum is “Me & Steve McQueen” which is quiet and intimate, almost anti-arena rock song. It’s a murky, mysterious ballad that materializes and then quickly vaporizes like a ghost. It’s less than 2 minutes of bliss.
I love that the laid-back “Tough Luck” leads into the aggressive “Bridge To The USA.” It’s a thoughtful bit of album construction that you don’t see much of these days. The song “T. Rex” won me over as I was typing this review with the hilariously spot-on lyric: “don’t look so depressed on a Sunday morning /well don’t act like such a slut on Saturday night.” That’s a Fagen & Becker-ish bit of cattiness I can’t help but love. The album is filled with little nuggets and flourishes that really impress and reward repeat listens. I’m also intrigued by the fact that there’s a darkness lurking just under the surface throughout FRENCH RESIDENCY. It reminds me of the way a lot of John Lennon’s solo albums felt.
That’s not to say that everything is perfect on FRENCH RESIDENCY, it’s not. There are a few tracks that only-half work for me, the biggest offender being the Vampire Weekend-like “Party Saturday.” It’s a bit too cute, even for me (though it does have a nice guitar solo). “Karen Silkwood” is the other song on the record I just can’t get behind. It’s so damn bizarre, lyrically, that I think I’m going to have to listen to it a few more times before I can figure out what it’s trying to say (if it’s trying to say anything). A quick Google search reveals that Karen Silkwood was an Oklahoma labor activist who died under mysterious circumstances in 1974. With that in mind, the song “Karen Silkwood” opens thusly: “I’m in the car when Karen Silkwood was killed / Texas Ranger won’t you marry me still?” I’m all for complex lyrics and interesting narratives, but that’s just strange to be strange, right? Speaking of odd things, I noticed after a few listens that there are multiple references to blood and bleeding scattered throughout the album. I can’t say for certain, but I think this might be a subconscious-tic on the part of the band. I know that as a writer there are some words and phrases I will use repeatedly if I’m not careful. I wouldn’t be surprised if no one in the band was aware of this.
Historically, the second album is the one that separates the men from the boys. FRENCH RESIDENCY is not a just an excellent sophomore album, it’s an excellent album in general. It proves that WOULD YOU PLEASE wasn’t a fluke, but rather the beginning of an exciting career.
Today is Paul McCartney’s 70 birthday, happy birthday Paul! I still can’t believe we live in a world where there are only 2 remaining Beatles. Time marches on, doesn’t it? It seems like only yesterday he was turning 64, just like the song. Paul may not the “cool” choice, but he’s always been my favorite Beatle. He was my first concert, I saw him in Kansas City at Arrowhead Stadium back in 1993–I was in the fourth grade. Two years ago I took my babysister to see Paul live in concert and it was amazing. McCartney is amazing. He’s one of the greatest living songwriters and is an amazing bass player to boot. His song “Yesterday” is the most covered song of all time, which is pretty amazing if you think about it.
At some point it became cool to rag on McCartney and deify Lennon, which is a shame. As far as I can tell, the only thing McCartney ever did wrong was write awesome songs and not die tragically. There’s nothing wrong with living a long, productive life–which is just what he’s doing. So dust off your copy of REVOLVER or The White Album and think of Paul.
Happy birthday Paul.
A great one from the late, fantastic, Phil Lynott:
A lot of people have the wrong impression of Thin Lizzy. They weren’t the dunder-headed hard rockers that people think they were. Thin Lizzy were rockers with heart. And that heart came from lead-singer/songwriter Philip Lynott. When a songwriter is dubbed a “poet,” I can’t help but think of doilies and Shakespeare…the truth this, a poet is someone who can take complex feelings and distill them in way just about everyone can understand. It’s more than just pretty words. I can write about love and explain it to you, but only a true poet will be able to not only describe love but also convey the feeling of love. Phil Lynott was a poet and there was nothing stupid or dunder-headed about his work.
Thin Lizzy exploded when they released JAILBREAK in 1976. They’d been doing their thing for a while but it was that album that put them on the map with songs like “Running Back,” “The Cowboy Song,” and of course “The Boys Are Back In Town.” That last song in particular doomed Thin Lizzy by both setting their expected level of commercial success higher than the band could ever reach again while also providing Thin Lizzy with the means to indulge their bad habits*. Just before Thin Lizzy called it quits, Lynott started his solo career. His first album, SOLO IN SOHO, was released in 1980. I think the album is a both astonishingly diverse and heartbreakingly sincere.
The first song, “Dear Miss Lonely Hearts” sounds like it would fit nicely on just about any Thin Lizzy album (which makes sense considering that Lynott’s backing band consisted of most of Thin Lizzy, along with Mark Knopfler from The Dire Straits, and oddly enough Huey Lewis on harmonica). I really like this song, which is an awesome rocker about a guy who writes an advice columnist when he falls in love with his girlfriend’s sister. As trashy and, frankly ridiculous, as that sounds “Dear Miss Lonely Hearts” doesn’t come off silly at all. Lynott switches perspective back and forth during the song from the author of the letter and the titular “Miss Lonely Hearts.” The ever complex and sensitive Lynott seems to sympathize more with women in the song than the confused Casanova.
“King’s Call” is another song that sounds like it could have appeared on a Thin Lizzy album. It’s a poignant song about the singer’s reaction to the death of Elvis Presley. Listening to this song today, one can’t help but draw an unfortunate parallel to Lynott’s own death in 1986. It’s especially difficult to hear him sing about drinking “a bottle of wine and gin” when Elvis dies (Lynott died of complications from substance abuse). The song is bittersweet, however, because as Lynott attests in the song, “You can always hear the King’s Call” can also apply to Lynott and the amazing work he did. I also find it a little funny that a ballsy rocker like Lynott so idolized Elvis. I think a lot of people from my generation tend to under-appreciate Elvis and his cultural significance.
The rest of the album departs from what many would expect to hear from the lead-singer of Thin Lizzy. “A Child’s Lullaby” is just that, a lullaby to Phil’s daughter Sarah. The lyrics, which are simple but clearly from the heart, are beautifully paired with an orchestral arrangement that’s as delicate as Lynott’s vocals. I can’t think of a song further from “The Boys Are Back In Town,” and it a way it bums me out that this side of Phil Lynott is not the one people remember the most. As raucous and rebellious as Thin Lizzy was, Lynott was big softie at heart. “Tattoo (Giving It Up All For Love)” is a super-catchy R&B number that also should have been a monster-hit**. “Girl” is another R&B-like departure which manages to defy Lynott’s tough-guy/Thin Lizzy image. Worth noting is the fact that this song, and “Solo in Soho” both feature a really weird spoke-word segment by this British woman who sounds a bit like a robot. I’d say that that this one detail is the only blight on an otherwise awesome record (this woman does not know what “emote” means and speaks in the flattest possible manner).
SOLO IN SOHO is noteworthy for addressing the subject of race, something not really touched upon by Thin Lizzy. On “Ode To A Black Man” Lynott seems both angry and filled with pride about being black. It’s funny, but I never really thought about Lynott’s race growing up, he was just the dude from Thin Lizzy…but Lynott wasn’t a white guy. I won’t pretend to understand the complexities of coming from a racially mixed background (especially during the 50’s and 60’s when Lynott grew up) but I find “Ode To A Black Man” fascinating. It makes me wish Lynott had written more songs about his experiences of being black.
“Yellow Pearl” is an awesome and a bit baffling bit of techno-pop. It’s pretty much as far from Thin Lizzy’s classic rock sound as one can get, and yet it’s pretty fantastic in it’s own right. I’ve listened to this song a few times and I’ll be honest…I have no idea what this song is about (if you know congratulations, you’re smarter than me, please tell me in the comments below). It’s trippy and cool and ahead of it’s time/completely awesome, you really need to experience it for yourself. The album ends with “Talk In ’79” which is an almost spoken-word piece about the music scene at the time. As a piece of history it’s interesting, as Lynott name-checks Brian Eno, The Police, and Rockpile of all things. In the last line of the song Lynott mystically says:
“This broadcast was brought to you in 1979
I’m just talking to you over these waves
Not just another time and another place
And before we knew it
The old wave was gone and controlled.”
An interesting fact that people don’t know about Phil Lynott is that he was friends with The Sex Pistols and was a champion of the early punk scene. I find this curious because those same punk-rockers would be the same people who would eventually turn the tide against rock bands like Thin Lizzy. “Talk In 79” seems like a critique on both the music press and the music “scene” in general. I wish Lynott hadn’t died because I’d like to know what his reaction to music press in the digital age. Genres are more splintered and the audience is doubly fickle. An artist like Phil Lynott probably wouldn’t have been allowed to flourish and mature. I can’t imagine an album like SOLO IN SOHO coming out today. Lynott was a well-established artist but based on his previous work with Thin Lizzy, SOLO IN SOHO was a gamble. Sadly, the album isn’t very easy to find today. I wasn’t able to download it on iTunes or stream it on Spotify. My local record shop didn’t have a copy, either, so the only way I was able to get my hands on it was to buy it from Amazon as a (gasp!) physical CD. I find that a shame because there is so much good stuff on SOLO IN SOHO. If you’re in a second-hand record shop and you see SOLO IN SOHO pick it up, it’s a fantastic record by an often overlooked artist.
*Both musically and pharmacologically.
**Interestingly enough, “Tattoo (She’s Giving It All Up For Love)” was covered by Huey Lewis & The News on their 1982 album PICTURE THIS.
Upon first hearing that the newly re-formed Beach Boys were recording a new album all I could do was smirk. Not in the playful, nice way but in the jaded slightly/evil manner. I didn’t want them to fail in their latest creative endeavor, I was just highly skeptical. The notion of 60+ year-old men still calling themselves The Beach Boys is pretty stupid if you think about it. These aren’t boys, not by a long shot. They’re not even just The Beach Men at this juncture–they’re The Old Beach Men. There’s been a lot of classic-rock bands reuniting (Black Sabbath, Van Hale, et. al) and thus far the results have been predictably mixed. Making matter’s worse is the fact that The Beach Boys have always had a checkered discography, and that’s being kind.
But before I get to The Beach Boys latest record, THAT’S WHY GOD MADE THE RADIO (and my reaction to it), I’d like to take a moment to analyze why a band as historic and venerable as The Beach Boys would feel the need to lay it all on the line and record new material. I mean, at this point they can only lose, right? At a certain point our heros are only capable of failure, aren’t they? Brian Wilson could have ate/snorted himself to death after PET SOUNDS came out in the late 1960’s and I’d still think he was a genius. He didn’t need to come out of reunite to prove anything*. And if the album is bad, if THAT’S WHY GOD MADE THE RADIO turned out to be a festering pile of shit his stock would plummet. PET SOUNDS would still remain but now I’d have this nasty (much fresher) taste in my mouth. As a true fan, I can forgive and ignore my heroes latter-day misses…but the greater music-listening public is much more fickle. And far less forgiving. Stumbling at this point in the career of The Beach Boys might not take away all the shine, but it could seriously tarnish their legacy. I guess the reason why these so-called dinosaurs of rock try to knock one last homerun out of the park is simple: it’s because they can. Sure, money and ballooning mortgage payments are probably a factor. And I suppose a bunch of snot-nosed, spoiled to-the-core-grandkids probably play a part, too. But in the end, Brian Wilson and Mike Love are writing and recording new material because they can. Think about how awesome that must feel–all you have to do is pick up the phone and tell an agent/record executive, “We want to do a new album” and the keys to kingdom are instantly yours, no questions asked. I would say that 99.999% of the artists living in the world today do not have that kind of clout, but would KILL to have that kind of capability. On a certain level I think it’s disrespectful when artists in this position chose to not use this freedom.
So while I’m sure ego and finances have some part in why I now get to write a review of brand-new Beach Boys record, I don’t think that’s the whole story. I think The Beach Boys like being The Beach Boys. And somehow they were able to put aside the bullshit and do what they should have been doing for years; what they were born to do which is write and record pop music. Now that said, before we envy them too terribly much, I think it’s worth pointing out that being The Beach Boys is probably the only thing these old men are really good at doing. From what I’ve read of Brian Wilson’s personal life, being a Beach Boy is pretty much the only truly great thing he ever did. His life, at least until recently (give or take a decade) has been a great shambling train-wreck (I’m looking at you Wilson-Phillips). His music, even as a solo artist has been pretty spotty; being a Beach Boy is his saving grace and ultimately his legacy. I don’t feel that any of us should worship or feel sorry for him (or any of them). Just like I am right-handed and bad at math, Brian Wilson can write fucking amazing melodies and compose beautiful arrangements. It’s not something he chose it’s just how he was made/what he is.
Okay, so I don’t think The Beach Boys set out to merely cash-in on their name (and it’s glorious bag of nostalgia). And I recognize they had more to lose than gain with releasing THAT’S WHY GOD MADE THE RADIO…that’s all well and good but what do I think about the album? Well for starters, after I got over my bemusement over the fact that they’re still called “The Beach Boys,” the next thing that happened when I heard about this album was that I cringed. I cringed at that awful title. “That’s Why God Made The Radio”? What the hell does that mean? Are The Beach Boys saying that they’re the reason God, THE LORD ALMIGHTY made the RADIO!? I was really nervous as it seemed I they band might have finally gone off their rockers. The hubris I read into the title was thankfully misinterpreted. The title referes to the song by the same name that extolls the bliss of driving around and listening to the radio. “That’s Why God Made The Radio” is a song about a joy that few people of my generation can even comprehend. I won’t say that I forgot about how nice it is to drive around and enjoy the radio, but I hadn’t done it for awhile. Listening to this song made me put the FM back on in my car (that’s a good thing). The song is a basic ode to rock ‘n roll as well. It actually reminded me (a bit) of Argent’s “God Gave Rock ‘n Roll To You” which is another song about thanking the cosmic creator for musical bliss. “That’ s Why God Made The Radio” is a good song and when I heard it my hopes instantly rose for the rest of the album.
In fact, to my surprise, this album turned out pretty damn well. It doesn’t really add or subtract to the legacy of The Beach Boys, but we do get a couple of really good songs (and two fantastic ones). The first fantastic song on THAT’S WHY GOD MADE THE RADIO is the third song on the album, “Isn’t It Time.” Mercifully credited to the ENTIRE band (The Beach Boys have a nasty history of not giving credit where credit is due) this song is worth the price of the album. On one level it’s a typical (stereotypical?) old-man rock song about how great things used to be and how they can still be great again. I guess on that level it’s an okay song, but as I listen to it, I can’t help but hear The Beach Boys responding to my initial question of “Why did The Beach Boys record a new album?” The answer comes in the lyrics of the third verse:
“The good times never have to end
And now’s the time to let them happen again
And we can have ourselves a blast
The good times they aren’t only in the past”
The sentiment is pure and even though it might be bullshit, I believe it: today can be just as good as yesterday (or whatever day was the best time of your life). To hear older people proclaim this is terribly comforting, especially to this eternal pessimist. This is what great art does, it acts as a buoy for our spirits.
The next track “Spring Vacation” also attempts to explain more concretely how the band reconciled and got back together (all those decades apart were just a super-long winter, I suppose). Maybe I’d dig this song more if it didn’t immediately follow “Isn’t It Time.” “Spring Vacation” doesn’t make my eyes well-up with emotion like “Isn’t It time,” but it’s a decent song I suppose.
The second fantastic song on THAT’S WHY GOD MADE THE RADIO? This difficult for me to write, as I feel so damn conflicted about it. You see, I’m the sort of Beach Boy fan that likes PET SOUNDS and hates “Kokomo.” If you’re reading this and you like “Kokomo” you’re a terrible person. “Kokomo” is a horribly shitty song. It comes from a dark, dark period in Beach Boys history. The period where Brian was cast off and that bastard Mike Love was running the show, trying to cash-in with a quick-hit. Somehow he lucked out (scum always does float to the top, doesn’t it?) and “Kokomo” got slapped into a movie and it took the world by storm (a shit storm). Anyway I want you to understand that I don’t like Mike Love on a personal level. Everything I’ve read about him paints a picture of a spineless, manipulative, little Napoleon who took advantage of a fragile/abused person (B. Wilson) in order to profit.** So what has Mike Love done on THAT’S WHY GOD MADE THE RADIO? He’s essentially reworked “Kokomo” as a new track, “Daybreak Over The Ocean.” I knew it from the very first second I heard it. I thought “Holy shit, he’s trying to recapture that hit…he’s trying to do another Kokomo.”
And then I listened to it again. And again. And again. Shit, it’s a damn good song. I want to hate this song, but “Daybreak Over The Ocean” makes me love it despite myself. The production isn’t as crappy as the 80’s “Kokomo” and the emotion seems (a bit) more genuine…but it’s essentially “Kokomo.” The way-less-shitty version of “Kokomo.” And even though I don’t like Mike Love, and I detest “Kokomo” I think “Daybreak Over The Ocean” is THAT’S WHY GOD MADE THE RADIO’s other truly amazing song.
The rest of the album is fair, with only two borderline embarrassing songs (which is actually really good for a Beach Boys record). The first dismal track is “The Private Life of Bill and Sue” which is comically-late attack on reality TV. The song smacks of trying to way too hard at be relevant/. The only way it could have been worse would be if they had rapped the song. Maybe they’re saving that for the next album. The other cringe-inducing moment is “Beaches In Mind” which is not only super-vanilla but littered with the word “fun.” I don’t know about you, but hearing the word “fun” is not the same as having fun. It doesn’t really tell me anything, it’s like “nice.” What the hell is nice? “Beaches In Mind” feels like filler which makes it the more noxious of the two songs–but make no mistake about it, both these songs are pretty bad and I cant’ see myself listening to them again, except maybe by mistake.
I had pretty high expectations for the last track “Summer’s Gone,” mostly because of Wilson’s haunting final track “Caroline No.” I was hoping for something equally memorable, and while it’s not terrible, “Summer’s Gone”*** is no “Caroline No.” It’s got pleasant chimes and a twinkling piano, and at the end we hear the sound of a rain storm come and washes away the album. All in all, it’s a fine song and fitting end to the album, I just was hoping for something a bit…more. And I guess overall that’s the worst thing I can say about THAT’S WHY GOD MADE THE RADIO: it’s good but I was hoping for a bit more. It’s like I said earlier, our heros at a certain point can only fail. I guess that’s a pretty good problem to have. The Beach Boys might not have hit a homerun with this album, but they certainly didn’t strike out.
* And yes, I have a few of his solo-records but it’s not the same thing. Not even his remaining of SMILE is the same as a new “Beach Boys” record.
**Love famously “didn’t get” (i.e. hated) PET SOUNDS and if he’d had his way it probably wouldn’t have been recorded.
*** I would be remiss not to point out that this song is (inexplicably) co-written by Jon Bon Jovi. How or why he was involved with this record is anybody’s guess.
The latest from Sweden’s The Hives off their new album LEX HIVES: