Monthly Archives: June 2012

The Hives Are Back With LEX HIVES

Back in the early 2000’s there seemed to be a glut of “The” bands.  You couldn’t turn on the radio without hearing from The Vines, The White Stripes, The Strokes, or The Hives.  These bands were all part of something that was called the “Garage Revival” by some and at the time I found it a bit annoying, to be honest (the “The” part, not the music).  Anyway, the parade of garage rock bands ended and rock went back to the underground.  Thinking about it still kinda bums me out.  I wish the Garage Revival of the early 00’s hadn’t been a fad; I wish the kids today really loved down-and-dirty rock.  But here we are, a decade later, and all that’s left are the memories.  The Vines are still kicking around, but it took them an extra year to release their latest album FUTURE PRIMITIVE here in the States (and no one bought it). The White Stripes have disbanded, crushed by the sheer brilliance and professional-ADD of Jack White and crippled by Meg’s stage fright.  The Strokes recently got back together and cobbled together a new album, but I’m afraid they’re doing their best work in their solo albums at this juncture.

So that just leaves The Hives.

I remember thinking when  VENI VIDI VICIOUS was first released that of all the “The” bands, The Hives were the weakest.  Don’t get me wrong,  I really liked “Hate To Say I Told You So,” but I just didn’t see any future for their aggressive brand of Swedish garage punk.  And while VENI VIDI VICIOUS has some good moments (“Die, All Right!”, “Main Offender,” and the cover of “Find Another Girl”) I wasn’t bowed over by it.  I thought we’d never hear from them again.  In fact, to show you just how wrongheaded I was at the time (or just how much bands can surprise you)  of all the groups I’ve just listed, I thought The Vines were going to have the biggest career (yes, even bigger than The White Stripes).

Then in 2004 I was listening to Little Stevens Underground Garage radio program (while at work) and he dropped “Abra Cadaver” and “Dead Quote Olympics” upon my unsuspecting brain.  That year The Hives released TYRANNOSAURUS HIVES, which I still consider to this day to be the band’s best album.  It was just like VENI VIDI VICIOUS but tight and more refined.  It was weird, but less-European (no funny foreign-languages in the song titles).  The longest song on that record is the single “Walk Idiot Walk” which just barely manages to clock in at 3:31.  I love pretty much everything about TYRANNOSAURUS HIVES all the way down to the super ridiculous bolo ties the band sports on the album cover.

ROAR!

The Hives forumla is simple, but effective: guitar hook, stomping drum beat, shouty vocals, clap-clap.

The band strayed a bit from that formula with their next release, the slightly gloomy THE BLACK AND WHITE ALBUM.  I think TBAWA is pretty good record and there are a lot of “classic Hives” elements on it (the single “Tick Tick Boom” and “Try It Again”) but the band also branched out into some interesting new directions with mixed results.  They had a bunch of new producers (including most famously Pharrell Williams of The Neptunes-fame) which resulted in an overall feel that was slightly less-than Hives.   Don’t get me wrong,  I think songs like “T.H.E.H.I.V.E.S.” and “Puppet On A String” are really interesting but I missed the basic “shouty-shouty-handclap” of TYRANNOSAURUS HIVES.  TBAWA came out in 2007 and thanks to “Tick Tick Boom” The Hives were back in the spotlight (well, the song appeared not on the radio so much as in commercials and films).  I never forgot about The Hives but I had no idea that they were releasing a new album until my enlightened fellow rock-nerd blogganaire over at LP on 45 wrote about how he was seeing the band live (in support of a NEW album!). 

The Hives, looking dapper as always.

So, with the blind faith only a true fan can have…I pre-ordered LEX HIVES and two days later it was released.  So how does it stack up to the rest of The Hives oeuvre? I think LEX HIVES is a “return to form” album.  I dont’ think THE BLACK AND WHITE ALBUM was a mistake, but I think the band decided to move back more to the straight-out garage punk sound that made them famous. Some of the reviews I’ve read are a bit negative, saying the album is nothing but a throw-back (a charge critics have been lobbing at The Hives and just about everyone else in the Garage Revival since the very beginning) to that criticism I can only say: I know it’s a throw-back, isn’t it wonderful? I’m not sure what sort of strange space-music these critics think we should all be listening to, but what The Hives are is a great, fun rock band.

The songs are longer and bit more fleshed out on LEX HIVES.  Sure, there is something wonderful about TYRANNOSAURUS HIVES’s quick-and-furious approach,  I think these longer songs feel more complete (and mature, which is an odd thing to say about The Hives).  I have a special place in my heart for the album closer “Midnight Shifter” because I used to work the midnight shift and interestingly, work/having a job seems to be a theme on LEX HIVES.  “1000 Answers” and “Without The Money” also touch on the subject of work and wealth.  The New Wave-tinged “Wait A Minute” proves that the band’s not completely finished with branching out/experimenting (and it’s hella catchy).  The best song though it “I Want More” which awesomely sends-up/rips-off Joan Jetts “I Love Rock ‘N Roll.”

Overall, LEX HIVES  is a great record that makes me want more from a band I hadn’t thought of in a while:  the album is full of awesome hooks and plenty of “shouty-shouty-handclap.”  I am satisfied.

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Guns N’ Roses: The Pinball Game

Last night I was at The Firebird (downtown St. Louis) seeing Nashville-rockers The Features with The Sun and The Sea.  I really like The Features and should probably do a write-up on them sometime…

Anyway, I looked over during The Sun and The Sea’s set, and what did my eyes spy? A Guns N’ Roses pinball machine!  Ignoring everything I made a bee-line for the machine to check it out, and boy was it cool!

The machine’s game board had a really nice/ludicrous theme of roses, guns, and snakes.  But what was really cool was that it had two plungers (the thing that releases the balls) one was the butt of a handgun and another that looked like a rose.

Awesome! My birthday’s in two weeks, you all now know what to get me.  

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That Time The Ramones (And Clint Howard!) Blew-Up A High School

What do you get when you take B-Movie King Roger Corman, Clint Howard (Ron’s awesomely-fugly brother), and punk legends The Ramones? You get ROCK ‘N ROLL HIGH SCHOOL. I recently saw this movie for the first time thanks to Netflix, who have added it to their instant-streaming service (at least for now). The movie came out in the summer of 1979 but is set in 1980. Going in I didn’t know much about the movie except that The Ramones were in it and at the end (SPOILER) they blow-up a high school. The film had been on my “to-see” list for a while, but because it was a low-budget B-movie and a bit obscure, getting my hands on it proved difficult.

You could do a lot worse…I’m looking at you ROCK OF AGES.

Apparently the film was quite popular in the early days of MTV and was often used to supplement the fledgling channels lack of content. Anyway, the movie is about some teens at Vince Lombardi High (school motto: Winning is better than losing) who get this new hardass principal. Like all 80’s movies, this principal is a total nutcase hell-bent on keeping the students away from *gasp* ROCK ‘N ROLL and it’s evil influences. Though it was set in 1980, the film seems at times to be ripped from the late 1950’s or early 1960’s as far as it’s depiction of teen culture (“Rave on?” Seriously?). This is most likely because the film was produced by Roger Corman, who at the time was trying to recapture the glory of his rebellious-teen flicks from the previous decades. I’ve read that the project was originally to be-titled DISCO HIGH, that should tell you just how out-of-touch (some of) the creators of this movie were. Thankfully, the film got a re-write and The Ramones were added. Speaking of writing, the story is credited to Allan Arkush and Joe Dante. Yes, that Joe Dante (of GREMLINS fame).

The Ramones, while in the film (a lot) are not the protagonists of the film, which kinda surprised me. Instead, the movie is about this girl who wants to write songs for The Ramones, and of course is in love with Joey (‘natch). Her attempt to score tickets for the big Ramones concert lands her afoul of the school’s new principal, which sets off a series of high-jinks. Overall the movie was “cute” but not “funny.” There were a few scenes that really made me laugh, but overall the film’s jokes ended up coming off a bit corny. Clint Howard (!) steals the show as a “fixer” who runs an illicit business in the men’s room. There’s a great scene where he’s teaching two “square” students how to “neck.” It’s pretty much as awesome as it sounds. I also found it weird seeing Howard with a full head of hair, so if you’ve wondered what Clint Howard looked like as a younger man you need to check this movie out. The Ramones themselves, while obviously not actors, come off pretty cool in the movie though I couldn’t help but notice that The Ramones basically act like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (only in a punk band). One of the best scenes of the movie has then cramming pizza into their mouths after a gig. Well, all of them except for Joey, who’s forced to eat alfalfa and wheatgerm by their bizarre manager.

Joey Ramone was not known as the world’s best substitute.

The movie’s chief flaw is it’s rather schizophrenic tone. At one point it seems like a coming of age story, then it’s a raunchy Porky’s-esque sex farce, at a few points it’s a wacky-slapstick comedy, and then it flirts with being a musical. Actually, now that I think about it, ROCK ‘N ROLL HIGH SCHOOL reminded me a bit of John Hughes excellent film WEIRD SCIENCE. Both feature lovable losers getting some “special” help, instead of Kelly LeBrock the teens get The Ramones. Both also have bizarre over-the-top moments, though ROCK ‘N ROLL HIGH SCHOOL’s are fewer than WEIRD SCIENCE. But there’s a running gag throughout the film about exploding mice that could have probably fit nicely into Hughes’ film.

As a rock ‘n roll relic/curiosity ROCK ‘N ROLL HIGH SCHOOL doesn’t disappoint. There are better 80’s teen comedies to be sure, but none that feature The Ramones. The soundtrack is pretty varied, too. I was shocked when I started watching the film because the first song played is NOT The Ramones but rather Paul McCartney!!! In addition to the former Beatle, Alice Cooper, Brownsville Station, Chuck Berry, and (awesomely enough) Nick Lowe are also included in the soundtrack. Oh, yeah and at the end The Ramones help blow-up the high school.

ROCK N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL is as cheesy as the pizza The Ramones eat after their concert–and that’s a good thing.

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Al Anderson’s “Ridin’ In My Car” Was Not A Hit: What The Hell 1977?

They say that life isn’t always fair, and nothing proves this adage more than the music industry.  Like a lot of show biz, the music industry operates on the whims of a fickle public and the greed of miserly record executives.  Sure, there are amazing success stories of bands and singers who are legitimately talented AND make boatloads of cash & fans–but for the most part the music biz is a landscape of dead dreams bloating in the sun.  If there was a sure-fire formula for crafting a #1 hit record, then some tycoon somewhere would have figured it out, right?  A quick glance at the Billboard charts for the last 25 years reveals a bizarre and, quite frankly, baffling array of popular/hit songs that have nothing in common–other than the fact that they were created by human beings.

As a race, human beings are always looking for answers.  We desperately seek order in the chaos that surrounds us.  I have a hard time putting my head on to my pillow each night, because I live in a world where Al Anderson’s “Ridin’ In My Car” was not a hit record.  If there truly is a higher power, why would he allow his children to suffer “You Light Up My Life” by Debby Boone?  Why would he place the crown of  Best Selling Single of 1977 upon a song like “You Light Up My Life” and not “Ridin’ In My Car”?  It just doesn’t make any sense, and quite frankly, only serves to underscore my own nagging suspicion that were are, in fact, truly without a higher power’s protection*.

I hope you are VERY pleased with yourself, 1977.

Who is Al Anderson?  Well he’s a guy who joined a band called the New Rhythm and Blues Quartet (NRBQ) in 1971 as a guitarist.  This is a band that I only recently discovered, but who’s legacy I’d been (unknowingly) enjoying for years.  The band was formed in 1967 in Florida and proceeded to quietly release super-fun and catchy pop-rock records.  They’ve maintained a dedicated following over the years and have actually done some pretty high-profile stuff.  What kind of stuff?  Well, when they weren’t buys touring and releasing awesome records  they wrote some songs for a little show called THE SIMPSONS** (maybe you’ve heard of it?).

And yet, you’ve still never heard of them (they’ve only recently popped up on my radar).  Now, to be fair, you probably haven’t heard of Debby Boone either and  if you have you probably hadn’t thought of her in a while.  So perhaps I’m putting an over-importance on having a “hit” single.  Maybe, in the end, it doesn’t really mean anything.  For example, it’s a famous rock anecdote that  guitar-God Jimi Hendrix only had one hit single (the Dylan cover of “All Along The Watchtower”).  Does that mean that Hendrix is in the same class as Debby Boone? I don’t think anyone would argue that, and yet I still can’t shake the Capitalist urge to judge artistic merit based on sales/popularity.

This album also features a song called “I’ve Got A Rocket In My Pocket,” which also failed to set the charts ablaze.

Chances are you’ve never heard “Ridin’ In My Car,” so you’re probably wondering what’s so special about it.  It’s a great little gem of pop-craftsmanship, and quite frankly the only astounding or truly awe-inspiring thing about it is the fact that it was not a hit song.   The song was released in 1977 (I cannot find any further information on the release date online, further evidence that history is written solely for and by the victors)  on NRBQ’s fourth album ALL HOPPED UP.  “Ridin’ In My Car”, even upon the first listen, strikes a very familiar cord.  It’s one of those songs that, as you’re listening to it, it seems like you’re already intimately familiar with it.  Like a classic Beatles cut, it’s immediately accessible and catchy.   Lyrically, the song is about the sadness of lost love and the memories of a pervious summer.  The song’s basic conceit is that this guy associates driving around with this woman that…well, things just didn’t work out between them (she found someone else):

“When I’m home alone I can think of other things to do/But when I’m rolling in forward motion I think about only you.”

It’s very pure and simple (and kind of cute),  which is exactly what a good song should be.  And even though the lyrics aren’t super-complex, they’re memorable and clever.   I specifically smile every time I hear the first verse, which despite having a very straightforward rhyme scheme (“chance” and “romance”) the phrasing is absolutely perfect:

“Remember last summer when we had the chance

To find each other, start making romance

But it didn’t come off beacuse you found another

Without one hand of a clock, what good is the other?”

I’m pretty sure that if you’d given me 1,000 years I’d have never come up with that comparison of lovers and two hands on a clock face–but it’s spectacular.  I’m not saying that this song is the greatest song of all-time or that it makes a deeply profound statement….but it beats the hell out of that other song released in 1977:

“Rollin’ at sea, adrift on the water

Could it be finally I’m turnin’ for home

Finally a chance to say “Hey, I love you”

Never again to be all alone

And you light up my life

You give me hope to carry on

You light up my days

And fill my night with song”

Poor Debby Boone, I’m glad she’s finally getting a chance to say “Hey, I love you.”  How fantastic for her.  I’m not going to beat up on Debby Boone, hell I don’t even know if she wrote “You Light Up My Life.”  In fact, now that I listen to the song I can totally see why it was a #1 hit song–it’s completely stupid and devoid of anything approaching honest emotion.  And artistry?  Forget it, this is pap…pure and simple. When I listen to “You Light Up My Life” I’m not challenged with any of the complexities of an actual human relationship.  There is metaphor and imagery in “You Light Up My Life” but it’s so basic and cliched that I know exactly what Debby’s singing upon first listen.  I don’t have to hurt my brain trying to figure out how Debby’s been “adrift” and how this new love is both a “home” for her and filling her with “song.”  This is popular entertainment at it’s finest and it was thusly rewarded.

So, to come full circle, the key to a hit song is just being completely idiotic and basic as hell…right?  Well, going back to 1977 it turns out there were SOME very popular songs that weren’t completely-lobotomized: The Eagles (the fuckin’ Eagles, man) had a monster hit with “Hotel California” which is pretty esoteric/sonically interesting (i.e. the opposite of “You Light Up My LIfe”).  Also a hit that year was Manfred Mann’s Earth Band’s strange, kinda cool Springsteen cover “Blinded By The Light.”  I wouldn’t consider that (very controversial at the time) song to be a watered-down, idiot’s song.  Studying the charts for 1977 reveals just how skitzo American music tastes were/are.    I mean, 1977 was a year when the charts were topped by both the Bee Gees “I Just Want To Be Your Everything” and Meco’s “Star Wars Cantina Song.”  So in the end, the pop/rock charts for 1977 do little to explain what happened (or why) but only serve to underscore why the United States is a Republic and not a Democracy–because “popular” and “right” are often mutually exclusive.

FOOTNOTES:

*And if there is a God after all, he has one hell of a sense of humor.

** See the 8th episode of the 11th Season “Take My Wife, Sleaze” which features the (original/episode exculsive) song “Mayonnaise and Marmalade.” 

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Highly-Unscientific Rock Poll: All-Time Greatest Front-Man

Sometimes there are questions too big for one man. Sometimes, in the search for ultimate truth, we must seek the guidance of others. And then there are times when one wants to increase traffic to one’s blog by actively seeking participation of one’s small readership by stoking the fires of eternal debate…

Yes friends, it’s time to review the lastest statistical disaster I like to call my HIGHLY-UNSCIENTIFIC ROCK POLL!  It’s been a while since this poll was conducted, sorry that it took so long for me to get my act together but I had some stuff come up and I wasn’t able to devote myself to DEFENDING AXL ROSE like I should have/like to. I knew that this poll would be controversial but I didn’t know just HOW near and dear Rock Frontmen were to people’s hearts. What makes a good font-man?  He (or she) has to be charismatic in addition to being a good singer/performer.  A good front-man is like an ambassador for his/her band.  Musicians can be pretty difficult to get along with and some of the best technical players are completely unable to connect with human beings–and that’s where a front-man comes in.  Unlike just about every other part of a band, a front-man is really hard to replace  (more on that later). Anyway, I opened Pandora’s box and asked DEFENDING AXL ROSE’s followers “Who is the All-Time Greatest Front-Man?”  Here are the results:

8, 7, and 6 (no votes) Mick Jagger, Roger Daltrey, and Kurt Cobain:  Honestly, these were all solid choices and the fact that MICK JAGGER got ZERO votes should tell you how cut-throat this poll was.  Jagger pretty much came to define the classic rock front-man: the swagger, the bat-shit crazy dance moves, the delivery. Roger Daltrey is another excellent “classic” front-man in the same tradition as Mick Jagger.  The Who was an explosive band (literally, go ask Pete Townshend about how explosive they were–if he can hear you) and to front a band like The Who was no easy task.  More than just being a rocker, Daltrey paved the way for more theatrical front-men when The Who started doing rock operas. Kurt Cobain was the most modern front-man on the list and as such, Cobain’s role in Nirvana was much different than tossing his hair and strutting around like a rooster.  Cobain helped popularize the “tortured” front-man.  By making himself less accessible to fans, Cobain drew us all in closer.  That’s very different from Jagger’s chicken-dancing.  Still, as awesome and important as these front-men were (seriously, try to picture their respective bands without them) they got no love from my poll-takers.

3. (TIE one vote each) Axl Rose, Robert Plant, and Lemmy Kilmister: I bet you thought I voted for Axl Rose, didn’t you?  Well as much as I love and respect Axl, I didn’t vote for him.   And from the way this poll panned out, not very many of you voted for him either.  Robert Plant, Led Zeppelin’s self-proclaimed “Golden God” only got one vote as did Motorhead’s fugly metal-head Lemmy Kilmister.  Lemmy and Mick Jagger are the only two front-men on this list that I’ve actually seen in person and let me tell you–Lemmy was waaay cooler in person.  He’s ugly, loud, brash and he know it. Robert Plant’s mellowed significantly over the years, so I can understand why many people don’t hold him in as high regard, but in his hey-day he was considered a force of nature.  Guitarist Jimmy Page has spent the past 30 years trying to find someone as dynamic as Plant to front his music–and he’s come up dry.

Axl. Axl, Axl, Axl…what happened?  He’s a bit like Mick Jagger mixed with Cobain’s stand-offishness, mixed with a gallon of gasoline and asshole.  I think he’s a brillant front-man but I think he shot himself in the foot with his inability to work well with others, a trait that every good front-man needs.  A front-man fronts a band, he doesn’t just represent himself–which Axl is often guilty of doing.

2.  Ozzy Osbourne (2 votes):  The Oz Man Commeth! I recently took a long car trip and one of the things I listened to was Ozzy-era Black Sabbath, what a band that was!   Ozzy’s great because he has fantastic range both vocally and the kinds of songs he can do–scary ass Satan songs? Check.  Whistful ballads? Check.  Rockin’ anthem? Check.  The bitting the heads off stuff sure helps, too.   He’s a legend of hard rock and I was not surprised he came in second.  There’s a reason he’s got an entire FESTIVAL named after him (he married a pushy ball-buster, I kid! I kid!).  There’s a (mostly complete) Black Sabbath reunion hitting the road right now and I would love to check them out.

Before I talk about the #1 I feel that I should acknowledge that there were a few requests that I add a few font-men, specifically Thom Yorke of Radiohead fame and Bono from U2.  I didn’t add these two because frankly, I’m not a Radiohead person (nothing wrong with them) and Bono slipped my mind.  Initially I wasn’t going to do anything but ignore these requests…then I thought about it and decided that what I would do is have another poll and then have the winners of each poll battle it out.

But that was before Freddie Mercury swept this poll.

#1. Freddie Mercury (13 votes): This doesn’t really surprise me.  When the topic of font-men come up, Freddie’s name always comes up.  You want charisma? Mercury had more than enough, he was oozing charisma.  Queen’s a awesome rock band because they were so many different things: gay/straight, operatic/balls-to-the-walls rocking, playful/dead serious–but despite their duality, they were always amazing.  How badass was Freddie Mercury?  He was still writing and recording music right up to his death.  How committed to his art was Freddie Mercury? Doctors told him for years to fix his overbite and he refused, he was worried correcting his teeth would change the sound of his voice.  That’s commitment.  That’ s love.  And you know what? He did it all for you, the listener.   If I was on my deathbed, you better believe this blog would be the last thing on my mind.  Freddie just wanted to make music and he did.  He complimented his bandmates and helped make them superstars. A few years ago, Queen re-formed and tried to solider on with Paul Rodgers, a legendary front-man in his own right (he was in Free and Bad Company).  How did that go?  Not so well…it wasn’t that Rodgers was bad–he just wasn’t Freddie Mercury.  Freddie Mercury is the greatest rock front-man off all-time.

Poll Closed.

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